The heroic viticulture of Heidy Bonanini raises in one of the most beautiful places in Italy: the Cinque Terre.
Some stories deserve to be told, and one of these is the one of Heydi Bonanini, born in 1978, founder of Azienda Agricola Possa. It is the story of heroic viticulture, of abandoned and recovered lands, of unconditional love. The background is the evocative landscape of the Cinque Terre land, a destination for many tourists, although perhaps not everyone knows how impervious, bitter, and sweet this land is at the same time. It is a land capable of giving precious fruits, but it lends itself little to human intervention and bends without ever breaking: it is the land of resilience.
“The Cinque Terre are the extreme of heroic agriculture, but for me, it is normal. This is the agriculture with which I was born. I don’t see anything heroic about it.
By Lodovica Bo
It was born in 2004, in Riomaggiore, when we started making wine, even if behind it, there are 7-8 years of recovery of the territory: it is a slow recovery system as manual work. The first year of production was ridiculous; we produced 500 bottles and just over 60 of Sciacchetrà. It served, however, as a starting point; otherwise, it would have remained only as a passion.
We started to recover native varieties that only exist here because the Cinque Terre is an ancient area for viticulture. There are 24 native varieties present in this area, of which we have recovered 19. We have always worked with the mindset of a clean agriculture in a selfish way, because if you use chemicals, then you’ll find them on your skin. If you use natural products at most, you’ll smell a bit of sulfur, and that’s all: we’ve always adopted this line. The same philosophy is brought back to the cellar: when we started making wine, we wanted to make it become as much as possible image of the territory. We didn’t use added yeasts to activate the fermentation, but only those spontaneous of the plant, bringing back the maceration on the skins and recovering wood such as acacia, chestnut, cherry. Besides, I like to experiment (with terracotta or ceramic vats) but always remaining on a natural discourse: this is our vision.
There are 4 hectares of vineyards: the block of Possaltara is made up of 2 hectares; then, we have 1.5 hectares scattered on the area of Tramonti up to the edge of the town of Riomaggiore; also, we have a vineyard at the Palmaria Island. Today we are also building one hectare in Monterosso and one in Montaretto. The vines start from sea level up to 300-400 meters above sea level.
Today we have 19 varieties, but of all the wines we use 11, some of which we keep in our historical memory. These varieties produce ten types of wine (3 dry white wines; 2 ripened wines: one white and one red, fermented on the skins of the red raisin and the sciacchetrà; then a rosé; a standard dry red; a sweet wine of red grapes; a sweet wine of white grapes.)
The vineyards are terraced, a typical Ligurian structure. The oldest part is a pergola, as per tradition. Then we have the new section in rows, both to obtain easier processing and to produce less to a plant. To increase the quality of a product, you have to make the plant produce as little as possible, and this you can get better with the row.
The harvest is done manually and is carried on the shoulders, sometimes with the support of monorails.
How would you define your production method?
We make a ‘completely organic agriculture; in addition, we insert a discourse of synergistic agriculture, trying to establish synergy between plants. So, for those who know our vineyards, they know that it is not a standard vineyard but a mix of aromatic plants, citrus fruits, and wild peaches. It is a system of differentiation of cultivation aimed at helping each other in moments of climate fatigue, which must be supported by itself with the help of the plants. For example, rosemary bushes absorb moisture, leave the grass not very high, but making it bloom so that the bees turn around the grapes and so on.
Your diamond product?
The Cinque Terre Bianco da mare and the Sciachetrà, which is our business card because it made our land famous decades ago. We distinguish ourselves from the other Sciachetrà because it is difficult to find our products in the supermarket: you can find them at Eataly or otherwise in grocery stores of a certain level. What we have pushed a lot is a discourse of product knowledge: to show people who come here the vineyards, the cellar, how to work the grapes, then playing on word of mouth, making known the way we work.
Today the company exports 40% of its production to Japan, the United States, Australia, Belgium, France, and Germany, with a total of 16,000 to 20,000 bottles produced per year.
How did you get to open the company? Was there an illumination within the wine world?
My grandparents were winegrowers, so I carry viticulture in my blood. In 2004 it was a bit unpopular to open a winery here at 5 o’clock. These were the last years in which we could only see a lot of abandonment progressing. It was a bet for me. 2012 was the year in which we realized that we could produce excellent products when we managed to get to the first important awards in Italy. We are such a small company compared to companies that make millions of bottles that, on the one hand, it has been stimulating, but on the other hand, it also puts a little ‘of fear. Today, there are two of us: me and Momussa, my employee. During the season, however, several people help us.
Anecdotes that bring you back to an emotional memory of this land?
I have always lived in my valley. By 40 days, my parents had brought me to the sea here despite it being all but comfortable. I had the good fortune to see this land cultivated in large part and to talk to the elders who still cultivated it, to understand then what it meant to work in the 5 Terre 50 years ago. Now the 5 Terre are the destination of world tourism. The most significant burden was to take responsibility for bringing this wine back to where it should be produced and how it should be made.
There are many anecdotes: I always went to the home of these older people because I always wanted to know more, learn, understand. The part of the land that I know today is thanks to these people. It’s an emotion to think back to those who taught me and passed on my knowledge of my land today.
The two darkest years were from the end of 2010 to the summer of 2013. If it hadn’t been for the birth of my son, I wouldn’t be here to be a farmer. When Jacopo was born, I had the urge to continue. Here was the custom of putting aside the Schiacchetrà of the year in which you were born a child, which is his dowry for life: I had set out to produce a well done Sciacchtrà. 2012 was, therefore, the year of the turning point because then the wine came to be the first and only prize three glasses in the 5 Terre and, besides, we have obtained international awards. It was a good luck year. We have also brought the harvest back to life with the boat that hadn’t been done in 50 years, and when I do it he comes too; he beats up the Sciacchetrà, in short, he says that the company is all his, it has become the mascot of the company.
What do you think about viticulture today?
In my opinion, viticulture should be divided into areas: those of mass production, of which I feel I can say little, and then there are smaller areas, more tied to tradition, which I think I can pronounce. These are the areas that made progress in the last ten years and, in terms of quality, have nothing to envy to noble wines.