Great wine does not exist: An interview with Albino Armani

“Great wine? To me it does not exist. In fact, what do you mean by this word, ‘great?’ Famous, expensive, noble…? To me, even a humble Vernatsch with a daily meal can be ‘great’ if it is representative of its region. That’s why I’m not interested in tasting a ‘great wine’ but would rather drink a typical wine that speaks the language of its country.”

Albino Armani is a renowned Italian wine producer, owner of four wineries in Veneto, Trentino and Friuli with 270 ha of vineyards – over 667 acres. He produces four million bottles per year which are exported all over the world, including to the United States. He could sit back and be satisfied with this success but that is not his character: he ceaselessly questions everything around him.

His curiosity about the world in general and viticulture in particular is endless. That’s why he is always testing something new: grapes, tools, blends, techniques. “Mine is not a winery, it is a project incubator!” he jokes. He is even able to carry on exhaustive and lengthy research projects like the recovery of nearly-forgotten indigenous grapes such as the local foja tonda which he launched into an award-winning wine.

Nevertheless, Albino Armani is far from the picture of the typical businessman. When you run into him at a wine exhibition you see a calm, friendly and humble guy, eager to discover new things, new people, new places. And new wines, of course. A few days ago I went to visit him at his winery in Dolcè (Valdadige, not far from Verona), and this is how our chat went:

When did your adventure in the wine world begin?

“I was born into it. My family’s involvement in this world began in 1607! I was a little boy when I did my first harvest; I studied enology at Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige and then agriculture at the University of Bologna.”

A.Armani, old vineWas becoming a wine producer like your father and grandfather your deepest ambition?

“No. If I had had the opportunity to choose according my own inclination, probably I would have become an anthropologist. But at that time it was very difficult to choose a path different from your family’s, and my family’s was grape growing and wine production.”

On your Facebook personal page you often share pictures and reports about your journeys. You have visited some of the most extreme places on Earth — the Arctic Svalbard, as well as remote deserts and oceans — with a small group of crazy people like you (the Moto Raid Experience). You all travel most of the time on motorcycles. It’s stressful, and sometimes dangerous. Why do you feel compelled to do this?

“I’ve always been very enthusiastic about traveling the world. When I was a child, I often ran away from home to explore my surroundings. Growing up, my money was often spent on journeys. Why do I do this? Maybe because I love to be confronted with the most extreme places on our planet, and with my own personal mental and physical limits at the same time. To me, this sort of trip is a way to learn to know myself.”

Armani in Egypt
Armani in Egypt

What are the most impressive places that you remember?

“I remember the Egyptian desert: an endless sea of sand. And the Svalbard islands: an endless sea of ice. I love the most extreme locations with their natural phenomena — snow or wind, or storms in the desert — where even the points of the compass become meaningless, and everything challenges your assumptions.”

Vineyards and wine: do you miss them on your journeys?

“We are always looking for wine, and we always drink a lot of it, except in North Africa. Our last journey was through Latin America — Chile, Bolivia and Peru, 5200 km in 18 days! — where we drank great wines. When we stop to eat we try to find a place where there is a good wine list wherever possible. In Lapland it was not possible, so we took some bottles from home, even sacrificing some clothing because our baggage had to be as light as possible. I have a good, select group of travel companions, and the true traveler always loves wine. As for me, I am a planter of vines and if I could, I would plant a vine every place I visit, because the grape brings happiness.”

And when you are at home, what wine do you love to put on your table?

“We are lucky to have good relationships with producers and distributors all over the world, so on our table you can find all sorts of bottles from many different countries. We are curious and we taste any wine we can, thus I cannot say I have a specific wine that I prefer. Recently, though, my wife Egle has been very interested in sparkling wines and I’m glad to second her passion…and waiting for her next one.”

What is your favorite pairing of food and wine?

“In the past, I always tried to find the right pairing, or the best pairing… Now I am no longer interested. I love experimenting with new pairings and listening to the opinions of young people like my son Federico, who is 23 years old.  The youth are our next consumers.”

Armani, vineyardsTo the U.S. market you export many wines, both red and white: Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Amarone della Valpolicella, Ripasso… Could you describe one: for example, what is your ideal Amarone?

“When I think about Amarone, I imagine a sphere: something perfect. Well, Amarone della Valpolicella should be like this: the producer’s task should be trying only to smooth out roughness without adding anything. My ideal Amarone is not a muscular wine, but an elegant and long-lived red wine, and you can get this only from certain particular places on the hills of Valpolicella. Moreover, this kind of wine needs time: the right moment for the harvest, long drying periods, long aging… If you are pressed into hurrying for some commercial reason, the final result could be disappointing.”

Finally, what does wine mean to you?

“I think that wine is ‘community.’ Making wine must not be a solitary act, but a collective action. If you make the best wine in the world without giving anything to the community and the region you belong to – in terms of knowledge or progress, for example – you are useless. I conceive my role as a wine producer in this way: I strongly feel that my duty is always to contribute somehow to the progress of my community”.