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The birth in a town like San Gimignano (Tuscany) is sometimes the harbinger of an almost obligatory life path in the world of viticulture. It was also the case for Luciano Bandini who, in the Tuscan town, was born and, still today, boasts collaborations with important companies in the sector.
The love for the profession of oenologist begins to take shape already from high school, in 1981 in Conegliano Veneto with the diploma of agricultural expert, specialized in viticulture and oenology, and then, in 1992, obtaining the coveted title.
In the profession, carried out in contact with highly experienced colleagues, he has always believed and made it a professional philosophy, believing that the best qualitative results are obtained only from a high quality raw material, and with a deep knowledge of the land that produces.
To corroborate what has been said, Bandini has always maintained that his professional work should never separate the work in the vineyard from that in the cellar, one cannot be done without the other: in a sort of natural symbiosis.
Luciano Bandini is another Italian excellence in the oenology sector. One of those talents the world envies us and that gives value to the Italy of wine.
How and when was your passion for wine born?
I am the son of wine producers, so it was quite natural to get passionate about this job. From an early age I loved to observe the various operations my grandfather did in the cellar: fermentation, racking, racking, filtration. And, then, the work in the vineyard, the continuous variability of the vintages, the care for the attention to the vines and the harvest. I was fascinated by this never monotonous job, always at risk for the weather or for some unexpected in the production cycle, and for this, in the end, also very rewarding.
When did you decide that the oenologist would become your profession?
At that time, I am referring to the seventies, the profession of the oenologist was almost unknown, and making wine was more a tradition, an education handed down from father to son, rather than following technical-scientific studies. Many producers, or bottlers made little analysis. Often the workshops were managed by the merchants of agricultural products, without any professionalism. Only large companies had a private laboratory. At the time, as a teenager, I saw a lot of approximation, so I packed my bags and, moving away from my family, I started my course of studies in Conegliano Veneto.
How important is it for an oenologist to empathize with the people who take care of that vineyard and those hills?
Let’s say that it is essential to achieve a set goal, especially if the relationship is that of a consultant. In my opinion, there must be perfect harmony between those who guide the technical choices of production, those who work materially in the vineyard and in the cellar, and the property. Very often it is necessary to be timely in making choices, to give the right importance to details, and it is therefore necessary to have the same sensitivity towards the entire production chain. Only if you are part of a well-knit cog can we give 100%.
In the collective imagination of wine lovers, therefore, non-professionals, the sommelier is the best known figure within the “wine” chain while the oenologist works “behind the scenes”. How much, according to his experience, are the two figures (if they are), in opposition and how much, on the contrary, are they (if they are) complementary?
This question makes me smile, even today some people (fortunately not many) when they ask me what profession I do, they mistake me for a sommelier. In the non-professional collective imagination, the figure of the sommelier is better known than the oenologist. To answer the question, I tell you, with absolute certainty, that the two figures are absolutely complementary. We oenologists have to take care of making the grapes, and then the wine, in the best possible way, sometimes even presenting it and guiding tastings, always with the aim of making the product known in its more technical aspects. The sommelier, on the other hand, must help the consumer to taste that wine in the way and in the most congenial and ideal combinations to the wine itself. He must help the consumer to know the production area, the history, and the characteristics of that wine in the most objective way possible. Then, it will be the consumer who will decide whether it is a good wine or not, not the sommelier.
How much has your profession changed, more or less positively, compared to your beginnings?
If we talk technically, I would say that it has changed a lot, and positively. Today, there is much more attention to the quality of the grapes. More awareness that an excellent wine cannot be born from a bad grape. If anything, the opposite. Once upon a time, there was a tendency to improve wines in the cellar with corrections, cuts, various additions or clarifications. The use of the continuous press was allowed to squeeze the skins of the grapes in an exaggerated way. There were far fewer controls and consumer protection. I am referring to the pre-methanol scandal period. Fortunately, then, everything has changed and, gradually, we have come to the present day, where we use a much more conservative and respectful approach to the positive characteristics of the grapes. The vineyards have changed, increasing the planting density and the availability of a large clonal selection, an increasingly organic and environmentally friendly culture is spreading. But there is still a long way to go, and the future holds many innovations, especially in agriculture.
Pandemic and state of health of the wine sector (Italian and International), what can your current experience tell you?
It goes without saying that the wine sector is also one of the darkest periods we have ever gone through. In particular, for all those companies that had set up their market on the HORECA channel, with excellent wines. Obviously, there was a sales freeze and it will take years to dispose of it. The situation is different for the bulk wine market, by the glass, or in bag in box. In this sector there is an increase in sales, as well as for low or medium range wines sold in large-scale distribution. With restaurants closed, you drink more at home and settle for a cheaper wine. For the future, a state promotion program for Italian wine around the world would be important to help companies get back on track.
The winemaker is also a controversial figure, acclaimed by most and criticized by others. You are accused of “creating” wines that must meet the canons of the guides, in short, please everyone. Fantasies, or is there, in some cases, a basis of truth?
If we go back to the 80s / 90s, many companies longed to take prizes on the specialized guides, in particular the three glasses of Gambero Rosso. For this reason, sometimes, actually, the production was aimed at producing the style of wine that appealed to the tasters of the various guides. Burly wines, rich in color, muscular, and with the inevitable toasted wood. Then, suddenly, from the 2000s, the guides began to reward the exact opposite, elegant wines, not excessively colored, soft, with silky tannins, without wood. Obviously, therefore, the production style of the companies has also changed. I think mistakes have been made both by the guides and by the oenologists to please the producers. But we don’t have to throw the whole thing together. Fortunately, guides have much less power over companies today. Today, the line of enhancing as much as possible the characteristics of a specific territory prevails, making it recognizable, unique. In any case, always harmonious, pleasing to the palate, free from defects, independent of the canons set by the guide on duty, so that each company can carve out its favorite segment of the market.
One of your merits and flaws, professionally speaking.
I don’t know if they are strengths or weaknesses, I consider myself very pragmatic and meticulous. I like the order and the cleanliness of things. I am not able to maintain detached relationships with customers, I am fond of them and, inevitably, they become friendships as well as work relationships. For the rest, friends say I am a grouch, but they are wrong.