Aris Blancardi of Selvadolce on the Symbiotic Relationship between Plants
With every bottle of Selvadolce that we drink, we continue to remain mystified. Each time we raise a glass to our noses, we're overcome with an intoxicating scent of the sea. It’s a scent that brings us straight to the beach, that makes us think of that cooling, salty mist on our skin on hot summer days.
There is some form of tight-wound, electric energy in these bottles. We have often wondered where this salty energy comes from – does it come from the vineyard? The vine? Its surroundings? From Aris himself?
We decided that we simply had to find out straight from the farmer and maker himself, Aris Blancardi.
LITTLEWINE: Aris, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We’re obsessed with your wines, and always find a vein of energy and saltiness in them. Where do you think it comes from? Tricky question, we know (sorry)…
ARIS: I don’t know! Please don’t tell anyone… he jokes.
ARIS: But really, I think it’s just the place… it’s so special. The wine, the sun, the sea, the soils… even the dry-stone walls. When you smell those walls in August, you smell what you find in the wine – even that dry-stone wall. We get the mistral winds here, and on a windy day, a salted sea mist settles on the grapes. When you taste them at the end of August and at the start of September, you literally taste the saltiness on the skins. I think it all shows in the wine; the clay, the sea, everything…
LITTLEWINE: Have you noticed the vines communicating with these surroundings?
ARIS: Absolutely, the network in the living soil is amazing. The roots are connected through the mycorrhizae (underground fungal network) with all the other plants. Something I noticed in particular was the conversation between the plants that began to take place after we converted from chemical farming to biodynamic farming.
LITTLEWINE: Tell us what you’ve noticed since you converted to biodynamics?
ARIS: When the vineyard was treated heavily with chemicals, there were stinging nettles growing three metres high, but three years after converting to biodynamics, the nettles had completely disappeared on their own. In the years before, Selvadolce had been a flower farm, and in conventional flower farming they use so much iron as a fertiliser, to give the leaves a desired dark green colour. But these fertilisers weren’t absorbed by the soils and just stayed there, so after fifty years we had a huge amount of residual iron in the soil. As a kid, I was told that nettles were an enemy we had to fight - herbicides existed just for nettles because they didn’t want them growing with the flowers. It’s like if a car’s warning lights flash red, but you don’t want to acknowledge it, so you just break the light. The nettles were saying, “there is a problem here! there’s too much iron in the soils,” but instead of listening to them, we were killing them. When we eventually left the soil to its own devices, the nettles could clean the soil, and once they cleaned the soils, they disappeared. They were no longer there, as they had fulfilled their purpose.
LITTLEWINE: How do you combat plant diseases, working biodynamically?
ARIS: We only really get powdery mildew. If the plants are balanced with their soil, the disease still appears, but it should hopefully be less serious. We always think disease is a problem and that we need drugs. We never think in another way. In the East, people sometimes think about disease differently; your body has energy and when you lose energy you might get a problem. Growing vines on their own isn’t natural, and that can attract disease and bugs. We can strive to use different plants and different bugs to fight back these problems.
LITTLEWINE: How can the vineyard support itself through its ecosystem?
ARIS: Every plant has a role, and every plant exists for a reason. In biodynamics we don’t call plants pests or invaders, we call them “spontaneous plants”. Human beings are so narrow minded, they just want what they think is useful. We use green manure to bring back 40/50 other plants; to create biodiversity again. That’s important. Viticulture is a monoculture; a vineyard wouldn’t exist in nature. Plants are so connected; they are antennae that receive energy from the universe, we never think about that. Photons are transferred to matter during photosynthesis. 95% of matter is built from energy, and this gives us wood, sugar, grass...
LITTLEWINE: What does that mean for us humans?
ARIS: Human beings are the weakest part of the chain. Without vegetables and animals, we couldn’t survive on Earth. It’s a miracle every day. If we could build a solar panel like a leaf, we’d have the most powerful and modern technology on Earth, but our solar panels are nothing like leaves. We have the most powerful technology in every leaf, in every single cell of a leaf. When you realise this, you see that every second of our life is a real miracle. Technology and computers… they don’t compare. Life can return so quickly to the soil. When I took over the farm, the soil was hard, it had no smell, it was grey and seemed dead. Less than two years later, life returned so strongly. Our vines never need irrigation now. Their roots are so deep, and the soil is so rich in humus.
LITTLEWINE: & with regard to your wines… How do you feel about the relationship between the grape variety and wine?
ARIS: It’s always very difficult to talk about a grape variety. People seem to think that a wine can represent a grape variety… but that isn’t how we make wine. A wine is related to a place. Terroir represents a whole world of soil, climate, place, the winemaker... When you trust nature, all grape varieties are good.
LITTLEWINE: And what about Pigato; why do you differentiate it? Isn’t it the same as Vermentino?
ARIS: Well… two people, they might be genetically extremely close, but they might be very different…
LITTLEWINE: Do you think we think about science too much when it comes to wine?
ARIS: I have a scientific background; I used to be a horse vet. Now, when I make wine, I never think about scientific parameters… Not pH, not acid, not alcohol. Would you go for dinner with a lady just knowing her height and size of her shoe? I don’t care about that stuff. It’s about the balance you find in a wine. In some vintages, I’ve made wines that show unusual analyses; but they’ve simply been amazing. When you’re working with nature you sometimes need to forget the numbers. Remember… Einstein himself said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”
LITTLEWINE: How does farming and making wine make you feel?
ARIS: Love… it is not measurable, but the effect of love is measurable; your blood pressure, your heartbeat; sometimes even not sleeping and not eating. The force of love itself, however, that isn’t measurable. Why do we fall in love? It’s an amazing force, it’s like a wine. I love not knowing what’s going on in our wines. In some vintages, like Crescendo 2016, we get this specific petrol note. I don’t know why, and I’m happy not knowing why, else I’d have a recipe and it would be boring after three years. With every vintage your heart beats… every vintage is so different if you make wine in a natural way. The best gift I could have is that I did not come from a wine background. My approach has always been so simple; I like what I like. A lot of people are almost afraid to enjoy a glass of wine as they don’t feel they are enough of an “expert” to comment on it… but tasting… tasting is emotional. Emotions are personal. Nobody can tell you what wine is for you, just like nobody can tell you which partner is for you. That bottle is entirely yours. Technical approaches can scare people, we’ve almost lost what was important about drinking a glass of wine in the first place - enjoying it with good food, in the company of friends. Conviviality!
LITTLEWINE: Do you think working with the lees helps you to make wine in more of a “natural” way in the cellar?
ARIS: Yes. I also think this contributes to the wine’s complexity. I realised some years ago that lees protect the wines in a natural way. You experience how strong a natural wine can be on its own when you move the wines without refrigeration. I once had a wine with five grams of residual sugar; something that would cause many people to worry about refermentation. But I left it in the sun, at 40/50 degrees, to test the wine. Nothing happened, I tasted it one month later and couldn’t see any difference. When you give the wine the time it needs to stabilise itself, it will be strong. You don’t need to worry about it. Other times, a wine might be shy for a while… It might not want to see me, it may just say, “leave me alone.” This sometimes happens in the cellar. Sometimes my wines just don’t want to see me. But yes… the lees are very important, that’s why I don’t filter. If you take out the lees, you take out the life. They become more stable, and now when I take my wines with me across the world, I’m no longer worried. It’s like travelling with my friends! I trust them.