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What a waste - by Nicolas Belfrage MW and Franco Ziliani

Published:  18 January, 2007

As anyone who has ever read one of the punditries on the state of modern Italy well knows, one of the great blights on that fair land is bureaucracy.

It affects every aspect of Italian life, but specifically in a wine context, it is bureaucracy (perhaps we should call it 'bureaupathy') that stifles initiatives before they can get off the ground and forces onto the statute books niggling regulations that tie one hand (or both) behind the backs of producers desperately trying to survive in an increasingly competitive world market. For example, the ridiculous prohibition, much in the news these days thanks to the objections of David Gleave, to the use of alternative closures in DOCG wines. And for petty campanilistic motives it keeps churning out more and more names with which to confuse the drinking public and prevents effective investment in Italian generic promotion, etcetera, etcetera.

One symptom of bureaupathy is, it is true, a fear of leaving one's backside unprotected, of attracting criticism and therefore of doing anything other than collecting your monthly stipend. But every now and then the bureaupaths find themselves forced to take action, in which event the first criterion is not whether it makes any sense, but whether you've got the powers that be (i.e. the powers that pay) firmly behind you.

A case in point has arisen in the Tuscan growing zone of Rufina (pronounced ROO-fee-na), where the politicians and bureaupaths have got together to propose the construction of a mega-incinerator. Rufina is the smallest but probably most respected of the non-Classico Chianti zones, situated to the east and north of Florence in the direction of the Apennine mountains, which loom above it. Given its relatively cool micro-climate it has developed the reputation of being suitable for the production of wines for long-ageing, and indeed one of the greatest wines of postwar Italy was the 1947 Riserva from Selvapiana, which saw off all competition in a tasting of old Tuscan wines in the late 1990s.

So just where would a bureaupathic planner propose to locate this monstrosity? In the valley directly below Selvapiana, of course, literally a stone's throw from the famous Bucerchiale, from which vineyard the above-mentioned cru derived, and higher up the slope from the even more famous winefields of the ancient house of Frescobaldi, including world-renowned Montesodi. What, one wonders, would the Burgundians do if the French bureaucrats threatened to stick a massive waste-disposal unit right in front of Clos de Vougeot. You know damn well what they'd do - bye-bye bureaupath.

Admittedly, there is an incinerator (1970s' vintage) in that position at the moment, but putting an incinerator in the wrong place twice doesn't turn it into the right place. In any case, the old incinerator was capable of handling only one-seventh the mount of waste of the proposed one when it was functioning, which it hasn't done for a couple of years. The new one, if it happens, will enjoy the latest technology, able to reduce the waste at extremely high temperatures to the finest of particles, capable of spreading cancer and other chronic ailments, not only through the air people breathe but also via the soil and the fruit that comes from the soil (mainly grapes and olives; Rufina is arguably one of the greatest olive oil-producing zones in the world). And it will contaminate the waters of the Sieve river which flows by, less than 100 metres distant. Surely there are a hundred less objectionable places they could have found for their monstrosity. Not to mention the more environmentally friendly waste-disposal technologies available in our global-warming times.

There are other reasons for not placing the incinerator here. The town of Rufina may not be one of the architectural gems of Tuscany - though it does boast a fine Renaissance building called Villa Reale, which houses a wine museum and an enoteca under the auspices of the local consorzio - but the countryside around it is classic Tuscan 15th-century-painting background, dotted with agriturismi (upmarket farmhouse B&Bs). What is a carbuncle 72m long, 37m high and 31m wide, with a chimney sticking nearly 50m into the sky, right next to the road you must drive along to reach the town, going to do to the image of Rufina tourist-wise and wine-and-oil-idyll-wise?

Not in my back yard? Alright, I (Nicolas Belfrage) admit to having a nimby interest in this, as the window of my 'office' looks down the valley towards Selvapiana and Frescobaldi's Nipozzano, and I do not want to have to take a visual dose of the Monster every time I swivel my head. But I am convinced there are excellent reasons for resisting the Behemoth that are not selfish, but based on hygiene, ecology, aesthetics, economics and image, to name a few. Anyone wishing to assure the bureaupaths that their arse is less likely to get burned out of the project than in it, is invited to write to, mentioning this article of course.