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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BERT MAGAZINE
The Central Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand has forged a reputation for being one of the world’s great wine growing regions. It is particularly lauded for the quality of the Pinot Noir the region produces. However, apart from being quite capable of drinking these great wines, providing accurate tasting notes beyond “mmmmmmmmm” is not is probably not going to happen. Besides, there are plenty of places on and off the interwebs where such things can be found. The manner in which many of Central Otago’s winemakers are producing their product is a different story, and an interesting one at that.
Ringed by snow-capped mountains with large, glacier fed rivers carving out great valleys, the wineries of Central Otago are situated in what must be some of the most stunning landscape in the world. This environment has also made it possible for the many of the wineries in the region to embrace organic and biodynamic processes in the production of their wines. The low-humidity of the area means that the vines face almost no fungal attacks which in turn means that the need to use sprays to control such attacks is very low. However, it quickly becomes clear that just because the path to going organic and biodynamic is easier in Central Otago than many other places, there is very much a personal desire of the winemakers in the region to embrace such practices.
At Rippon Vineyard, on the shores of Lake Wanaka, Nick Mills’ family has been working the land since 1912. It was his father, Rolf, who planted the first experimental vines on the property in 1975. This connection to the land clearly influences their methods of working with it. According to Mills, “Part of the way we work is obviously influenced by the fact that we are a family living on this piece of land but really the land is a huge part of that family as well. It’s probably the most important part of that family in the sense that were all working for it and with it. … looking at this beautiful piece of land and having I guess the privilege of having a moment of custodianship.”
Rippon has been biodynamic since 2003. Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats the land and what grows on it as an interconnected entity. It begins by looking after the soil. “Principally we’re just farming soil” says Mills. “and farming the life within that soil”. Composting plays a large part in this. At Rippon they run a manure herd of four cows and mix that with green waste and grape skins from the wine-making process to produce about 40 cubic metres of compost a year. This holistic approach flows through the entire process at Rippon. Here, there is no distinction between the vineyard and the winery, it is all one process. As Mills explains “We don’t grow grapes then hand it onto the winery and then the winery puts it into bottles and then hands it on to the sales team. All of that is part of the same craft. So it’s important for us to maintain a team culture that understands that, so we really celebrate polyvalence in our working day.” It’s not unusual to find the sales team working in the vineyard or vice-versa. Everyone on the vineyard takes responsibility for the entire process of producing the end product. Mills believes that by doing this “You can have a single focus from the soil all the way through to the table.”
It is this kind of approach that is growing throughout the Central Otago wine growing region, with many other vineyards adopting biodynamics. At the Chard Farm Vineyard, perched high above the Kawarau River, biodynamics is being embraced in a similar way. According to winemaker Rob Hay, “(some organic practices) are more of a though-shalt-not type of approach whereas biodynamics is more about working symbiotically with the land.” While Hay admits that it would be easier to spray - and more cost effective - he sees the benefits of taking a biodynamic approach to the land and the wine produced from the grapes growing on it, as outweighing any potential drawbacks. “Personally if I could wake up in the morning and know that I was being kind to the environment and making great wine” offers Hay, “I’d be pretty happy about that”.
This theme of working with the land, and looking after it in the process, continues at nearby Mt Difficulty. Here Matt Dicey, a fourth generation vigneron, talks excitedly about the processes they have put in place. These include the production of over 140 cubic metres of compost each year, experimenting with adding bio char to the soil, using sheep in winter for under vine ‘mowing’ and, finally, building a ‘green’ living roof over their barrel room to provide an energy efficient cave-like environment. Talking to Dicey, it seems as though the theories of biodynamics fit perfectly with winegrowing. “It’s a great product to deal with making wine, because you actually have an influence over the entire life cycle.”
For Rob Hay at Chard Farm, biodynamics also seems a good fit for the entire Central Otago region. Hay sees the potential for the whole area to become synonymous with biodynamic and organic winegrowing. “Because it is relatively easy for Central Otago to go down that track, compared to pretty much all other regions in NZ due to our low humidity” explains Hay “we’ve got an opportunity for Central Otago to potentially become synonymous with being an organic – slash – biodynamic region.” While Hay concedes that that is probably a few years off at least, he can see that eventually the majority of winemakers will come to appreciate the benefits of heading down that path, not only for the sustainability of their vineyards but also the quality of their wine. Nick from Rippon adds “if you’re committed to making a vin de terroir, a wine that’s true to it’s surroundings and it’s site…then you have to try to allow the vines to be as receptive to their land and their place as possible and therefore the wines as well. So that’s your whole craft, trying to issue fruit that is truly reflective of this piece of land.”
For Dicey, the biggest challenge in implementing these changes has been in accessing the knowledge and then finding, and often inventing, the equipment to put that knowledge into practice. He has also been very conscious to include everyone across the process in the process. It was important to not only consider what to do but “how do we do and make the doing not a chore? Because as soon as it becomes a chore, people start rebelling against it”. An example he gives for this in action is in the recycling of scraps from the restaurant. In order to ensure that staff bought into the disposing of these scraps, the winery purchased pigs to feed them to. The pork from the pigs is then shared amongst everyone.
No doubt accompanied by a fine Pinot Noir.
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First appeared in BERT Magazine
“I like to think that our man is not changing his beautiful jacket because the new pants aren’t working with that jacket. I like to think that he is collecting the pieces, one after the other and he can blend them together and that sometimes that that pant or that hat or that Berluti shoe that he bought 3 years ago is even chicer with a new suit or a new leather jacket that he’s buying this season”. This is how creative director at French bottier Berluti, Allesandro Sartori, describes his customer: “The Berluti Man”.
Sitting in the Berluti headquarters at 120 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, Sartori appears the epitome of this very man. Dressed in a black suit, with matching open necked black shirt, the bespectacled Sartori simultaneously presents both refinement and warmth. As quickly becomes apparent, any notion of perceived Parisian fashion-forged arrogance is quickly dispelled. What is very clear is his passion for what he does, and a generosity of spirit in wishing to share that passion. “I’ve always been interested in menswear” offers Sartori “the idea to look back to the beautiful tailor-made suits and jackets and sportswear and pants and shirts in one of the most elegant periods to me which is the 40’s and 50’s is what helped me upgrade my vision and educate myself in terms of fashion.”
While this reflection on classic wear may have informed his older self, his fashion education began at a much earlier age as a little boy in the small Northern Italian textile town of Biella where he grew up. “I started when I was very little, because my mum is a tailor, she’s retired now. But I remember when I was a little boy and I was going around her atelier and she was doing these beautiful women’s dresses and these beautiful suits. And I was delighted, I didn’t know what I was looking because I was a little boy but I knew that I liked it.” It is a passion that has taken him from studying a fashion degree in Milan, via an extended stay at Ermenegildo Zegna’s youth oriented lable Z Zegna, to the centre of Paris where he is currently responsible for the transition of Berulti from being singularly a bottier to providing a complete handmade lifestyle offering. Bespoke tailoring from head-to-toe.
To understand the task at hand given to Allesandro by the owners of Berluti – the irrepressible LVMH Group - one first needs to understand Berluti itself. Founded in 1895 by an Italian, Allessandro Berluti, it has built a heritage based on the founder’s initial vision. As Sartori explains “The company started with the idea of this visionary shoemaker and bottier that decided to make the shoes, the shoe itself, as a piece of art.” Over the years this notion has been strictly adhered to and lovingly enhanced by the generations of Berlutis that have followed, in turn building on the brand heritage. “Berluti has a lot of components” offers Sartori by way of explaining the brand mythology “there is this strong soul, this strong heritage which is coming from the past but a lot of secrets and a lot of interesting recipes - like the way to create the colour on the shoes, on the small leather goods, on the large leather goods, on the leather jackets because these colours are created in the ateliers or in the stores and after that you can change the colour if you want to change the colour even after a year or two years.”
It is this brand mythology that has fostered a passionate clientele, many of whom still choose to polish their handmade boots with Dom Perignon as tradition dictates. Over the years it is almost as though the brand DNA of Berluti and the human DNA of the devotees of the brand have become somewhat blended to form some sort of mutant recombinant DNA of its own. “If we look behind and we see the Berluti customers we had in the past, I’m talking about James Dean, I’m talking about Andy Warhol, I’m talking about Pierre Bergé, All these men they have a strong personality, they are artists on their own. And this belongs really to the Berluti customers and our portfolio of characters we see in the stores. They are men with style, chic men; elegant. Ageless actually because we have twenty year olds and sixty, seventy year olds, but mostly each of them has that special twist that makes them different.” It is this ‘special twist’ that defines not only the customers who wear the shoes but the shoes and boots themselves.
Faced then with the challenge of harnessing this heritage without offending the current customer base, it is natural to wonder what Sartori hopes to achieve with his collections. “We want to create a collection that has a classic soul but is modern, is not fashion but is very stylish and is made by a lot of pieces. Like a collection for collectors.” It is a simple but well considered response, quintessentially ‘Berluti’ perhaps.
The shoes and boots themselves are hand-made in the atelier a few streets away in a small third floor apartment on Rue Marbeuf, a gentle stroll across the Champs Élysées from the head office. Here the bootmakers work the leather over custom foot moulds in a manner that evokes a sense of timelessness. It is hard to imagine things being done any differently over the preceding hundred or so years. The moulds of existing and former clients line the walls in racks, ready to be called upon should the customer require a new pair of shoes at any time. It is a place of quiet endeavour; a place of artisanal peace.
It is also a place in stark contrast to the luxury environs of the flagship store not far down the road. Here the beauty of the craftsmanship of the ateliers producing for Berluti is on display. There is something about items that are well made - there is an almost overwhelming desire to touch them, to add the tactile response to the visual allure. Perhaps this is why much of what is on display is behind glass! It is here also that the ready to wear lines overseen by Sartori give a sense of the practical implementation of his ‘Collection for Collectors.’ There is no hint that the clothing above the ankle is a mis-matched extension, but rather the pieces work individually to enhance each other. It truly is the manifestation of the old adage about the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. While most people will never be able to afford a piece from Berluti, there is nothing preventing people from appreciating the craftsmanship involved in producing their goods. I get a feeling that it must be like what first drew the attention of the young Allesandro Sartori back in Biella, standing at the foot of his mother – we don’t know what we’re looking at, but we know that we like it.
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