Winery Pays Top Dollar To Harvest Grapes, Making One Of The Greatest Wines In The World

The sun lit up golden highlights in the light brown hair piled up in a bun at the top of the young woman’s head. She was fiercely focused on her task as she wore dark gardening gloves that went up to her narrow wrists. She was hand harvesting some of the most iconic wine grapes and with one wrong move, she could end up damaging the Tempranillo vine, one of the most valuable Tempranillo vines on the planet; it would take several decades for a newly planted vine to reach the level of quality as the one she was harvesting – she would be middle-aged by that time. One would think she would be in a panic before each snip, her hands shaking, yet that was not the case as she was like a skilled surgeon with steady hands and a confident demeanor as she moved from one vine to the other with swift accuracy.

Oldest vineyard at Vegas Sicilia planted in 1890
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

The Vega Sicilia vineyards in Spain’s Ribera del Duero wine region are legendary. The first vineyard was planted in 1890 with that original vineyard, with its over 130-year-old vines, still part of the Vega Sicilia estate today. Some of the first French varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that were grafted onto American rootstocks were planted in this vineyard as the grafted vines were sent to the founder of Vega Sicilia to be part of that original planting as Bordeaux varieties made up a small amount of the blend.

The main red grape is Tempranillo – a native Spanish variety that has evolved to become a thicker-skinned variety than its counterpart in the more famous neighboring wine region of Rioja. The climate in Ribera del Duero is believed to have created the evolution of the grape as the extreme weather can rapidly jump from hot to cold to sunny to frost to hailstorms.

The young woman harvesting is an enology student who made it through the strict selection process to be chosen as a harvester at this grand estate. It is a highly competitive position as for two weeks, each harvester will make 800 Euros a day plus housing and food, as well as having the experience of working in some of the top vineyards in the world. Vega Sicilia is undoubtedly an outlier when it comes to paying so much for harvesters as many times there is much discussion about some wine producers taking advantage of desperate people by paying them an unfair wage. But Vega Sicilia is legendary among those in the know to go to extremes for every step of their wine production process and if they want enology students with a keen mind and steady surgeon hands – the best of the best, then they are going to pay for it.

Reaching for Excellence 

Wine cellars at Vegas Sicilia
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

The original owner of Vega Sicilia, a Spanish winemaker trained in Bordeaux, certainly pushed the boundaries when striving to make fine wines in Ribera del Duero over a century ago. Still, the estate’s second visionary, owner and general manager Pablo Álvarez, has taken the founder’s original goal to new levels that are still extraordinary by today’s standards. First, Pablo shocked his neighbors by banning herbicides and chemicals on the estate in the mid-80s as sustainability and organic farming were far from the norm at that time. And through the years, he has lost a significant amount of money by not releasing certain vintages for his most sought-after wines as he felt they did not measure up to their high standards. 

Never resting on his laurels, he is always thinking of how to strive for a greater level of excellence than what they have already achieved. Hence why there is always research into the best clones of Tempranillo within their historic vineyards that will be more disease resistant and more adaptable to climate change. Also, they use frost towers that help to combat freezing temperatures damaging the crop as it is an area that fights the cold as well as the heat; in the winery, testing wine in different types of vessels to constantly improve the preservation and expression of their outstanding terroir as well as trials with non-Saccharomyces yeasts (Saccharomyces yeasts are typical for wine ferments) to see which ones bring out more freshness as temperatures are increasing for the area; and in the cellar, a project that even outdoes anything Vega Sicilia has done itself, planting 50,000 cork trees in 1998 so they can make their own cork closures one day as well as them currently making their own oak barrels on the estate with their cooperage, where now, they source 1/3 of all the oak barrels they use to age their Spanish wines.

Oak aging outside of the Vegas Sicilia
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

It is taking the idea of terroir, a sense of place, to another level with the oak barrels for aging and the cork closures all coming from the Vega Sicilia estate. The idea is to have everything 100% sourced and made from Vega Sicilia.

Keep the Fire Burning

Through the past couple of decades, Ribera del Duero has built a solid reputation for stellar wines and it is no longer overshadowed by Rioja when it comes to fine wine drinkers. Undoubtedly, Vega Sicilia is one of the wine producers in the area that has helped with its reputation yet the company is even beyond the wine region or any wine region as it is an icon of mythical proportions. It stands on its own as having no equal. Pablo Álvarez understands the tremendous responsibility of balancing preserving its magic and bringing it to the next level every year, hence what one experiences in its illustrious Unico wine.

Wine barrels containing Unico
Photo Credit: Tempos Vega Sicilia

Undoubtedly, many would look at how Vega Sicilia is run as a business and be shocked by its practices, as it doesn’t make sense when trying to make a profit. But Vega Sicilia is Pablo’s life work, an obsession to have something so precious live up to the highest ideals.

After the end of each work day, the exhausted female harvester, an enology student, would wait until everyone left the vineyards so she could stand there in silence with the vines, taking down her hair to allow it to blow in the breeze as she lifted her sun-kissed face to the sky. She knew she was part of something so much bigger than herself, part of creating a great wine that was never content with only greatness and that not only did Vega Sicilia live up to the fantasies she had at university but it exceeded them.

“That doesn’t exist,” was a typical response when she would talk to those in the wine business about a winery living up to her ideals at professional trade shows she attended. But it did exist and she was a part of it for two beautiful weeks. Although she knew she would never work at another winery that would live up to such a vision, she would always be able to keep that fire lit within her, always to strive to do better even when those around her think she is wasting her time. 

It becomes lonely when one is trying to reach for the stars in her work, which also happens to be her passion and is met by co-workers who find such striving to be a little ridiculous, chastising her for wanting something that isn’t possible. “But it is possible,” she will tell them, “because I experienced it.”  

***Link to original article on Forbes:

2013 Unico
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2013 Vega Sicilia, Unico, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 97% Tempranillo (Tinto Fino) and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Unico is aged for at least ten years before it is released onto the market. 2013 was a challenging vintage as it was cooler with more rain than usual. Immediately fresh and vibrant with an intense energy and drive on the palate with silky tannins with flavors of blackcurrants, wild sage, broken rocks and a fierce minerality on the long, expressive finish. The purity of its expression is quite impressive considering it was a rainy year.

Unico Reserva Especial 2023 Release
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

NV Vega Sicilia, Unico Reserva Especial 2023 Release, Ribera del Duero, Spain: A blend of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 Unico vintages. Much more of an ethereal quality to this release. Lifted floral notes with bright red cherries and a richer background of blackberry compote yet it prances and dances along the palate, giving a lightness of being among the richness and multi-layered complexity that includes chalky minerality, spice box and sweet tobacco – a very long, polished finish. Extremely elegant! 

2018 Vega Sicilia, Valbuena 5º, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 96% Tempranillo (Tinto Fino) and 4% Merlot. The 5 in the name of the wine represents the fact that this wine is always aged five years in the cellar before being released onto the market. The wine from the Vega Sicilia estate that doesn’t reach the level of Unico icon status is used to make Valbuena 5º, which has become a star in its own right. Another cooler vintage but there is an immediate approachability to this wine that is very inviting with rose oil notes and blueberry pie flavors that has hints of cardamom pods and finely etched tannins on the palate that has lots of acidity with a soft quality so the wine has finesse as well as early drinking appeal. It will be challenging to stop oneself from drinking the whole case of wine all at once!

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Tuscany Wine Producer Uses NASA Know-How To Combat Climate Change In The Vineyards

There was no greater view than that of the Earth from the International Space Station (ISS), as no other gave such a feeling of insignificance – the petty problems, the constant fears of the unknown, the overwhelming exhaustion of never living up to a grander purpose. All of it melted away as a feeling of peace, contentment, of utter awe overtook the astronauts. For the newbies, it was the first time they had had such an experience and for those who had been on the station for a while, they had seen that view more times than they could count but it never lost its power, especially when someone knew that they were seeing it for the last time.  

Living on the ISS had its profound life-changing moments but most of the time, the crew kept to a strict schedule of tasks that would help NASA advance its knowledge of the effects of space on the human body. Also, keeping busy kept them from thinking about some terrifying aspects of being in a situation such as CO2 poisoning. The Apollo 13 mission, in 1970, which was supposed to be the third Apollo mission to land on the moon, went through such a nightmare as the CO2 expelled by the astronauts’ breathing started to rise to toxic levels.

There have been significant advances since Apollo 13 one of them is using zeolite to capture CO2 on the ISS so it can then be released once it is exposed to the vacuum of space. Some researchers are considering using zeolite to capture CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, then compress it and store it in a nearby geological facility. Zeolites are crystalline aluminosilicates typically formed by a chemical reaction between volcanic glass and saline water.

But NASA is not the only place using zeolite, as one of the largest organic certified wine-producing farms in Tuscany, Italy, Col d’Orcia, has taken to using zeolite in their soil to combat climate change.

Col d’Orcia Wine Estate in Tuscany

Francesco walking in
Poggio al Vento vineyard
Photo Credit: Col d’Orcia

Family owner and chairman, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, discussed how sustainable farming and encouraging biodiversity had always been important to his father (who bought this centuries-old historic farming estate in 1973) even before such terms were even discussed in the wine world.

And it is a place of pride for Francesco that his family owns the fantastic wine estate of Col d’Orcia in the highly regarded area of Montalcino, in the stunning region of Tuscany. When he speaks about Montalcino, one quickly forgets that he is there to represent one estate as his utter reverence for Montalcino as a whole is evident in the amount of time and passion he devotes to explaining why it is one of the most incredible places on Earth. One cannot help but believe him as he describes how 50% of the land is covered by natural woodland and Mediterranean scrub while the rest is vineyards and farms that include olive trees, grains, honey and truffles. Its magnificent beauty was one of the reasons his father, who was from another prestigious Italian wine region called Piedmont, fell so deeply in love that he invested tons of resources and time into an area that was still unknown worldwide in the 1970s.

Harvesting the Poggio al Vento vineyard
Photo Credit: Bruno Bruchi

Francesco, who inherited the desire to keep balance and harmony with nature from his father, has made his own contributions to the estate by transforming the vineyards to organic farming in 2008, eventually becoming certified. He also notes that his estate is a working farm with chickens, sheep and goats, and much of the estate is preserved woodland where wild boar and deer roam. The sheep and goats graze on the forest, keeping it from getting too overgrown and the chickens are used for eggs and meat for the families living and working on the estate.

Yet when it comes to the philosophy of sustainability, Francesco says that it can only truly exist at any company if the employees have good working conditions. “In Italy, unfortunately, 70% of the work contracts in agriculture do not comply with workers’ security and workers’ rights,” noted Francesco, and he feels an obligation as someone who is “lucky” to produce high-end wines to “show the way.”

Nature & Technology 

Francesco under oak tree with son
Photo Credit: Col d’Orcia

There are some biodynamic practices and preparations employed, but Francesco admits that they cannot be completely biodynamic as it is impossible to strictly follow the biodynamic calendar with such a big estate as they cannot prune all the vineyards only on specific days – they just have too much to prune. Some of the biodynamic preparations Francesco uses contain zeolite in it, as zeolite is not only used by NASA to capture CO2 but there are experiments on the ISS that involve growing plants in zeolite-based substrates. As space travel advances in the future, astronauts will need to be able to grow their own food in space if they want to make the trip to Mars, for example. Since zeolite has a “special hydroponic quality,” it can retain humidity and water during the winter and release it during higher temperatures in the summer, improving the soil’s water retention capacity and combating drought years. As Brunello di Montalcino is experiencing warmer and drier vintages, water scarcity is becoming more common.

The Col d’Orcia label displays this commitment to both nature and technology that was first started with Francesco’s father, as three rows represent the hills overlooking the Orcia River – a commitment to Mother Nature. On top of those three rows is a hand pointing to the stars representing their relentless pursuit of finding better ways to protect her.

And it all started when Francesco’s father visited the estate 50 years ago. He was so taken by the paradise of Montalcino, an unknown area back then, because an abundance of produce grew there. During that first visit, he came upon an old oak tree that was stunning in its majestic appearance and as he stood underneath it, a unique energy pulsated through his body. Despite this tree being in an area where it was best to plant the vineyards, he spared this beauty as it would be the monument that would remind him to be true to the natural diversity that initially captured his heart. Yet he could have never imagined that many decades later, a natural substance that could one day make traveling to Mars possible would help his beloved farming estate continue to thrive during intense challenges as the climate changes.

**Link to original Forbes article:

2015 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, 2016 and 2017 Brunello di Montalcino Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2017 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. The nose gives juicy, rich fruit such as cassis and black cherry preserves with notes of broken rocks and round tannins on the palate with hints of nutmeg and pressed flowers.

2016 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Vigna Nastagio: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. Deep, dark fruits on the nose with flavors of blackberry scones with an intense minerality; elegant on the palate with chiseled tannins that give structure to the pristine fruit with hints of spice and overall harmony and a very long finish.

2015 Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Poggio al Vento: 100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard cru. The Poggio al Vento single vineyard is mainly sandy soil as opposed to clay which is dominant in the rest of the Col d’Orcia vineyards. Smoldering earth, cured meats, nutmeg with a slightly firm structure, black cherries and sandalwood incense with hints of tobacco leaf with a long, linear finish.

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Army Black Hawk Pilot Juggles Two Roles: 5th Generation Napa Valley Wine Grape Grower & Assisting Underdeveloped Nations

The gusts of winds jolting the hoist created a slight dread in the man’s heart as he hung from the end of it, reaching for a tiny hand of a six-year-old girl hysterically crying. The girl was positioned on the top of a palm tree keeping her head above the flood surge caused by the hurricane that had just passed. Only a few minutes had gone by but it seems like a lifetime as the man reached for the girl for the tenth time as he couldn’t get a good enough hold of her and there was no way she would make it if he was only able to grab her hand. A paralyzing fear started to creep into his body as he envisioned dropping the girl as he tried to pull her towards him – he is always ready to face his own death but the loss of a child he couldn’t bear. Suddenly, screams from inside the massive helicopter, to which the hoist is connected, travel down to the man – they are a slap in the face he desperately needed in this horrible situation. Time was running out – the winds were fiercely picking up and the hurricane could be shifting back and either he grabbed the girl now or they would have to leave without her. Using his weight, the man swung with one of the gusts of wind and decisively clutched the small child as the hoist lifted them into the Black Hawk helicopter.

This was just a typical day for the men and women in the National Guard stationed in the underdeveloped country of Honduras to assist with various humanitarian efforts needed. 

Chris, Melody, Gary Morisoli Courtesy of Chris Morisoli

One of those men, an Army Black Hawk pilot named Chris Morisoli, is also a fifth-generation wine grape grower in the famous Rutherford section of Napa Valley in California. His property is surrounded by such illustrious neighbors as Scarecrow, Inglenook and Phelps, to name a few. His great-great-grandpa, Rocco Morisoli, emigrated from then northern Italy (now part of Switzerland) in the later 1800s and planted vines in Rutherford, Napa Valley, in 1910. His great-grandpa, Plinio, ended up running the local general store as well as helped with the farm. It is interesting how Rutherford was considered one of the most booming places in Napa with the largest population as it was a big mining town. Today, Rutherford is much less populated but has  grandiose wineries and vineyards that are some of the most esteemed in the world.

Chris lives in that same house his great-great-grandpa put down roots in back in 1883 helping his father take care of their vineyards with only the assistance of a couple of full-time workers, all while juggling an extra part-time job in the National Guard, what he calls “Army Light,” still going to various places around the world that are in desperate need of humanitarian relief.

Morisoli Vineyard

The Morisoli vineyard first started as a Zinfandel field blend and so not only was Zinfandel planted – with some of those old Zinfandel vines still there – but there was also Mourvèdre, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Négrette and Black Muscat mixed in as well, a hodgepodge of sort. One of the top winemaking and viticulture universities, U.C. Davis, came out and took samples from that original Morisoli vineyard and found clones of grape varieties that weren’t in their database so they cataloged one of them as the “Morisoli” clone. Today, the vineyard is still dry-farmed and managed the “old way,” which includes Chris using their 1934 D2 tractor, or perhaps he will go with one of the “newer” tractors from the 1970s or earlier.

Today, Morisoli makes a small amount of wine from their highly prized vineyards under the winemaking leadership of Joel Aiken; the first release was their 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. Joel was the winemaker for Beaulieu from 1985 until 2009, working with the great André Tchelistcheff, often known as the “Dean of American Winemaking.” But Morisoli cherishes their long-term relationships with eight other wineries who buy their grapes, one having a notable history in getting the Morisoli vineyard on the right track.

Elyse Winery 

Morisoli vineyard row
Courtesy of Elyse Winery

Ray Coursen, who founded Elyse Winery, convinced Chris Morisoli’s dad to plant more Cabernet Sauvignon in the early ’80s as they had a lot more Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc planted than Cab back in those days and today, most of the land is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and only a few acres of Zinfandel. There was a partnership between Elyse Winery and Morisoli from the inception of Elyse and Morisoli’s “first vineyard designate” was for an Elyse bottling in 1987. But Ray’s relationship goes further back than his Elyse days as he had been using fruit from Morisoli as the previous winemaker at Whitehall Lane, which always used Morisoli Cabernet Sauvignon in their reserve bottling.

Ray got to the point where he wanted to retire but he didn’t want to sell to a hedge fund that would strip it for parts; he wanted his legacy to continue with Elyse Winery. One fateful night when wine producer Josh Peeples was having a typical casual dinner out in Napa Valley, he struck up a conversation with Ray, which had happened numerous times in the past as they shared bottles of wine to drink with dinner and Josh ended up being the ideal person to buy Elyse Winery. 

Bottle of Elyse Zinfandel
Courtesy of Elyse Winery

Josh was excited to add a winery such as Elyse with such a “great pedigree and great reputation” to his portfolio of wine projects that would not only give his winemaker, Russell Bevan, access to a top-notch winery facility but also some stellar vineyards… although securing the continuing relationship between Elyse and Morisoli was not guaranteed initially. And so, the first meeting between Josh and Russell with Chris’s father was the most important one, as although Russell has an impressive resume with being awarded 100-point scores as well as being picked as “The Wine Maker of the Year” a few years back, Chris’s father was more interested in a meeting of the minds when it came to character and intention. The meeting was successful as it was evident that Josh’s and Russell’s main priority was to keep Elyse’s legacy alive and keep Morisoli fruit an “important cornerstone” of that legacy.

Josh and his winemaker Russell certainly have had their hands full with Elyse Winery as despite only making a total of 10,000 cases, they work with 42 different vineyards yet no other vineyard is more important to them than Morisoli. And Josh even took their commitment to Morisoli to a greater level by making a reserve bottling of a vineyard-designated Zinfandel from Morisoli that comes from a section they call the ‘Zieger’ block.

Defining Moments

Elyse Lot Marker on Morisoli Estate Courtesy of Elyse Winery

As Chris Morisoli walks the vineyards on his family property and looks at the displays for the various rows that indicate which particular wine producer those grapes are designated for, he comes to the vines that are sold to Elyse Winery, which happens to be near the vineyards for the cult wine Scarecrow, known as the J.J. Cohn Estate, and a sound in the sky abruptly captures his attention. He looks up towards the distance and recognizes it as a Black Hawk helicopter helping to put out a fire and he lightly smiles to himself, knowing that is how juggling these two different worlds started with him. 

Years ago, he was a seasonal firefighter for Cal Fire and one day, he, with a couple of others, had to go down into a little valley to put out a “spot fire,” which was very dangerous as the fire came up as they were climbing down. Before he knew it, a Black Hawk with a big red cross on it came in and put the fire out and as Chris saw the helicopter fly away, he knew he wanted to be the pilot in that helicopter.

He went into the Army to attend flight school and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “That was the defining moment in my life,” noted Chris, and he continued, “absolutely crazy times but I got a lot of life experience there real quick.” When he looks back, he wonders, like so many others, what it was worth and why was he and many of his fellow Americans there yet he feels good about his job during that time as he was “helping folks in their worst hour” by flying his injured compatriots to the nearest medical facility. After his time at war, he continued to serve in the National Guard on humanitarian efforts such as the assignment in Honduras and after 12 years in the Army, he came back to his family’s vineyards. When things are slow in the vineyards, he can continue helping out in the National Guard but all year round, he volunteers at the local Rutherford fire department.

As it is getting harder and harder for parents to pass down family businesses as costs have increased a lot more than the revenue that most small family businesses bring in, especially farming, there is a horrible choice that needs to be made: either the family sells, adding to the unsettling reality that the U.S. is no longer a place where many family businesses can thrive or the children who take over have it worse off than their parents. A third option is to get a part-time job. Chris’s Army Light part-time job not only makes it possible for the line of multi-generational wine grape growers to continue in his family but his experiences in the National Guard have made him grateful for his lot in life, even when times are tough. In Honduras, Chris witnessed poverty that is unheard of back home with families walking eight hours with their six or seven kids to simply get some soap, dewormer and other essentials. 

Breaking the Cycle of Duality

Chris at Harvest
Photo Credit: Madison Scarlata

Sometimes it is hard to see how much one has until he experiences those who genuinely have nothing. As Chris walked around his vineyards taking it all in, he exclaimed how “lucky” he was to be there regardless of the backbreaking work and escalating costs – hopeful about the future. He is so optimistic that the Morisoli family is making their own wines for the first time in over 100 years. 

It is a lesson for many that one does not need to get caught in the duality of life, of having only two options with both being horrible. Finding a third option not only helps him to continue a family legacy while keeping a decent quality of life but he has gained experiences that make him appreciative instead of resentful of the responsibilities that he has taken on to continue the family business. 

Maybe the American dream hasn’t died but just shifted. It is time to stop being trapped in a mindset of thinking that there are only two options… the ideal path could be so outside the box that when it presents itself, it seems out of reach, such as that day fighting the dangerous fire in the little valley as that massive helicopter, like out of a movie, came and saved the day. At that moment, Chris decided to take his life in another direction for a time, returning to his family vineyards not only in a better position to handle the financial ups and downs of farming but as a better human being. 

***Link to original Forbes article:–assisting-underdeveloped-nations/

2019 & 2018 Morisoli Vineyard,
Cabernet Sauvignon wines
Photos Credit: Cathrine Todd
2019 Elyse, Zinfandel, Morisoli Vineyard
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Elyse, Zinfandel, Morisoli Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley: 100% Zinfandel from Zieger block on the Morisoli estate. Rhubarb compote, red cherry tart and a touch of black pepper in the background with a lush texture and lovely balance between earthy and fruit-driven notes on the palate. Delicious!

2018 Morisoli Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morisoli estate. The slowly sauntering aromas are elegantly captivating from the start with stony minerality, blackcurrant leaf and a faint touch of violets that enchants the palate with a beautiful texture reminiscent of delicate lace that gently caresses along the long, expressive finish.

2019 Morisoli Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Morisoli estate. An intriguing nose with crushed rocks, wildflowers and toasted anise seeds with a multifaceted palate that includes graphite and cigar box balanced by plush black cherry sauce flavors with velvety tannins that are finely sculpted to give an elegant shape to the long, flavorful finish.

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A Great Italian White Wine Family Loses Their Leader, Leaving His Daughter To Take The Reins

Big cast-iron buildings that housed grandiose loft spaces with huge casement windows surrounded by cobblestone streets took one to another world, as it was not that far from the hustle and bustle of a dizzying amount of activity. The New York City neighborhood of Tribeca has long been a calm haven for those lucky few able to live there and for many others who come to visit it. It was a cold February day yet the sunlight lit up the golden highlights of the young woman’s long, silky brown stands of hair sitting in an upscale Italian restaurant. There, Ilaria Felluga was giving a tasting of her family’s wines, a family known among Italian white wine connoisseurs as one of the best.

Tribeca restaurant in New York City
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Ilaria hadn’t been back to NYC since Covid and despite the city being just as crowded and electric as before, something was very different about this visit. Her father, Roberto Felluga, wasn’t with her; unfortunately, he passed away from cancer in November of 2021 at 63.

Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore

Ilaria’s grandfather, Marco Felluga, founded the family’s Marco Felluga Winery in the high-quality white wine area of Collio, a place in the northeast Italian wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (a.k.a. Friuli) and today, Grandpa is healthy at the age of 95. The Felluga family’s wine roots go back six generations but it was Marco and his brother Livio who would become trailblazers by raising the bar for Friulian wines and winning the hearts of many serious Italian red wine drinkers around the world by getting them to drink Italian white wine as well. Livio established his winery in Rosazzo and then Marco, Ilaria’s grandfather, opened his own cellar in the town of Gradisca d’Isonzo in the prestigious white wine area of Collio.

If a wine drinker has yet to have a Pinot Grigio from a top producer in Collio, then that drinker has no idea of the grape’s true potential. Pinot Grigio is often just a quaffable wine when it is from most other places, as it is not taken that seriously. But Collio Pinot Grigio is a thing of beauty with good concentration balanced by crisp acidity and wrapped up in intense minerality. Marco Felluga, with his son Roberto, would not only be part of a handful of winemakers in the area bringing focus to terroir-driven Pinot Grigio wines but they would also bring focus to lesser-known local varieties such as Ribolla Gialla, a white grape that makes delicate white wines with enchanting aromas.  

Russiz Superiore Cru vineyard
Photo courtesy of Tiziano Biagi

In the late 1960s, Marco Felluga bought the Russiz Superiore estate, a plot with a long history and high location and it became known as a fantastic Cru vineyard that always illustrated its superior nature with superb wines. The Russiz Superiore estate was already known for its elegant Cabernet Franc red wines and so instead of just placing the vineyard under the Marco Felluga Winery name, he put it under its own name, knowing that it was distinctively its own place with no other comparison. Under Roberto’s leadership, the purity of expression of the Cabernet Franc remained the same, even when battling a market that only wanted heavy, over-extracted red wines. Today, the wine is finally appreciated as there is a desire for cooler climate reds with finesse. Like his father, Roberto constantly pushed for more respect for Italian white wines. He placed his money behind their beliefs as Roberto would often not release reserve white wines until eight to 10 years later, considered madness by some considering how hard it is to sell such wines, and it tied up capital that as a small family winery they desperately needed. But Ilaria said that her father was firm in his belief that they made world-class wines from top vineyards, so they should never back down from presenting them any other way.

Relationships that Wine Binds

2017 Marco Felluga Winery, Molamatta,
Collio Bianco
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

As Ilaria poured a 2017 vintage of the Marco Felluga Winery’s signature white blend ‘Molamatta,’ she talked about how lucky her family has been to have long relationships with the same importers in various countries, such as 50 years with one, and in the U.S. they have been with Dalla Terra for at least 20 years; considering how often wine producers change importers in the very challenging U.S. wine market, it might as well be 100 years. The owner of Dalla Terra, Brian Larky, is well-known in the industry for caring for his wine producers and being respected by many restaurant and retail wine buyers—very few like him out there among the hundreds and hundreds of U.S. wine importers out there.

Ilaria, her father and her grandfather
Photo Credit: Marco Felluga e Russiz Superiore

As Ilaria smelled the six-year-old white blend in her glass, a slight smile emerged on her face, and for a moment, it seemed like she was transported to another time and place. She was always by her father’s side as far back as she could remember, learning everything about winemaking, viticulture and the wine business, although some might say her father allowed his passion to cloud his financial logic. And many of their wine importers have known her as a child, always by her father’s side, looking up to him as her hero, knowing that his conviction would keep their family safe and secure even through the most challenging times.

But when her father became sick, it was her turn – to take care of the wineries, the business and her father – and now, she is making market visits to those same importers around the world who remember her from when she was a kid. Yet now they are in awe of the woman before them, as she has become the leader her father always knew she would become.

***Link to original Forbes article:

Ilaria Felluga
Photo courtesy of Marco Felluga e Russiz Superiore
2021 Marco Felluga Winery ‘Maralba’
Ribolla Gialla
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Marco Felluga Winery ‘Maralba’ Ribolla Gialla: 100% Ribolla Gialla. Floral nose with tangy lemon zest and a good amount of weight on the body with a fierce minerality.

2021 Marco Felluga Winery ‘Mongris’ Pinot Grigio: 100% Pinot Grigio. Juicy white peach flavors with hints of Brazil nut and honeysuckle with wet stones on the finish.

2021 Russiz Superiore Winery, Collio Sauvignon Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Russiz Superiore Winery, Collio Sauvignon: 100% Sauvignon. Bright nose with citrus blossom, saline minerality with fresh sage, and a touch of richness on the mouthwatering palate.

2017 Marco Felluga Winery, Molamatta, Collio Bianco: Blend of Pinot Bianco, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano from the Molamatta plot. A complex nose of bay leaf, marzipan and white pepper with vibrant flavors like quince paste and a long, expressive finish with an enticing smoky minerality note. 

2019 Russiz Superiore Winery, Collio
Cabernet Franc
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Russiz Superiore Winery, Collio Cabernet Franc: 100% Cabernet Franc. Right off the bat, a lovely purity of blueberry fruit with a touch of pie crust, forest floor and crushed rocks with a soft texture and a long, expressive finish with notes of violets.

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Super Star Tuscan Wine Unveils 2020 Vintage, And Experiences, For The First Time, Perfection For All Grape Varieties

The pragmatic winemaker was astonished as he stood in the middle of a picturesque vineyard in Bolgheri’s enchanting wine-grape growing area in Tuscany. One would think that the man was awestruck by the sheer beauty of the place but that was not the reason on this occasion. For the first time in the winery’s history, all four grape varieties for its blend were ready for harvest at the same time. It was shocking considering one such red grape variety called Merlot, which always needs to be picked on the earlier side, especially for this illustrious wine producer who wanted to retain finesse, and another called Petit Verdot were both picked the same day, as Petit Verdot is a much later ripening grape due to the tannins in the seeds and skins needing more time to ripen fully.

Estate director, Axel Heinz, in the Ornellaia Estate vineyards Photo Credit: Ornellaia

That man, Axel Heinz, winemaker and estate director of the prestigious Ornellaia estate, who is very sensible with his decisions, did the unthinkable; he gave the order to pick Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot all on the same day on his estate in Bolgheri, Tuscany. He exclaimed that such a thing “hasn’t happened before” in the history of this grand property. Axel noted that everyone on his winemaking team thought “each grape could give an important contribution” since it was an excellent year for all of them.

And this rare incident would inspire the name of the 2020 vintage of Ornellaia, and it is anointed with the title ‘La Proporzione’ – translated in English as ‘Proportion’.

2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’

According to Axel, 2020 was a vintage “made out of contrast” as despite it generally being a “fairly warm year”, this general characterization was interrupted by cool weather, rain and a heat spike. “A vintage of fractions and pieces” that at certain snapshots of it would seem disastrous for a fine wine vintage, yet all together and under the proper guidance, it made “balanced and harmonious wines”.  

2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

In comparison to 2019, Axel says 2020 is more on the “herbal” side, yet it is really about “luscious” and “juicy, ripe fruit” that makes it approachable in its youth. He did admit that the past vintage of 2000 came to his mind when trying to find a similar vintage. However, again, there is still that distinct difference of all the grapes varieties, or proportions, of the wine simultaneously ripening that has no counterpart to 2020.

Letting Words Speak for Themselves 

As with past vintages, not only was the newly arrived Ornellaia given a name but it was also given an artist to work within the confines of expressing that name on the bottle. American artist Joseph Kosuth, one of the pioneers of conceptual art, was chosen to take the idea of ‘proportion’ and express it on the bottle. Throughout Joseph’s career, he has used language, images and objects to illustrate concepts, as conceptual art is often defined as the idea behind the piece being more critical than the physical art. One of his biggest projects involved investigating and displaying the etymology (root) of the word ‘water’, and hence, in this case, he shows the etymology for the word ‘wine’ on bottles of the 2020 Ornellaia.

Joseph Kosuth
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

But Joseph wanted to make clear that this piece is not associated with any other work of art he has done, as he can only express ideas that are present in his mind, right here and now, and so, a similarly looking piece like the one based on the root of water was coming from a different mindset than what his mind has evolved to today. At the beginning of his career, Joseph Kosuth employed linguistic tools to protect art from becoming simply decoration or part of the art world scene; he wanted to emphasize that the “why” was more important than the “how”. He even created a series of pieces called Art as Idea as Idea that only displayed dictionary entries instead of the actual material or image of the material. He ultimately took away any artistic interpretation so the viewer could purely experience the ideas of the words.  

The concept of ‘proportion’ was the obvious choice from Ornellaia’s perspective as it represents the ideal proportions of these grapes in the blend that have all come to their perfect state together, making a harmonious wine. Still, Joseph took the idea as representing the “building blocks of meaning” each person brings to every life situation. Some of those things that people bring to various situations can be more evident regarding their language or culture but there are many other things, that can be more influential at times, such as past events in one’s life that might make that person perceive things differently than what his community perceives.

Ornellaia Oak Tree
Ornellaia Oak Tree
Photo Credit: Ornellaia

And despite many observers thinking that much of Joseph Kosuth’s work is about words, he noted, referencing this ‘proportion’ project, that it isn’t about the words and it isn’t about the wine; it is about “our human connection to all of these things.” To Joseph, wine is very personal – “you have a glass in your hand, and you are drinking it, and it is your glass of wine.” It may seem simplistic to describe a work of art in such a way, but people must get back to the basics in these times. People’s relationships with words have become extremely complicated, causing a tremendous amount of division that has led to fellow citizens fervently turning against each other, friendships and family connections being wholly destroyed and constant death threats flung at those on the internet who dare to voice an unpopular opinion.

People need to root themselves in some fundamental, indisputable realities before addressing discrepancies among one another. In that way, there can be a connection made by both conflicting parties over a simple statement, such as each person is drinking a glass of wine that belongs to that person and they are both enjoying each of his wine. It humanizes those combatants, and hence, even though there may never be an agreement over other issues, dehumanizing tendencies don’t take over because both men are connected to each other through their personal connection to that glass of wine.

Harmony Feeling Unsettling 

Humankind losing that beautiful, pure feeling that five-year-old children connect over, such as basic needs, wants and desires, is a tragedy on many levels and that tragedy has only become more dangerous as the world becomes smaller. Even though most people fight the good fight of creating a world that would allow harmony among everyone, unconsciously, harmony is unsettling as it goes against the whole way one lives their life. The concept of “the other” easily allows people to find that sense of belonging.

And there was nothing natural about witnessing all these grape varieties (proportions) on the Ornellaia estate reaching their ideal state together, as it went against the logic formed from past experiences. But it was so evident that Axel couldn’t deny the truth, a man with a practical Bordeaux background, as well as his team of many Bolgheri people with strong personalities who believe in superstition superseding everything else yet there was nothing in their superstition that could prepare them for such an occurrence. 

Something that seemed so strange made a fantastic wine, a wine that gives so much joy right out of the gate. A wine that was created by a mixture of local superstition and outside practicality by using four grape varieties that each reached their ideal state together. It is easy to find harmony for each ‘proportion’ in such rare conditions as each one was given the best conditions to thrive, yet when some are given conditions that hold them back, or stunt their growth, it throws any sense of harmony off balance. 

One day, when the world, through a multitude of adjustments over centuries, finds its balance and sustains it, harmony will reign; it will feel unsettling and make many uncomfortable and there will be a great temptation to bring things back to that unbalanced state. And that is when finding those precious, simple connections will be vital to keep that harmony. “You have a glass in your hand, and you are drinking it, and it is your glass of wine.” That is all one knows, that is all that matters, that is what will keep a true sense of connection and harmony alive. 

***Link to original Forbes article:

2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’
Photo Credit: Ornellaia
2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’ Bolgheri DOC Superiore, Bolgheri, Tuscany: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Many times it is not worth noting the color, yet the color is stunning on this wine with a pristine ruby color that has highlights of purple that has an enchanting nose with blueberry tart and black cherry compote lifted with floral violet aromas with a tinge of fresh sage that dances across the palate with juicy cassis fruit flavors laced with a saline minerality that has a silky, lush texture with lots of energy on the long, expressive finish.

One artistic label designed by Kosuth can be found in each case of six 750ml bottles of Ornellaia 2020, “La Proporzione” (Proportion). This label is printed with a quotation, in English, from Roman Architect Vitruvius (De architectura 3.1.3)*, while the labels on the 100 Double Magnums show an etymological tree of the word wine. The ten Imperials, no two of which are the same, have the same etymological chart etched onto the glass. Each Imperial shows a different branch of this tree highlighted in white, with Vitruvius’ quotation translated into that language or into one of its modern descendants: Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Latin, Italian, Hindi, Hebrew, Modern Greek, Irish, German and Armenian. On the unique Salmanazar, meanwhile, the highlighted branch and Vitruvius’ surrounding words are in English.

Kosuth’s interpretation expresses itself through his design of the labels, both for the 750 ml bottle and for larger formats and culminates in the site-specific artwork designed for the estate itself. Some of the larger, individualized bottles will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s online auction, to be held from September 7th to 21st, 2023 before becoming valued additions to the cellars of the winning collectors.

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The Man Who Saved Cartier Is Now Saving An Ancient Wine Estate

Garden Topiary at Château Lagrézette
Photo Credit: Isabelle Levistre

That dreadful anxiety started to rear its ugly head as the European woman got closer to her destination but seeing the various shades of green that went on forever, only momentarily broken up by the mountain peaks, gave her the courage to continue. Her heart stopped! “What was that sound?!” she muttered to herself. Then her mind began to race. Was it something falling out of the numerous trees? What fell? Did something step on a twig? What was that something? An animal? Or a person hunting? But then, all of a sudden, she could see in the distance some indigenous women with sticks piercing their cheeks and lips. “I need to stop breathing so loud,” the European lady said inside her head as she tried to slowly inhale and exhale as her heart seemed to want to burst within her chest. “Should I be here? Am I doing more harm than good?” But then all doubts subsided as she became engrossed with these pure beings untouched by greed and corruption, although being unaffected by the outside world was no longer going to be the case.

Many years after that moment, Alain Dominique Perrin, the man who is known for saving Cartier, the watchmaker and jeweler, honored this woman, artist and activist Claudia Andujar, for her over 50 years of service in protecting the indigenous people, the Yanomami, in the rainforests and mountains of northern Brazil and Venezuela. 

The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, in collaboration with The Shed in New York City, is currently showing the largest exhibition of Claudia Andujar’s photographs showing the Yanomami tribes, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups, which is remarkable considering that contact with outsiders had been forbidden for centuries especially considering that slave-hunters wiped out other indigenous societies during the early 1600s to the early 1700s.

At the beginning of February, Alain Dominique Perrin was there at the opening of this exhibition on behalf of Cartier to pay homage to a woman who based her life on preserving a way of life for peaceful people who lived in complete harmony with their surroundings. But he was also in New York City for his own personal passion, to talk about his wines from the 15th-century Château Lagrézette estate, in South West France, which took him over 20 years to restore.

Outsiders: To Trust Or Not To Trust

At the tender age of 24, Claudia Andujar moved from Switzerland to Brazil where she picked up a camera for the first time. Her first language was French so she found it easier to communicate with others through her photos. Her pictures were published in top international magazines such as Life, but in the early 1970s, at around 40, she traveled to Yanomami territory to observe the Yanomami people. She innately knew that she would be a mistrusted presence so she decided to make the shocking decision to live there for a year without taking any photographs as she wanted to get to know the Yanomami people and build trust among them.

Alain Dominique Perrin
Photo Credit: Isabelle Levistre

Claudia’s journey seemed like a crazy one with the potential for so much peril and the unbelievable journey of Alain Dominique Perrin, restoring a massive château with its long-neglected vineyards, seemed equally crazy to those in the luxury world who knew him. The multi-generational locals in the tiny town of Caillac, with only around 600 residences, within the wine area of Cahors, where Alain’s beloved Château Lagrézette is located, looked at him with the same distrust Claudia faced with the Yanomani people. Alain was “the establishment,” he noted, and just like other wine regions in France, such as Burgundy, outsiders who buy wine estates force property values up, significantly increasing taxes, making it impossible for future generations to take over family businesses. The people from the cities were seen as ruining the lives of those who were people of the land in the country.

Yet just like Claudia, Alain’s devotion to restoring, and not destroying, was unwavering, as the painful restoration of Château Lagrézette included every little nook as well ancient cups and such within the château, not to mention bringing the soil back to life. Yet Claudia’s role was more about preserving what lived in those rainforests – Mother Nature would handle the restoration.

The Rest of the World taking Notice 

As Claudia built trust among the Yanomani people, she photographed over two decades of a dictatorship opening up the Amazon to mining and the aggressive deforestation of the rainforests that would bring multiple diseases, such as a measles epidemic that killed many of the Yanomami people. Her photos showed the world of such atrocities so the military banned her from visiting the Yanomami people. A Yanomani leader and shaman sought out Claudia to see why she was causing the government so much fear and once they met, she told him that her people were killed with many others by a brutal government, and so, the shaman knew that he could trust her. Her family were Jews who were sent to concentration camps in Poland and Germany, none of whom survived, so she carried a crippling amount of guilt because she couldn’t save them, even though she was only a child at the time. If she couldn’t save her family, she would try to save the Yanomani.  

Château Lagrézette
Photo Credit: Isabelle Levistre

As Claudia was first establishing her relationship with the Yanomami people in the early 1970s, Cartier found itself in bad times with the Cartier family no longer involved in the business. Alain Dominique Perrin was considered a young rising star at Cartier and within a matter of a few years, was leading a strategy based on the finest materials and most skilled artisans to make Cartier one of the most highly prized jewelers in the world. He also declared war on counterfeit luxury goods on the market through the media which included setting fake merchandise ablaze. 

When Alain’s name is mentioned among certain circles in France, one might hear such phrases as, “he is a God,” as he was one of the leading players that brought prestige back to Cartier, creating jobs and revenue for France as well as being a point of pride for the French people. And Alain created Fondation Cartier, the same entity honoring Claudia Andujar’s life work with exhibitions of her photos worldwide. 

But his Cartier legacy is not something that he can pass down to his five children and so he took on another herculean task – the restoration of Château Lagrézette, with vineyards that have documentation, according to Alain, that date back to the 1500s. Like Cartier, throughout everything with Château Lagrézette, he tenaciously wouldn’t accept anything but the best, regarding the castle, the land and the wines, as anything less is not in his DNA. 

“When I started, I had a lot of enemies, and now, I have a lot of friends,” Alain said when talking about his relationships with the locals of Caillac. Just like Claudia Andujar, her mission was to protect the indigenous and their way of life with the privilege and talent she brought with her and the same can be said for Alain. It may seem impossible to get notoriety and success in Caillac, France, while also protecting the local families and their legacies – but if it can be done, there is no better person than the man who brought Cartier from the brink of despair to one of the most prestigious names in the world. 

***Link to original Forbes article:

Lineup of Château Lagrézette wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Château Lagrézette is located in the tiny town of Caillac in the Lot department in South West France, and all of the wines below, except the rosé, may use the Cahors wine appellation. 

Roseberry Rose
Photo Credit: Mel Barlow

2021 Roseberry, Rosé: 100% Malbec from limestone and clay soils. Lots of stony minerality with white strawberry and a hint of raspberry flavors.

2018 Seigneur de Grezette: 85% Malbec and 15% Merlot from plots with silt-clay and gravel soils with 20-year-old vines. Broken rocks, blackcurrants, fresh sage and black raspberry with fine tannins and a spicy finish. 

2019 Chevalier du Château Lagrézette: 100% Malbec from the third terrace on the estate in Kimmeridgian limestone from 30-year-old vines. Tobacco leaf and tree bark on the nose and juicy cassis on the palate with a good weight with an overall elegant shape. 

2016 Château Lagrézette: 100% Malbec from the third terrace of the property with limestone and clay vineyards from 35-year-old vines. A dark and deliciously decadent wine balanced by dried herbs and earthy notes with a silky texture. 

Bottle of Château Lagrézette
Photo Credit: Mel Barlow

2015 Château Lagrézette: 100% Malbec from the third terrace of the property with limestone and clay vineyards from 35-year-old vines. Vibrant with minty aromas and hints of fresh blackberries with lots of complexity with notes of leather, tar and lots of structure, giving it lift on the finish. 

2018 Paragon: 100% Malbec from an exceptional vineyard known as Landiech with soils made up of gravel and clay from very low-yielding grapes. Charming nose of violets and blueberry fruit with layers of delectable flavors such as cinnamon roll and licorice with finely-laced tannins with an overall finesse. 

2015 Le Pigeonnier: 100% Malbec from an outstanding isolated section of a vineyard that produces powerful fruit from 35-year-old vines. Opaque color with dark, brooding fruit that draws one into the glass with black cherry cobbler, smoldering cigar and cedar aromas along the muscularly shaped body with a very long and flavorful finish.

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Winemaker Of Historic Wine Estates In Tuscany And The Mentors That Inspired Him To Make Great Wine

Poggio di Sotto
Photo Credit:
ColleMassari Wine Estates

There was no better place to be for the young Italian boy than sitting next to his grandfather, who was playing cards and sharing his homemade wine with his friends, in the Abruzzo region of Italy as there was always an electric energy in the air created by the deep connections of such intimate gatherings. The young boy came from a multi-generational family of grape growers – no one in the family was a professional winemaker – yet his grandfather was a serious hobbyist in making wine in his home cellar. He spent so much time in his cellar making enough wine for himself and his friends that one would have thought he was a professional but that was the personality of this man, a person intensely driven by his passions. This grandfather was a man of few words when it came to crowded situations with people he didn’t know well. He could be quite reserved at times as he never liked to be the center of attention yet when it came to those he trusted and considered true friends, he was the most generous man in the world.

The young boy would spend a great deal of time with his grandfather in the cellar, helping to rack the wine and clean the barrels, whatever was needed, as his grandfather was his hero, a man who lived life to the fullest. When the boy became a man, losing his grandfather when he was 18, he knew he wanted something in his life that would infuse it with passion like his grandpa; hence he kept up the winemaking hobby.

But as this young man, Luca Marrone, saw his own family struggle to survive selling wine grapes as growers, he knew that he needed to follow a different path when it came to making a living, thus, he started to take law classes at university. Through time, he realized that a career in law was not for him, consequently, he decided to take winemaking and viticulture classes as he realized that he wanted his life to be mainly filled with moments that resembled the life his grandfather lived.

His grandfather was his first mentor, initially placing him on the winemaking path but other mentors would steer his fate to one day overseeing some of the most historic estates in the famous Italian wine region of Tuscany.  

First Job that Continues for 20 Years 

Luca Marrone’s first real job after university was at the historic Super Tuscan estate Grattamacco, the second winery to establish itself in the Super Tuscan area of Bolgheri, being only second to Sassicaia. How did a recent graduate become the winemaker at such an important estate in one of Italy’s most prestigious wine areas? Another key mentor in Luca’s life would have much to do with it, a mentor who would become like a second father, believing in Luca more than he believed in himself.

Castello ColleMassari, an ancient castle that Claudio Tipa restored
Photo Credit: ColleMassari Wine Estates

uring his time at university, Luca was able to intern at a winery in Montecucco, a wine area in the southern section of Tuscany that produces wines made from Sangiovese and hence he was given an opportunity to write about a man named Claudio Tipa in an Italian food and wine magazine called Gambero Rosso, as Claudio was making a considerable investment in Montecucco, one of the last areas in Tuscany left in the economic depression that started after the Second World War. Luca was excited at the prospect of a new endeavor lifting this neglected area out of poverty so he sought an internship at Claudio’s estate called ColleMassari yet there was no winery at that time and they were using their neighbor’s winery. So he decided to intern at ColleMassari’s neighbor, Salustri; both wineries would eventually establish the Montecucco appellation and promote this unknown Tuscan wine area worldwide.

Luca enjoyed working at Salustri and often ate dinner with the family at their home but he didn’t know that Claudio Tipa would be staying at a house on the Salustri property and coming into the winery almost every day. Claudio would even join the Salustri family dinners where Luca could interact with him informally. But when he inquired about the winemaker’s position at ColleMassari among the employees who worked there, he was told that they were looking for someone with more experience and there was already another young man who better fit the bill.

Shortly after he left the internship, he went to a wine tasting where he ran into Claudio Tipa again and Claudio inquired if Luca had found a job yet and Luca answered that he was still looking. Surprisingly, Claudio asked Luca, “Why don’t you interview for the winemaking position at ColleMassari?” Despite Luca knowing they were going to go with someone else, he accepted out of respect for Claudio.

It was a good interview with Claudio Tipa at the winery regarding their good rapport. Luca was happy to spend more time with a man he greatly admired but then Claudio said he wasn’t in a hurry to select someone, although Luca quickly chimed back, “I understand, but I am in a hurry.” In three days, Luca would be going to the esteemed Gaja winery in Piedmont for an interview to work with a legendary winemaker who taught seminars at his university. If they offered him the job, he would have to accept and after explaining the situation, Claudio abruptly picked up the phone and called the general manager of his winery and said, “We have a new winemaker.”

A Legend Who Teaches the Purity of Sangiovese

Wine cellar at ColleMassari
Photo Credit:
ColleMassari Wine Estates

After working at ColleMassari for a little over just a month, one day Luca was told to pack his bags as he would live in Bolgheri starting the next day and become the winemaker for the historic Super Tuscan estate Grattamacco. This was over 20 years ago and when Luca looks back at it now, he laughs because, at the time, he didn’t want to go. “I didn’t know anybody there, I didn’t know the winery, the vineyards,” Luca remarked. And not only did he have the challenge of the Grattamacco team looking at him as an outsider as he was new to the area and he had very little experience but it was the extremely difficult 2003 – a vintage that was so unexpectedly hot that people in Europe died because of the heat. 

But today, he always has lunch and dinner with his team and has a close relationship with them. He is tremendously grateful that he became the winemaker of such an excellent estate at the beginning of his career.

Luca ended up spending a lot of time with the founder of Grattamacco since he wound up living near him and over dinner, they would talk about the vineyards and the importance of being true to the terroir. Regarding the idea of irrigation in the vineyards, the founder of Grattamacco would say, ‘We don’t waste terroir with water.” Luca kept those words close to his heart but as more vintages became hot and dry, the agronomists encouraged Luca to open the valves to the irrigation lines, which he agreed to yet when night came he turned them off. Today, he understands that the words about not wasting terroir with water were spoken with different climatic conditions in mind. If one doesn’t give water to the vines during particular vintages, they will shut down, so it is a matter of survival.

Since word got around that Claudio Tipa was doing a great job keeping the integrity of the Grattamacco estate, he was given the opportunity to buy another historic wine estate in 2011 but this time in the Tuscan wine area of Montalcino, Poggio di Sotto. Not only was it an estate that crafted some of the purest expressions of the Sangiovese grape from older vines that included over 120 different biotypes1 but it also had a legendary consultant known as one of the great masters of Sangiovese, Giulio Gambelli.

Giulio was at the end of his life when Luca worked with him at Poggio di Sotto yet he learned so much. Until then, Luca only knew Giulio as a great giant of the Tuscan wine world, someone he could only dream of meeting. Still, life has a funny way of working out as Luca spent a significant amount of time with Giulio at his home as he had problems getting around, so he wanted the wine samples to be brought to him. “He was in the stage of his life where he was more about giving than taking,” Luca said of his time with Giulio Gambelli. Luca could sense that Giulio was fond of him by how much he trusted him and despite Giulio passing away a couple of years from the time he met him, Luca knew that in his “heart” it was enough time to understand how to manage the “purity of Sangiovese.”

Poggio di Sotto doesn’t decide what vines will become Brunello di Montalcino versus Rosso di Montalcino in the vineyards, the former being more serious with a longer aging potential and the latter being more friendly and generous earlier; instead, they wait two years after it has aged in neutral casks before making such a decision. One time, when Luca and the team were conducting tastings to choose which wines were to be Brunello and which were Rosso, they ran up against a major problem – the second blind tasting of what they thought should be Brunello and Rosso was utterly different than the first blind tasting.

Luca Marrone
Photo Credit:
ColleMassari Wine Estates

“How could this be?” Luca thought in a panicked state. The only thing he could think to do was to bring the samples to Giulio Gambelli at his home. Giulio was a man of few words and didn’t like to be in the spotlight; instead, he preferred to focus intensely on the work, although his face said everything. As Luca respectfully stood there observing Giulio taste the wines, he could see by a look in his eyes that told him, “this is a Rosso,” or his eyes would get really bright and he knew “this was a Brunello.” Luca would taste along with him and once Giulio’s eyes told him all that he needed to know, he would say to himself, “Yes, this is definitely a Brunello. How was I not able to identify it before?”

At that moment, when Giulio Gambelli told him everything he needed to know about tasting and picking blends of Sangiovese, he flashed back to working with his grandfather in his home cellar as he had a similar personality of being a quiet man who threw himself into his passions. Luca’s grandfather made very basic wine that was nowhere near the level of the legendary Gambelli. Still, they were both men who communicated with their bright eyes filled with so much life, making Luca want to feel just as alive as they did.

No one continues to make wine in Luca’s grandfather’s cellar. Sadly, the little local restaurant where his grandpa would play cards with friends while sharing his wine doesn’t exist anymore. Still, Luca is following in his grandfather’s footsteps, maybe unimaginably because back then, who could have ever imagined that a kid from Abruzzo would be leading some of Italy’s most prestigious wine estates in Tuscany? But he is living a life based on passion, on deep connections and rooted in a community that is doing everything in their power to keep that passion alive and that is all his grandpa ever wanted for him.

***Link to original article on Forbes:

Lineup of ColleMassari Wine Estates
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2016 Castello ColleMassari, Poggio Lombrone, Sangiovese Riserva, Montecucco, Tuscany: 100% Sangiovese from the section of the vineyard with Sangiovese over 50 years old; the vineyard is located at almost 1,000 feet in elevation directly across from Montalcino. A pristine expression of Sangiovese with bright red cherries, spices and floral notes on the nose with well-integrated tannins and a lifted finish.

2017 Poggio di Sotto, Rosso di Montalcino, Montalcino, Tuscany: 100% Sangiovese from the Poggio di Sotto estate which has become the benchmark for many classic Brunello di Montalcino wines. This baby brother Rosso is still excellent as much of the wine they blend into it could be used as Brunello by many other estates but does not qualify for the high standard for Poggio di Sotto Brunello. Hence, it is a Rosso on a much higher level than most and equal to some other Brunello. Crushed rocks and fresh tobacco on the nose with a wonderful fleshiness on the palate that gives a round and lovely texture with lots of black fruit, finishing with savory spices.  

2017 San Giorgio, Ugolforte, Brunello di Montalcino, Montalcino, Tuscany: 100% Sangiovese from the San Giorgio estate. Luca said that this property is a continuation of the prestigious Poggio di Sotto estate as not only are the two properties right next to each other but they share similar soils, climatic conditions and exposures and so it is considered a second wine to Poggio di Sotto. Luca noted that Poggio di Sotto is more elegant with an overall finesse compared to the more structured San Giorgio. This Brunello packs a punch with tons of juicy, concentrated layers of red and black fruits with crushed rose petals and slightly firm tannins yet the purity of Sangiovese can still express itself despite the power.

2015 Grattamacco, Bolgheri Superiore, Bolgheri, Tuscany: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese. The 2015 Bolgheri Superiore Grattamacco is big, bold and absolutely stunning and it is built to age with its intense power and concentration. The rich flavors of plum pie are balanced by the depth of complexity of cigar notes with hints of cured meats finishing with silky tannins and a bright cranberry note. 2015 is a great vintage that produced big, bold, stunning wines.

2017 Grattamacco, Bolgheri Superiore, Bolgheri, Tuscany: 35th-anniversary edition; Blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese. A surprising saline minerality to this wine with dried cranberry fruit and fresh herbs with some grip to the big-shouldered tannins that is ideal with a nice steak. 2017 was a hot, dry vintage.

2018 Grattamacco, Bolgheri Superiore, Bolgheri, Tuscany: Blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese. Luca calls this a classic vintage that overall was cooler. Blackcurrant leaves and fresh thyme on the nose with vibrant black cherry fruit on the palate intermixed with underbrush notes and a more linear body with lots of vitality.

2019 Grattamacco, Bolgheri Superiore, Bolgheri, Tuscany: Blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Sangiovese. Warmer weather but not as hot or dry as the 2017. A seamlessly beautiful wine with delicious blue fruit such as blueberry tart and an enchanting background of aromas such as rose oil and lavender sea salt that has an incredible density and a long, silky finish.

1Biotypes (a.k.a. clones) are the same variety of grape yet distinguish same variety vines with slightly different qualities within a sub-category of another biotype name.

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Former Top Hollywood Executive’s Napa Wines Display Qualities Of A Highly Successful, Classic Movie

The juxtaposition of the elegance and charm of Paris, with its limestone buildings accented by intricate wrought iron balconies, with the chaotic traffic fueled by aggressive drivers didn’t faze the American executive in the back of a taxi as it weaved in and out of traffic. The executive was focusing on a crucial phone call as he was one of the few in the world with a cell phone. Serendipitously, the song “Oh, Pretty Woman” came on the radio, and a light bulb went off in the executive’s mind. “Call it Pretty Woman,” he firmly stated, and at that moment, one of the most successful rom-com (romantic comedy) movies of all time found the perfect name, helping it to achieve great success.  

Rich Frank
Photo Credit: Frank Family Vineyards

That executive in the car was Richard H. Frank, known to those around him as Rich. Describing Rich’s career in Hollywood as illustrious doesn’t do it complete justice as he is one of the most well-known people in the industry who is not known at all to the general public. He has a long list of iconic TV shows and top movies that were made under his stewardship. From 1985 to 1994, he was the president of Disney Studios and that faithful call he received in a taxi that day was about the issue of the title of the movie. Hundreds of movie projects fall through the cracks all the time, and so, not finding a great title could certainly sink the project, especially since Disney valued their family-friendly, wholesome image and they already had many reservations about producing such a film.

Yet Rich came to the rescue, as he had so many times, and the film shocked many in the industry as, at the time, it became the most successful rom-com in movie history and catapulted Julia Roberts into a megastar. The movie illustrated that a story can still be heartwarming while touching upon unsavory aspects of society. However, Rich would not only make his mark in the entertainment business but he would carve a name for himself in the wine world with the establishment of Frank Family Vineyards.

Frank Family Vineyards 

Frank Family’s Hospitiality Center
Photo Credit: Frank Family Vineyards

Since opening its doors in 1993, Frank Family has built a strong following over the years as their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines have always stood out as having the concentration that is expected, balanced with a jaw-dropping finesse that always stands out in a blind tasting.  

And the winemaking life hooked Rich in once he bought a property in the legendary Rutherford wine-growing area of Napa Valley back in 1990, which included a classic Tudor home with a hillside planted next to a small vineyard. He planned to use it as a weekend home to get away from the fast pace of the city but once he started selling the fruit to neighboring producers and his “phone started ringing off the hook from wineries” wanting his grapes, he knew he had something that was “very special.” That estate vineyard would become known as Winston Hill, after his Springer-Spaniel who had the best life any dog could have, running through the vineyards chasing birds, hence protecting the grape bunches.

In 2018, Frank Family founded “Frank for a Cause,” an annual fundraiser that has included seven campaigns raising money for non-profit organizations. Currently, they are raising money for K9s for Warriors as Rich has a deep love for dogs and a strong commitment to supporting veterans, as his father, Hy, served in World War II.

Kornell Champagne Cellars
Photo Credit: Frank Family Vineyards

There is so much history to the Frank Family winery (“old” Larkmead winery) as wine has been made there for over a century; in the mid-1900s, it was bought by Hanns Kornell. Hanns would bring the Champagne method to California to focus solely on producing excellent sparkling wines. And Rich Frank has kept that tradition by making a small quantity of top California sparkling wine to this day.

Wine Label 

The fascinating history that is part of the foundation of the Frank Family Vineyards, is prominently displayed on most of their wine labels with a drawing of the “old” Larkmead winery. Yet the history is not only rooted in winemaking but a uniquely great woman, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who lived in the “old” Larkmead stone building starting in the mid-1800s before it was converted into a winery – she is the one who gave the place its name. She was considered an oddity for her time as she smoked cigars, wore pants and often dressed like a man so she could take part in her favorite pastime – gambling. She was obsessed with firefighters and many thought she wanted to be a firefighter herself. She became known as the firefighter patroness as she supported them in numerous ways. Still, today she is most known for leaving behind a big part of her fortune to the City of San Francisco, which was used to build the Coit Tower, a structure that offers panoramic views over the city.

Winemaker Todd Graff (center), assistant winemaker Corey Garner (right) and cellar master Armando Padilla (left)
Photo Credit: Frank Family Vineyards

Frank Family winemaker and general manager Todd Graff says that the label is a funny story because Rich Frank had probably been in hundreds of marketing meetings when he worked for Hollywood production companies, coming up with posters for future movies. But when it came to the label of his winery, nothing else but showcasing the history would do.

And yes, many have asked Rich when he will change the labels to a more fresh and contemporary look, but his answer is always “never.”

Embracing Power In All Its Forms 

The beautiful harmony of intense concentration and elegance in the Frank Family wines indicates how Rich appreciates power in all its forms. He has certainly lived a life where he has been drawn to powerful women.

His wife, Leslie Frank, has had her own impressive career as an Emmy Award-winning journalist. She has been a great help in improving Frank Family’s communications and marketing strategies and coordinating their charity initiatives. Knowing his respect for strong women, it is no wonder that he would be drawn to the former home of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, or that one of his greatest movie successes was Pretty Woman, a film based on a very powerful female lead that took the most unlikely form.

And that understanding, that the best kind of power uplifts instead of dominates, helped him to create a winery that makes Napa Cabernet wines that illustrate power with a breathtaking finesse. Like a young woman from a small town who ends up down the wrong road only to have her life changed by a man who makes a lot of money… yet she walks away from it all as she won’t compromise on a relationship based on love and respect, and in the process, saves him from his empty life.

***Link to original article on Forbes:

2021 Frank Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2016 Frank Family Vineyards,
Blanc de Blancs Sparkling
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2016 Frank Family Vineyards, Blanc de Blancs Sparkling, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Chardonnay from the coolest part of their Lewis Vineyard in Carneros. The Lewis Vineyard is named after Rich’s eldest grandson. Chalky minerality with orange blossom and lemon confit with lots of vitality and mouthwatering acidity with citrus zest and a saline finish.

2021 Frank Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Chardonnay from their estate Lewis Vineyard as well as famous grower Andy Beckstoffer’s neighboring LakeVineyard and Sangiacomo Vineyards located in the Sonoma section of Carneros, among others. Slight hint of hazelnut and wet stones on the nose and vibrant flavors along the textured body with notes of peach skin, juicy nectarine and a touch of grated nutmeg with bright acidity.

2020 Frank Family Vineyards,
Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Frank Family Vineyards, Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Chardonnay from their Lewis Vineyard. Lots of acidity with an intense electric energy about this wine that is greatly complemented by a saline minerality that is balanced by rich flavors of lemon custard and hints of toasted almonds.

2021 Frank Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Their Lewis Vineyard provides the foundation for this wine as well as Beckstoffer Vineyards in Napa-Carneros and Sangiacomo Vineyards located in the Sonoma section of Carneros. Lovely aromas of jasmine flower with red cherries and baking spices with an elegant texture and tannins that are like ribbons of silk with bright acidity and lots of finesse on the finish; Frank Family didn’t make red wines in 2020 because of the record-setting year of wildfires in California.  

2019 Frank Family Vineyards,
Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Frank Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot sourced mainly from their S&J Vineyard (named after Rich’s grandchildren, Stella and Jeremy) in Napa’s Capell Valley and their Benjamin Vineyard located on the valley floor in the heart of Rutherford. Additional vineyard sources include Quarry Vineyard and Round Pond Estate, both in Rutherford, as well as Delouise and Shooting Star Vineyard, located in Napa Valley. Elegant from the start, with fresh black cherries, pristine raspberry aromas with crushed rocks and a deeply concentrated mid-palate with a round, inviting texture.

2018 Frank Family Vineyards,
Winston Hill
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2018 Frank Family Vineyards, Winston Hill, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot from the Winston Hill Vineyard. This is their flagship wine as it is Frank Family’s original estate vineyard that is located 500 feet above the valley floor in the eastern edge of Rutherford. It is named after Rich’s English Springer-Spaniel, Winston, who loved running up and down the hills among the vines, chasing birds and protecting the crop. Multilayered wine with rich flavors of blackberry preserves and black cherry pie with a sensual texture that is out of this world with complex layers of tobacco leaf and sandalwood with a long, flavorful finish that has that overall classic Frank Family characteristic of elegance.

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Italian Wine Producer Reminisces About Past Truffle Hunts In New York City’s Central Park

As a group of people were led by a very enthusiastic dog, they were sometimes distracted by the diverse natural beauty of their surroundings – gentle slopes that were accented by a range of colorful autumn trees one minute and the next minute, a swath of flat grassy land that would lead to rocky ravines. From the viewpoint of onlookers, it was just a bunch of people going for a fast-paced walk with an adorable Lagotto dog that seemed like a living stuffed animal with its abundant curly, wool-ish coat. Even though some dog owners passed the Lagotto dog with their own dogs, she wasn’t dissuaded from her mission as her owner gave her an important task. Truffles, she was searching for truffles! In New York City’s Central Park of all places!

Tony May, a famous New York City restaurateur and fierce promoter of authentic Italian cuisine was behind these truffle hunts in the 1990s. His elegant Italian restaurant, San Domenico, located across the street from Central Park, opened in 1988 to rave reviews and one of the main signatures of his establishment was using top-quality truffles from Piedmont, Italy, in various dishes. Fiorenzo Dogliani, the family owner of Beni di Batasiolo – a winery in Piedmont, Italy, reminisced about the good ol’ days as he had lunch at Marea, a fantastic Italian fine dining restaurant that eventually took over the space where San Domenico used to be located. Fiorenzo expressed a warm laugh of delight as he talked about all those glorious truffles Tony would bring in – 110 to 132 lbs of truffle at a time. “There was somebody who took a flight every day to go to Milan to buy truffles [for Tony during truffle season],” exclaimed Fiorenzo. And he further noted that “one kilo” of white truffles, which is the equivalent of 2.2 pounds, can be worth “$8,000”.

Truffles and Barolo 

Bussia Bofani estate
Photo Credit: Beni di Batasiolo

Truffles grow wild in the forests of the Langhe province of Piedmont and they can typically be found underground near the roots of trees. A great deal of training goes into educating the right dog to become a truffle dog as the animal needs to be able to find these truffles underground by sniffing them out while at the same time refraining from trying to eat them. The Lagotto Romagnolo (a.k.a. Lagotto) is the dog of choice in Italy for finding truffles, with females preferred as often they have a better-developed sense of smell.

Fiorenzo Dogliani and his family certainly know the great expression of terroir these beautiful truffles add to a dish as they are the largest family-owned winery in the Langhe, with most of their vineyards planted with Nebbiolo in the distinguished wine area of Barolo. And so, the Dogliani family has truffle as well as Barolo in their blood, and like so many others, considers Barolo and truffles to be one of the most incredible pairings in the world.

Fiorenzo Dogliani
Photo Credit: Beni di Batasiolo

Beni di Batasiolo is a third-generation family owned winery that first invested in the Langhe in the late 1970s with a focus on premium vineyards in the acclaimed Barolo appellation1. Today, they are the largest family-owned winery in the region, with 70% of their production coming from Barolo among their 321 acres of vineyards. Fiorenzo owns Beni di Batasiolo with his brothers and sisters yet he is the one who has been put in charge of taking on the role of managing director for over 30 years, receiving many accolades for his contribution to the Italian wine world.

Traditionally, Barolo was a wine made up of a blend of different vineyards from various sub-sections of the Barolo appellation, and so, it gave an expression of the myriad of facets of this terroir.  Today, that is still considered by many producers to be their flagship wine, as it is the most important wine in terms of reaching the most amount of consumers. Recently though, there has been a focus in Barolo on bottlings of single cru vineyards from outstanding parcels, which were plots always known to top producers as being special yet were never individually bottled by many of these producers as there was no market for such wines. Beni di Batasiolo, with Fiorenzo leading the way, has brought a focus to these special plots by bottling many of these incredible vineyards starting more than three decades ago, and their commitment to single vineyard expression from top crus in Barolo is even in their name, as “beni” translates into “estate” and “Batasiolo” is their central vineyard where their winery and cellar is located.

Symbiotic Relationships 

Beni di Batasiolo vineyards
Photo Credit: Beni di Batasiolo

Truffles have a symbiotic relationship with the trees that live above ground within the vicinity where they typically grow underground as the truffle will give additional water and nutrients to the tree and the tree rewards the truffle with sugars. It is like the relationship between Fiorenzo Dogliani and Tony May, as Tony was on a mission to bring authentic Italian fine dining to NYC but it would be nothing without the right wines on the list. And Fiorenzo’s Barolos could never be appreciated if they were not served in an atmosphere that appreciated the fact that some of the greatest wines in the world were Italian. And since Piedmont wasn’t a popular place to visit back in the 1990s, it was essential to somehow transport people to this exceptional food and wine region without having to leave New York City, and hence, why the truffle hunts were a brilliant idea.

Today, Piedmont has become a popular place to visit in Italy and many have been able to go directly to the motherland, taking truffle hunting and winetasting tours, so there is not so much of a dire need to recreate the truffle hunt again in NYC. Beni di Batasiolo has even opened its own luxurious resort and spa in the Serralunga d’Alba part of Piedmont called Il Boscareto, which has a stellar wine list that carries all the wine producers in the Barolo designated area. But Fiorenzo still remembers those truffle hunts in Central Park that took place around 20 years ago like it was yesterday and those memories are even more prominent in his mind now, as his good friend Tony May died last year in April.

And he still misses those New York City truffle hunts, although he misses the man behind them a lot more.  

***Link to original article published on Forbes:

Beni di Batasiolo tasting at Marea in NYC
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Beni di Batasiolo, Gavi del Comune di Gavi Granée: 100% Cortese. When it comes to high-quality white wines in Piedmont, Gavi tops the list. This 2021 was simply lovely with blanched almonds and wet river stones on the nose with a hint of thyme with good tension on the palate and a bright lemon confit flavor with lots of energy.

2012 Beni di Batasiolo, Barolo Riserva: 100% Nebbiolo. Supple tannins with lots of juicy black cherry fruit with rosemary oil and campfire ash with a sustained, flavorful finish.

The following five single vineyard cru wines come from the 2013 vintage. According to Fiorenzo Dogliani’s wife, Paola Marrai, who helps him run the winery, 2013 was a good year for the Nebbiolo grape in Piedmont as it was a late harvest “about 15 days later.” So there was more balance with ripeness as the skins had more time to mature. Also, there were big swings in temperatures between the day and night right before harvest, so, lovely aromatics were retained while also reaching an ideal level of ripeness for the grapes. 

2013 Beni di Batasiolo, Brussia Vigneto Bofani, Barolo: 100% Nebbiolo. A pretty nose with pressed rose petals and black licorice with a hint of tar adds to the complexity of the aromas and a slight grip to the tannins mid-palate, yet the finish has lots of finesse.

2013 Beni di Batasiolo, Brunate, Barolo: 100% Nebbiolo. Complex nose from the start with crushed rocks, wild mushrooms and fresh leather with a silky texture and round palate with lots of fleshy cassis fruit.

2013 Beni di Batasiolo, Cerequio, Barolo: 100% Nebbiolo. Enchanting nose with lilacs, baking spices and crushed white pepper that has bright red cherries on the palate intermixed with a chalky minerality and sculpted tannins that suggest that it will make great old bones.  

2013 Beni di Batasiolo, Boscareto, Barolo: 100% Nebbiolo. Deliciously generous with red currant chutney over blackberry cobbler balanced by notes of fresh basil leaves and cracked black pepper with big, broad tannins that finished with incense and dried flower aromas.

2013 Beni di Batasiolo, Briccolina, Barolo: 100% Nebbiolo. Concentrated dried red cherries with dusty earth and sweet tobacco leaf on the nose that opens up with juicy fruit on the full-bodied palate with mouthwatering acidity.

The following is the same vineyard yet from 1996, and hence, 17 years older.

1996 Beni di Batasiolo, Briccolina, Barolo: 100% Nebbiolo. Enticing nose of truffle and grilled lamb makes this wine irresistible, with still lots of fresh fruit and vitality with jasmine tea and tar dancing across the seamlessly integrated tannins.

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2 Million Wine Bottles In The Cellar Of One Of The Most Prestigious Italian Wine Producers

Library of Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico wines Photo Credit: Cantine Bertani

The antique lights, with their long necks connected to the otherworldly vaulted ceilings, gave a soft, warm glow to the never-ending wine barrels lining the stone walls. All those Slavonian oak casks filled with delicious wines emitted the most intoxicating smells and gave a thrill to those in their presence. Yet the most awe-inspiring experience was further down the corridors of the cellar, where numerous cubicles with iron gates kept some of the most precious items locked away. The Amarone wines of Bertani were tucked away in those cellars, and by the mid-1980s, over two million bottles of Amarone della Valpolicella Classico were kept safely within the Cantine Bertani wine cellars located in Valpolicella, Italy.

And despite Amarone not finding a market until the 1980s, family owner Guglielmo Bertani kept making these elegantly complex Amarone wines for decades, and so, he cellared them away until, over time, two million bottles were collected.

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico

Barrels in the Bertani cellar
Photo Credit: Cantine Bertani

The historic wine producer Bertani might have been established in the 1850s by the Bertani brothers but their legend began when Amarone was born in the 1950s. During the ’50s, the great wine of Valpolicella was the sweet red wine called Recioto della Valpolicella as it was a wine made from grapes that were harvested and left on straw mats to dry for some time; due to the drying process, a significant amount of water would evaporate leaving the grapes more concentrated with flavors and sugars. During the fermentation process, once a certain alcohol level was reached, the fermentation was arrested, leaving enough residual sugar to make it a sweet wine. But in the 1950s, a few producers had some of their Recioto fermentations go too long, to the point where all the sugars had fermented into alcohol and the Amarone dry wine was born.  

In 1958, when Guglielmo Bertani was first faced with the magic elixir that would become known as Amarone in his barrels that usually made Recioto, he was highly intrigued by this succulent, multifaceted wine. Since he knew very little about making a serious dry red wine, he sought the help of a winemaker from the Piedmont region of Italy, famous for the iconic Barolo wines. The winemaker knew nothing about Amarone or the soils and native grape varieties of Valpolicella but the more he tasted those Amarone barrels, the more he fell in love with the wines. He ended up partnering with Guglielmo as the winemaker for Bertani. They would unite to make Amarone wines on the same level as the best Barolos, based on expressing the terroir of the best plots in Valpolicella. Guglielmo continued his promise to devote himself to making Amarone, whether it sold or not.

Today, the director of winemaking of Bertani, Andrea Lonardi, gives an idea of the market demands back in the 1980s and before, as he said, when it came to the total sales of Recioto and Amarone before the ’80s, it was broken down into 98% Recioto and 2% Amarone, then ten years later it was 50/50, but today it is 99% Amarone and 1% Recioto.  


Andrea Lonardi holding up white limestone and red limestone from Bertani’s vineyards
Photo Credit: Cantine Bertani

A few factors make Bertani unique within the realm of Amarone producers in Valpolicella. The first is their soils – despite having a combination of limestone and red limestone which is typical in top vineyards, they also have the most amount of volcanic soils as Andrea Lonardi noted that Bertani owns almost 70% of the vineyards with volcanic soils in the designated Valpolicella area; giving a distinctive “iron” note to their wines as they age. The second is their drying process, typically called “appassimento” by other Amarone producers, yet they use the “messa a riposo” rules, which translates into “laying out to rest.” Today, many Amarone producers use rooms where the drying process takes place, controlling the temperature and humidity. Instead, Bertani places the grapes on a single layer of bamboo racks to dry in natural conditions, selecting 30% of their top selection of the harvest.

Drying process “messa a riposo”
Photo Credit: Cantine Bertani

For Bertani, the drying process isn’t just a method, it is part of the expression of the terroir within a particular time frame. That time frame doesn’t only end with harvesting the grapes but it ends once the drying process has finished and so the vintage is an expression of what happens during the growing season and the drying process. Also, another layer to the theory of the drying process being part of the expression of place are the research studies conducted in Valpolicella that show the main grape variety used for Amarone, Corvina, will go through genetic alterations, that heighten the terroir expression, during the drying process that has been linked to specific plots within the Valpolicella wine area.

And the third factor is that Bertani releases their Amarone wines seven to eight years later than most Amarone producers, as their 2012 was just released. The wines age in Slavonian oak casks until they are released and Andrea estimates that they lose an equivalent of 25,000 bottles of wine due to the wine evaporating in the barrel. “And so, it means in ten years, we are losing 250,000 bottles,” exclaimed Andrea, and he further described the multilayered complexity created by the wines evolving in barrel for several years but also the addition of young Amarone wine, as topping up the barrels is necessary and so the last two vintages are used; the fresh fruit combined with the aged aromas and flavors make Bertani Amarone a “light and succulent wine.”

Andrea Lonardi leading a vertical tasting of Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico in New York City Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

After leading a vertical of Bertani Amarone wines at The Modern restaurant in New York City recently, Andrea marveled at the 1967, how it was like an “Italian sword” with that iron quality evident in the wine with an oxidative evolution while still having a lot of tension that was fierce in its delivery on the palate. He noted that it was like a great old Barolo as he made the point, “This is what we want to drink when we say we want to drink an Italian wine!” And he is thankful to work for an iconic winery with an extensive Amarone library that includes 45 vintages. Although they no longer have two million bottles, Andrea is sure they have at least over 100,000 bottles in the cellar but they haven’t done an official count. And they are still committed to cellaring around 7,000 to 10,000 bottles of every vintage to ensure their customers will always have access to several decade-old bottles.

And that commitment started all those years ago with Guglielmo Bertani continuing his passion of making Amarone and cellaring it, hence tying up tons of capital waiting for the market to possibly gain interest in it, which wasn’t for decades. “There will be a moment when the market will change and this is the most beautiful present that I can give to my nephews,” Guglielmo said in response to those who thought he had gone mad. And thank goodness he wasn’t afraid to follow his passion, as many might have never experienced the true “Italian sword” that a great Amarone becomes in time.

***Link to original article on Forbes:

Lineup of Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico vertical Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Bertani, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, vertical:

1967: High-toned red fruit with zingy cranberry, saline minerality, a bolt of iron with dried red cherries on the palate with intense energy and marked acidity with an overall lightness of being.

1975: Crushed rocks, lit incense sticks and rosebud aromatics that expand in the mouth with savory flavors of dried oregano and truffles with lots of volume on the body.

1987: Vibrant right off the bat with a complex mixture of tar and crushed black cherries with a slight grip on the tannins balanced by good flesh on the mid-palate with a long, expressive finish with fresh flowers and baking spices.

1998: Pristine blackberry fruit, cocoa nibs and star anise with a broad palate and fully integrated tannins with juicy black fruit on the finish.

2000: Enchanting floral nose with pretty notes of cinnamon and nutmeg with a mineral backbone giving notes of broken limestone with round tannins.

2005: A perfumed nose with charming red fruit and crumbly chalk aromas with a touch of smoky minerality with black tea leaves and a linear body with lots of drive on the long, expressive finish.

2011: Sweet tobacco leaf and dried smoked cherries with blackcurrant strudel and fresh leather with lots of structure, freshness and ample tannins that will give this wine a ridiculously long life.

2012: The purity of fruit is stunning with red raspberries and wild mulberries with pretty violet and pressed rose petal notes and a saline minerality in the background with finely etched tannins. Extremely elegant.

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