During our trip to Italy last fall we had the privilege of getting to visit with Mathilde Poggi, proprietor / winemaker of Le Fraghe and president of FIVI, The Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers. Bringing the spotlight to little-known Bardolino with her elegant terroir-driven wines, Mathilde has also established herself as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to advocating for Italy’s small growers.
Understated yet extraordinarily well spoken (not to mention quadrilingual,) Mathilde is remarkable in many senses. She comes from a long line of farmers in the Bardolino commune of Veneto in the north-easternmost region in Italy. Upon inheriting the (then out of commission) property over 35 years ago, Mathilde decided to establish the winery LE FRAGHE, immediately opting out of selling her grapes to larger commercial negociants. This was a ballsy move in a region whose traditional wines had fallen out of international favor due to the American Market’s taste for full-bodied jammy wines.
From the 70’s - late 90’s, the region of Veneto, famed for its Amarone - a big, expensive, fruit forward red - did as the market required and followed the money. For years the lithe affable expressions preferred by the locals were made almost exclusively for personal consumption and the majority of grapes were sold to commercial negociants mass producing Amarone. Whether Matilde’s decision to create quality versions of the regional expressions was a form of market clairvoyance, or simply a willingness to create the style of wine she herself wanted to drink, is unclear. Our afternoon with her, and the educated, impassioned way in which she discussed not only the global economy but her personal palette, leads us to suspect it to be a combination of both.
Sitting in a fruit grove nestled behind the winery sipping on Le Fraghe’s wines over a lunch spontaneously whipped up, ( pesto pasta, fresh chicory salad, homemade bread,) conversation turned to FIVI ‘the Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers’ and the latest successes and challenges facing the organization. Inspired by her own 30 year uphill battle to survive in a region dominated by mass-produced wines, FIVI is dedicated to ensuring that independent winemakers are not left out when it comes to Italian agricultural and economic policy decisions. Mathilde has in recent years taken the mission even further with CEVI (the European Confederation of Independent Winegrowers) which acts on behalf of these growers at the supranational policy level, primarily lobbying the EU. With membership eligible to anyone who cultivates and vinifies their own grapes, FIVI now represents around 1,100 growers throughout Italy.
“Founded in 2008, the Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers aims to protect the profession of the winegrower, by representing it in front of the institutions and promoting its specificity. It advocates economic measures and regulations in the interest of the Independent Winegrowers and the Italian wine system.”
While we are no stranger to the ‘Ampelio’ (from the vine) logo found on the neck of many of our favorite producer’s bottles, we did not have an in-depth understanding of just how important this organization has been in protecting these growers until talking with Mathilde. Depicting a farmer harvesting grapes, their shadow forming a wine bottle behind them, FIVI represents those who cultivate, vinify and bottle their own grapes under their own label. Advocating within the spectrum of topics ranging from irrigation to sales tax to alcohol labeling legislation, the organization attempts to ensure that the laws don’t just benefit those with the money to back policy changes.
“The biggest challenge right now is getting these independent farmers to join. Ultimately our goal is to protect all small growers, however, with the policies benefiting them either way there is little incentive to join.” This isn’t out of laziness, Mathilde says. “In running a tiny operation your hands are often tied when it comes to labor, and many of these farmers can’t prioritize the application process even if we have made it as straightforward and simple as possible.” This in of itself speaks to the many restraints and challenges faced by the world of independent agriculture.
Mathilde hopes to continue to expand membership in the coming years knowing that there is power in numbers and that the fight to protect these independent growers will not be over anytime soon. As trends increasingly show consumer loyalty lying with producer (over past varietal or regional loyalties) and preferring smaller sustainably focused brands over large corporations, organizations like FIVI are becoming increasingly important to ensuring these growers receive the representation needed to survive.