The farm-to-table movement has been going for around 50 years. There’s no exact date of when it started because its effect was gradual, but a lot can be attributed to a lady called Alice Waters.
In the 1970’s Alice Waters did for food, what Anita Roddick did for makeup: she was the catalyst for change. All around her was an industry based on consumerism, where the majority of people only seemed to care about two things; how long it would take their food to cook and how long it would keep for. This was because it was still a novelty for many people to buy packaged goods.
Pre-packed foods such as cans and frozen dinners only started to gain traction in the 1950s. This was down to exciting innovations in the food industry, revolutionalising the way food was processed and stored, aided by the increase in the use of artificial pesticides. In many ways, you could argue that it would work out as a cheaper alternative to fresh food, saving on the fact that the sell-by-date on many consumables had gone from days to months and even years, but its important to remember that at this point the throwaway culture, which we have seen in more recent years, was yet to happen.
Enter Chez Panisse.
Chez Panisse was the brainchild of Alice and her neighbourhood friends. Located in the north of Berkeley, California, it was a bistro which focused on seasonable and organic produce, keeping things simple but high quality. This was the start of a new movement, a revived care and understanding of where food was coming from, bringing back the basics.
Alice was always ahead of the curve, launching the Edible Schoolyard Project in 1995, a full 10 years before The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver would advocate for healthy school dinners across the pond in the UK. Therefore it was no surprise when she became Vice President of Slow Food International in 2002. Nowadays it’s impossible not to know where your food has come from. Companies are jumping over themselves to tell you everything, even down to the farming location of the mint in your mint choc-chip ice cream (stopping short of the exact GPS coordinates, we hope), but it’s taken a while for this to translate to the beverage industry, namely wines, until now that it.
Why is it that the wine industry hasn’t suffered as much scrutiny over the years? Is it that we really just don’t know or care enough to consider where their wine came from? Potentially?
Or is it that the wine industry just hasn’t really changed over the years?
I believe it’s the latter. Yes, there are always new techniques being developed, new initiatives from innovative cantinas, but at the end of the day every vineyard owner I’ve met in Italy (and I can tell you it’s been a lot!), will tell you that if you are crazy enough to make wine, it must be because you love it. Wine is a passion, wine is a love affair. Making wine can be brutal, tough and demoralising, but it can also be exciting, fulfilling and fun. One cantina owner said to me, "you can play with nature as much as you want (ie with pesticides etc), but at the end of the day, it’s still up to mother nature as to whether you will have a good harvest", and with summertime thunderstorms, where hailstones the size of golfballs can rain down on a crop, or winds can pull down signposts and even balconies, it’s easy to see where they were coming from.
So do I think the farm-to-table movement will reach the world of wine? No, I think it’s already there. I do think however that cantina’s around the world, are eventually starting to wise-up to the fact that for many years they may have overlooked a key USP. Whereas once a vineyard visit consisted of the cantina offering a short explanation about viniculture followed by a longer tasting and presentation divulging the flavours of the wines. Cantinas in the Veneto Region of Northern Italy, like Terre di Leone, insist on a 90-minute tour of the vines before you even put a glass to your lips, as they want you to understand the lengths that they, Chiara and Federico the vineyard owners, have gone to, just to produce one 0.75cl bottle, or Agriturismo Le Coste, a B&B run by the enigmatic Laura and the Zanoni Family, which stands proudly in the middle of their vines.
When it comes to the principles of farm-to-table they are already there; product security, close proximity to their consumers, self-reliance, and sustainability, they have it all. They know that the farm-to-table movement, isn't a movement for the wine world, it can’t be, because you can’t move towards something when you are already there.
Written By Emma Bolus