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After winning over skeptics, a pioneer of biodynamic wine looks back and has no regrets

by Maurizio Bertera

For pioneers, sometimes, the real satisfaction isn’t in the numbers but in the concept. Take Silvano Brescianini of Barone Pizzini, the first vineyard in Franciacorta (and one of the first in Italy) to chose “bio” as a dogma. The first wine harvest in 1998, and further push in 2001, with an immediate European certification. Fifteen years later, of 2,900 hectares designated DOGC (Designation of Origin), some 1,300 are biodynamic. “In 2013, I invited a few colleagues in the business to see what I was doing: one of the most dedicated and competent said, ’Sorry to say this, but you haven’t convinced me.’ Some time later I ran into him in a supermarket and I saw that he had a cartful of organic products. I pointed it out to him and he told me they were for his kids. Great, and who’s looking out for us? Over the course of a year, he transformed his company into one that was totally bio.” That is, actually, really nice.

A past as a restaurant manager
But the story started earlier, with an approach to wine that began with food. Born in Erbusco in 1967, Brescianini graduated from the hotel school of Iseo and became a restaurant manager. After a series of experiences (Antica Osteria del Ponte, San Domenico in Imola and New York), in 1991 he returned home to open a restaurant at the Barone Pizzini estate. “Until that moment, wine for me was something to sell as a sommelier or a memory of my grandfather. a farmer and winemaker who anticipated early on the huge potential of our land.” The winning intuition for Barone Pizzini came in 1997. “There was an agronomist who, talking about a product to treat vineyards, recommended using them quickly because a year later they became carcinogenic. While the others were already at the buffet, I stayed behind and asked if it wasn’t better to avoid using them at all. He said ’Yes, but then you’d have to work with organic processes and it’s not easy. Are you up to it?’ I said I was and I hired him. I think he is one of the nation’s greatest expert in the field.”

In 2012—a prize for the best biological wine in the world
From just starting out in the early 2000s to the record of 280,000 bottles sold in 2015, from the first plaudits to the triumph in London in 2012: the international Wine Challenge proclaims its Franciacorta Rosé 2008 the best organic wine in the world. “Investment is certainly key. Biological production costs on average 20-25% more than usual, but that’s not the problem. Nor is it technically complex, it’s enough to buy the manual and you can start tomorrow. What totally changes is the approach of those who work in the sector on a daily basis. You can’t make a mistake. Because if there’s a problem on our 47 hectares, you can only limit it, not resolve it. That’s why I always say that organic is a state of mind.”

Only bio-climatic solutions
Barone Pizzini has a lovely cellar of 5,600 square meters, two-thirds underground designed by Claudio Gasparotti – one of the founding partners of the company—that has adopted bio-climate like solar panels and natural cooling systems using stone, wood and plant-based water treatment facilities. And it addresses aspects that are considered marginal, like bottles, labels and packaging that take even more effort than the grapes.

The future?
“To grow step by step, which should be the case for all of Franciacorta (Brescianini is also vice chairman of the regional consortium). First it makes sense to realize the full potential and then, if necessary, after a few years, to plant other vineyards. In three years I plan to make the first vegan wine. There’s a market for it and one always has to rise to new challenges.”