By Riccardo Trono
In the office of one of southern Italy’s most historic wine-makers, they are busy packing up wine to send to Bournemouth. But with the shadow of Brexit looming, president Francesco Trono is wondering how many boxes of wine might be following in the future.
Francesco , 55, is the president of Cupertinum, a winery in the heart of Copertino, a town located approximately 11 miles from Lecce, in Puglia and right at the heel of Italy’s boot.
Founded in 1935, the winery’s excellence has spread far beyond regional and national borders, with Cupertinum receiving highly positive ratings from worldwide acclaimed lifestyle magazines.
“Yes, we have enjoyed a decent amount of interest from a number of international magazines”, said Francesco. “Especially Wine Spectator and Decanter, which people in our sector look up to as the bible.
“Even Hugh Johnson, the father of wine critics, wrote about our Rosato and Copertino Rosso Riserva on the Sunday Times in the eighties. Just think that on the Copertino we still haven’t changed the label, it has stayed the same.”
As well as international recognition, critical acclaim also won Cupertinum access to foreign markets and links with trading partners. The UK, Francesco is quick to recall, has been one of them.
Discussing the fate awaiting free trade in the aftermath of Brexit, however, he did not hide his fears.
“Brexit is a question mark. Uncertainty reigns supreme right now. The nightmare of Covid-19 and now this impasse with the Brexit negotiations. No one knows what is going to happen, but I think that tourism is the priority. If it doesn’t kick off again, the entire sector will suffer, from gastronomy all the way to transport.”
According to Francesco, the recipe for surviving the crisis is relying on the uniqueness of Salento, which has in its wines an image of its beauty.
“At this winery we have been campaigning over the last few years for the promotion of our territory, and the quality of our products is strongly linked to it. Everything that surrounds us should be considered as one with our wines.
“We must place the production of our wines into context. Alongside the bottles we need to sell the image of who has made them, where they have been made and when. We should be able to convey this message: in Salento you’ll find all this.
“Russian novelist Dostoevskij once wrote that beauty will save the world, and I really hope this is going to happen to us.
“This is especially valid when you think of how competitive the process is going to be. Everyone makes wine right now, from China to Chile, USA, Europe, Africa. Globalisation has introduced a little bit of everyone into foreign markets.”
Francesco is hoping that an economically hard Brexit will not lessen the demand for his wines. “Our wines don’t have the characteristic of being extremely expensive.
“Magazines have prized our balance between quality and price; on average, we ask around 10 euros for a bottle, so we normally produce what we would call a daily sort of wine.
“I do hope, however, that the economic divide within the populace will not grow further, because everyone should be able to enjoy their daily pleasures and wine is one of them.”
Finally, I asked him if he thought that blending tradition and innovation, especially in a view to training young people, could be successful in promoting the quality of Salento’s output across the Channel after Brexit. He said: “I believe it can, absolutely. However, the young should remember that there’s no such thing as promptness in this sector.
“We live in the era of technology, so whenever we send a message or an email, we do expect an immediate reply, for example. We should learn to be patient. In a way, we need to cultivate the land.
“It takes a lot of patience and dedication and, only then, will passion, intuition and luck allow you to get something special.
“I’d say what we should do is train the young with the imprint of tradition. Even today they can only benefit from the lessons of the older generations.”