A wine with notes of cherry… and Mozart

The Mozart in Vigna experiment at Paradiso di Frassina

Alex Josephy
October 25, 2012

Our jeep bounced up the white track, wheels spinning on loose pebbles. Below, the Montalcino-Buonconvento road disappeared in the morning mist. ‘Can this be the right place? Where's the music?' wondered my partner, David. Then, up ahead, we caught a glimpse of Carlo Cignozzi, the wine producer we had come to interview. He was leading a group of tourists into a vineyard perched on the hillside. From his animated gestures and the attentive circle gathered around him, it was clear that he already had his audience entranced. I rolled down the car window and the notes of Mozart's 23rd piano concerto drifted into our ears.

 

David and I have lived in Montalcino off and on for four years, drinking in the Tuscan air, culture, warm friendship of our neighbours and, of course, the wonderful wine. We are far from being oenological experts, but we have been slowly exploring some of the more than 200 vineyards and farms in Montalcino that grow the Sangiovese grape, producing Brunello di Montalcino and its ‘baby brother,' Rosso di Montalcino, as well as other local wines. Our learning curve is almost as steep as the white roads we struggle up to reach vineyards high among oak woods and hills around our beautiful town.

 

As many readers will be aware, Brunello di Montalcino is made according to strict rules, monitored more carefully than ever since the ‘Brunello-gate' scandal of 2008 (see TF 77). However, it seems that every producer in Montalcino has his or her own particular take on what makes for the perfect Brunello.

 

In Cignozzi's case, it is something rather unusual. He has deployed 62 Bose speakers in and around the vineyard at Paradiso di Frassina and maintains that constant exposure to Mozart's works (played 24 hours day, on a 60-hour tape loop), will improve the grapes and ultimately, the wine.

Having waved off the satisfied coach party, Cignozzi gave us a brief history of the Mozart experiment. He must tell this story almost every day of his life. He has also written a book on the topic, L'uomo che sussura alle vigne (roughly, ‘the vine whisperer'). Yet his enthusiasm seems undimmed as he recounts how he arrived here in 1999, found the ruined farmhouse with its few rows of ancient vines, and decided to swap a successful career as a Milanese lawyer for a very different project. Cignozzi's eyes lit up as he described his ‘road to Damascus' moment. Turning the final bend in the old track (‘much less easy than it is now, not even a white road!'), he opened the car window and a Mozart concerto, coincidentally playing on the car radio, rolled out across the countryside. ‘And I thought, I must do this, I must bring music here.'

 

Cignozzi believes that music-especially at low frequencies-can have a mantra-like effect on human beings, ‘and we forget the animals and the plants, why?' It was hard to tell which came first, the feeling, or the theory. He offers a bewildering array of examples, such as how French friars in the Middle Ages placed cow stalls near the choir stalls ‘because with Gregorian chant, the cows made more and better milk.' He links the idea to Fibonacci's chaos theory and ‘la mathematica della natura.' Seemingly, at Paradiso di Frassina it all works through vibrations that travel through air and earth, reaching every part of the vine.

 

As we walked and talked, Cignozzi explained how the project has grown from a modest original investment in 12 speakers to the current experiment supported financially by an Indian American professor, Amar Gopal Bose, founder and president of the Bose Corporation, who had seen Cignozzi on TV. ‘God bless Indian people! No one else had touched his heart in this way.'

 

So what are Cignozzi's main claims? First, he believes that with musical accompaniment the leaves and plants grow ‘greener, stronger, bigger.' He is convinced that the sugar and polyphenol content and acidity of the grapes are improved. He also finds that insects, birds and even wild boar are repelled, ‘Sometimes you can see them all over there, in my other field!'

 

With interest flowing in from around the world, the universities of Florence and Pisa became involved, setting up research into the possible ‘physical' and ‘entomological' effects of Mozart on the vines. Cignozzi showed us some of the controls in place, for instance, an area where the music is quieter or can barely be heard as well as the use of insect traps monitoring the effects on pests. Recently his work as a biodynamic producer has been featured in The Bright Green Book, a United Nations committee report on ‘greening the world.' Producers from other countries are interested, as well. He mentioned Brazil and Switzerland, ‘but we need the research results first.' As a former lawyer, he is cautious about Bose's idea of patenting his methods: ‘Are you crazy?' he once told his financier. But clearly, the interest created both by the experiment and by Cignozzi's ability to convey his ideas and enthusiasm can only aid the success of the vineyard.

 

Research results are due out later this year. If the proof of the whole project is in the wine, well, Cignozzi is certainly not alone in this in the grape-growing capital of Montalcino. But he does make a gorgeous biodynamic Brunello.

 

I asked a few more challenging questions: Doesn't the 24-hour Mozart diet sometimes drive him and his workers mad? How does he sleep? He laughed ruefully, ‘Once they did say to me, Carlo, basta! So, I changed the tape.'

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