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Big problem with new vineyard at Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci airport in Italy

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Authorities have given the green light for a huge, and fully functioning vineyard to be planted on the renovated and reimagined airport’s roof.

The vineyard – part of a larger, futuristic overhaul of the airport designed by leading design firm Rafael Vinoly Architects will span a gigantic 19 acres, or almost eight hectares, and will supposedly grow 38 rows of grapes, to be cared for and harvested by local vignerons. The wine will be made and aged in a specially-designed cellar beneath the terminal.

On one hand it makes sense. Tuscany – home to Florence – is, of course, one of Italy’s most revered wine regions, famous for its bold, savoury red wines like Montepulciano and Chianti. And if the plans go ahead as forecast, I imagine that the vast swathes of neat grapevines will look pretty spectacular from the air.
But on the other hand, I don’t think I’ll be racing to order a glass of Airport Asti Spumante.

There’s a good reason winemakers always bang on about ‘terroir’. The soil grapes are grown in – including millennia of build-up of trace minerals and nutrients, make a genuine difference to a wine’s quality. A vineyard’s aspect is also critical, a reference to its slope and the direction it faces and even tiny, almost imperceptible differences to the way the sunlight hits the grapes or the rainwater is trapped in the soil. All of that is best sorted out by nature, not by plonking a bunch of grapes on a roof. It’s the reason one vineyard in the rolling hills of Central Tuscany can sell its wines for 20 Euro, while the one next door with just a few terroir tweaks, can push its wines into the triple figures.

The concept of a rooftop vineyard isn’t impossible. A winery in Brooklyn NY became the first in the world to grow rooftop grapes commercially and have had a good swathe of success by replicating nature with science. But there’s something about planes hovering right over the grapes with their pollution and fumes that doesn’t make me want to pair the results with a hearty Tuscan ribollita.

Then there’s the issue of sustainability. All over the world airports, as well as other public utilities, are looking to ‘greenify’ their projects. You’ve probably noticed buildings around your town draped with vines and fernery, sometimes – I think – looking a bit like a piece of cheese left out to mould.

This airport project certainly ticks a bunch of earth-friendly boxes on paper: the green roof will, according to its architect planners, provide “excellent thermal insulating characteristics that contribute to the building’s targeted LEED Platinum sustainability rating.”

But to achieve that coveted rating – one of the highest seals of approval a structure can achieve in the sustainability sphere – I imagine that irrigation will be a factor. Temperamental and demanding, grapes need a fair bit of water to grow happily. Perhaps a hardier, less water-dependant greenery – native grass or shrubs that grow without a lot of attention, for example – would have been a better choice, even if they can’t produce an annual vintage of Sangiovese.

Maybe I’m being too cynical. But I do feel like these fancy add-ons to public spaces regularly seem more like feelgood greenwashing than anything that’s truly practical.

And then the sentimental part of me thinks that Tuscany’s ancient vineyards are magnificent treasures all on their own, and that there’s something a bit obtuse and even vulgar about plonking a big, brand new, sort of fake one on top of an airport.

I suppose there’s little to do except wait and see whether this ambitious airport fantasy comes off, and how successful it is, if and when it does.

Meanwhile I’ll be happy trundling into Florence the way I usually do, on the train from Rome, and drinking its glorious wines made the old-fashioned way.

Lost something at Airport or in a flight? Click here to report online

Dedicated investigation manager for every successful lost report. We work with more than 15000+ Airports & Airlines lost and found offices worldwide. Increase chance of locating your lost property TODAY.

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