Billecart-Salmon: enduring history, evolving savoir faire, and six decades of Nicolas François

By 1844, Champagne’s grand marques were already measuring global shipments in millions of bottles. Following phylloxera, consecutive troublesome vintages, and two devastating wars, they acquired vast swathes of land from…

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Regenerative Viticulture: the ‘new viticulture’ or a backward step?

Humans have been farming for at least 12,000 years, advancing from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled farmers independently in numerous disparate territories. Nomads domesticated animals first, followed by the founder crops…

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Freisa: origin, viticulture, winemaking, and more

As early as 1517, Freisa—a parent/offspring of Nebbiolo—commanded twice the price of contemporaneous varieties. In 1799 Count Nuvolone, deputy director of the Turin Agrarian Society, described Freisa as one of the ‘best red grapes’ in the region, and by 1861 the variety was said to have been included in almost all Piedmontese red blends. In 1875, a third of all the vineyard acreage in Asti and Alessandria was still planted to Freisa; the variety was ubiquitous in Chieri, Monferatto and Langhe too. Its popularity continued into the early twentieth century, favoured for its hardiness, resilience to downy mildew and reliability. Popularity notwithstanding, scarcely more than twenty hectares remain planted in Langhe—several hundred in Piedmont. Between 1960 to 2000, change characterised the region. Lacking as clear an identity as its autochthon counterparts, Freisa fell out of favour—not helped by mixed critical reviews. Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto better suited international palates and plantings grew dramatically, further compounding Freisa’s decline. Today, modern winemaking techniques allow growers to manage Freisa’s bitter tannins better or ferment the wines fully dry. Despite prominent producers scrubbing their productions, a small but impactful band of grower’s continues to cultivate the variety, championing tradition and biodiversity. Particularly resistant to flavescence dorée, requiring fewer treatments than other popular varieties, and yielding a ‘lighter’ canopy than Nebbiolo, Freisa’s revival may be necessary as well as deserving. Herein, I examine Freisa in greater detail, exploring origins, viticulture, and winemaking with Carlotta Rinaldi, Marie Teresa Mascarello, Isidoro Vajra and more. 

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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.

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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.

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