Food technology students and their professors at Florence University's faculty of agriculture are producing the first wine in Italy to bear an official university label, and they plan to do the same with top-quality olive oil.
The projects, which are the fruits of five years' work, are being hailed as a decidedly positive aspect of the much criticised three-year "short degree" courses, introduced by the education ministry to combine theory and practice. Although the diploma lacks legal status pending reforms of Italy's professional training system, none of the 130 students is complaining.
Certainly, the site is idyllic. Students are based at Montepaldi, in the Tuscan hills 12 kilometres south-west of Florence, surrounded by 800 acres of olive groves, vineyards and woodlands. The location commands a breathtaking view over the Val di Pesa - a far cry from overcrowded classrooms and the bustle of city traffic. Lectures are held in a magnificent villa that was built in 1380 for the de' Medici family and was bought by the university in 1990.
"The key to our success lies in a return to old-style methods aided by modern technology with only the minimal use of chemicals," said project director Aladino Angeli. "With the university as sole owner, we enjoy sufficient freedom from bureaucracy to operate efficiently. Our annual wine production is 35,000 litres, 95 per cent of which is red and the rest vin santo (a sweet white after-dinner wine). With our olive press we produce 5,000 litres a year of top-quality olive oil. We aim to double these figures over the next five years."
Visitors can inspect the laboratories where research into microvinification and olive-grove cultivation is conducted. They can also buy the produce at low prices.
Augusto Marinelli, dean of the faculty of agriculture, said: "We applaud this initiative, which contains important didactic and scientific elements and contributes to innovation in commercial agriculture. In the near future, we hope to progress to a supply service for private companies."