Beyond mysticism: embracing wine’s practical allure

My grandparents were impoverished; as was commonplace in Northern England, all had pursued physical labour. Aspirations notwithstanding, my parents were working-class too—culturally and economically, my father had been the first from either family to attend university, albeit as an adult. My upbringing was profoundly industrious. Though both my parents valued education, there was no place for romanticism, myth or fanciful thought. Unsurprisingly, I grew to be a fiercely objective adult, a tenacious learner concerned with understanding the physical world. I had not tasted wine until my mid-20s; neither of my parents had any particular interest. First, I had enjoyed simply tasting wine. Then, I became interested in how wine was grown and made, followed by wanting to understand why some wines tasted so much better than others. Despite a ferocious reading of contemporary wine literature, I felt no more learned. Much of what I read struck me as received wisdom; I found magic, myth and pseudoscience littering popular commentary. As Richard Quandt observes, the wine industry clearly ‘lent itself to bullshit’. It quickly became apparent that accepting myth and mysticism were tantamount to baptism, while challenge constituted blasphemy. Author James Wilson laments doubters of terroir, puzzling at their ‘real appreciation of wine’; meanwhile, Alice Feirring coins challengers as ‘reductionist thinkers’. Producers and journalists alike gleefully propagate shibboleth. Wine need not be magical, though. For many, its allure is wholly practical, and this is sufficient. The rest is superfluous. Perhaps—as the industry contends with a ‘communication crisis’—valorising wines practical appeal might open new doors, inviting pluralist thought and ranging personalities.

Continue ReadingBeyond mysticism: embracing wine’s practical allure

Giulia Negri: pragmatism, vivacity and familial flair

Giulia Negri’s great-great-grandfather purchased the families’ Serradenari estate in 1870. Far from having noble intent, Barolo’s highest point served as an escape from his wife living at home in Turin. Each side of Giulia’s family had been engineers, her great-great-grandfather more eccentric than the rest with a daring spirit his children would inherit. It was Giulia’s great-grandmother Emma Diatto who first worked the land, tending to grains, hazelnuts and more. Meanwhile, her grandfather continued the familial tradition of testing boundaries. Giulia’s father recalled a bathroom full of steam as his father tested his latest inventions. Obsessed with truffles, he installed a pump to irrigate the trees, rebuilt his roof to gather water, and installed primitive solar panels. Although her father had worked as a politician and later a journalist, in 2001, he discovered the family estate and replanted it. Born in Palermo and raised in Rome, Giulia studied biotechnology management, working in cancer research where she sought venture capitalists for start-ups. Despite being entirely in love with this work, during a chance visit to Burgundy, she had an altogether revelatory experience with a bottle of 2007 Liger de Belair Aux Reignot. Soon after, she returned to La Morra and later worked harvest in Chile. Although Giulia had always considered herself very smart and able to grasp things, she found something more significant than her in wine. In 2014, at the tender age of 24, Giulia became the steward of her family’s estate. In the years which had preceded, she had learned ferociously, taking on increasing amounts of responsibility, learning at every opportunity. Boasting a modest workforce, she remains a garagiste at heart, eschewing dogma, preferring pragmatism and innovation. Yet, as vibrant and enchanting as her wines, Giulia’s spirit is infectious. Here follows the story of Giulia Negri, the proud Barologirl. 

Continue ReadingGiulia Negri: pragmatism, vivacity and familial flair

Fletcher Wines: serendipity and sleepless nights, from Adelaide to Langhe

Aussie emigrant, Dave Fletcher, was born in Adelaide, the gateway to all 18 of South Australia's wine regions, including McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, and Coonawarra. Though not hands-on, Dave's father had been a silent invested in vineyards, and so through the summer holidays, his son earned pocket money pruning. Following a gap year in 1999, Dave left university where he had studied engineering, and before leaving for the UK secured a place at Adelaide University to study winemaking. After a year in England, with little to show but parties and headaches, he returned to complete a four-year degree, later securing a role at O'Leary Walker Wines as a travelling winemaker, tasting and grading fruit. A brief harvest in Burgundy piqued his interest in 'European winemaking culture'. Following a short European road trip with his now-wife, he returned to Australia, later relocating to the Yarra Valley. Six years later, during which he'd worked at Kazakhstan's oldest winery, Daves's wife, Eleanor, booked him onto a Barolo masterclass, a revelatory experience. By 2007 he'd worked a harvest at Ceretto and by 2009 returned for another. In 2012, he and Eleanor moved to Langhe permanently, and before long, he had begun producing wines under his own label, Fletcher Wines. Today, Dave is the principal head of red wine production at Ceretto as well as making seven wines of his own, produced from 12 vineyard sites and made in a renovated local train station, where he and his family live. This article tells Fletcher’s story.

Continue ReadingFletcher Wines: serendipity and sleepless nights, from Adelaide to Langhe

Nada Fiorenzo: hidden in plain sight crafting elegance in Treiso

In 1921, Carlo Nada, the son of a family of poor sharecroppers, bought an estate in Treiso, then a hamlet of Barbaresco. The estate, belonging to Carlo's employer at the time, one of Italy's first cardiologists to whom the estate was a summer home, spanned 25ha and included a significant portion of the Rombone vineyard. Though the family was poor, Carlo, a strong man with many children, had hoped that together his four sons would manage the estate. Having gotten ill rather young, Carlo's last wish was that the family maintained the integrity of the property, hoping they would not divvy it among many siblings. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. After the estate had been split, resources were scarce and Fiorenzo, the second-to-last son, made the decision to begin selling the family's grapes, which were in high demand at the time. In the late-70s, having left for Alba amidst an economic boom, Bruno Nada returned to Treiso, now a self-governing commune, and proposed the family cease selling their grapes and instead bottle their own wine. In 1982, Azienda Agricola Nada Fiorenzo produced its first bottle. Since then the estate has expanded, purchasing several hectares of vines in Manzola and Montiribaldi. Though remaining grossly underexplored, there has been a persistent and evolving push to improve quality, reduce yields and rediscover traditional agronomic practices. After graduating, following his father's footsteps, Bruno's son, Danilo, returned to the family business, helping write Nada Fiorenzo's next chapter. I spoke to Danilo about his families estate, fastidious viticulture, the nature of their wines, and the future.

Continue ReadingNada Fiorenzo: hidden in plain sight crafting elegance in Treiso

Cavallotto: from Bricco Boschis stars are born

Toward the end of the 19th century, many of Piedmont's sprawling aristocratic estates had collapsed, their demise linked in part to falling land prices following Europe’s catastrophic phylloxera epidemic. Many of these estates belonged to Countess Juliette Colbert de Barolo who is rumoured to have made Barolo in her Turin estate long before it was sold on the open market. In Castiglione Falletto, the Countess' estate included the south-facing Monte della Guardia, tended by her vineyard manager, Giuseppe Boschis, from whom today the site takes its name. Having inherited the land, Giuseppe later sold the estate to Giacomo Cavallotto. In 1946, following the fall of fascism, Giuseppe decided to stop selling his grapes to a negociant and in 1948 registered the Cavallotto name with its own label. By 1965, the cru Bricco Boschis had been added to the label, followed in 1970 (inspired by the pioneering Renato Ratti) by the names of the vineyards core constituent parcels. In 1989, the family expanded their landholdings to include the historic Vigonolo cru, adjacent to Bricco Boschis. Together the sites form a contiguous parcel spanning a large portion of the hillside parallel to Monprivato. Today, fourth-generation winemakers Alfio and Giuseppe Cavallotto tend to the family's 25ha estate. Both enologists, the pair have further strengthened their predecessor's commitment to rigorous, pioneering and attentive farming, producing vibrant, ethereal and soulful wines. I spoke to Alfio about the estate's continued evolution and progressive approach to viticulture and winemaking.

Continue ReadingCavallotto: from Bricco Boschis stars are born

Langhe Riesling: origin, viticulture, winemaking, and more

The noblest of white grape varieties, few wines captivate so broadly as Riesling. Seizing the collective adoration of wine lovers the world over, Rieslings unrivalled versatility makes it allure difficult to deny. The 5th most planted white grape variety, ca. 55,000 hectares are cultivated globally, of these plantings 45% and 6% can be found in Germany and France (Alsace) respectively. Riesling buds late, is mid-to-late-ripening and does well in cool climates, where it ripens slowly, developing a broad spectrum of aromas. Thought to have originated in the Rhine and first referenced in the 15th century, significant plantings of Riesling, producing highly-regarded wines can now be found in Australia, Austria, Canada, the United States and more. In both Europe and the United States, lesser quality cultivars genetically unrelated to Riesling proper have adopted its name. Among them, Riesling Italico, planted predominately in Northern Italy. Not to be confused with the Welschriesling plantings in Lombardy and Veneto, since the early 1980s, a handful of producers in the Langhe have cultivated Riesling proper. Today, production remains so small as to be unknown to many, approximately 30 producers farming roughly 30-40ha of Riesling planted in some of the region’s most well-known communes, including Barolo. In this article I discuss Langhe Riesling in more detail, examining origin, site selection, viticulture, and winemaking with Francesca Vajra, Andrea Zarattini (Poderi Colla), and more.

Continue ReadingLanghe Riesling: origin, viticulture, winemaking, and more

Grapevine pruning in Barolo: pursuing vitality and longevity in Nebbiolo

Left untamed, the grapevine is an unruly, perennial, deciduous, climbing plant. Using its tendrils, amongst other adaptive features, the vine, a liana, will use nearby trees to climb up and above the canopy established by competing trees and plants. A heliophyte, Vitis has by process of natural selection acquired a number of ingenious adaptations to support its upward struggle for sunlight. First, the vines shoot apex inhibits the growth of lateral or axillary buds so that the plant may grow vertically, a phenomenon known as apical dominance. Next is acrotony, whereby the top latent buds on a fruiting cane develop first, leading to the inhibition of the development of the bottom buds on the cane. Each of these adaptations promotes upward growth, contributing to the vine’s colonisation of nearby spaces in its hunt for sunlight. For several thousands of years cultivation of grapevines has been with the explicit goal of making wine. Though some exceptions do exist, this cultivation relies almost entirely on diligent pruning. For the most part, pruning methodology has depended on several primary factors, namely planting density, desired yield and fruit quality, and more recently mechanisation. Alongside the growing rejection of industrial agriculture, a renewed approach to pruning has grown popular, one centred around respecting vine physiology and maximising health and longevity. Known colloquially as sap-flow pruning, this method respects the physiology of the vine, pursuing balanced yields and improved longevity. I discussed this approach with respect to Nebbiolo with Tom Myers and Philine Dienger.

Continue ReadingGrapevine pruning in Barolo: pursuing vitality and longevity in Nebbiolo