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. They 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 their winemaking informed and worldly. I spoke to Turin natives Lara and Luisa in detail, discussing their journey to date, their philosophy and more.

Their meeting was wholly serendipitous, knowing nobody else Luisa had sat next to Lara on their first day at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo. The university was founded in 2004 and has close ties with the regions Slow Food movement, it’s aim is to renew farming methods and protect biodiversity, giving students a dynamic, diverse and practical skill set. Though not solely studying wine, the pair took a keen interest in all things vinous during their time at university. Having decided to share a university dorm, the pair quickly became friends, spending their evenings and weekends visiting producers and broadening their knowledge of Langhe wine. Concomitantly they were working as assistants to a professor who at the time was compiling a Slow Food guide. This work would prove formative, accompanying the professor to producer visits Lara and Luisa quickly realised the depth of knowledge available to them would far outweigh anything they were able to learn from a book.

The missing link

During their studies the pair also took an Italian sommelier diploma, further broadening a blossoming knowledge of wine. Concluding their studies with a four-handed joint thesis, Lara and Luisa outlined what was required to create a carbon-neutral winery, exploring practical solutions such as utilising geothermic and solar energy. An admirable and practical pursuit. Once they had finished their studies, demonstrating laudable self-awareness and introspection, the pair realised there was a gap in their knowledge. They had served wine, sold wine, tasted wine, learned the chemistry of wine. However, they had never made wine and never worked the land. They were book smart not street smart, so to speak.

And so, with this in mind, in 2013 the pair left to work harvest in South Africa and Argentina. In the New World, both worked for commercial wineries with vast, industrialised operations. Though they learned a great deal, here they were detached from the land. While expanding their technical understanding of the processes involved in harvesting and managing grapes, perhaps most important is that it was during these experiences the pair begun to grasp what they knew they were not. Upon their return to the Langhe, the pair spent a year with Federico, Nicola and Vladimiro at Treddiberri. Tending just 5ha, here they were close to the vines, working amongst some of the regions most admired vineyards, including Le Rocche dell’Annunziata.

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Once the year was up, the pair were thoroughly imbibed by farming, by the vines, and most of all by the Langhe. At just 24 their aspiration to purchase land may have seemed little more than a pipe dream. However, it would be their fortuitous employment at Treddiberi which brought their dream to fruition. Federico offered the pair 0.5ha in Roncaglie and with their combined inheritance they were able to purchase the plot. At 400m above sea level, facing east, Roncaglie has good wind conditions, maintaining healthy vegetation and slow, late-ripening. An enviable first home for Azienda Agricola Lalù.

Establishing their own roots

After planting in 2014, the pair spent 2015, 16, 17, and 18 workings in the Langhe and elsewhere in Europe. It was during this time that Lara and Luisa worked at two of Burgundy’s most-lauded domaines, Cecile Tremblay and with Dominique Lafon at Domaine des Comtes Lafon. At Tremblay winegrowing is close to terroir. Cecile is an autodidact, her technique, is one of repetition and experience. Aiming to yield only the highest quality fruit, she replicated her winemaking practises each vintage. Working at Tremblay involved a lot of tasting, both post and pre-harvest, decisions were very much guided by the person. At Lafon, things were a little different, though still a notable estate, the scale was comparably larger. Technical analysis was more common in both the vineyard and the winery, and so here they experienced a healthy amalgam of commercial skill and ‘artisan’ winemaking.

Azienda Agricola Lalù now totals 3.5ha, farmed entirely by Luisa and Lara. The pair rent vines in both Bussia Bovi and Le Coste Di Montforte, are experimenting with an organic approach and farm meticulously. They produce a Barbera d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo (from declassified Barolo) and a Barolo Le Coste Di Montforte. Everything they do is a result of their own decision making, a process grounded in experience and a collaborative spirit. They take particular care with incoming fruit, ensuring it is kept intact. There is no crushing, no pumps, and gravity is preferred.

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Almost certainly adapted to some degree from their experience in Burgundy, the pair ‘de-stem’ with a twist. A method adopted by Lalou BizeLeroy, Lara and Luisa painstakingly remove the peduncle, leaving in place the rachis and pedicel, maintaining whole berries for 50% of their yield. They’ve also experimented with various compositions. This approach, while offering some of the benefits associated with whole-cluster fermentation, is intended to maintain the integrity of the berry itself. Doing so results in a little intracellular fermentation, resulting wines demonstrate a bright, lifted character, fitting nicely into the philosophy at Azienda Agricola Lalù of crafting immediately accessible wines.

Fermentation is spontaneous, a process the pair found magical while working at Trediberri, there are no punchdowns, only gentle pumpovers, taking around 3 minutes and completed by hand. Maceration takes place between 15-30 days depending on the wine, the Barolo undergoes submerged cap for 30 days. Demonstrating the pairs willing to transcend established binaries. In difficult vintages, a Pied de Cuve consisting of selected grapes is prepared before harvest. Parcels are fermented separately and so a separate Pied de Cuve is also prepared for each plot using grapes from each plot. This is a technique shared by Pierguido Busso, Cascina delle Rosse, and Tom Myers, amongst others. Malo occurs naturally in Spring; however, describing themselves as ‘anxious and prudent mothers’ the pair are not afraid to warm their winery a little if progress is slow.

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For Lara and Luisa, everything they have experienced since their studies began has been new, each experience, small or large has shaped their path. Though more importantly for them, it is the people that have accommodated them, those they have worked with and for who have contributed to the crafting of their unconstrained philosophy. They recognise a distinct fortune in being the first of their family to pursue this occupation, not being the son or daughter of a producer means they are themselves able to choose their teachers. Without the burden of expectations, both are free to shape their own wines, wines that compel them.

Candidly sharing how unbearable hard she found vineyard work to begin with, Lara tells me that while ‘nature absorbs your energy’ at harvest it ‘gives back in the form of wine’ presenting entirely different challenges each year. Having earned the trust of the locals who have were won over by their hard work and strength of character, the pair grow more confident with each vintage. The wines at Lalù are precise, elegant and clean. They’re approachable and easy to drink without foregoing a single ounce of complexity and breadth. The future is bright at Azienda Agricola Lalù, keep your eyes peeled and your cellars open.

Lara and Luisa’s wines are available in the UK at Lay & Wheeler and Oeno. Additionally, you can find out more about Azienda Agricola Lalù on the pairs’ website.

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