Alberto Burzi: continuation, substance and promising beginnings

Alberto Burzi’s grandparents were farmers in La Morra, cultivating grapevines and hazelnuts. For more than three decades, the pair sold their grape crop to cooperatives and negociants; the latter paid poorly. Amidst the nations’ Economic Miracle’, Italians left the countryside in droves, seeking work in textiles and manufacturing. Fortunately, Alberto’s mother and aunt—his grandparents’ children—had remained nearby, his mother training as an accountant and his aunt a teacher. Following a period of significant change, Alberto’s grandparents ceased selling their grapes in the 90s, instead opting to rent their vineyards. Among their tenants, Robert Voerzio, who until 2011 leased Capolot and Federico Grasso, who rented Roncaglie and Rocchettevino. Born and raised in Langhe, Alberto spent much of his childhood with his grandparents, who shared their passion for agriculture. In 2010, he graduated from the University of Turin with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology and began working as a consultant for local wineries. While studying, Alberto had worked at Cantina Communale in La Morra with Nicola of Trediberri and completed several internships. In 2012, Alberto took back the family vineyards and began vinifying wine under his own label—helped along by rising wine prices and growing regional demand. Production has grown steadily since, and in 2018 the family began expanding the winery. Today Alberto and his sister Caterina, having worked briefly at Oddero, manage 7 hectares of vineyards producing c. 25,000 bottles each year. Here follows the story of Burzi, where meticulous viticulture and neo-traditional winemaking yield wines of substance and promise. 

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Until the mid-to-late 20th century, Piedmontese farmers tended varied crops; most were small landowners, having inherited familial landholdings. Despite ongoing efforts to improve sanitation and wine quality, successive world wars decimated the Italian economy, not helped by mass migration and fascist socioeconomic policy. Generally, growers sold their grape crops to intermediaries; for the most part, this would remain the case until at least 1980—though some were, of course, already estate bottling before then. This reality had been true for Alberto Burzi’s grandparents, landowners in La Morra, tending a range of crops and selling their grape crop to negociants and later cooperatives. Alberto’s grandfather Luigi was among the original founding members of ‘Terre del Barolo’, a disruptive cooperative that sought to hand power back to landowners. Amidst the nations’ Economic Miracle’, a mass migration took place from Italy’s rural centres—which were generally destitute—to newly thriving industrial cities, in Langhe, most sought employment in Turin. Fortunately, Alberto and Caterina’s mother had decided to remain in La Morra close to her parents, living in the same building where today the winery is located and finding a job as an accountant in the town hall.

The ’90s brought great prosperity in Langhe, a culmination of steady progress catalysed by global and regional revolutions. More confident than ever before, growers began to make wine in increasingly more significant numbers, while others rented vineyards to burgeoning local growers. Alberto’s grandparents ceased selling their crop and began renting their land; among their tenants, revolutionary protagonist Roberto Voerzio, and Federico Grasso, who started bottling in 1980. Voerzio rented Capalot—from which he produced his famous Riserva Vecchie Viti dei Capalot e delle Brunate, while Grasso rented Roncaglie and Rocchettevino. Each continued to rent until 2011, Grasso continues to buy grapes. Caterina recalls her grandfather had been shocked by Roberto’s extensive green harvest and had suggested somebody ought to “call the police”. 

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Alberto spent much of his childhood with his grandparents, who shared their passion for agriculture with him. By 13, he had decided to study agronomy. Having remained in Langhe, Alberto attended the Oenology School of Alba and later enrolled at the University of Turin, graduated in 2010 with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology. Alberto completed several internships during his studies, some local and one in Chassagne-Montrachet with Jean Claude Rateau. Further, he had worked at Cantina Communale with Nicola of Trediberri. Here, Alberto had tasted ’99 Aurelio Settimo Rocche del Annunziata, a wine of prodigious substance which would contribute to shaping his own aesthetic. After working as a consultant for local wineries, Alberto took the helm at his family vineyards in 2011 and began making wines under his label in 2012. In the beginning, the family sold a quantity of their Barolo in bulk, primarily to support cash flow. Though this continues, the volume is less each year as capacity increases and cash flow improves. In his first year, 2012 Alberto bottled Barbera and a small amount of Barolo (maybe 2000 bottles). Shortly after establishing Burzi, Alberto was joined by his sister Caterina, who worked at Oddero for a few months after graduation. 

Today, Burzi farms several parcels, including Capalot (two parcels), RiveRoncaglieRocchettevino, Plaustra (Bettolotti), La Serra (first release 2023—Barolo La Serra 2019). The pair are particularly excited to have found in La Serra a very different soil composition and microclimate—450m asl and east exposure, making this the last vineyard they pick. Capalot is the jewel in Burzi’s crown. The MGA consists of several parcels of different ages, which face mostly east at an altitude varying between 295 and 440 metres. The ‘best’ Burzi parcel is in a small area known as Gasprina (a thin strip of land closest to the road), where the exposure curves decisively toward the south. Many of Burzi’s vines were planted in the late ’40s and early ’50s. There are some younger vines as well as some as old as 80. The second plot is found closer to the woods at the top of the slope and is not blended with the Capalot, given a considerable difference in clones.

As is true of so many quality estates today, the pair expend significant effort in the vineyard. At Burzi, the aim is to produce suitably small berries of ‘optimal’ ripeness at harvest such that the resulting wines are broad, complex and stimulating. Vines are trained Guyot (more specifically, Guyot Poussard or ‘sap flow pruning’) and planted 5000 per hectare (typical of Langhe). When pruning Nebbiolo, no more than 8/9 buds remain, to begin concentrating production and yield (currently c. 40hl per hectare). In 2020, Alberto started to trial ‘tressage’ in Capalot, whereby instead of hedging the vines, they’re allowed to grow higher, with the canopies rolled over instead of cutting the apical shoot. Bunch and berry samples from hedged and non-hedged rows demonstrated smaller, more ripe berries from those rows not hedged. Further, ‘tressage’ is thought to yield fruit with a higher solids-to-juice ratio, high levels of organic acids, earlier physiological maturity relative to sugar accumulation, and no second crop. So, beginning 2021, Burzi’s entire holdings are no longer hedged following this success.

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In the beginning, Alberto would regularly cut the grass; however, today, cover crop is encouraged. As well as slightly reducing soil temperature (helpful in aiding vine development and prolonging ripening), cover crop acts as competition for vine roots—studies have shown water deficits can produce small berries with more colour and tannin and lower yields with less vegetal aromas and more fruit. Finally, in Capalot, Alberto has another experiment—a part of his final university thesis under esteemed Professor, Anna Schneider. Having had to replace vines (massal is preferred to avoid clones previously selected for yield), Alberto is now testing grafting scion wood to established rootstock planted for several years, examining the impact on durability and early vigour. As Mark A. Matthews has said, “it is not the destination, but the journey that affects resultant fruit and sensory attributes”. Put simply, reducing yields per se is not a shortcut to quality. Burzi’s methods are intelligent and practical; they know the vineyards well and get to know them better with each vintage.

The winery remains in the cellar of the house the pair’s grandparents built in the late-60s. In 2018 they expanded, adding another room for storage, followed by a tasting room to be completed in 2022. Fruit is destemmed without fancy machinery; Caterina jokes that a conveyor might be appreciated during peak harvest. Everything is fermented in stainless steel, and the must is moved using a peristaltic pump (supposed to be gentler). Previously, ambient yeast populations in the winery have been too weak for spontaneous fermentation; however, Alberto will test his luck in 2021. Maceration/fermentation is temperature-controlled (never higher than 29°C) and duration varies from six (Langhe Nebbiolo) to 30-50 days (Capalot). Cap management varies too, submerged cap for Capalot, delestage during peak fermentation for Barolo and daily pumping over for Langhe Nebbiolo. Generally, Alberto aims for strong polyphenolic extraction and limited volatilisation of fruity aromas. Ageing is in 30hl Austrian oak barrels. Alberto visited many producers, including Oddero, before deciding on the ‘right’ oak, eventually choosing Stockinger. 

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Today, Langhe enjoys extraordinary prosperity; a sense of excitement fills the air as a fresh wave of enthusiastic and daring winegrowers dream greater than ever before, inspired by an increasingly global outlook and a rejuvenated interest in land, place and product. Alberto and Caterina are the first of their family to make wine; Caterina is scintillating, passionate and perky, her brother sedulous and diligent. Sales at the winery grow with each vintage, as do visitors; nevertheless, the setup remains ‘garagiste’ at heart; Caterina’s ‘office’ can be found in the families living room. Producing polished, expansive wines, Burzi is cause for excitement and deserving of attention. Burzi is imported and sold in the United Kingdom by UVenoteca (UltraVino)

One thought

  1. Thanks for this interesting profile of such a dynamic, talented brother-and-sister team in Langhe. Love their wines. We’re so grateful to Terra Madre Wine Imports for bringing the Burzi wines into the state of Colorado. Lucky us!

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