Young Woman Leads Great Italian Wine Family Into Exciting New White Wine Project

The Barolo & Barbaresco World Opening Grand Tasting in NYC
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

It was the first of its kind outside of Italy as all of the prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco wine producers from the wine region of Piedmont gathered together in New York to present their top offerings. Some of the most outstanding red Italian wines made by some of the most iconic wine producers were all in the same room; a room that was worthy of such guests with its soaring ceiling and its expansive, open space as many wine professionals, as well as passionate wine lovers, enthusiastically went from table to table, experiencing the greatest hits of the Italian wine world.

Of course, the esteemed Pio Cesare multi-generational wine producer was there with their great Barolo and Barbaresco red wines. Pio Boffa, one of the family owners leading the winery, was in attendance. But he wasn’t the kind of man who just wanted to quickly talk to as many people as possible. Instead, he was more about the deeper one-on-one connections to allow others to truly understand his family’s legacy and the core values he fought for daily.

Pio Boffa
Photo Credit: Pio Cesare

When he talked to someone, he fully registered that person wanting to know who they were, where they came from and what was most valuable to them. That day, he would make the few deep connections he always searched for, even when many warned him and others not to go to New York City. This extravaganza, aptly called “Barolo & Barbaresco World Opening,” was happening in the heart of Manhattan at the beginning of February 2020. Despite NYC seemingly having no known issues with a COVID-19 outbreak because they didn’t have tests yet, unbeknownst to many, it was spreading like wildfire as people from all over the world came in and out of the densely populated city on a daily basis.

Within a couple of weeks, NYC was in an extreme lockdown that many could only envision existing in a post-apocalyptic movie.

Pio wouldn’t have issues getting back home safely during that time, but sadly, after only a little more than a year later, he passed away after battling Covid at the too-young age of 66. It was a devastating moment for the Italian wine world as he had been a vital part of running his family’s winery for over 40 years.

Federica Boffa

Pio Boffa was prepared by his father to take over the winery since he was a child, making him grow up quickly as every free moment was devoted to the business. And so it wasn’t only in his DNA; it was also part of the air he breathed every day and it determined the rhyme of his life that was in sync with his beating heart. His daughter, Federica Boffafollowed the same path. Even though she was only in her early 20s during the Barolo & Barbaresco World Opening in 2020, Pio talked about how he could already see that she would be a greater leader than he had been. So, he was assured at that time that she would take their legacy to the next level.

Cesare Benvenuto and Federrica Boffa Photo Credit: Pio Cesare

Superficially, Federica Boffa doesn’t look like her father, still, she has the same strength of character in her eyes and desire to deeply connect with those who are interested in her family’s wines. Today, she oversees Pio Cesare with her cousin, Cesare Benvenuto, who worked alongside Pio Boffa for many years.

Recently, Federica talked about all the major projects they are taking on such as building two new facilities within the “historic center of Alba,” as it was once known as the production capital for Barolo and Barbaresco. Pio Cesare is one of the last foundational families of Barolo still there with their original winery, and now, they are placing more investment into this historic place that “has many problems,” according to Federica, and if they don’t preserve and restore the birthplace of Barolo winemaking then who will? She insists that they have no intention of increasing production but want to give themselves more room for cellaring bottles, allowing for more wine to age, hence increasing quality, and another facility will be dedicated to the sole purpose of making wine.

White Wines

The Pio Cesare wine family has made a few different white wines in tiny quantities over the years as Pio Boffa loved them. They make a Cortese di Gavi, a common traditional white wine of the area. Still, many years ago, as a young man in the early 1970s, he tried to convince his father to plant Chardonnay but his father was extremely traditional and wouldn’t allow it. Finally, in 1981, Pio Boffa got to plant his Chardonnay in one of their cooler Barbaresco vineyards and the neighbors were sure that he had lost his mind. Pulling out the sacred Nebbiolo red grape variety that produces their legendary wines was one thing, but so that he could plant a foreign French white variety no less! But through time, the beautiful expression of place in their small production of Chardonnay wine has won over a strong following and its style is similar to Burgundy with its finesse and freshness, yet it is an expression of a specific vineyard in Barbaresco.

Federica Boffa
Photo Credit: Pio Cesare

Actually, the idea that their Chardonnay is Burgundian in style is quite fitting as many red Burgundy lovers also appreciate red Barolo and Barbaresco, despite their profile on the palate being sometimes quite the opposite, depending on the vineyard and vintage. Yet, they both have two significant things in common: affinity for expression of place and a complex, aromatic nose.

But now they are investing in a white wine called Timorasso that is not only on the same high level as their Chardonnay but is indigenous to the area.

Timorasso is a native white variety that has existed since the Middle Ages. Some Latin documents trace it back to the town of Tortona, located in the Piedmont region. A few years ago, the Pio Cesare wine family bought land in the Colli Tortonesi Timorasso area, where they have planted Timorasso. In the future, they will release aged Timorasso onto the market, which will be around 800 cases in production. Some have described Timorasso as similar to the Riesling white grape variety because it has honey aromas with lots of minerality and high acidity, making great old bones as a flinty minerality starts to become more noticeable with cellaring. Hence, Federica and her cousin will release it onto the market when it shows that wonderfully complex note.

Honoring Her Father  

The Pio Cesare Chardonnay, established by Pio Boffa, is named ‘Piodilei,’ which means ‘Pio for the ladies’ as it is a dedication to the women in the family, who in the past had to be behind the scenes due to the convention of the time. Pio Boffa was very passionate about the Chardonnay when he was a young man and it took that extreme passion to overcome tradition so he could plant a few rows. When he tasted an excellent Chardonnay, it reminded him of some of the strongest people he knew – the women in his family – because it was powerful with plenty of structure while also being elegant with an overall finesse.

When Pio passed away in 2021, Federica decided to place the original label on their 2020 Chardonnay wine, the vintage that was next in line to be bottled at the time, as a dedication to the hero in her life who empowered her to become the woman she is today.

Back in the early 1980s, Pio Boffa could have never imagined that when he was honoring the women in his family with his ‘Piodilei’ Chardonnay wine, the woman who would be the most incredible representative of those qualities wouldn’t even have been born yet. But today, she leads the family business in ways that Pio himself could only dream of and she not only honors her father by placing the original label on the 2020 vintage but she honors him every day by being the extraordinary woman whom he saw very early on in his little girl’s eyes.

Link to original Forbes article:

Lineup of Pio Cesare Wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Pio Cesare’ Piodilei’ Chardonnay, Langhe DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Chardonnay from their family-owned vineyard Il Bricco. Pretty nose with citrus blossom and stony minerality with juicy white peach flavors, crisp acidity and elegant textural contrast with broad body and fine structure that gives lift along the expressive finish.

2019 Pio Cesare, Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo from family-owned vineyards Treiso and San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. An enticing floral nose of lilacs with delicious note of warm raspberries with subtle red cherry flavor on the palate and very fine tannins.

2019 Pio Cesare, Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo from family-owned vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Novello and Monforte. The earthier intensity of broken rocks and, on the palate, ripe red cherries balanced by zingy cranberries with hints of spices and fresh bay leaves with lace-like tannins.

2019 Pio Cesare, Il Bricco Vineyard, Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo that comes from the highest part of the family-owned vineyard of Il Bricco. Intriguing nose of sandalwood and cinnamon stick with darker fruit and bigger structure with marked acidity, and this wine will stand up to long-term cellaring.

2019 Pio Cesare, Ornato Vineyard, Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo from the family-owned prestigious vineyard Ornato in Serralunga d’Alba. A bright, inviting wine with lots of verve and life that presents delightful, pristine fruit such as red cherries, boysenberries and red currants that is balanced by savory herbs such as thyme with an elegant body and aromatic finish with aniseed notes.

2019 Pio Cesare, Mosconi Vineyard, Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo from the family-owned stellar vineyard Mosconi in Monforte d’Alba. This wine seduces from the first sip with lush fruit and silky tannins that caress the palate and the delectably rich, multi-layered fruit is balanced by fresh acidity and complex notes of tar and an intense minerality at its core. Despite its lush palate, it is still finely delineated with perfect precision on the very long finish. A fantastic wine that is already a superstar now but these wines age really well so try to muster up every ounce of willpower to put a few of these glorious beauties in the cellar.

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Wine Books Released By Influential Chef Who Led Best Restaurant In The World

“Take out four fondues! The last dish in the history of El Bulli… as a restaurant! Take them out! Come on!”

An enormous roar from the clapping crowd started as intense emotions swept over the group – was it heartbreak? Sadness? Hopelessness? One might think it was at least one of those emotions but no, it was joy; joy from the sheer gratitude that they would be given one of the greatest gifts in the world – time. For there is nothing more precious in the world than to be given more time to create, think, achieve and accomplish the Herculean mission to stimulate people’s creativity worldwide and find balance within the body and mind.

Former El Bulli restaurant which is now the ‘elBulli1846’ Museum Photo Credit: Pepo Segura

El Bulli, the restaurant that ceased to exist after July 30th, 2011, allowed El Bulli, the culinary center, to be born the next day. It is fair to say that El Bulli was the best restaurant in the world and its leader, Ferran Adrià, is the most influential chef of modern times. The list of awards and accolades seems never-ending, with the proclamation of “best” and “most influential” stated numerous times during its time under the reign of the master, Ferran Adrià. Even those who achieved such awards as the “best” after he closed the restaurant were mainly chefs who either studied under him or have been greatly influenced by his accomplishments.

Ferran pushed the boundaries of avant-garde cuisines to impossible levels and didn’t simply have a key selection of celebrated dishes he would bring out year after year. Instead, he would close the restaurant each winter to create new recipes that would makeup the around 35-course meal for the following year. In the 1990s, Ferran did the unthinkable – he established gatherings where he would share his recipes with other chefs, which was unheard of at the time. But since he was always creating new ways to first give people happiness and then, second, to make them think, there was no need to jealously guard his recipes as his mission was not just to create a name for himself but instead empower all cooks to spread happiness by enlightening the minds of their patrons.

It is no wonder that when he announced the permanent closure of El Bulli the restaurant, the news was placed on the front pages of many of the most esteemed international newspapers worldwide.

Linking Knowledge

Ferran Adrià
Photo Credit: elBullifoundation

The master, Juvé & Camps, who had spent so much time bringing happiness to others, finally realized the happiest day of his own life – after he closed the restaurant. El Bulli was undoubtedly known as the best restaurant in the world. But despite two million people requesting tables per season for a restaurant that only had 52 seats per seating, with demand never being their issue, it was still barely getting by, financially. Ferran wanted to make it accessible by only charging around $325 per person as it would allow everyone to have a fair opportunity to experience such a meal. It’s shocking, considering it was considered by many the greatest of the greats, and many top restaurants in New York City easily charge $1,000 per person. So El Bulli couldn’t wholly pay all of their staff, which included 40 chefs in the expansive, ultra-modern kitchen, and Ferran said that they just got used to having no money and many talented young chefs jumped at the chance to learn from the master. But Ferran was never about having an elitist restaurant; he wanted to make people “happy” by getting them to “think” in different ways on a conscious and unconscious level and so, at a certain point, he felt the best way to devote himself to such a mission was to close the restaurant and take the time to work towards the best situation to link various types of knowledge with different disciplines, such as engineering, neuroscience, philosophy, art and cuisine, to name a few.  

Eventually, he started the El Bulli Foundation in February of 2013 with the mission to safeguard the legacy of the El Bulli restaurant, to share experiences in management and innovation that could be applied to any entrepreneurial project and to generate high-quality content for the fine dining world.

Bullipedia Wine Sapiens Volume 1
Wines Contextualization and Viticulture
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Part of their mission of producing high-quality content was to devise a methodology called ‘Sapiens,’ which in Latin refers to a discerning, wise person. This methodology is both “holistic” as well as “systemic.” So, it is a system that draws on a multitude of perspectives and experiences that are all interconnected, even if their connections are not apparent at first. Yes, they have released a series of books on cuisine but, recently, they have released a series of books on wine using the Sapiens method. 

“What are a scientist, a sommelier, a philosopher, and the ‘best chef in the world’ doing at the same table?” 

That is how the Wine Sapiens books started, according to Ferran Centelles, the wine director of the El Bulli Foundation, as well as a longtime sommelier at the restaurant, and after ten years of investigative research, which is still ongoing, eight volumes with more than 4,500 pages including wine observations from a scientific, artistic and gastronomic perspective have been produced by Ferran Adrià and Ferran Centelles gathering a team of experts that spent countless hours on “discoveries, arguments, surprises, and a few (momentary) frustrations.”

Bullipedia Wine Sapiens Volume 2
Vinification and classifications
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The family-owned Spanish winery, Juvé & Camps, known for their high-quality Gran Reserva Cava sparkling wines, not only helped with the research of these books by allowing them to use their expertise and research but they also took on the cost to translate volumes I and II of the Bullipedia Wine Sapiens collection so they could be available in English.

Freeing The Mind

The woman was surprised when she sat in the dining room as it was comfortable, warm and inviting, as if she had been transported to a hacienda home of a local family tucked away in a remote cove on the Costa Brava in the Spanish region of Catalonia. In a few moments, over 30 dishes would be presented to her throughout the meal and she tried to take deep breaths to subdue her nerves, which intensified with each passing second. It was exhilarating and terrifying simultaneously, as if standing at the edge of a cliff where she was ready to take that leap of faith and give herself over entirely to the journey about to start.

The first presented creation triggered the fear she had recently felt from previous sleepless nights, as it didn’t look like anything she had eaten before. Even though many called this the best gastronomic experience of their lives, others had said that they felt quickly sick by an overwhelming panic and had to stop the journey of a parade of creations, destroying the dream that they, too, would have the experience of a lifetime. But those fears that kept her in her comfort zone for most of her adult life, that were part of a slow downward spiral that started to dull her excitement and joy for living as there seemed to be nothing else to discover, were not going to stop her this time. She cleared her mind and picked up the creation that expressed itself not only by its unique color and shape but also by how it was placed on a tiny plate with waves sculpted into it, making her pick up the creation as intended. Then, after she put it in her mouth, the smell in her head, the taste, the texture and the still prevalent imprint of the visual impression all came together to give her one of the most precious things that had been taken away too early in life. She had become a child again, eating something for the first time that instantly formed many connections in her brain, giving her a tidal wave of joy and happiness that brought her back to a place in development that she could no longer remember.

That is what eating at the El Bulli restaurant did for some, while others decided not to jump off the cliff. This is what the Wine Sapiens collection also intends to accomplish: to free one’s mind so she can tap into that pure happiness of discovery that was lost long ago. 

***Link to original Forbes article:

2016 Juvé & Camps, Gran Reserva Cava
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2016 Juvé & Camps, Gran Reserva Cava, Catalonia, Spain: Blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo, Chardonnay and Parellada. Such a beautiful minerality from this Cava from the first sip with juicy white peach flavors enhanced by lemon peel brightness with a touch of complex aromas of spiced toast and almond cookies with an impressive overall balance of richness, acidity and delicate texture created by the finesse of the tiny bubbles caressing the palate.

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This White Wine Producer Helped Raise International Reputation For An Entire Wine Region

The aromas of white flowers and intense minerality immediately enchanted him on his first sip. Then, the fierce, electrifying acidity sent a shiver down his spine like a lightning bolt that made him feel more alive than he had ever felt. It was why he kept coming back to a foreign land that made it virtually impossible to gain citizenship and it is why he passed on other opportunities that would better guarantee a more successful career. But logic goes out the window when every sense in a human is experiencing ecstasy that brings him to another dimension. For some, it is falling in love, others it is an escape to a fantasy world, yet for Diego Ríos, it was German Riesling wine.

Diego Ríos
Photo Credit: Bodegas Granbazán

German Riesling is not a wine that is broadly appreciated on a fine wine level. Yet, those who discover this intriguing white wine and delve into the best producers are typically entirely smitten by the wines and, on rare occasions, become obsessed to the exclusion of others. Diego Ríos is one of those who became obsessed.

Originally from Chile, Diego decided to take an unorthodox path after studying enology at university by doing an internship at a German winery instead of joining other classmates in California or Australia. But he was fascinated by high-quality German Riesling, a wine that makes one’s mouth water with its high acidity, delights one’s nose with complex aromas and easily ages gracefully for 50 years and beyond. He ended up leaving after his first year in Germany to gain more experience in the US by working at a top winery in Oregon and then returning to Chile to work for a top winery there. However, the siren song of German Riesling had him return to work for a well-known producer in the Mosel wine region in Germany for several years. Despite work visas at the time being extremely difficult to guarantee, he couldn’t imagine giving his sweat, blood and tears to make any other wine… that is, until he met his future destiny at a wine trade convention.

His Passion Yet With A Spanish Soul

In 2015, at the German wine trade convention called Prowein, Diego represented his German winery as he had a good handle on the German language. One of the customers who came to his table to try his wines had an interpreter to translate the customer’s native language into German so he could ask questions. Diego noticed that his native language was Spanish, so halfway through speaking in German, Diego said, “My native language is Spanish too,” hence, they continued in Spanish. The man was Pedro Martínez, and he and his family wanted to buy a couple of top wineries in Europe, the first being in the legendary Spanish wine region Rioja. But the family also loved great white wines and was already in love with German Riesling, which is why he went to this wine trade convention. But unfortunately, the Martinez family couldn’t buy a top estate in Germany. 

But Pedro Martinez kept in contact with Diego, as they were still hoping to find a grand white wine estate. The Martinez family was also passionate about the white wines in the Spanish wine region Rías Baixas, near the Atlantic Ocean, nestled in the northwestern area of Galicia. At first, they didn’t even investigate the possibility of buying a well-respected wine estate as the Rías Baixas wines had become quite popular and the newer generation had no desire to sell. By chance, the admired Bodegas Granbazán property was placed for sale due to the owner’s failing health. Pedro jumped at the opportunity to buy an esteemed name that came with a significant amount of vineyards, which was unheard of as many of the Rías Baixas wine producers have no vineyards as most of the land is owned by several families that each have a stake in a tiny plot of vines.

When Diego heard that Pedro could buy Bodegas Granbazán, he was beside himself as the vineyards were in a prime location in the Salnés Valley known for its high acidity, mineral-based, saline-driven white wines. Diego could not become the winemaker of Bodegas Granbazán until 2019 due to the long process of getting a work permit. Still, the minute he found out that he had finally found a wine home where he could start doing in-depth research to reach the nirvana of white wine, all he thought about was the property of Granbazán and how he could elevate it to its full potential.

Bodegas Granbazán

Bodegas Granbazán
Photo Credit: Bodegas Granbazán

Bodegas Granbazán was founded in 1981 by a local family that had made their money in the canned fish industry. They were part of the quality revolution of Rías Baixas wines as, during that time, stricter regulations were put in place to make higher quality wines and today, even though it is a small wine region, it has taken the US by storm as another alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling for those looking for refreshing, aromatic white wines. The native white grape variety is called Albariño and despite being once considered a relative of Riesling brought by French monks, when the DNA of the grape was analyzed, it was determined to be a native variety unrelated to Riesling. But its qualities are similar to Riesling, so it is no wonder why those looking for excellent aromatic, high-acidity wines have gravitated to it. 

Not only was Bodegas Granbazán known for focusing on quality in the vineyards but they made a lineup of Albariño white wines that showcased different aspects of the vineyard as well as other qualities in the wine that were enhanced by various winemaking methods, such as being one of the first to age Albariño in French oak – actually the name of the wine is ‘Limousin’ which is the name of the French forest where the oak is sourced. 

Within four years, Diego has already made some improvements with the winery focusing on terroir, aka sense of place, which started with his first Granbazán harvest in 2019; that was an enormous feat to accomplish. Not only do they have around 50 acres of their own vineyards but for their “classic” wine called ‘Etiqueta Verde,’ they need to source from 80 other family growers with their tiny plots of vines, as it is the largest quantity wine they make. Diego changed things up in 2019 by ensuring all the grapes for each plot were harvested on the same day. This way, Diego could ferment each plot in its own tank so he could properly blend different plots with each other, instead of having various plots fermenting in the same tank, so he could make the ideal “classic” blend that represents their sub-region Salnés. The Salnés Valley is known for its mouthwatering acidity and saline minerality, as Diego says the wines have “insane salinity” and if someone wants to know what salinity tastes like in a wine, these are the wines to try. However, it was not easy to convince the growers as it is the families themselves who harvest the grapes and, initially, they didn’t understand why they had to work so much harder harvesting all the grapes in one day when they had been doing fine spreading it over a few days. Yet when they saw the result and understood that their particular plot is given the respect it deserves by devoting a tank just to it, they realized that it is the next level in finding the best expression of their Salnés Valley.

Traditional trellised parra system on the Bodegas Granbazán estate
Photo Credit: Bodegas Granbazán

When Diego first arrived in Rías Baixas, he initially felt he had a “thousand eyes on him” as the locals aggressively protected their traditions. They didn’t want this young winemaker with his international background to start making trendy wines instead of respecting what they had already established as the standard for a Rías Baixas wine. But Diego loves the traditional wines of Rías Baixas as that drew him to the place and he only wanted to improve on what was already established. And so, yes, he started to find the nuances in expressing the sense of place as well as steer away from using new French oak in the wines that use it, and instead, use larger barrels of used oak that allow for more of the complexity of Albariño to develop instead of adding flavor. 

Tasting The Greatest 

Heavenly, transcendent bouquet with tantalizing flavors on the palate with an exquisitely defined body and never-ending mineral-laced finish – simply “mind-blowing;” the last great wine Diego has had and, for a moment, it was easy to think it was one of those old German Riesling wines from an iconic producer that is auctioned for several thousands of dollars. But no, it was a 1989 Bodegas Granbazán ‘Limousin’ Albariño. He is unsure if it is the greatest wine he has ever had but it is near the top of his list. And one day, he is determined to make a Bodegas Granbazán wine, which, after a few decades in the cellar, will be the greatest of the greats he has tasted.  

***Link to original Forbes article:

Lineup of Bodegas Granbazán wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Bodegas Granbazán was certified as a Fair’N Green winery last year; it was founded by some of the most respected German wineries, and Bodegas Granbazán is the first winery in Rías Baixas, as well as the first in Spain with its sister winery in Rioja, Bodegas Baigorri, to be certified.

2022 Bodegas Granbazán ‘Etiqueta Verde’ Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Spain: 100% Albariño. The 2022 vintage was the hottest year on record for Europe as a whole, even more than the legendary 2003, but Diego said that although it was problematic, they were still able to harvest grapes with lots of acidity and minerality that were only touched with richer fruit flavors. Granbazán’s “classic” expression of the Salnés Valley uses some of their estate fruit and other plots throughout the sub-region among 80 families, which is dominated by granite soil. Notes of salted lemon with sea shell and lemon meringue on the palate with lots of energy and bright acidity.

2022 Bodegas Granbazán ‘Etiqueta Ambar’ Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2022 Bodegas Granbazán ‘Etiqueta Ambar’ Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Spain: 100% Albariño. The ‘Ambar’ is the next level up and is the most known in the US. It is considered the “classic Grande Salnés” as it is bigger and has more generous fruit that the previous wine. Half of the fruit is sourced from the Granbazán estate and the other half is the best lots of the 80 families, where only four or five are chosen. Broken rocks with fresh acidity with zingy lemon peel notes and a broader body with juicy peach flavors and spicy notes.

2020 Bodegas Granbazán ‘D. Álvaro de Bazán’ Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Spain: 100% Albariño. 2020 was a cool vintage with very high acidity, so these wines will have a long life. All of the grapes are sourced from the Granbazán estate vineyards named Finca Tremoedo. The grapes come from plots with fine sandy granite soil that is highly porous, so the soil in that area is very poor and the vines struggle; tiny grapes with concentrated fruit are produced from these plots. Intriguing notes of orange blossom and pressed flowers with lemon sorbet flavors on the palate with marked acidity and a broad, flavorful finish with saline minerality.

2020 Bodegas Granbazán ‘Limousin’ Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Spain: 100% Albariño. ‘Limousin’ is sourced either from the sides of the hill or the top of the hill from the Granbazán estate vineyards. Since the wine is aged in oak from the French forest of Limousin, Diego prefers to pick the grapes with the highest amount of acidity as it does better in oak aging and 2020 was perfect as the acidity was extremely high. Diego is also transitioning the aging of this wine from new, smaller barrels to bigger, seasoned oak. Delectable aromas of quince paste and honeysuckle with a hint of cumin seeds with mouthwatering acidity with a mixture of tropical and citrus fruits on the palate with a very long, expressive finish.

2018 Bodegas Granbazán, D. Álvaro de Bazán, Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Spain: 100% Albariño. This is an older vintage with a couple more years on it to showcase the added complexity that occurs with only a couple more years in bottle. Multifaceted nose with dried chamomile, ripe golden apples and honeycomb aromas that has an intense minerality with layers of wet stone and sea spray that has a broad body with nectarine crumb tart on the palate and refreshing acidity on the long, flavorful finish.

2019 Bodegas Granbazán, Veigalobos Vineyard Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Bodegas Granbazán, Veigalobos Vineyard, Val do Salnés, Rías Baixas, Spain: 100% Albariño; waxed top with a modern label as opposed to the traditional labels for Bodegas Granbazán as this is a new project started in 2018. From a walled single vineyard called Veigalobos with granite rock layers of calcareous alluvial elements in its soil, it produces a powerful expression of Albariño. It has some skin contact during fermentation, where 20% of the berries still have their skins intact but they are placed in a sort of tea bag material so they can be removed at any stage of the fermentation to avoid having the skin contact going too far. 2019 was a cooler vintage, which is better for skin contact as grapes that are not too ripe are less likely to produce a wine that is too over the top. Honeycomb with crushed rocks and dried wildflowers with lots of salinity and sour lemon drops with a structured palate that makes this a very gastronomic wine.

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California Vineyard Sought Out By The ‘Royal’ Family Of U.S. Wine World

Flying through the air like an eagle, soaring high above the all-inspiring landscape. Below are beautiful waves of vineyard rows appointed with majestic oak and sycamore trees and the sound of horses adding to the sensory delight of such a unique experience. There, hanging from a zipline, “big Karl” flew through the air while wearing his favorite cowboy hat while letting out a sound of pure joy. Big Karl is one of three owners of what might be one of the wineries with the most ziplines, six in total, each giving a thrilling flying experience across his 14,000-acre ranch. Also, Karl and his partners own the only vineyard in the wine sub-region of Santa Margarita Ranch AVA in Paso Robles, California.

Big Karl
Photo Credit: Ancient Peaks

Karl Wittstrom, Rob Rossi and Doug Filipponi are all part of multi-generational ranching and winegrowing families. Over twenty years ago, Robert Mondavi, the legend who helped to make Napa Valley wines some of the most respected in the world, was interested in other potentially great vineyard areas of California. He was instantly taken when he came upon Santa Margarita Ranch with its drastic temperature swings and complex soil composition. He made an offer to Karl, Rob and Doug to buy 2,000 acres of their property. They were not willing to sell but they came to an arrangement that Mondavi could have a lease on the property for 36 years.

So Mondavi spent “tens of millions of dollars” planting the vineyard, which would become known as the Margarita Vineyard, that included lots of research into each plot and ensured everything was done to produce high-quality grapes. Robert’s son, Tim Mondavi, and Ken “Byron” Brown, one of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering winemakers, were in charge of establishing and overseeing the process of the various vineyard plots on the Santa Margarita Ranch. The beginning of this exciting partnership was in 1999. At the end of 2004, Robert Mondavi sold the Robert Mondavi Corp., including wineries and vineyards, to the enormous corporation, Constellation Brands. Since they were only interested in established wine brands without interest in developing a new vineyard, they made Karl, Rob and Doug buy the lease back. 

A New Dream Materialize 

Ancient Peaks estate at sunset
Photo Credit: Ancient Peaks

It was undoubtedly a blow to the dream of having the man himself discover a great potential in one’s land, invest in it and, perhaps, turn it into one of those legendary vineyards in the excellent winemaking state of California but that dream seemed to die overnight. Yet another dream materialized – they had a vineyard already planted by one of the greats, they just needed someone to make the wines for the 2005 vintage. Doug called winemaker Mike Sinor, someone he has had a long relationship with and was already making a name for himself in California’s Central Coast. 

How many people can say that they have a vineyard chosen by wine royalty and planted by the best of the best in California? Maybe those who have a billion-dollar fortune but certainly not multi-generational ranchers and grape growers. So Mike Sinor was a critical factor as he was already a well-respected winemaker on the Central Coast. At first, when co-owner Doug called him, Mike was already working with a premium boutique Central Coast winery as well as starting up side wine projects. So when Doug approached him about making their wines from their Margarita Vineyard as another one of his side gigs, he also put it out there that they would be interested in Mike becoming the founding winemaker of their new winery if he ever wanted to leave his current situation.

Karl Wittstrom, Mike Sinor and Doug Filipponi Photo Credit: Ancient Peaks

Tragically, in 2006, Mike lost his parents in a plane crash causing him to reassess his entire life. He decided to go down to Margarita Vineyard and tell Doug and the other co-owners that he would become the founding winemaker of their new winery, Ancient Peaks, but he had to be a true partner when it came to making decisions about the winery and vineyards as he not only wanted a state-of-the-art winery but there also needed to be more meticulous hands-on care of each section of the vineyard with it being broken up into several plots that were each micro-managed.

Following The Biggest Dreamer Of All

Harvested grapes underneath the open sky on the Ancient Peaks estate Photo Credit: Ancient Peaks

A pivotal moment early on in Mike’s winemaking career was when he was able to observe one of the last major projects of Robert Mondavi; Mike worked at Bryon Winery until 2000, and Robert Mondavi owned it during that time, so when Mondavi started his Margarita Vineyard project, Mike asked if he could go down there and help out in any way they needed just so he could learn; learn how one of the greats chooses a vineyard, plants it and gets the best fruit possible. Not only did Robert Mondavi end up selling his company at the end of 2004 but the great giant of the wine world passed away just four years later.

That experience left a deep impression on Mike that carried with him throughout his successful career. Even though he was doing great where he was before, he took that leap to come down to work with Margarita Vineyard, just like how Robert Mondavi took a leap to showcase Napa Valley wines worldwide, even at first when many just laughed at the notion of Napa wines.

When Mike goes out to the vineyards and picks up the ancient sea bed soil, just one of the five soil types, grabbing one of the heavy rocks with oyster fossils etched into it, he thinks of that time when he was just a young man thirsty for knowledge, who got to be a tiny part of a project headed by the ‘royal’ wine family of the US, and how he could never guess that he would be continuing one of the last dreams of the biggest dreamer of all.

Lineup of Ancient Peaks wines
Photo Credit: Ancient Peaks

***Link to original Forbes article:

Starting with the newly released 2020 vintage, Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge and Pearl Cabernet Sauvignon will be packaged in bottles weighing 42% less than those used in previous years. The lighter glass requires less energy to produce and less fuel consumption during transportation — lowering the overall carbon footprint of the wine. This is inline with their core values of protecting the environment that is evident by their sustainable practices that include natural pest and vegetation management, wildlife corridors, water conservation and solar energy. 

2021 Ancient Peak, Chardonnay, Santa Margarita Ranch, Paso Robles, California: 100% Chardonnay. Refreshing lemon zest on the nose with pretty notes of citrus blossom with juicy stone fruit on the palate and a hint of minerality.

2021 Ancient Peak, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Margarita Ranch, Paso Robles, California: Majority Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Petit Verdot, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Syrah. An inviting pretty nose with violets and blueberry scone notes with touches of gravel and plush tannins along the generous palate balanced by refreshing acidity.

2019 Ancient Peak ‘Oyster Ridge’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Margarita Ranch, Paso Robles, California: 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot and 2% Malbec. ‘Oyster Ridge’ represents best practices in the vineyard and winery as it is the top selection of the best barrels and is predominantly made up of Cabernet Sauvignon from ancient sea bed soils. Complex nose of black cherry, tobacco and hints of sea shell with layers of black fruit intermixed with cocoa nibs on the palate wrapped in silky tannins and a long expressive finish with lingering aromas of salted capers.

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Some Of The Oldest Cabernet Sauvignon Vines In The Wine World Are Being Released In A Single Vineyard Bottling

Lapostolle vineyard
Photo Credit: Lapostolle Wines

For the first time in a long time, the locals felt excited as they were on the edge of a precipice that was at once terrifying yet thrilling. The isolation that was like an iron-clad cage around their desolate town would be destroyed, and they would be free to connect to a wider world while also losing the safety of only being among the close-knit community of multi-generational neighbors. These hardworking and newly hopeful people lived in a sub-region called Apalta Valley within the region of Colchagua in central Chile. Apalta is shaped like a horseshoe with mountains and rivers surrounding it, moderating temperatures. In the local dialect, apalta means “bad soil,” – referring to the low fertility of the land, so, very little in the way of crops could grow, except wine grape vines. It wasn’t ideal as their yields would be low, but at least they could sell grapes to make wine that would be exported to Argentina, and a whole new opportunity would open up for the next generation, as they would have enough money to send their kids to school.

It was the turn of the 20th century in the country of Chile, where the Pactos de Mayo agreement, combined with the opening of the Transandine Railway, would deter a war between Chile and Argentina as well as normalizing business relations that would include a free trade agreement between the two countries. But that would never come to pass, as the winegrowers in Argentina, many immigrants from Europe, fiercely fought the agreement, and in the end, it never came to fruition. Most of the 20th century in Chile involved instability within their government with excessive taxes and a tremendous amount of regulation that created insurmountable barriers, ultimately preventing the wine industry in Chile from taking off. And so, those low-yielding Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in poor soil – encouraging low yields of concentrated grapes within an area with a wonderful balance between enough sunlight and moderated temperatures, sat safely in obscurity until a well-known French family discovered them.

Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta winery with Cabernet Sauvignon vines and cover crop

In 1994, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, part of the famous spirits and wine Marnier Lapostolle family, and her husband Cyril de Bournet, wanted to push the envelope by looking for vineyards with a great sense of place, aka terroir; when they found themselves in the Apalta Valley looking at Cabernet Sauvignon grapes planted in 1909 that has survived a semi-dry Mediterranean climate without any irrigation, they realized that they discovered their great terroir.

It was such an incredible shock to see such old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, as in the wine region of Bordeaux in France, they are typically replanted once a vine is around 35 years old, and over 50 is considered old vines. It is ironic to think that a well-known French spirits and wine family would find some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Chile, especially considering back in the 1990s when it was not considered a premium winemaking country. 

Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 

But Chile’s wine image would drastically improve with the help of Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and Cyril de Bournet, one of the producers making Apalta an unofficial grand cru area with their iconic Clos Apalta wine and the premium lineup of their Lapostolle Wines.

Clos Apalta Winery
Photo Credit: Lapostolle Wines

Alexandra came from a family unafraid to push the boundaries as they created Grand Marnier, a blend of fine cognac and a bitter orange-flavored liqueur, that was initially controversial among other fine cognac producers, yet, it became a success and took the world by storm. And so, when she knew that there was an extraordinary sense of place, aka terroir, that existed in parts of Chile, she was not afraid of the blowback from those in the French fine wine world, as her family never allowed popular opinion to dissuade a passion project.

Andrea León
Photo Credit: Lapostolle Wines

The next piece of the puzzle was finding the ideal person to oversee their treasured vineyards as well as make excellent wines. That is where head winemaker and viticulturist Andrea León completes the puzzle with her extensive winemaking experiences in France, Italy, the US and New Zealand. However, her homeland, Chile, ultimately called her back. Andrea has always had a deep love for the land, and that, combined with being raised in an artistic family, naturally led her to create something very artistically beautiful from nature – wine.

And she is undoubtedly thankful to work with such excellent vineyards, especially such rare old Cabernet Sauvignon. Still, she would never call their old vines the oldest of that grape variety, as there are possibly other plots around the world that might be older. One such, is located in Barossa Valley, Australia: Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Block 42, which comes from vines believed to be around 130 years old. Another reason is that they employ the practice called marcottage in France, yet known as layering in other parts of the world. Marcottage is a very time-consuming practice where a cane coming from a grapevine is buried into the ground, where it will sprout roots and grow another plant. This way, it helps to keep these extremely old plants going, as they lose about 3% of these old vines every year. And so, each plant is an extension of one that was planted in 1909, and so, to some, that may count as a vineyard over a century old, and to others, it may not officially qualify. But no matter the technical requirements, whether it is expressed in the wine is all that matters.  

la Parcelle 8

This unique section of old Cabernet Sauvignon vines typically go into the icon Clos Apalta bottling, but for vintages considered outstanding for this precious plot, a separate bottling within the Lapostolle line, under the name ‘la Parcelle 8,’ is released. Currently, only the second bottling to be released into the US, the 2018 vintage, has finally hit the market. Andrea noted that 2018 is one of the “greatest cold vintages” of this century as the ideal conditions allowed grapes to stay on the vine longer, allowing for fully mature fruit and complex flavors to develop while retaining acidity.

One of Lapostolle’s Old Vines
Photo Credit: Lapostolle Wines

As one thinks back to the Apalta area over a century ago, when those Cabernet Sauvignon vines were first planted because no other crop would grow on such poor soil – not knowing that it was ideal for high-quality wine, the idea of what seems like a curse ended up becoming a blessing comes to mind. Not only was the poor soil, when food was needed more than anything else, a huge detriment, but once Chile became isolated from the rest of the world, there was no hope for a booming industry to improve the lives of the farmers, and so, even though it is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous place, it was hard for the locals to appreciate when they were barely surviving. But since Chile didn’t have a booming wine industry for so long, those vines were never uprooted for younger, higher yielding vines, and hence, when a member of a legendary French family was seeking out the potential of Chile vineyards and came upon the great treasure of the ‘la Parcelle 8’ block, they did not hesitate to make a tremendous investment in Chilean wine. 

And today, that golden-hued, saffron-colored horizon created by the sunset that seems to kiss the mountains in Apalta, is almost the same as that which desperate farmers gazed upon over one hundred years ago. But in those days, it represented the end of another hopeless day filled with backbreaking labor that amounted to very little. Yet, today, it is a breathtaking display of the area’s magnificence that fine wine connoisseurs worldwide appreciate.

***Link to original Forbes article:

Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Sauvignon and ‘la Parcelle’ 8
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

‘la Parcelle’ 8 & ultra-premium ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ wines:

2018 Lapostolle ‘la Parcelle 8’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2018 Lapostolle ‘la Parcelle 8’ Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. A wine that balances power and finesse beautifully with the deeply concentrated black fruit that is highlighted by a mixture of savory, tapenade, with enchanting notes, violets, that is at once decadently delicious with flavors of cocoa powder, and aristocratically pleasing with aromas of cigar box, all laced with an intense minerality and finely etched tannins. 

2022 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Franc, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: This Cabernet Franc ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ bottling is a new release for Lapostolle and it should hit the market in December of this year. Andrea León said that they have been very happy with how well their Cabernet Franc has been showing throughout the years, and that it finally deserved its own bottling; such an elegant wine with pretty aromas of jasmine with hints of blackcurrant leaf that has a fine structure with juicy blueberry fruit on the palate.

‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. Multilayered dark fruit with cardamom and anise seed spices giving an aromatic lift to the fruit that has fresh sage herbs intermixed along the silky tannins that give enough structure for an overall elegant quality.

2021 Lapostolle ‘Cuvée Alexandre’ Carménère, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 85% Carmenère, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah and 4% Grenache. Ripe, juicy plum fruit from the first sip with complex notes of green peppercorn and crush granite with nicely manicured tannins that caress the palate.

Iconic ‘Clos Apalta’ and its second wine ‘Le Petit Clos’:

Le Petit Clos and Clos Apalta
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Clos Apalta, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 70% Carmenere, 18% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. An exquisitely expressive nose with rich blackberry fruit interlaced with delectable notes of blueberry scone that has a creamy texture balance by bright acidity with notes of smoldering earth and sweet tobacco that has a long and flavorful finish.

2019 Clos Apalta, Le Petit Clos, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 49% Carmenere, 30% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. The second wine for Clos Apalta. A much more savory nose with singed herbs and sautéed cumin seeds with a round, inviting texture on the palate that has velvety tannins and a long, aromatic finish that is very spicy.

Moderately-priced Lapostolle wines:

2022 Lapostolle ‘Grand Selection’ Sauvignon Blanc, Rapel Valley, Central Valley, Chile: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The citrus blossom and white nectarine aromas make this wine tasty from the first whiff that just gets tastier on the palate with juicy peach flavors. 

2022 Lapostolle, le Rosé
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2022 Lapostolle, le Rosé, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 44% Cinsault, 38% Grenache, 12% Syrah and 6% Mourvèdre. Delicately pale color with hints of wildflowers and red strawberries with a dry, fresh finish that leaves notes of crushed rose petals and wet stones in one’s head.

2021 Lapostolle, Apalta Red, Colchagua Valley, Chile: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 10% Carmenère, 7% Cabernet Franc and 6% Syrah. Pristine red and black fruit with baking spices and a touch of dried herbs that is round and juicy on the palate.

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The Italian Paradise With A Special Wine Connected To The Goddess Of Fertility

The pristine, pale blue water was highlighted by a wave gently rolling towards the beach’s soft, white sand. The rhythmic sounds of the crashing waves brought an incredible sense of tranquility to those fortunate enough to spend time in this Mediterranean paradise. This little piece of heaven was tucked away in an area called Buggerru along the western coast of the Italian island of Sardinia. The cliffs surrounding the beach, dotted with Mediterranean herbs, have been carved by fierce winds either coming up from the Sahara Desert, bringing higher temperatures, or from the North, carrying a cooling breeze from southern France.

Antonio Argiolas getting ready to surf
Photo Credit: Argiolas

This is one of the places where Antonio Argiolas loves to surf, listening to the meditative waves, lulled into a trance by the stunning purity of the water where another world exists underneath, taking in the power of Mother Nature. It is a passion he has only recently explored, but still, it has undoubtedly become an essential part of his life as, when it is possible, he works his schedule around the best times to surf. The various fierce winds can sometimes make it too dangerous to attempt to ride waves in the Mediterranean Sea.

Surfing is Antonio’s second passion—his first has been handed down to him from his grandfather, and that passion is making wine.


Cantine Argiolas stone sign
Photo Credit: Argiolas

Sardinia is a unique island located between mainland Italy and North Africa. It has kept the rustic charms of its serene villages, nestled within the beautiful mountains that are only rivaled in beauty by its stunning coastline. Not only is it a wonderful place to visit, but the wines produced on this island are like no other. The white wines made from Vermentino have a purity like the pristine Mediterranean Sea that gently laps onto the soft, white sand of the Sardinian beaches; the red wines, made mainly from the Cannonau grape variety, typically have a velvety texture that caresses the palate with generous red fruit flavors intermixed with floral and spicy notes.

One wine producer stands out for quality production on the island of Sardinia: the wine-producing family Argiolas.

Antonio Argiolas
Photo Credit: Argiolas

In the distant past, Sardinian winemaking consisted of growing international grape varieties to make into bulk wine that would be sold to mainland European countries, as wine was seen as a way to consume enough calories throughout the day. And so, affordable wine was the most in demand. Starting in 1938, ahead of his time, Antonio’s grandfather, his namesake Antonio Argiolas, planted vineyards with more modern viticulture practices, favoring quality over quantity and beginning the family’s journey to becoming the first quality wine producer on the island. He proudly named his family wine company Argiolas. Antonio Argiolas had two sons who replanted the vineyards in the 1980s, further reducing the yields to increase the concentration and complexity in the grapes, hence elevating the wines to a much higher degree of quality—as well as exclusively focusing on the local grape varieties of Sardinia. The children of those sons run the family winery today with the grandson of the founder, Antonio, overseeing the vineyards and winemaking while his cousins handle the overall business side of the company.

The surf-loving Antonio is certainly proud of the men in his family, but he takes every opportunity to point out the women. The most well-known wine of Argiolas, on which they have built their reputation, is Turriga, a vineyard connected to the Goddess of Fertility (Mother Goddess). A statue believed to be over 5,000 years old was found in the area of Turriga, and Antonio’s mother and aunt did extensive research into the land, the history and the name of all their vineyards, eventually learning about the significance of Turriga to the indigenous Sardinian people before the Romans conquered the island in the third century. Argiolas Turriga is an iconic wine that not only shows the beautiful power of the local Cannonau red grape variety and the distinctive sense of place of one of the top vineyards in Sardinia, but is also a love letter to the indigenous culture that is unique to this island. The bottles display the Turriga statue on the label; today the statue is kept in the Cagliari Archaeological Museum.


Art of making clay containers out of Turriga soil
Photo Credit: Argiolas

The special vineyard of Turriga, represented by the Goddess of Fertility, symbolically represents birth, and in this instance, it is the birth of a great vineyard and the power of life that can be felt in the wines. But giving life not only means the first birth of something or someone, it can be a rebirth, which can often be just as important as one’s initial entry into this world, if not more so. 

As Antonio found his love for surfing later in life, never in his youth did he consider taking up such a hobby that, through time, has transcended to become a way of life for him. That way of life comprises finding harmony with his surroundings, surrendering to forces that are more powerful than himself and finding an inner peace that he couldn’t previously imagine. Yes, the fierce electricity of youth has softened, but it has allowed more profound and more fulfilling experiences that only come with lots of the ups and downs of life. The same can be said for the Turriga vineyard; even if it impressed those adventurous Italian wine drinkers years ago, the vines are really coming into their own with a multifaceted complexity, balanced by grace that shows the true potential of this vineyard. 

Something beautiful is lost when one gets beyond the youthful stages of one’s life. It can seem like a tragedy if the focus is set on mourning the past, but with that loss is a chance for a rebirth, a rebirth that taps one into a once unimaginable potential, yet somehow, it materializes to those who are not afraid to surrender to it.  

Link to original Forbes article:

2019 Argiolas Carda Nera
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2019 Argiolas Turriga Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

2019 Argiolas, Cardanera, Sardinia, Italy: 100% Carignano. A newer wine for Argiolas showing the lovely qualities of a 100% bottling of Carignano from a vineyard very close to the Mediterranean Sea. Pretty aromas of wildflowers, Mediterranean scrub and bright red cherry with a saline minerality and notes of seashell and wild thyme with finely etched tannins.  

2019 Argiolas, Turriga, Sardinia, Italy: Single vineyard, field blend of 85% Cannonau, 5% Carignano, 5% Bovale Sardo and 5% Malvasia Nera. Turriga is a benchmark wine for Sardinia. Multilayered blue and black fruits such as blueberry and black cherry with fresh sage and floral notes intertwined with the juicy fruit flavors and laced with an intense minerality of broken rocks with silky tannins and warming spices, such as nutmeg, on the finish.

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Wine Producer In Top California Wine Region Goes Against Advice And Decides To Dry Farm

“You will make worse wines!”

That was the response from many well-respected people in the wine world in California when winemaker and director of winegrowing at Hamel Family Wines, John Hamel, asked well-respected colleagues if it was possible to dry farm (avoiding irrigation) in Sonoma County, California. The response from most was a warning that he would make worse wines because the grape bunches on the vines would dehydrate. John was already very thoughtful and conscious with his irrigation, only watering the vineyards when they needed it. After surveying more seasoned professionals, the consensus was that he was doing everything right regarding making high-quality wine. And yes, he was happy with the results from his vineyards. Still, he couldn’t help but think that a more superb quality could be achieved if he had a better understanding of how to manage his particular plots of land. He was determined to seek out someone making excellent quality wines while dry farming in his area, which often saw zero rain during the summer growing season.

John Hamel
Photo Credit: Jimmy Hayes

He reached out to a prestigious winery in Napa Valley called Dominus and the technical director was more than happy to share information about their great success with dry farming. It would be a tremendous amount of work for John as one needs to be very “present” and on top of what is going on in the vineyards at all times to attempt any amount of dry farming.

Dry farming would make John’s life a lot more challenging but he was fiercely determined to do everything in his power to give his vineyards the chance to express themselves fully.

Beginning of Hamel Family Wines

In 2006, while John was attending university, his parents bought a property in Sonoma with a small vineyard to escape the summers in their primary home in San Francisco. They started to make a little bit of wine as a small passion project while their son pursued his passion within the slow, organic food scene while attending college. He then worked on organic farms that would eventually take him to a small operation on Mount Veeder in Napa, home to some pretty impressive Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Even though he loved the work, he needed to find a job that actually paid, as many of the tiny organic farms only paid in room and board. Hence, he ended up working for a public relations (PR) company in San Francisco that focused on wine with many clients that were cult Napa projects.

He learned a lot from the PR firm but he yearned to return to the land in some capacity. At some point, his father decided that he wanted to build a family legacy that he could pass down by making ultra-premium wines, so he purchased more vineyards in the western base of the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma and hired a winemaking consultant and a vineyard management company. John went on to earn his winemaking certificate from UC Davis and became the first full-time employee of Hamel Family Wines. After many years of throwing himself into the study of all things winemaking and winegrowing, he ended up officially taking over the winemaking and management of the vineyards in 2017. Yet his approach has not been to find the easiest ways to make high-quality wine but to leave no stone unturned in his mission to strive for perfection, knowing he will never achieve it in his lifetime.

A Passion for the Land

Pedro Parra
Photo Credit: Hamel Family Wines

When John threw himself into an in-depth study of understanding his vineyards, the French idea of the word terroir in the wine (expression of place) frustrated him. They brought in experts to study the soils and were given an analysis of the makeup of the various layers underneath the earth but no one could explain to him what that meant to the wine. One day, back in 2014, he was listening to a podcast of an interview with Pedro Parra, a well-known Chilean expert on the idea of terroir – he received a PhD in terroir from the Paris Center of Agriculture. That was the moment that John heard someone speak with “clarity” about terroir for the first time and not only has Pedro spent a lot of time consulting in France and worldwide but he has also consulted for some top wine producers in Sonoma. So John thought he had nothing to lose and cold-called him out of the blue. Pedro was intrigued so he went out to check out the vineyards, which he said were mainly defined by volcanic soils, specifically basalt, and sat down to talk to John about his intentions. “I think he goes into projects, and he’ll leave his advice, and some of it gets followed and other parts don’t,” noted John in regards to first meeting Pedro and John continued by saying, “I think he saw in me someone who is growing and who wants to understand things in a deeper way. So he made a bet on me to a certain extent.”

As Pedro conducted various tests in the vineyards, he was able to draw up maps that broke up each vineyard into various tiny plots according to multiple factors. In the end, it has dramatically informed John of each section’s different qualities so the management and timing of harvest can significantly vary from plots right next to each other.

This more profound understanding of his vineyards has allowed John to properly manage the nuances of each section and that has assisted him with his success with dry farming. In 2017, he started to dry farm 20% of their vineyards; by 2018, up to 75% of the vineyards were dry farmed. Today, depending on the vintage, they hover around 70% to upper 70%. One of the reasons he has been so successful is that he has pushed the vines to grow roots that went extremely deep by limiting water, as vines with superficial roots will collapse without irrigation in an area such as Sonoma that has virtually zero rainfall most summers.

“People always talk about older vines making better wines because older vines have a very developed, very prolific root system,” John explained. He further elaborated by noting that he tastes the greater depth in his wines that he feels is created by most of his vines having deeper roots.

Deep roots in vineyards
Photo Credit: Hamel Family Wines

A surprise benefit of dry farming has been the ability to pick much more balanced grapes. John said that it is a struggle in California, in general, to get both sugar maturation and phenolic maturation at ideal levels at the same time. Sugar ripeness is what is turned into alcohol as well as contributes to flavor development, as opposed to phenolic ripeness, which is the development of the skins and grape seeds that add to the overall structure of a red wine. If it is underdeveloped, wines can be too tannic and texturally harsh. But while one is trying to get those silky, round tannins in their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in sunny California by leaving the grapes much longer on the vines, the sugar often increases too high and the acidity drops too low. 

And so, it is a common practice to “water back” – adding water to pre-fermented juice, to lower too high potential alcohol levels or even the risk of a stuck fermentation, as well as acidifying with the addition of acid before primary fermentation or after. But since John started dry farming, those grapes are ready to be harvested earlier as the phenolic maturation happens quicker, so the sugar levels never get too high and the acidity never gets too low, allowing him to avoid watering back or adding acidity to his wines as they are already in balance. However, he has observed that a certain amount of water deficit in his vineyards has shifted the plant’s energy from vegetative growth (growing leaves in the canopy) to fruit maturity. And considering that he was still able to dry farm in the 2021 vintage, a historic low as they only received 12 inches of rain when 28 inches is typical, and the vineyards performed exceptionally well, so much so it is in the top two when it comes to the best vintages he has experienced in a decade, he is a lot more confident that dry farming is the best practice for his vineyards.


John has been farming his vineyards biodynamically for several years and they became certified back in 2015. Still, he admitted that he thought they were going through the motions without “fully understanding” what each step meant and was afraid he wasn’t using them correctly. He reached out to a well-known woman in the biodynamic wine world, based in Bordeaux, named Corinne Comme. She explained why each step was essential and brought different techniques more adaptable for their vineyards. Through time, John realized that since biodynamic practices were established in northern Europe by Rudolf Steiner, there needed to be adjustments in regards to finding balance within a wine region in California instead of just following what a vineyard grower would do in Germany, as it is all about finding balance in nature.

Hamel Family Wines vineyards
Photo Credit: Hamel Family Wines

Hence, certain biodynamic, natural sprays are more appropriate for his Sonoma vineyards and the timing of such treatments is also different. John is starting to investigate using native plants used by the indigenous people in California for possible future treatments of the vines, although he does realize that many of these native plants were used for homeopathic purposes for people and not so much used for managing crops – hence, nothing might come from it. But he is up for the challenge of understanding these plants better over the next ten years and it may become an added layer of their expression of terroir, aka sense of place. 

Journey to Express Terroir 

Back in 2015, John took a honeymoon with his wife to France and they ended up getting a much-coveted tour with Anselme Selosse, of Jacques Selosse grower Champagne house, a place that has a cult following among hardcore Champagne enthusiasts. John was very proud of all the energy he was placing into his vineyards, which he shared with Anselme, yet, once Anselme found out that he irrigated, he said, “You might as well have a bunch of potted plants in the field because that is as strong of a connection you will ever have to the terroir there.” At first, John laughed off the comment as it seemed impossible not to irrigate in California but the statement did bother him because he felt that Anselme wasn’t wrong. And hence, his journey into dry farming began. 

There is no doubt that Hamel Family Wines already had everything that would create fine wines: wonderful vineyards with John’s parents, Pamela and George, investing so much in creating a lovely hospitably center and a state-of-the-art winemaking facility with various sizes of stainless steel tanks, barrels and concrete “eggs,” giving John every opportunity to find the ideal vessel to express each plot. And there is no shortage of incredible wineries in Napa and Sonoma that have all the bells and whistles that make it possible to produce high-quality wine. But many of them do not have someone like John Hamel, who in some respects is like one of those eccentric French vintners who goes to great lengths, striving until their last breaths, trying to achieve perfection when it comes to expressing terroir. Yet, he doesn’t blindly follow any philosophy, instead, he wants to understand how any theory works, and most importantly, see the results. And he is far from content with what he has already achieved, as it seems he is only getting started.

And who knows, in the future, he may find a new way to attempt biodynamic practices in California that is more applicable to such a climate but only the future can tell. But one thing is for sure: the Hamel Family Wines’ future is one to keep an eye on.

***Link to original Forbes article:

John Hamel
Photo Credit: Jimmy Hayes

The Hamel Family Wines’ labels have recently been updated to reflect John and his team’s tremendous work in their vineyards “to produce wines that are truly expressive of place.”

2019 Hamel Family Wines’ Isthmus’ Sonoma Valley, California: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot from Hamel Family Ranch vineyard and Nuns Canyon vineyard. Delicious with red plum and blueberry tart flavors intermixed with complex layers of broken rock and intense minerality that has an overall elegance in the tannic structure of the wine with juicy cassis on the palate and sandalwood aromas on the long, aromatic finish.

2019 Hamel Family Wines, Nuns Canyon Vineyard, Moon Mountain District, Sonoma County, California: 78% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Cabernet Franc with 100% from Nuns Canyon Vineyard. Dark, brooding fruit with black cherry compote laced with a saline minerality with multifaceted complex notes of tree bark, iron and hints of jasmine with finely etched tannins and an overall energetic quality to the wine that has a concentrated finish with lingering aromas of dried wildflowers.

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Italian Wine Producer Inspired By South America To Change Tuscan Estate From Commercial Mindset To Grower Mentality

The young boy, Santiago, could not contain his excitement as his father drove down a dirt road 35 miles long as there was no more favorite place on Earth than their final destination. As they got closer and closer, the little child waved to the men riding horses, who wore traditional straw hats to combat the sun, and he squealed with delight when he saw their old adobe colonial wine cellar in the distance. The second the car stopped, Santiago ran out of it to go out into the vineyards where multi-generational families were working their land and he immediately placed his hands in the soil – the healthy, vibrant soil, and rubbed it all over his face. He wanted to be part of the vineyards that radiated life as he followed the families around, asking them every question that popped into his inquisitive head. One of the fathers smiled to himself as this was very common for Santiago; he was not like his other siblings. As Santiago was the middle child who knew from the moment he could think that he wanted to be part of the long heritage of making wine, no shiny toy could entice him away from the grape vines that fascinated him to no end. 

It was an idyllic place to grow up, the tiny village of Caliboro in the Maule Valley, Central Chile. Chile is already an extremely isolated place as it is very long and narrow, with the Andes Mountains, the most extended continental mountain range in the world, on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Still, Caliboro is a little Chile within Chile as it is isolated with a range of Mountains blocking one section of the tiny village and a river, one of the few in Chile without a bridge, on another side, with only a long dirt road to connect it to the outside world. And so, Caliboro is a pure place where the ancient peasant ways are kept as the people live in harmony with their surroundings and there is an endless cycle of the soil giving to the people and the people giving back to the soil – keeping it healthy and alive.

One would think that Santiago was one of the kids of the multi-generational farmers who worked with their parents from an early age, as he had a singular focus on the vineyards and the cellars. But his parents were from Italy; his father was from their own multi-generational family of a large wine company from the Piedmont region. One day, his father moved the family to a remote area in Chile when Santiago was barely a year old.

A New Adventure

Santiago’s father, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, comes from a long line of nobility in Northern Italy; his family started making sparkling wine and vermouth in the 1700s, and their family brand, Cinzano, is well-known worldwide. But in the ’90s, the Cinzano family sold the company and that is when Francesco decided to take his family, with a one-year-old Santiago, to Chile.

Other places in Chile have gained more recognition as world-famous producers have built elaborate wineries that are awe-inspiring in other wine regions. Still, Francesco had already come from having all the complications with a large global company and he craved an area tucked away from the limelight where he could focus on making good wine from a special piece of property. Something that would be uniquely his own and, hopefully, could pass it down to one of his kids. He found Caliboro in Maule as he saw that it had enough rainfall, drought is an issue in Chile, it is slightly cooler than its more famous northern neighboring wine regions and there is a swing in temperatures from day to night that helps to achieve ripeness without losing acidity. So, he imported grape vines from France as he noticed one big thing these farmers needed was high-quality genetic material.

As Francesco observed the local farmers tending their vineyards, he could not help but notice that they were not only abiding by organic practices but they were following biodynamic farming. These farmers had yet to read a book on biodynamics as they were following what their father and grandfather had been teaching them, as Maule Valley was one of the first areas in Chile to be planted with vines. Compared to many modern farming practices, what these Chilean farmers were doing seemed primitive. Yet, Francesco noticed how healthy and disease-resistant the vines were, and his wines, Erasmo, had beautiful balance and an overall lovely quality.

Col d’Orcia

Francesco and Santiago surveying the vines after a frost
Photo Credit: Col d’Orcia

Francesco wasn’t the only one in his family who craved a different type of life as his father, Santiago’s grandfather, bought a centuries-old historic Tuscan wine estate in 1973. The estate is named Col d’Orcia, and it is one of the consortium’s founding members, the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino, started in 1967. It has been bottling the much-admired wines of Brunello di Montalcino since the end of the 1800s under a different name and before the wine was even labeled Brunello di Montalcino. Santiago’s grandfather completely fell in love with the area of Montalcino within the region of Tuscany as it seemed like everything someone desired grew there without any issues: olive trees, various grains, truffles and incredible Sangiovese grape vines.

In 2005, Santiago’s father was called back to Italy to take over the Col d’Orcia estate and so he took the family back to Italy but this time to Tuscany. Until then, the estate had been managed with that commercially-minded structure that had been rooted in the Cinzano family for generations. But Santiago’s father was used to another mindset that was about focusing on each plot of the vineyards, so he converted all the vineyards to organic farming, officially becoming certified in 2010, as well as incorporated biodynamic practices such as placing manure in cow horns to assist in the symbiotic cycle of life. Not only is Col d’Orcia the third largest owner of vineyards classified as Brunello di Montalcino but it is also a working farm with various animals and preserved woodland where wild boar can roam.

Another Way To Connect

Santiago Marone Cinzano lives in the vineyards and the cellar Photo Credit: Col d’Orcia

Santiago and his father are already planning for the next 20 to 30 years and they are working with Sangiovese clones that have traits that will perform well during warmer vintages, which is happening more and more often. One of the vineyards that they have selected to become a single vineyard bottling is their Nastagio Vineyard, planted with clones selected for warmer temperatures, and the clay-dominant soil can retain water and assist the vines better during hot, dry vintages. This vineyard is a working experiment that they have been researching since they took over the estate, as they feel it could be the future for what will be considered a top vineyard for the great wines of Brunello di Montalcino.

Another single vineyard bottling is their Poggio al Vento Vineyard, which Santiago’s grandfather planted almost 50 years ago. It was an odd choice during the time, as the soil is sandy, making more subtle, elegant wines instead of bigger ones that were more in demand during the 1970s. But today, Poggio al Vento is considered a jewel for its elegance and beautiful nuances.

Yet Santiago said that his father never got the chance to ask his grandfather why he planted it there all those years ago as, unfortunately, his grandfather died in a car crash in 1989. It is natural to think we have all the time in the world to ask all the questions we want to know about our parents, only to one day be looking back, after they have passed, wishing we had one more day to get to know them better as people. But as Santiago’s father walks around their estate and visits the Poggio al Vento Vineyard, there is a connection, as maybe he wasn’t the first Cinzano to have a grower’s mentality, and that he and his father, now with his own son, Santiago, share a deep love for the land and will do everything in their power to protect it.

***Link to original article on Forbes:

Col d’Orcia lineup Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2018 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. A wine that dances gently along the palate with bright red cherry fruit and stony minerality that is vibrant and fresh with a hint of toasted spices and a good amount of flesh on the body that balances the marked acidity. 

2018 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Nastagio Vineyard: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. This wine takes more time to open, but once it does, complex notes such as smoldering earth and Mediterranean herbs come out with dark, brooding fruit on the palate and ample tannins that are muscular and through time, notes such as underbrush, black licorice and wildflowers start to reveal themselves along a sustained, powerful length of flavor.

2016 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Poggio al Vento Vineyard: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. Intriguing sandalwood aroma with a deep concentration of multi-layered fruit nuanced in its delivery with finely etched tannins and lots of crisp acidity with a very long, expressive floral finish. A stunning wine.

2015 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Poggio al Vento Vineyard: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. Riper, juicer fruit with plush mid-palate and hints of baking spice with a round texture and overall generosity that is incredibly delicious.

2004 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Poggio al Vento Vineyard: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. Exciting developed notes such as tar, black truffles and crushed rose petals with silky tannins that have a touch of plush quality on the palate with still lots of juicy red and black fruit with a lovely overall texture. 

1995 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. Multifaceted wine with tapenade, dried porcini mushrooms, cigar box and broken earth that is extremely soft in the mouth with an underlying note of dried rose petals and a lot of concentration of fruit on the finish, which is quite impressive at this age.

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A Great Italian Wine’s Sibling Has Found Its Own Identity

The heat had sucked so much energy from the winemaker who was walking through the vineyards, surveying the grape bunches hanging from the vines. She was shocked how so many of the berries looked like blueberries as they were so tiny due to the sweltering conditions brought in by a hot spell that many in Europe had nicknamed “Lucifer.” The summer of 2017 had been a grueling growing season with the sun beating down like a fiery flame thrower, with no real reprieve from the hot punishment. Yet when one takes the oath to work for one of the greatest Italian wine producers, she knows that not only does the job need to be carried out under any circumstance but it has to have an even higher level of meticulous care as many of the grapes would have to be sorted out at various stages. And after the grapes have gone through the long and involved process of being turned into wine meant for an Italian iconic producer, it can still be sold off if it doesn’t make the cut, even if tons of sweat, blood and tears went into the creation of that barrel of wine; that is the life of one who works for one of the best.

Cabernet Sauvignon on the Ornellaia estate
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

And so, although the heat tried to suck all the energy from the workers on the ground with months of the unrelenting heat that enveloped every human body like a heavy blanket, making every task that much more laborious, the workers triumphed as even the most horrific of circumstances can’t completely drain the fierce passion in those who are dedicated to making fine wine. As the winemaker at Ornellaia, Olga Fusari remarked that 2017 was the “hottest and driest” in the history of this grand estate and it was one of her biggest surprises in the 18 years she had worked there.

It was a surprise because the 2017 wines were fresh with lots of acidity and pure fruit expression and Ornellaia’s second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, known as simply Le Serre Nuove, was especially fresh with uplifted fruit – a hallmark of this little brother of Ornellaia. 

Becoming the Aspiration for Others 

When Ornellaia decided to release the first vintage of Le Serre Nuove in 1997, it was very much following the steps of the great estates of Left Bank Bordeaux. It is a way to add an even stricter selection for the “grand vin,” the top wine of the estate, and make a less expensive version of that top selection that was only a few steps down in quality. 

The Ornellaia estate during sunrise
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

Ornellaia, like the other famous “Super Tuscans” tucked away in the village of Bolgheri along the Tuscan coast in Italy, had first crafted its foundation on the outstanding wines of Bordeaux, like Latour and Lafite, as the marriage between Bordeaux grape varieties and the prime vineyard areas of Bolgheri created an exquisite union yet with its own expression of terroir, aka sense of place. These wines were nicknamed “Super Tuscans” as they took the world by storm with their superior quality yet the prices were anything but super as compared to their contemporaries in Bordeaux; the pricing was, and remains today, relatively reasonable.

And so, as Olga notes, “Le Serre Nuove was born as a classical second wine,” following in the footsteps of the greatness of the Bordelais. But through time, Ornellaia started to make a name for themselves and even though they still don’t command First Growth Bordeaux wine prices, they certainly have their own strong following that prefers Ornellaia above all others. Hence, a new chapter of this great Italian wine estate started where Ornellaia found its own identity. Today, some wineries don’t emulate the top Bordeaux estates but aspire to be like Ornellaia. 

Amazingly, Ornellaia is a young estate – the first vintage was released in 1985 and so, through time, they have learned so much more about their precious vineyards. Over the past several decades there has been a deep dive into learning about all aspects of their soils which has informed them how to manage their vineyards better, significantly raising the quality and expression of a sense of place. 

Its Own Voice 

Holding the soils of Ornellaia
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

But according to Olga, through this long process of analyzing all the components of their soils, they realized that Le Serre Nuove shouldn’t just be made up of the youngest vines, which was the main original criteria but that the more sandy soils gave a lot more freshness and finesse which were qualities that formed the foundation of Le Serre Nuove’s identity. In the past, it was intended to be a more accessible version of Ornellaia at an earlier stage yet through time, it had become valued as expressing a particular quality of the vineyard. 

So, just like Ornellaia getting out of the shadow of the Bordeaux greats, Le Serre Nuove has gotten out of the shadow of Ornellaia. 

2020 was another vintage that Olga revisited and it was another challenging vintage but for different reasons than 2017. As the world has mostly gone back to embracing living life to the fullest, it is hard to completely remember how it felt during the fall of 2020 when COVID-19 took over the world. There was a mixture of sadness and fear balanced by gratitude and hope and not much came out regarding vintage reports in Tuscany during that time as people were overwhelmed with the new world of COVID forced upon them. The summer of 2020 growing season was hot and warm, still not to the degree experienced in 2017 and cool nights helped to retain a higher amount of acidity while developing an enchanting aromatic profile that is distinctive in the wines. Even though the 2020 Le Serre Nuove wines have plenty of concentration to give them longevity, the ripe tannins create a silky texture with the lovely aromas making the wine a great pleasure to consume now.

Looking back on those two difficult vintages of Le Serre Nuove, one cannot help when drinking the wines but to be amazed that something so refined, refreshing and stunning, wrapped in an overall quality of elegance, could have come from such nightmarish conditions. But, just like humans, wines will show what they are made of during the worst times and Le Serre Nuove has undoubtedly demonstrated that a ferocious heat wave cannot compromise its graceful quality, or even a worldwide pandemic.  

***Link to original article on Forbes:

Vertical of Le Serre Nuove
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The below is a vertical of Le Serre Nuove:

2020 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 44% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot. Intriguing aromas of granite, rosemary and tarragon with spices in the background with a stunning mouthfeel that has an ideal balance between plush, ripe red fruit and an overall brightness with subtle flavors that slowly reveal themselves over time.

2019 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 54% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Charming nose with lifted aromatics of Mediterranean scrub, hints of lilacs and a slightly firm structure giving shape with a prolonged expression of forest floor on the finish.

2017 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 54% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 6% Petit Verdot. Ripe red cherries on the nose are laced with an intense minerality that has a touch of lushness along the palate’s texture, filling the mouth yet still keeping a reserved elegance as notes of fresh leather and cigar box slowly unravel.

2015 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 64% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 9% Petit Verdot. Complex nose of tobacco leaf, broken earth and shaved black truffles that is a wine of all finesse on a generous body that gives lots of delicious fruit yet is still so refined and elegant that it is mesmerizing.

2014 Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Tuscany: 50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. Pristine red fruit, such as strawberries and raspberries, with hints of savory spice, crisp acidity with fresh sage and very fine tannins that caress the palate.

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One Of The Biggest Misunderstandings In Champagne Wine Addressed By A Top Champagne House

It had taken five months of tasting 250 wine tanks and barrels to reach this final decision. Only a handful of wine samples made it to this all-important Champagne Billecart-Salmon blind tasting as all the backbreaking work in the vineyards, the immaculate winemaking practices and the work during several months of tasting the tanks and barrels while making exhaustive notes all come down to this moment. Eight people, representing all the essential decision makers of Billecart-Salmon – four family members that span three generations, the head of the vineyards, the assistant chief winemaker, the current chief winemaker and the former chief winemaker, come together to make a decision that will represent the highly regarded reputation of the Billecart name; a family that goes back to the ideally situated village Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, in the Champagne region in France, since the 16th century who started their own Champagne house in the 1800s.

The decision picked a key component of their Brut Réserve Champagne: the dosage. 

Champagne Billecart-Salmon 

A horse working in the vineyards
Photo Credit: Billecart-Salmon

Billecart-Salmon is no stranger to going beyond the call of duty to make high-quality Champagne as their long-standing meticulous practices are legendary among Champagne connoisseurs and it has given them an exceptional reputation for ages. Some of the key components that make Billecart great is their access to top vineyards within Champagne (1/3 of the vineyards they own, 1/3 they have a lease where they manage the vineyard directly and 1/3 from growers that they have worked with for decades) but some other key components in the winery and cellar make Billecart-Salmon a stellar house: fermenting in a combination of barrels and stainless steel as stainless preserves “fruit purity” as opposed to barrels which add “depth and concentration,” wines that are built to age and a “signature fermentation method” that is based on fermenting all the wines at a cold temperature that was implemented a couple of generations ago in the 1960s.

François Roland-Billecart, previous CEO of Billecart-Salmon and Mathieu Roland-Billecart
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

According to the current CEO and 7th-generation family member of the Billecart-Salmon house, Mathieu Roland-Billecart, the cold fermentation is important as it preserves the “identity of the fruit character” as well as makes the actual fermenting process longer and hence, keeps the “identity of the region” with bringing out more of the sense of place, in his opinion. Also, it builds a strong “acidic backbone” in the wine and acidity with time equals “freshness and longevity.” After 60 years of employing this practice, over three generations as Mathieu’s great uncle started the cold ferment, the Billecart family has certainly perfected it.

Yet one more aspect of the Billecart process is a principal part of its excellence: the dosage.


Dosage1 is the tiny amount of wine that tops off the Champagne bottle after disgorgement – the ejection of the sediment deposit after the second fermentation has taken place in each bottle of Champagne.

Champagne Billecart Salmon cellars
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Much of the discussion around dosage surrounds the amount of sugar added in the dosage of wine as Champagne, with its traditionally cool climate, needed to take the edge off the fierce acidity. And so this is where there is a big misunderstanding, according to Mathieu Roland-Billecart. Even though Billecart-Salmon has always had a well-respected reputation when it comes to using a low amount of sugar in their dosage throughout the years (Brut Champagne allows anywhere from 0 to 12 grams per liter), there is a wide range of dosages out there, it is still a topic that Mathieu wanted to address.

 I think dosage is one of the least understood things in Champagne,” stated Mathieu as he further explained that it seems everyone makes it about sugar. And that all the Champagnes with high amounts of sugar are bad versus those with a low sugar dosage are good. But it is really about balance and the DNA of the Billecart-Salmon house is built on the foundation of finesse, elegance and balance; Mathieu said that relative to balance, finesse and elegance are easier to achieve, especially with a long legacy of prime vineyard locations and a refined approach that has been honed over centuries. He notes that despite the idea of a harmonious wine sounding like an easy task to achieve, in reality, even when one has all the outstanding components, if the right pieces are not chosen for the puzzle, then harmony and balance will not be achieved and each year there is a different puzzle to solve.

Champagne Billecart Salmon barrels
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Not only does the amount of sugar change from year to year but the wine chosen from all those 250 wine tanks and barrels has to bring balance. For example, if the Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve is mainly based on wines from the 2018 vintage, it is not just a matter of getting more 2018 to use as the dosage, as the final addition is the last chance to bring the wine to its ultimate harmony. And so Mathieu says that since he took over as CEO in 2018, they have spent just as much time on the dosage (which makes up around 20 milliliters of the bottle) as they have on the blend itself, which makes up 730 milliliters. 

For a Champagne house known to go to great lengths to achieve finesse, elegance and balance, it certainly adds so much more time and energy to their process. 

It’s In The DNA 

A bottle of Billecart from the 1950s
Photo Credit: Champagne Billecart-Salmon

Anytime one has a changing of the guard regarding another family member taking over the reins of a well-known wine legacy, it is certainly something to take notice of and to celebrate, as fewer and fewer family wine companies can pass it on to the next generation. So Mathieu thought it would be a great idea to release their 2008 vintage Champagne wines once he took over in 2018, a bicentenary year for Billecart, as it is a nice round number that represents a decade of the past in bottle that would be released on the 200th anniversary, signifying the dawn of a new era. 

But as the committee tasted the 2008 vintage Champagnes as they aged on their lees, it became clear that none were ready to be released in 2018. Then it was thought that even if they had to wait a year or two, perhaps releasing a few of the 2008s all together would still be significant as there is the 2008 vintage Rosé, Blanc de Blancs and special bottlings but the wines disagreed. And so, one was released in 2021, another in 2022 and now the Cuvée Nicolas François is released in 2023.

Even though it goes against all marketing sense to release these vintage wines only when they are ready, particularly during such a momentous time, it is not in the DNA of the house of Billecart-Salmon and especially not in the DNA of Mathieu Roland-Billecart to release them too early. He has contributed to adding more time to the process to achieve excellence. Mathieu noted about the dosage, “It is not particularly a clever process, but it is a very time-consuming artisan approach,” and his family has never had any interest in showing how clever they were when it came to tasting their Champagne wines; it is about giving that ultimate experience to the drinker of the incredible place that they have safeguarded for half a millennium.

***Link to original article published in Forbes:

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Today, each bottle of Billecart-Salmon can be traced with an origin code that shows everything about that particular Champagne bottle, starting from the vineyards to the winery and finally the cellar. One needs to look at the back of the label where “My Origin” will proceed a set of numbers that can then be placed into the web page to learn everything about that bottle. 

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve (My Origin # 181105): The 2018 vintage makes up the base wine, with 46% reserve wines, and a blend of 36% Pinot Meunier, 32% Chardonnay and 32% Pinot Noir, with a dosage of 7.5 grams per liter. Pretty nose of lemon blossom and a saline minerality with white peach skin on the palate, hints of brioche and an incredible texture that has very fine bubbles, a touch of weight mid-palate and overall creaminess that is not too much or too little that finishes with a bright note of lemon confit.

1998 & 2008 Billecart-Salmon
Cuvée Nicolas François
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2008 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François (My Origin # 081078): 83% of wines came from stainless steel and 17% came from barrel, 83% Grand Cru vineyards and 17% Premier Cru vineyards, 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, with a dosage of 2.9 grams per liter. 2008 was considered a superstar year with a fantastic combination of beautiful fruit and high acidity and one can see why in this 2008 Nicolas François, named after the founder of Champagne Billecart-Salmon. The nose beckons with delicately enticing notes of honeysuckle and lemon pastry with hints of lilacs in the background that has marked acidity and an intense energy on the palate that is simply breathtaking, with a chalky minerality on the long, expressive finish.

1998 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François: Mathieu wanted to show a Champagne with a lot more age to display the incredible longevity that Billecart is known for yet he also wanted to show a vintage known for its ripeness and how the fresh style of Billecart keeps such a vintage still vibrant even at 25 years of age. The fruit is still vivid with juicy nectarine with touches of marzipan and lemon meringue that are intermixed with orange zest and toasted spices on the palate, concentrated with fresh fruit yet bright acidity and a broad, rich finish with lots of lift.


1 Dosage technically is the sugar added to the wine that tops off the Champagne bottle after disgorgement, and this additional wine with the added sugar is technically called liqueur d’expédition. But many in the wine business will just use the terms dosage liqueur or simply dosage (French pronunciation: do zaj) instead of liqueur d’expédition, and hence, it is referred to in this article as dosage.

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