In the movie “The Fountainhead” directed in 1949 by King Vidor, the wonderful Gary Cooper plays an honest and incorruptible architect with such anticonformist ideas that he ends up under trial. In one of the main scenes he claims: “I don't intend to build in order to have clients; I intend to have clients in order to build." This is exactly the aim of Diego Cusumano, head of the homonymous family company and a real enthusiast of that film: “There’s no need to follow the fashions or the market, it’s necessary to plan being aware that whatever you do is not just for the present, but forever. So you cannot get influenced, you have to follow your conviction and then conquer others and build with others. In a word, courage is needed ".
His father, Francesco Cusumano, founder of the company, was quite audacious. He has produced grapes and bulk wine for a lifetime even on difficult lands such as those of the Corleone province (known for mafia matters), focusing on Ficuzza, a portion of land forgotten by the world, oasis of nature and history, located at 700 meters high. He foresaw a future in altitude viticulture: here today their “brut 700” is born, only 15 thousand bottles and a refinement of 36 months. Cusumano senior, however started out just by selling his wine to third parties, that was then bottled and sold with their own labels. In 2000 he handed the reins over to his sons – Diego, a graduate in economics and Alberto, a graduate in agriculture – in order to guide the company into the new millennium. It was then that Francesco almost cried with joy, seeing the first bottle marked Cusumano, as a symbol of a new course. Today, after 18 years, the management of the Cusumano brothers has gained the appreciation of national and international guides, thanks to a style based on beauty, pleasure and - indeed - audacity.
So, Diego: how many acts of courage took the company to turn eighteen?
I want to start by telling you a mistake that brought us towards choices that appeared “more daring”. A certain type of wine was very successful and there was great demand; so what do you do? You increase the quantities. But instead we should have raised the desire for that wine, going against the demand. Courage is to do something that others would not do. For example: my staff and I decided to cut off 50 percent of production in order to increase quality. It's an anti-economical choice, but you do it because you're looking at higher quality in the future.
It seems to be a luxury choice…
My dream is to free myself from "billing-fever ", to be able to follow projects that can effectively give the brand value beyond sales volume. I am convinced that it is the right path if I think of Moscato dello Zucco: one of the ancient forgotten wines, produced in the Nineteenth century in the lands of Henry d'Orleans, duke of Aumale. We got it back, planted it in the land of Milioto in Partinico and after seven years here it is, the first Muscat held in barrique for two years and one in the bottle. A gem, so much that was requested by Bouley in his restaurant in New York: the sommelier included it in the wine list, and he’s French - French!, remarked Diego smugly -. With this Moscato we lose in sales volume, but we will not give it up. Once, these kinds of choices were normal because the world was moving slower. Today, however, everybody reasons in terms of quantity of followers, but instead I think the approach must be philosophical, especially with certain wines. Technology, on the contrary, must go on fast, innovate. See the glass stopper.
Let’s talk about this: it became your trademark
We use it for wines aged in steel, not on the Crus, but it was a nice change since 2005. I was traveling to Austria and there I saw a bottle with that type of closing for the first time. Ehi Alberto (his brother, head of production - ed) I saw something great! I told him on the phone. I was impatient, enthusiastic. Alberto was a skilled pilot but he moved away from the roar of the engines. He has chosen the countryside and the silence, and in that silence he set his head in motion, from which a solution always comes up. So, together with the great Mario Ronco, we worked for five years, adapting the neck of the bottles to these glass stoppers that are natural, odorless.
And they lift our spirits up from the worry of smelling cork
It's certainly not a detail! A cork with a fungus (the armillaria mellea - ed) can blow up everything! You focus your efforts and pathos - the pathos guys! - on picking the land, the crops, the seeding and eventually on the harvest, which is stressful. It’s a brain teaser on when to pick the grapes: better on that day even if it’s not ready or after five days when you know it will rain? If we harvest it too early we obtain an average quality level, if we wait for the rain we could lose everything. Our majority partner is the Heavenly Father, we depend on “chiddu chi vole u padre eterno” ("whatever the Holy Father wants"). Working with the Almighty is incredibly fascinating because nothing is certain. I am bold but not reckless, although I oftenly choose to face risks because if the rain won’t cause any damage and the internal ripening of the grapes will be perfect then I will have a final product of higher quality. Wine producers know what I'm talking about. The courage lies in choosing what others in your place wouldn’t, have I said this already? Yes, and I repeat it. If you have faith you have to play till the end. So if after all this suspance, labor, love, a bottle reaches the table and smells like cork with fungus…well bye-bye! Blessed this innovation!
You talk about harvesting as if it were as an agonistic undertaking
Wine is the product of human endeavour, of hands, muscles, and head. Do you know how many hours of work men and women are employed in during the entire production chain? One day I put myself there and I counted: three to four thousand hours. That's why drinking wine must go back to being what it is: a pleasure and a luxury. The pleasure of tasting the fruit of effort. The luxury of unnecessary voluptuousness.
So, is it a privilege for the few?
Water is a primary good, wine isn’t. Without water you die, without wine you don’t. Wine must be treated as a luxury item because it is premium. I believe that this is the key to fascinate young people, both consumers and winemakers. It’s necessary to show them the “wow factor” behind the gesture. Those who desire to become artisans of the vineyard must be greatley prepared, you can’t improvise in agricolture, and on the other side they should receive important rewards precisely because of that gesture which has value and gives pleasure to the final consumer. A pleasure possible thanks to human efforts, the riches of nature, the preservation of landscapes and secular traditions.
The vineyard of Altamora on the slopes of Etna is a hundred years old, a place where everything is «deeply slow, meditative» says Gaspare Daria, responsible for the Cusumano vineyards. And still, while showing the plots of Ficuzza that at times look like an embroidery, sometimes a mosaic, «this arrangement is employed specifically for these winds and type of land» he explains, and speaks with a moving delicacy as if they were his children or girlfriends - your choice. «Here we make Angimbé a musical wine and with Insolia the Cubia of rare territorial adherence; beyond the pond there are oasis of abandoned vineyards and then the Chardonnay and the rosy Pinot nero». Then follow sweet and powerful names as the land that lies before us: the sinuous Jalé, the graceful Ramusa and then Sàgana and Disueri originated from the Nero d'Avola of the San Giacomo estate, set in a landscape that "the light dazzles the earth so much it looks like a white torrone sweet" says Gaspare, quoting what a farmer whispered to him one day.
Diego approaches us and, looking at the embroidered hills, reveals his philosophy: «Beauty is beautiful when form and substance are chained together. Beauty is objective, everyone can recognize it: the Roman broccoli is beautiful, the Sicilian aubergine is both beautiful and sexy because it is curvy like the Mona Lisa and the young Sophia Loren, and this is the beauty we put into our work ». He defines it as a gift from Provvidenza (Providence – ed), which, ironically, is also the name of his mother, a woman «very simple, but capable of sacrificing herself to complete the flowering. Just like the vineyard».
Translation by Alice Terzani