More than just wine: Cultural projects at Sansonina and Zenato

Image via the Zenato Winery Facebook.

The wines of Sansonina and Zenato (the Zenato family’s namesake estate) are renowned throughout the world.

But what many outside of Italy don’t know is that the Zenato family is also involved with a number of wonderful cultural projects.

Earlier this year, they launched the Zenato Academy: “Its scope,” they write, “is to initiate dialog between organizations and institutions devoted to the figurative arts; to create relationships and partnerships capable of fostering interest in and focus on its winemaking philosophy.”

The first Zenato Academy project was also mounted earlier this year: “Wine. Beyond Objects,” a collection of photographs created at the wineries by five graduate students in the Master’s in Photography program at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan (one of the most prestigious graduate schools in Italy).

Curated by Master’s program director Luca Panaro (a noted artist in his own right), the exhibition was first shown in a gallery in Milan before being moved to the Zenato winery’s Santa Cristina estate.

Last month, on the occasion of Cantine Aperte (an annual nationwide festival when wineries across the country open their doors to consumers for tours and tastings), the public had the opportunity to experience the show for the first time (above).

The following is Professor Panaro’s introduction to the exhibit’s accompanying catalog.

Buona lettura! We hope you find it as interesting as we do!

Wine. Beyond Objects.
by Luca Panaro

Man has always had a special yet ambiguous relationship with the objects that surround him. It’s a special relationship because objects are a part of knowledge vital for those who study human society. Ambiguous because the meanings and the functions of objects can inspire a wide range of interpretations. The photographer, like the ethnologist, documents objects that he considers to be meaningful within the context of the environment he is studying. And he does so above and beyond any aesthetic considerations or any interest in the objects’ rarity per se.


Common objects are most often the subject of such research. In other words, objects that are used in production processes, sometimes considered to be more meaningful than ob-jects that are aesthetically superior.

More than any other language, photography has the ability to transfigure reality. This means that the objects represented in photographic images should be interpreted in a dif-ferent way with respect to their traditional function.

When I was asked to create an ad hoc photo project for the Zenato winery, I decided that the theme of the work would be objects as a source of knowledge. A team of five students from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan and I investigated the objects as silent exemplars of winemaking: Objects necessary to represent the techniques, culture, and economy of winemaking but also objects as a simple source of wonderment.

The project, which includes a series of photographic images created by young artists, re-flects their formal training in the Master’s Program in Photography at the Accademia di Brera. While a variety of approaches to photography are taught there, the focus is on ex-perimentalism.

Somewhere between their personal choices and the imprinting they received from their school, the students — Giacomo Alberico, Cecilia Del Gatto, Alessandra Draghi, Cesare Lopopolo, and Anna Vezzosi — created images that tend toward representational abstrac-tion.

The project is focused on objects like wood casks, glass vessels, tools, machinery used in winemaking. And the students sought to move their objects “beyond” their specific use through the figurative power of photography and their own personal creativity.

Giacomo Alberico’s photos, entitled “Se nell’attesa” (“If While You Wait”), show the casks stored in Zenato’s cellar. They have been photographed so as to reveal their aesthet-ic component and the physical relationship that exists between these grand, noble vessels.

In the series “Méscita” (“Pour”), Cecilia Del Gatto depicts the glass and the different chromatic gradations of wine as they become the main characters in the image. Along the way, she creates a parallelism using the classic colors of Italian artistic tradition.

Alessandra Draghi points our attention on to a common winemaking object, the wine thief, hence the title of the work, “Ladro” (“Thief”). It’s been photographed on a set with other natural elements plucked from the terrain.

“Le cose sensibili” (“Sensitive Things”) by Cesare Lopopolo are mechanical implements, an imposing presence indicative of the winery landscape.

With her series “Punti di origine” (“Places of Origin”), Anna Vezzosi takes back to tradi-tion: The land, the first bottle of Lugana from 1973, and a white circle that shows us the roots of the indigenous grape vine.

These photographs commissioned by Zenato are not images that document. They are im-ages that evoke. They attempt to go beyond the objects themselves. They don’t verify as a reporter would do. Instead, they put a change into motion. They bring to life a latent meaning. They bring it into the present, just as an artist should do. The function of art is to reveal things for what they really are. Art should rethink them in a fresh new way, be-yond their conventional use. As Pablo Neruda wrote, “at certain hours of the day or the night, it’s extremely useful to ponder objects at rest.”

Giacomo Alberico: Se nell’attesa (If While You’re Waiting)

Giacomo Alberico’s visual investigations are focused on Zenato’s Santa Cristina cellar in San Benedetto di Lugana. These enchanting spaces are home to the casks and the win-ery’s most valued bottles. The characteristic soft lighting and cool temperature help to create a unique sensorial environment. As a result, it becomes the ideal setting in which to represent the imposing, stationary “objects” that dominate the cellar. As he was shoot-ing the photos, the artist examined the role of light as an investigative tool. It helped to highlight unexpected details in the large casks, which he captured using close-up photog-raphy. The aesthetic component of these noble vessels, aside from their specific function, conveys the stretch of time necessary to produce a good wine — beyond the slow but progressive passage of time. The environment is suffused by an atmosphere that prompts Alberico to turn his gaze to surfaces as he reveals them in a more precise manner. The images he produced are definitely different than the traditional perceptions we have of such objects. From the apparent stasis evoked by the place where a refined wine is born, the artist doesn’t show us the subject in his images. Instead, he suggests what subjects we should look for. By rendering them through the exclusive use of black and white, he re-veals the physical relationships that exist between the objects and the cellar space.

Cecilia Del Gatto: Méscita (Pour)

Each of Zenato’s wines is created in its own unique way in the cellar. But it doesn’t re-veals its true essence until the moment it is finally tasted. Aromas, flavors, and colors are the sensations that are directly involved in the wine experience. Cecilia Del Gatto has worked in various fields of the visual arts. But in this case, she has shifted her focus to photographic inquiry. Color is the most evident aspect of her work for this project and the chromatic spectrum of wine is what most powerfully grabs the viewers attention in her images. She creates a bridge between her own world, art, and wine production. The act of pouring becomes her link between two different environments, just as chromatic gra-dation also becomes a connecting point. Each of the five images shows a photograph hanging from a string, as if projected in a camera obscura. Each photograph stands apart from the others thanks to its representation of Renaissance iconography. The body of a faceless woman in a priestly pose diligently watches over the nectar of the gods. The nec-tar is poured from the hanging photograph into the glass in the foreground. Del Gatto metaphorically evokes the deep connection that binds the sacral character in Italian paint-ing using the “aesthetic” characteristics of wine: Clarity, transparency, fluidity, and color.

Alessandra Draghi: Ladro (Thief)

The main character in Alessandra Daghi’s photo series is a glass wine thief (hence, the Italian title ladro or thief), a tube used to draw wine from a cask for tasting or analyzing. It’s name is owed to the fact that it “steals” wine through the hole in the cask. This object plays an important role in the production cycle for wine. Its shape is very particular: A long glass tube with a small diameter and a bulge on the upper part where the handle is. In the images, the Ladro is examined through details that emerge from a series of compo-sitions that feature the plastic beauty of this instrument. It’s so simple in the function it plays but it’s also particularly powerful from an aesthetic-visual point of view. Draghi’s photographs show the object in the context of natural elements like water, a grape stem, or vine cane — all items taken directly from the terroir, in other words, Zenato’s Santa Cristina estate. Here the artist is interested in drawing attention to man’s focus and the enological cures he uses to conjoin ancient knowledge and his desire to produce wine. An ancient and noble tool, the Ladro hides it from our curious gaze in Alessandra Draghi’s work. It only shows itself in fragments or reflected. The discretion of its appearances make it seem mysterious and desirable — beyond our interest in its function.

Cesare Lopopolo: Le cose sensibili (Sensitive Things)

Machines are the theme examined in Cesare Lopopolo’s series. They are an integral ele-ment in production, an imposing presence throughout the landscape. Here the artist re-veals how in the realm of wine, machines and nature work together in perfect harmony. When closely examined, the “arm” of the large steel structure at Zenato’s Santa Cristina winery is similar to the stalks of the vegetation that surrounds the vines. Lopopolo take his time with the details in this rich study and dense examination of shapes in close-up. The contours of the metal structures used in winemaking are silhouetted against the mo-notonous backdrop of the sky making for beautiful figures. As with the best photography, the view perceives the presence of man even in his absence and without evidence of his action. Basking in sunlight, a simple step enters into a conversation with the surrounding environment. It offers the viewer innumerable potential ways to use it. Wide and soft, the storage tanks come into contact with the landscape around them and allow the viewer to glimpse them in perspective. Within this oneiric framework, even a suspended object can silently allude to an action that’s about to start a story.

Anna Vezzosi: Punti di origine (Places of Origin)

Anna Vezzosi’s work centers around the concept of origin. The bottle from 1973 repre-sents tradition and Sergio Zenato’s desire to harness the then untapped potential of the in-digenous grape variety Trebbiano di Lugana. The presence of the land in the images is a clear reference to that which is generated: Man’s toil and the culture of place. These are accompanied by natural elements drawn from the vineyard. They have been harvested and presented by the artist as archeological artifacts that belong to a now archaic time. They symbolize the evolution of the plant, which has been studied here with meticulous precision and attention for how high-quality wine is produced and continues to evolve. This material evokes the birth of the winery, which coincides with a profound knowledge of the land and the products — a place where natural and human history constantly inter-sect. The repeated presence of graph paper represents the scientific precision that you can sense in the winery. It also represents the care needed to produce such high quality. The only vertical photograph in the series is there to indicate the place of origin: Where the plant and the land meet. It’s a synthesis of the creation of all the evolving projects — past and future — connected to Zenato wines. The white dot marks the place where the fun-daments (roots) began and become architecture (tree). It’s the place where ideas are trans-formed into projects.

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