Trediberri: good fortune, introspection, and decisive strategy

In 2007, Nicola Oberto, his father Federico and their friend Vladimiro, purchased 5ha of land in Berri, initially intending only to sell their crop. Following the release of their first vintage in 2011, Trediberri, a young, artisanal family winery, was born. Though lacking ancestral heritage and familial prowess, the three from Berri do boast a brief but compelling story of their own. In the late 60s, Federico was hired by the late Renato Ratti, a prime mover in Piedmont’s cultural and technical revolution. His parents, Nicola’s great grandparents, had agreed to rent Renato their parcel in the now famed Rocche dell’Annunziata. The catch was that Renato would have to hire their son. Federico stayed at Ratti into the early 2000s. In spite of the revolution taking place in the late 90s, resource remained scarce in the Langhe and Federico, grateful for employment, had never had the confidence to establish a project of his own. Having worked in a wine store in La Morra, Nicola fell in love with wine, majoring in finance so that he could afford to continue collecting. After 3 years in the financial sector, Nicola successfully convinced his father to find land that they and Vladimiro could buy together. Following a chance encounter with David Berry Green over a magnum of Rocche, Trediberri received the financial clout they needed to set up shop. Today, the trio vinify 10.5ha, producing, Barolo, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Sauvignon Blanc. Nicola is refreshingly self-reflective, a grounded and pragmatic winemaker. We spoke about the estate’s past, present and future, as well as the pursuit of happiness, balance and freedom. 

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Philine Isabelle Dienger: the spirit of a shokunin from Heidelberg to Barolo

The philosophy of shokunin transcends mere physical skill, the shokunin embodies a social consciousness and embraces an obligation to work to the best of their ability for some greater good. This obligation, characterised by both the material and the spiritual, can be more simply understood as an endless pursuit of perfection, often of a single process, product or craft. Aged 16, German-native Philine Isabelle, had considered agriculture an attractive pursuit. In 2009, after a brief stint studying Politics and Administration at Konstanz University, Philine abandoned formal education in search of a more industrious endeavour. Her father’s passion for wine and her employment in a local restaurant drew her toward viticulture. For almost a decade, Philine worked at a number of biodynamic estates including Odinstal, Pranzegg, and Heinrich, as well as working as a consultant for master pruners Simonit & Sirch. Today, renting a 1.2ha plot in Preda, nestled between Cannubi and Vignane, Philine works tirelessly, aspiring to craft an 'effortless masterpiece', a Barolo that while simple overall is untiring, revealing subtle details that balance simplicity with complexity. I spoke with Philine as she embarks on a life’s work, exploring her shokunin in more detail.

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21st Century Barolo: transcending the modern vs. traditional binary

Revolutions are typically defined by a radical change to an established order. Often born out of shared hunger, they emerge when a disillusioned collective feels their institutions have failed or are failing them. Reactionary by nature they naturally present as theoretically opposed to the established order. Revolutions, true to their stated aim or not, strive for common gain. Their instigators, characterised by passion and pride, seek new heights for their culture. Until the late 1900s, for the most part, awareness of Barolo’s wines stretched little more than a dozen miles from La Morra. The wines were often difficult, giving little pleasure for several decades. Many growers were selling their crop to middlemen and frequently struggled to make a living from winemaking. Following a chance encounter with Philippe Engel in Burgundy, Elio Altare, who had been sleeping in his car, was outraged by a distinct disparity in notoriety and income. And so, began the Barolo Boy’s revolution. Motivated by a desire to see Nebbiolo among the world’s greatest wines, they expanded the region’s bandwidth and brought with them new ideas, practises and attitudes. Almost 40 years on, the aims and motivations of this revolution remain misunderstood by commentators and drinkers alike. In this piece, I encourage readers to dismiss this now unhelpful and outdated binary and to reconsider Barolo in the context of its present reality.

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Paitin: standing the test of time in Barbaresco

In 1796, Benedetto Elia purchased a small plot of vines in the Bricco di Neive. A few years later, after purchasing a number of contiguous parcels, he bought a nearby underground cellar. The Elia's were private bankers owning a small bank on the border between Neive and Castagnole facilitating transactions between the two provinces. The Pasquero family, from Spanish military ancestry, served the Royal House, managing and vinifying hectares in Vezza d'Alba. On Oct. 13, 1943, Italy declared war on Nazi Germany. However, German forces soon took control of northern and central Italy shortly after. Soon after, Mussolini, having escaped with the help of German paratroopers, established a puppet state to administer the German-occupied territory. The oppression of Italian Jews had begun in 1938 with the enactment of racial laws of segregation. Between 1943 and 1945, under Nazi occupation, Jews in Italy faced persecution, deportation, and murder. As a result of this, the family Pasquero-Elia, their members having since married, lost their bank, their reputation and their livelihood. The family made no wine at the estate between 1938 and 1945, the family sold their properties to pay staff while the men were at war. Today brothers Giovanni and Silvano Pasquero-Elia manage the Paitin estate with their father, Secondo, Giovanni's son Luca and Elisa. The family farm 18 hectares, 13 of which are Nebbiolo, and have recently, for the first time in 125 years, purchased new vineyard sites in Basarin and Faset.

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Azienda Agricola Lalù: serendipity, friendship and strength of will

The Langarolo of old were notoriously isolated and individualistic people. While their prosperity exudes enviable dynamism, they were often closed and married to their culture. Juxtaposed to the establishment, committed to revolution and determined to eschew preconceptions, the late 80s saw the Barolo Boys bring notable recognition to the Langhe. Though no official hierarchies existed, as they did in Burgundy, savvy consumers soon picked up which vineyard tended to yield the most impressive wines. The inception of the MGA between 2007-10 made it even easier for consumers to stratify wines and thus the stratospheric increase in land prices that followed were inevitable. Coupled with their insular nature, the locals' reluctance to sell or rent land to outsiders makes establishing a new estate in the Langhe a sizeable task. Challenges notwithstanding, Lara and Luisa of Azienda Agricola Lalù, city girls with no rural tradition of their own, have grasped this task by the horns. Having purchased their first vineyard in La Morra in 2015, the pair now farm 3.5ha in total, shared between Nebbiolo and Barbera. Having worked at some of Burgundy and Piedmont's most prominent estates and having earned the trust and respect of the locals, the pair are now forging their own path from a converted workshop in Serralunga d'Alba. Pursuing drinkable wines of elegance and sensitivity, their farming is meticulous and winemaking informed and worldly. I spoke to Lara and Luisa in detail, discussing their journey to date, their philosophy and more.

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Cascina delle Rose: big ideas and incremental change

Amidst a prototypical winter, marked by ample snowfall and adequately cold temperatures, pruning is well underway at Cascina delle Rose. The family work the same land today, bar half a hectare in Neive, that they have owned for a little over 70 years. Today, brothers Davide and Riccardo, under the watchful gaze of their parents, Giovanna and Italo, spearhead the steady, consistent evolution of this outstanding Piedmontese estate. In 1983, having felt disenfranchised with the textile industry, Giovanna, fiercely determined and eager to carve out her own path, saved a portion of her income and purchased the family estate from her parents. Having released her first Barbaresco in 1992, Giovanna, herself an autodidact, was working in the vines, raising children, and planning to open apartments on the family property. The locals, then a typically individualistic and often cynical people, rarely offered her assistance. A break came In 2004 with Davide joining the business full time, followed by his father, Italo, in 2007. Consequently, the estate grew in terms of both the size of its workforce and its overall quality. Today, the estate produces less than 30,000 bottles annually, and though not having grown in size, Cascina delle Rose has steadily but surely refined both their farming and winemaking. The resulting wines deliver finesse and elegance in abundance. I spoke with Riccardo Sobrino of Cascina delle Rose about the estate's origins, the families philosophy of and the future for both them and the region.

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Piero Busso: in the vineyard we trust

We talk a lot about rising stars, most notably those making wine in Burgundy. To what extent this conversation is motivated by overzealous importers hoping to augment the price of producers with which they were able to secure an allocation is debatable. Having already, by any reasonable objective measure, risen, there are those estates where with the passing of the baton from parent to child there is a substantive shift in quality. Though the Busso family have cultivated vines since the 1950s, it was not until 1978 that Piero Busso, Guido Busso's son, overwhelmed by hireathic yearning for the Langhe, ceased selling the families grapes and began making wine, labelling his first Barbaresco in 1982. Over the following two decades, Piero purchased plots in a handful of laudable vineyards, including a plot in Gallina, in 1999, followed twelve months later by San Stunet. In 2010, Piero's son, Pierguido, alongside his father, sister, Emanuela, mother, Lucia, took over the day-to-day running of the estate. The estate's quality had long been recognised, Pierguido's father was somewhat ahead of his time in his manner of working in the vineyard. However, since 2012 a distinct amplification of quality is recognisable in both the vineyard and in the glass. Inspired by a handful of iconic winemakers, Pierguido is fastidious and exacting, his philosophy is one of precision and respectful management of the land. I spoke to Pier, exploring the estate and his influence in more detail.

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Beyond the borders: a modern take on Piedmont wine pairing

The Langarolo are typically isolated and individualistic people, they are dynamic but for much of history were tightly anchored to both culture and tradition. Piedmont has been home to serious winemaking tradition since the Middle Ages. Early references to Nebbiolo wines were documented in 1266 and in 1303. Despite early celebratory references, for several centuries farmers were at the mercy of middlemen, the wines of Barolo were sold for as little as $0.70 a bottle and were scarcely known further than 10 miles from La Morra. Beyond its winemaking, Piedmont has a cuisine unrivalled elsewhere in Italy. Arguably defined by a notable need for self-reliance, local game, cattle and root vegetables are cooked for long periods on low heat, developing flavours slowly and resulting in rich, warming and hearty dishes. Carlo Petrini, the visionary founder of the Slow Food movement, is from Bra, a town in Piedmont. As in most of Italy, native vines are abundant and though Nebbiolo rules, a handful of varieties, including a number not native to the region, are synonymous with modern Piedmont. However, though certainly content, for much of history the Langhe farmers were poor. Revolutions begin on empty bellies and the 80s brought with them unimaginable change. A small but significant economic boom, the rise in global consumerism and a small band of rebellious winemakers brought global acclaim to Piedmont. The region's wines are these days truly international; however, common wine pairings remain mostly wedded to its own food. I asked some of the UK's most exciting, vibrant and talented sommeliers, chefs, and wine lovers to offer a fresh, diverse and global take on Piedmontese wine pairing.

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Overstating terroir: the effacing of the vigneron

Unlike most other agricultural products, bar the most niche of fruit and vegetable, a wine's origin, in some cases down to a single acre of land, is touted as a semi-mystical source of quality. Although lacking an exact definition, Jancis Robinson notes terroir to be a vines 'total natural growing environment'. While some consider farming practices a function of terroir, for the most part, it is inclusive of the place, not the person. It is said that the soil, subsoil, rocks, exposition, mesoclimate, and microclimate of a particular vine, are amongst that which most influence the grapevines phenotype. Although romanticised by the French, recognition of place precedes them by some time. The Ancient Greeks were known to stamp amphorae with a seal of origin, the result being different regions established varying reputations for the quality of their wine. But one need not look to Ancient Greece to observe the importance of place. Anybody who has planted in their own garden will recognise that particular plots, even within a 30m² site, perform better, yielding more fruitful results, than others. However, both viticulture and wine differ greatly from almost all other farming endeavours. The sheer volume of decisions made by the vigneron and the subsequent scale of their influence is so vast that one must wonder to what extent terroir can really be credited for the style of the finished wine. Amongst natural wine circles 'sense of place' has become a hallmark of authenticity. To 'let the place show' is the mantra of the most zen winos. But when these ‘small’ decisions yield such notably broad variance, is this a plausible proposition? Has fetishising terroir obfuscated and subordinated the role of the farmer? A recent conversation with Wine Advocates, Dr William Kelley, stoked my thoughts.

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Biodynamics’ dirty secret: ecofascism, karmic racism and the Nazis

Though shrouded in overtly-romanticised metaphysical and spiritual notions, biodynamics offers little in the form of practical, measurable benefit. Touted as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecologically-sound, its roots can be found in anthroposophy. Second, only to Waldorf schools, biodynamics is the most widespread example of applied anthroposophy. A worldview invoked by Rudolf Steiner in 1912, anthroposophy is patently racist, it’s origins found at the intersection of nationalism, right-wing populism, and esoteric spiritualism. Having found philosophical affinities with National Socialism, the 1930s saw biodynamics, a practical byproduct of Steiner’s karmic racism, exert a powerful influence on the ‘green wing’ of German fascism. Steiner’s racial and ecological concerns, centred around re-energising the mystical connection between soil and man, were arguably a byproduct of his concern with the wellbeing of what he considered to be the superior race. These racial concerns, compounded by his mystical outlook on soil and land, resonated firmly with the Third Reich’s infamous ‘Blood and Soil’ slogan. Facing increasing political polarisation, a resurgence of extreme right-wing populism in Europe, and a heightened need to tackle climate change, the wine industry must acknowledge the perils of pseudoscience and reflect on the political susceptibilities of romanticised esoteric environmentalism and reactionary ecology. In this piece, I explore the need for a move away from mysticism and a shift toward robust and rigorous ecological agricultural practice.

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