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Q&A: Elena Pantaleoni, the Leading Lady of "Natural Resistance"

Q&A: Elena Pantaleoni, the Leading Lady of "Natural Resistance"
© Katherine Cole
Elena Pantaleoni inherited the La Stoppa estate in Emilia-Romagna from her parents. Today, she is a respected leader in Italy’s natural wine movement. She features in “Mondovino” filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter’s new documentary, entitled “Natural Resistance.”

Did you know Jonathan Nossiter prior to the filming of “Natural Resistance”?

Yes, because he moved to Italy about three years ago; now he lives in Rome. We met at a tasting and became close friends. Last summer he asked me: “Can I come to your place with my family — his wife, his three children and his dog — and can I stay a couple of days? And do you mind if I take my video camera with me? Maybe I will film something?” I said: “Yes, no problem.”

He didn’t set out to make a full-length movie. But when he filmed it, he realized he had really interesting material with the other producers [Giovanna Tiezzi of Pacina and Stefano Bellotti of Cascina degli Ulivi]. He also had footage of Gian Luca Farinelli, director of Cineteca Bologna, a famous and important film archive. So he decided to make a movie on wine, but also on cinema.

It recently debuted at Berlinale, the big Berlin film festival. Did you attend?

Yes. All the people who were there said: “You look so natural on screen!” We all said: “Yes, because we didn’t expect to be in the Berlinale!” I was very embarrassed to see myself on a big screen in such a big festival. But everyone was very friendly and nice. The film has a distributor in France and they are looking for a distributor in Italy.

How did you feel being filmed?

I didn’t even notice that he was filming. We are close friends, so I often didn’t even realize that the camera was on. I talked with our winemaker, Giulio Armani, who has worked with me for many years. I talked with my niece, who is studying viticulture and enology and will be joining the winery soon. We talked about agriculture. We talked about why we choose to make wine in this way. It is more of a lifestyle choice — it is not just about wine. The film promotes a different way of living through winegrowing in the countryside. And Jonathan uses wine as a metaphor for cinema; you can build a wine in the cellar in the same way that you can build a movie, but this is not the natural way to do it.

Jonathan Nossiter, the director of Mondovino is back on the wine documentary trail
© J. Nossiter-Goatworks Films | Jonathan Nossiter, the director of Mondovino is back on the wine documentary trail

What is your take on the term “natural wine”?

I would prefer to use the word “artisanal,” which is more what I do. I act and behave as an artisan. I feel like a farmer who focuses on wine. Unfortunately in Italy, there is not a clear distinction between artisanal and industrial. It is not a question of size because you can be industrial if you are very small. It is more your approach.

I am not embarrassed to use the term “natural wine,” but I understand that people are very sensitive about this word. People say: “A wine cannot be natural because you are an actor in its making. You cultivate the vineyard.” But this is a very silly way to make the distinction. In Italy, the law doesn’t allow you to use the word “natural” on your label, which is strange because you see a lot of ads for industrially produced things that use the word “natural.”

Are consumers becoming more interested in natural wines?

Yes, there is a lot more interest, but we have worked to achieve this. We always say that we don’t make any compromises, in making our wines or cultivating our vineyard. But because of this, we do have to make an extra effort to promote our wines. Perhaps it is a small compromise to promote them. But if we didn’t do large events like Vinitaly, we would stay within a small niche of crazy people. In a way, it is much easier to stay with people who think the same way as you. It is very comfortable. Sometimes it takes an effort to open your mind.

Ageno, your white blend undergoes a 30-day maceration on skins. What do you think of the term “orange wine”?

You Anglo-Saxons are very pragmatic. You give everything a name. Italians are not like this. We don’t put anything in a box. But it’s easy to understand why this term is useful. It really is something different. Because you might not want to put it on the “whites” section of a wine list since it is not really white. The term is a way for people to understand. Wine has been produced in Europe for thousands of years. The method of pressing white grapes off the skins and vinifying it in a different way than that reds, that is much more recent. It started with Champagne.

At La Stoppa, skin maceration is common for its whites
© La Stoppa | At La Stoppa, skin maceration is common for its whites

How did you become a winery owner?

My father and grandfather were printers. My father bought the estate in 1973 — it was his dream — but kept doing his day job. So I grew up in town and my first job when I graduated was to own a bookstore with some friends. I love wine and books equally. I knew I loved wine, but I also was a rebellious child, so working with my parents was not my goal. But I started to work in the vineyard and winery when my father passed away in 1991. My brother and sister were already married with children. My mother had been managing the estate, but after four years, she moved to Chile. She was very generous. She told me: “If I stay, you will never grow up. It is better if I go and you take over all the responsibility. You will make mistakes, but don’t worry — there is not just one way to manage a winery. Trust yourself.”

What are you most proud of?

That I am happy, I am centered. There isn’t a difference between my private life and my job. I never know if I am always working or always on vacation. Because I don’t simply choose to make a product. My goal is to make wines of identity and personality. And I have invested myself in La Stoppa in the 23 years I have been there.

How about your greatest regret?

Our Colli Piacentini area has a lot of potential but is not well known. Most of the wine produced there is just consumed locally. I would have liked for my colleagues to have been more ambitious and more courageous, to make wines with more personality. My regret is that I have not yet created a group of producers in my area, to increase the value of our place. But I am working on it now.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Now that I have a nephew working with me and my niece joining me very soon, [as soon she finishes her studies], I am glad to see that this will live on after me. The idea of leaving the winery to my family brings more meaning to my work, because my vineyards will live longer than me. So I see myself as a guardian.

Related story:

Mondovino Director Releases Natural Wine Documentary

Crackdown on "Natural" Wine Exposes Legal Loophole in Italy


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  • Comments

    Robina Pirie wrote:
    19-Apr-2014 at 16:56:28 (GMT)

    Hi Elena, would love to visit your Winery with my husband one day. I am in the Wine Industry and love talking about wines and drinking wines Robina

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