Nada Fiorenzo: hidden in plain sight crafting elegance in Treiso

In 1921, Carlo Nada, the son of a poor sharecropper, bought an estate in Treiso, which had previously been a small hamlet of Barbaresco. The estate, belonging to Carlo’s employer at the time, one of Italy’s first cardiologists to whom it was a summer home, spanned 25ha and included a significant portion of the Rombone vineyard. Though his family was poor, Carlo, a patriarch with seven children, had hoped that together his four sons would manage the estate. Having fallen ill young, Carlo’s last wish was that the family maintained the integrity of the property, hoping they would not divvy it among the siblings upon his passing. 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 his 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 notably undercelebrated, there has been a persistent and emphatic 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.

Establishing roots

Langhe was not always as it is today. When Carlo Nada scraped together the cash required to purchase his employer’s 25ha estate in Treiso, owing to disadvantageous socio-economic and geopolitical circumstances, the region was poor. Father to seven children, Carlo had hoped that together, his four sons would manage the land and later establish a thriving family business. After falling ill young, the patriarch implored his sons not to sell the estate. However, with Langhe’s revolution a mere twinkle in the eye of even the most aspirational revolutionary, shortly after Carlo’s death, the estate was divided, leaving resources scarce. Fiorenzo, Carlo’s second-to-last son, discontinued his father’s wine cellar business and began to sell their grapes, which were much in demand among local merchants.

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Later, Italy’s economic boom drew Fiorenzo’s son, Bruno, away from Langhe to the city. After completing his studies, he worked as a teacher in a school in Alba and subsequently at the hotel management school in Barolo. Despite having left for lack of opportunity at home, as was the case with so many of his era, an excitable and ambitious Bruno was drawn back to the Langhe’s bucolic hills. By this time, a revolution was afoot, Angelo Gaja was hard at work in Barbaresco while Elio Altare took apart his father’s barrels in Barolo. Convinced of the potential of his family’s estate, by 1982 Bruno Nada had convinced his father to rethink their business model. Together they undertook an agronomic revolution, fitted out a cellar, and began selling wine under the label Nada Fiorenzo.

New beginnings

Work began first in Rombone. As they were then, today, the Nadas are the vineyard’s largest landowner (6.5ha). Facing southwest, Rombone enjoys ample sunlight, soaking up the last of the evening rays. From Cascina Rombone at 260m asl, vines run down the hill to c. 200m asl. Even without a long celebrated history, Rombone’s best plots ought to be considered among Treiso’s greatest vineyards. Danilo considers Rombone the easiest to manage in different vintage, perhaps the hardiest of their sites, producing big tannins, big power and a ton of elegance. Having amassed a wealth of agronomic know-how, the families revolution began in the vineyard. Beginning with yields, green harvest was introduced in the early-80s. At the time, such was the shame of removing healthy grapes, Bruno’s father would pass through the vineyard in his tractor after cutting and collect the fallen bunches. Further, Bruno and Fiorenzo endeavoured to reduce his dependence on synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

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The estate grew in the 90s, as Bruno purchased a small collection of vineyards in Manzola. The smallest vineyard in Treiso, Manzola is bounded by Rombone to the north and the Manzola river to the west. The vineyard enjoys unbroken southwest-facing orientation and a moderate elevation, ranging from 210-250m asl. Though slightly less warm than Rombone, Manzola enjoys ample heat and is well ventilated. Expansion continued in 2013, this time into Barbaresco with the purchase of 50/60-year-old vines in Montiribaldi, a thin strip of hillside bounded to the north by the northwest-facing segment of Roncaglie. The vineyard takes its name from the old Roman road which once led travellers to Monte Aribaldo. The altitude varies considerably, meaning ripening is irregular even within parcels, particularly from top to bottom slope. The vineyard’s aspect is near-universal, facing south, south-east, and south-west. All of Nada Fiorenzo’s vines are south facing to some degree or another.

In 2011, Bruno’s son, Danilo, following his father’s footsteps, returned to the winery after studying childhood physiotherapy. While studying, Danilo worked as a sommelier at three-Michelin star Piazza Duomo, where he realised an excitement of his own. Upon returning to the family business, Danilo worked full-time for several years before studying oenology. After completing the first half of this degree, he decided to commit himself entirely to the estate. The early-2000s brought with them a flurry of activity in Langhe, a new generation came of age, a worldly cohort respecting tradition though equally motivated to push boundaries, seeking ever greater heights for the region’s wines. Today, Danilo and his father manage the estate (80% Nebbiolo) with the help of six staff.

Reflection and rediscovery

The Nadas divide the 10ha estate parcel by parcel, each according to its unique microclimate, an approach supporting tailored agronomics. Further, dividing their parcels this way allows the pair to select plots for blending according to their particular suitabilities. Each of the three vineyards is bottled as a single-vineyard wine, younger parcels from Manzola and Rambone are selected for Langhe Nebbiolo as well as parcels from each of the two for the Barbaresco. The families Barbera and Dolcetto are both farmed in Rombone. In some cases, this selection goes beyond sub-parcels. On occasion, the heads and tail of a row are selected for Langhe Nebbiolo and the middle (sometimes riper) for Barbaresco. Danilo also recalls this approach helping mitigate the impact of heavy rain. The Langhe Nebbiolo, selected from the same parcels which give rise to the single-vineyard bottlings, offers drinkers an early insight into the nature of each vintage.

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In Langhe, as they were elsewhere, synthetic chemicals and heavy machinery were both a gift and a curse. That is to say, they offered temporary relief from the most pressing of socioeconomic circumstances. At a time when those working the land could not sustain a single vintage without a successful crop, synthetic chemicals mitigated pest and disease-related stress. Meanwhile, tractors reduced operating costs and overheads. However, where they gave with one hand, they took from the other. Indiscriminate use of synthetic chemicals erodes the microbiome, intense fertiliser application leads to excessive vigour, and regular tractor use increases the risk of erosion, compacted soil, and reduced soil air volume. At Nada Fiorenzo, much of today’s work involves rediscovering the agronomic practice of yesteryear.

80% of the vines are no longer hedged, instead, the apical shoot is ‘rolled’, creating a braid-like structure. Laborious though it may be, proponents argue that vines trellised this way attain physiological ripeness faster, at lower sugar levels, than fruit born of hedged vines. It is said that trimming the apical shoot triggers a hormonal response which favours vegetative growth. Some green harvest still takes place; however, today many of the families older plots rarely require it, their vigour having grown more modest. Cover crop is left to grow between rows. promoting a healthy ecosystem among the vines while the soil surrounding the trunk of the vine is hoed by hand, avoiding unwanted cuts and tractor passes. Warm summers require attentive canopy pruning, at Nada Fiorenzo outer leaves are left in place while the heart of the canopy is stripped away to improve airflow thus reducing humidity and disease pressure. This is truly exciting viticulture, much more than doobies and cow horns, this is assiduous, innovative and practical agronomics. ‘90% of our work is in the vineyard’ Danilo admits, pointing out that little can be done to save poor fruit.

From grape to wine

Grapes are transported to the winery in small crates, taking care not to tear the skins. Here, everything is de-stemmed and fermentation is spontaneous. A pied de cuve is prepared if the vintage demands it. Working with suitably ripe grapes, the vinification is not forced so as to not over-extract. The cap is periodically broken manually to check skin condition while pumpovers are performed as and when they’re needed, following no set protocol. Maceration runs until the ferment is dry, for Langhe Nebbiolo this is around 14 days and for Barbaresco 3-4 weeks. An altogether modest duration.

The cellar is allowed to warm with the season, encouraging malo when temperatures permit, preferably sooner rather than later, as is often the case with Nebbiolo. The wines are aged in 25hl Slavonian oak botti for 24 months. In the past the pair have experimented with used neutral barriques (15-17 years old); however, results were indifferent. Given the increased risk associated with a larger volume of old barrels, they switched back to botti.

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2020 was a good vintage, despite disaster elsewhere‘ Danilo recounts, ‘though we must learn to make in super hot vintages‘ he warns. Since 2003 (the first of the scorching vintages), winemakers have been adapting. Things are no different at Nada Fiorenzo where preserving freshness and maintaining elegance are paramount. Admitting this is not something you can learn in a couple of years, Danilo remains optimistic. Today, one could argue that Nada Fiorenzo ranks among the most undercelebrated Langhe estates, deserving of significantly more attention. Producing ultra-pure Barbaresco, the wines are delicately perfumed and drink well young. Possessing admirable energy they age gracefully and offer drinkers an insight into an estate still in evolution. Building on the foundations of three generations, Danilo represents a new chapter for this estate, a charismatic and passionate young man eager to elevate his families label. Buy up and don’t delay.

Nada Fiorenzo is imported to the UK by A&B Vintners.

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