Letter from Pollenzo

There is no sustainable tourism without happy inhabitants

Sustainability, and even more the concept of sustainable tourism, is an expression that has entered the common dialectic in a disruptive way, to the point of being abused. Let’s clarify this concept immediately: sustainable has the same root as “sustain”, the piano pedal that lengthens the note. The French translate it as “durable”. A term that contains the idea that the actions we take must result in a persistent, longer duration. In this context, we aim to ensure that the benefits of tourism can be enjoyed in the long period and do not wear out quickly. One point is very clear to me: tourism, including wine tourism, does not only have positive aspects. It also has an impact and criticality that we have to be aware of, in order to prevent them.

One of the distinctive elements of sustainable tourism is, for example, to work to ensure that the inhabitants of the area are happy. I go visit a place because there are people who smile, and there is a community open to welcome me. If the local citizens are not happy, if we lose the essence of social life, then we cannot speak of sustainable tourism, but only of exploitation and benefits for the few. If only quantitative results are pressed on the accelerator, cultural elements are canceled, and if what we get is a closer local society then we have already lost. I remember, at the end of the seventies, in a much more modest economic scenario than now for Alba and the Langhe, a dialogue from the La Morra belvedere with the American producer Robert Mondavi: “Carlo, can’t you hear this noise? You are sleeping with these God’s gifts in front of your eyes ”. Today, after fifty years of development, what would Mondavi say to me? What would his opinion be in front of the phenomenon of the impoverishment of our villages? Large-scale distribution has made the small shops disappear, the scent of bread coming from the village oven and the tavern where they played cards and found themselves socializing with the elderly. Even the religious community, the parish, has now disappeared. We all work in tourism. But if the local population does not benefit from it, if the shops close and social well-being is lost, then it is necessary to change direction and think about another form of development. I believe that the real heritage is the population itself, and that sustainability lies in a tourism that knows how to govern its limits. Growing up is an excellent thing, but perennial growth does not exist in nature. Harmony is needed, as the pandemic crisis has taught us that. The efficiency of the tourism system cannot be parameterized only with the number of tourists’ arrivals. This is not what we must monitor, we must evaluate the quality of tourism and its ability to be in harmony with the territory.

A second fundamental aspect is that, for thirty years now, wine has been detaching itself from the agricultural world, is becoming a commodity, and has increasingly weak links with less noble agriculture. But a countryside where there is only viticulture, where the monoculture that makes profits eliminates other indigenous productions, is not good. The biodiversity of the landscape is not given by a monotonous extension of vineyards, but by variety. For this reason, wine must reconnect to the food world, it must have more awareness and respect for other crops.

Finally, there is the question of young people, who are not won over by great tourism promotion ideas. We see them mobilizing around the world for a disastrous environmental situation, the primary culprit of which is the global food system. A system that produces food for 12 billion human beings, whereas we are 7.8 billion: we throw away over 30% of the food produced. I’m talking about a billion and a half tons of edible food, for which we use millions of hectares of land and who knows how much water. This is what our goal must be: responsible wine tourism, a careful attitude towards agriculture, a denunciation of monocultures, chemical rage, and pockets of illegal hiring and exploitation of workers. Wine tourism can be a winning highway, but by no means sustainable and durable. The climate change we are witnessing is proof of this. The atlas of the great Langa vineyards that I helped create many years ago indicated the best locations, the so-called crus. Today these vineyards give wines cooked in the heat and the less exposed areas are favored, and more shaded. If wine tourism is not aware of all this, how can it be an active element? This for me is true sustainability. We become aware and help others to grow, without losing ourselves in a bubble, otherwise, we will die of asphyxiation.


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