ENOSIS Meraviglia

Centro ricerche applicate allo sviluppo enologico

The man who squeezes the DNA out of the berries

Donato Lanati mixes science and the palate to get the best out of the vine

The man who squeezes the DNA out of the berries
The man who squeezes the DNA out of the berries

» The man who squeezes the DNA out of the berries

Donato Lanati mixes science and the palate to get the best out of the vine

He has created an avant-garde center in Europe


One day, as a very small boy, he managed to escape his father’s attention and immerse himself among the vines in the vineyard. It was a turning point: observing the vines bursting with fruit, radiating color and fragrances — that eureka moment when the young child was won over to the world of wine. It wasn’t just a childish whim. Lanati went on to graduate in agricultural sciences and is now one of the most famous enologists in the world. He knows how to unlock the secrets of wine using both his highly elevated olfactory senses and his taste buds:  he can also read the DNA of the berry.

Is it any wonder, then, that his advice is sought out by many: traditional winemakers themselves; the newly self-made millionaires from the stock exchanges who trust him to instruct them about the best wines; stars of the silver screen like Carol Bouquet, who has become a renowned producer of “Sangue d'oro” on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, where her “passito” wine (a wine obtained by first drying the grapes on rush matting) is made.

His realm is the center for research and consultation, “Enosis Meraviglia” in Furbine, housed in the 17th century villa-farmstead that once belonged to the Dukes Cacherano of Bricherasio.  Today, it has been renovated in an innovative style (“without a single penny of public money”) and transformed into the most important viticulture laboratory in Europe. Externally, it is surrounded by gently rolling hills; internally, there are computers, vinification and wine-making devices, glasses, images and work of Mimmo Rotella, bottles, and contemporary art sculptures. Not to mention thirty or so technicians, biologists, chemists, physicists, all at work. “Inside the edifice - says Lanati - we study the wines of yesterday, we perfect the wines of today and we create the wines of tomorrow. By studying secondary metabolites, the molecules that transmit taste, color and bouquet, we determine the value of the wine. We experiment with different new vinification and wine-making transitions; we study fermentation; we verify quality. For the last few years, Lanati has been explaining to students of agriculture that wine is the last link in the chain that makes up climate, earth, and work.

At other times, he finds himself before an immense table, overflowing with many small vials with 600 samples (“never once failed a breathalyzer test”) in tasting sessions that last 12 hours nonstop. His prodigious memory is able to register and remember the subtle variants in hue, tone and taste that are later fed into the computer.

“Few details are known about Italian wines – he  says – they are little studied and production is poorly monitored as was made abundantly evident by the “Brunello incident” (in which wine makers deliberately altered the composition of the wine). Enology, nowadays, is an exact science; chemistry allows us to capture the exact moment in which the gene of a vine manifests itself in a determined environment. But it is also a truly marvelous art. I’ll never forget what Ceretto, an amazing winemaker told me when I was young.  Enologists, he explained, “didn’t discover penicillin, but our work still produces enormous good for the world. We must give pleasure”. Pleasure becomes industry. Industry becomes commerce. Commerce becomes business. 280 million hectolitres of wine are produced every year in the world. Certainly it is difficult to carve out ones place at the table in such a vast industry. But it is possible. “Today the wine market is a cutthroat business where competition is fierce -- says Lanati -- and one must deal with current standardized global tastes. But in order not to be swallowed up, it is essential to guarantee the distinctiveness of the product. Wine of an indisputable quality must express the tastes, the values and culture of the community in which it is made.  It is also necessary to certify the provenance and terroir of the product. With scientific tools it is possible to trace, with absolute certainty, the history of the product. Indicating this on the label is not only a mark of quality, but also a demonstration of professionalism. That is what the public wants”.

One of the latest missions of Lanati has been to organize a vineyard and winery in Georgia, with futuristic computer technology. An act of love, yes, for sure, but also a journey back in time. Back to the moment wine was born eight thousand years ago in the very place where the Ark of Noah came to rest after the universal flood and where the vine was as much a gift of God as the alphabet. There are still, today, traces of the ancient deity, Badagnoni, who, as his cult moved westwards together with civilization and the wine-cup, was transmogrified, first, into Dionysus and, finally into Bacchus.  ( Bruno Ventavoli )



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