Wine & Other Stories

Salvo Foti: Profession winemaker

Written by Piero Pardini

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Credits: Salvo Foti

There are territories of our Peninsula which, thanks to Mother Nature, have been endowed with unique pedoclimatic conditions, which have made it possible to produce truly excellent products.

The creation of similar pre-eminences passes from the work and studies of enlightened figures, thanks to what the terroir has made available to them, they have given a value and reached peaks of perfection unknown until a few years ago.

Salvo Foti, born in Catania in 1962, is a leading figure in the enhancement of the production of Etna wines. It is thanks to women and men, like him, that Etna wines have become a splendid reality of the Italian wine scene, known all over the world. A life dedicated to oenology, not just activities in the cellar and in the vineyard, but also lectures and publications of books: a life dedicated in its entirety to viticulture in all its aspects.

© Salvo Foti

How and when was your passion for wine born?

I have always lived in a wine-growing environment, that of Etna, where almost everyone produced wine at the time, even if it was intended for the sale of the bulk. Almost no one was bottling, only very few companies. The work in the vineyard and then the vinification have always been a pleasure for me, as well as a good job.

When did you decide that the oenologist would become your profession?

As a child, of course, I didn’t think that making wine was an important profession. I discovered in middle school, documenting myself, that, precisely in Catania, there was one of those Enological Schools founded at the end of 1800 by royal decree in the best wine-growing areas of Italy: (Alba, Avellino, Conegliano, etc.). After middle school, I went to this school. In class, there were only 13 of us! In the meantime, I have always worked both in the vineyard and in the cellar, both with the old systems, but also with those of the new winemaking technique, which, gradually, spread and swallowed up, in a short time, the ancient viticulture.

© Salvo Foti

How important is it for an oenologist to empathize with the people who take care of that vineyard?

If you do real teamwork, if you are a leader of a group of winemakers, if the incidence of mechanization is low and you have made a choice in which men, in quality and quantity, are at the center of the work, empathy is essential. I can affirm, for my experience now more than thirty years, that the real difficulty, or if you want ability, is not knowing how to cultivate vineyards, but knowing how to cultivate Men!

In the collective imagination of wine lovers, therefore, non-professional, the sommelier is the best known figure within the “wine” chain while the oenologist works “behind the scenes”. How much, according to your experience, are the two figures (if they are), in opposition and how much, on the contrary, are they (if they are) complementary?

Personally, I believe that the two figures can only be complementary. Everyone does a different job, in different contexts and deals with different aspects of the “world of wine”: it is useless to remember here what the difference between the two roles is. Perhaps, the problem could arise when one of the two pretends to do the work of the other. I would like to clarify one thing, which applies to both: the fact of completing your studies and obtaining the title of oenologist or that of Sommelier does not mean that you can consider yourself a good winemaker or a good sommelier. Time, which is always a “gentleman”, will make a good Sommelier or a good Oenologist.

© Salvo Foti

How much has your profession changed, more or less positively, compared to your beginnings?

Obviously a lot. Today, there is more awareness, information in what you do. The tools are also different and, often, more effective than in the past. In a way, if on the one hand it has improved, on the other it has become more complicated. Today, awareness and greater knowledge places us in the conditions of having to and be able to make very specific choices whose consequences we know, with particular attention to the environment, people and production ethics. The informed consumer, rightly (it was now) begins to want not only a wine-brand, but a wine that in addition to having excellent qualitative characteristics, is also a territorial, cultural and eco-sustainable product.

© Salvo Foti

Pandemic and state of health of the wine sector (Italian and International), what can your current experience tell you?

In the vineyard for us winegrowers nothing has changed: we must continue to cultivate the vine independently of everything. In the cellar the work must be done the same, you can only postpone some things. Sales, we were lucky, slightly lower, but they did not stop. We can say that our customers continued to drink our wine. The thing we miss, due to this pandemic, is the contact with consumers, journalists, who came to see, in many, our vineyards, our landscapes: yes, we miss them a lot!

© Salvo Foti

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?

The oenologist is a man, and as in the human race, there is no oenologist equal to another oenologist. Today, I believe it is clear to everyone, that wine is an agricultural product that owes its quality, not only simply to the oenologist, to its oenological technical characteristics, but, having established its quality level, to other aspects that are of a territorial nature. , cultural, anthropologist, historian, environmental (I would also like to add ethical) and, last but not least, temporal. When a good wine satisfies us with its typical qualitative and cultural characteristics, then what gives it an added value and elevates it to something excellent is only one thing: time! Its highest value depends on how long it is produced, how long the same vines produce it and how long it is the same winemaker or viticulture civilization to produce it. Therefore, “Wine” cannot be a fashion, a synthetic product, a product that can be traced back to a single man.

One of your merits and flaws, professionally speaking.

I am too biased to answer this question. It should be done to those who know me well. Of course, please, not my wife!


About the author

Piero Pardini

Founder and editor of "The Wolf Post", Italian based International digital wine platform.
Freelance Journalist.
Wine critic and Sommelier.
He has also written about sports and technology for some specialized magazines.
Co-author of the authorized biography "Gianni Clerici - The writer, the poet the journalist", Le Lettere, Firenze.

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