The Collisions festival
Collisioni translates to “collisions” as this music, literature and wine festival seeks to tear down the walls between different art forms. The festival takes place in July and is set in the historic town of Barolo (population 750) in northwest Italy’s Piedmont region, surrounded by some of the most significant vineyard sites in the world (they possess UNESCO World Heritage status), and upwards of 35,000 people each day descend to listen to music, hear authors and share ideas at the multiple stages and venues set up throughout the town.
Big-name musical artists like Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Neil Young, Deep Purple, Jamiroquai and Suzanne Vega have played the festival in the past (Mark Knopfler and Sting headlined in 2015) and, at the time of writing, Elton John and Mika were confirmed for this upcoming edition.
Salman Rushdie, Nobel Prize winners Vidia Naipaul and José Saramago, Scott Turow and David Sedaris are amongst the writers and authors who have shared readings with festival-goers. Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, film director Abel Ferrara and writer Richard Ford are confirmed for this year.
With respect to wine, Ian d’Agata, Collisioni’s wine and food creative director, says that the festival “aims to create a unique, highly prestigious experts’ panel made up of the world’s leading writers, collectors, authentic sommeliers (those who work in restaurants for a living) and wine professionals.” D’Agata goes on to explain that “the goal is for people to get to taste over 2000 different wines from all over Italy, but also from around the world in the presence of many of the world’s top wine experts.”
I was among 55 wine professionals from around the world invited to Collisioni 2015 to sit on panels, participate in seminars on indigenous Italian grape varieties and advise Italian wine producers on export market strategies.
A point of note is that the average age of festival-goers is between the ages of 25 to 35. Seeing a room packed with 20-somethings excited to taste and talk about grapes like Grignolino, Verdicchio, Arneis and the wines of Alta Langa was invigorating. It reinforces the cultural importance of wine and food (the two are inseparable) and their significance in defining the identity of a place.
In addition to music, wine and literature, d’Agata says that festival organizers are planning on expanding to make food the fourth focus. The festival and its mission is supported by grants from the Piedmont region’s governments to promote culture and art (municipal, provincial and federal governments in Canada, please take note).
This open-air festival not only consumes and embraces the town of Barolo, it becomes a hub for all ages to engage, collaborate and participate. Collisioni does devote special attention to young people through its Youth Project which invites and hosts more than 300 Italian youth each year, with a focus on those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In exchange, the festival asks them to contribute via their creative skills as actors, musicians, photographers, videographers, storytellers and volunteers.
Collisioni organizers are also creating a year-round school at the Castello di Barolo for youth interested in food and wine, featuring lectures on wine marketing and communication, tastings and a cooking school. Establishing a creative hub for young people who are interested in wine, food and the arts will undoubtedly attract more young people, thereby assisting not just with the sustainability of the industry, but instilling the culture and economic significance of wine and food in future generations.
I had the opportunity to meet with wine colleagues from 12 countries. The tastings/seminars are more like round-table discussions, allowing panelists to not only provide their opinions and insights on the wines, but express how the wines are received or to speculate on how they would be received (if not currently available) in their home markets. Panelists also answer questions from public and other wine professionals.
Some of the seminars/tastings that stood out to me:
Very good-quality sparkling wines from Piedmont made in the traditional method using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The bottles age for a minimum of 30 months or 36 months for the reserve. Very much a niche item as with many of the sparkling wines from Italy, other than Prosecco, and must be directed to specialty wine boutiques and restaurants that have the desire and ability to sell non-mainstream wines.
Fantastic! Such a wonderful and versatile grape, producing delicious red wines in a range of styles, the best being light coloured, finessed and elegant with bright acidity. Also very much a niche wine, but has the ability to appeal to the younger as well as the experienced wine drinker. Killer food wines.
So interesting and informative. Barolo is an endless learning experience. Truly the king of wines.
Verdicchio has the ability to be the next white wine from Italy that is broadly accepted by the mainstream. Verdicchio is also one of the few Italian white wines that not only has the ability to do some aging, but benefits from it. Producers should work together on a plan to market quality Verdicchio to the influencers in key export markets.
A quality gateway wine that has the ability to appeal to the younger generation and help transition them into wine and away from coolers, beer and the sugar-laden, generic mass-produced wines that have no sense of place or authenticity. The best are bright, fresh and approachable with great balance between acid and sweetness.
I’ve always said that wine gets its context from the people, place, culture and history of its home and that it is simply another form of artistic expression that elicits emotion. Great winemakers, musicians, authors and chefs (along with so many different types of artists) are passionate and talented artists who convey their inspirations via their wine, music, lyrics, words and food.
We must celebrate those who make a difference. But above all, we must unabashedly encourage and revel in diversity and individuality because conformity breeds mediocrity. Following the masses is easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Collisioni epitomes this. If you love wine, music, literature, food, travel, art and simply experiencing, you must add the festival to your bucket list.