“Those who adulterate are criminals”: Italian magazine publishes controversial interview with hard-line Separtist minister of agriculture, Luca Zaia

“Those who adulterate [wines] are criminals. And they should be treated just like drug dealers,” said hard-line Separatist party member Luca Zaia, Italy’s Minster of Agriculture (pictured left with French Minister of Agriculture Michel Barnier) in a controversial interview published last week in Italy’s popular magazine L’Espresso. Zaia is a leading member of Italy’s Leghista or Separatist party which advocates a federal (as opposed to parliamentary) reorganization of Italy’s government, with more autonomy for Italy’s individual regions. Italy’s Lega Nord per l’Indipendenza della Padania (or North League for the Independence of Padania) is a federation of northern and central Italian political parties who share hard-line attitudes toward immigration and corruption in Italy’s south. Zaia was named Minister of Agriculture by Silvio Berlusconi, who began in third term as Italian prime minister in April 2008.

The editors of VinoWire have translated an excerpt from the interview below.

Has the threat of a U.S. ban on Brunello been averted?

“We have obtained an extension of a few weeks. The deadline is June 23. The Americans want transparency. They want to buy what the bottles’ labels promise. The Brunello DOCG [appellation regulations] call for 100% Sangiovese. The Americans ask that the wine respect the regulations. They don’t want to pay for Brunello that contains Merlot and Syrah. I spoke with [American Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and I will meet with [American] Ambassador [to Italy, Ronald] Spogli. Rome-Washington diplomacy is in the works and we won’t take a break” until our work is done.

The president of the [Brunello producers] Consortium resigned following the Brunello scandal.

“I immediately relieved the [Brunello producers] Consortium of its monitoring duties and I replaced it with a Guarantee Committee [created] with a governmental decree. The situation was grave. Adulteration of commercial products is a serious charge. As soon as we [the newly formed Berlsuconi cabinet] arrived, we began to take care of a patient who was gravely ill. We patched the patient up and stabilized his condition. Now we are performing open-heart surgery. We cannot allow any mistakes with our scalpels. The world is watching us.

You said a ban would be disastrous. Why?

“Brunello is [Italy’s] most prestigious wine. Our aricultural market sends more than 1-billion-Euros-worth of products each year to the United States. Currently, we have a trade surplus [with the U.S.]. If they block Brunello — a international symbol of made in Italy quality — we run the risk that a chain reaction will affect other products. [Italy] should have moved on this [issue] earlier. The old government did not send the information requested abroad in a timely manner.”

Should appellation regulations be changed?

“The producers will decide. We certainly will not complicate the decisions of hardworking people. The rules for making wine are not the Gospel. Even the [Italian] Constitution is flexible and can be modernized. I am on the market’s side: few consumers know the appellation regulations but if they prefer a wine that is rounder and softer, then we owe their palates their due satisfaction. In my view, the era of hard wines is over. Tastes change. Just think of cocktail craze: yesterday, young people ordered gin and tonics; today caipirinhas are in fashion.”

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