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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/03/10/a-great-italian-white-wine-family-loses-their-leader-leaving-his-daughter-to-take-the-reins/

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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/03/08/super-star-tuscan-wine-unveils-2020-vintage-and-experiences-for-the-first-time-perfection-for-all-grape-varieties/

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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/03/09/the-man-who-saved-cartier-is-now-saving-an-ancient-wine-estate/

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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/02/21/winemaker-of-historic-wine-estates-in-tuscany-and-the-mentors-that-inspired-him-to-make-great-wine/

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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/02/02/former-top-hollywood-executives-napa-wines-display-qualities-of-a-highly-successful-classic-movie/

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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/01/17/truffle-hunt-with-italian-wine-producer-in-new-york-citys-central-park/

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: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/12/17/2-million-wine-bottles-in-the-cellar-of-one-of-the-most-prestigious-italian-wine-producers/

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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$1,000 Bottle Of Champagne Demonstrates Bollinger As A Pinot Noir Fine Wine Specialist

Roasted hazelnuts, dried lilacs and honeysuckle soared through the air as the aromatics emanated from the glass to thrill and excite the intended drinker. As the wine caressed the palate, flavors of cranberry tart and baked golden apples with hints of cinnamon stick delighted along the creamy texture. And on the finish, the crisp freshness was pure magic when it combined with the fine, tiny bubbles that sensually glided along the mouth. An outstanding Champagne that is more than just a Champagne, a fine wine that is distinctive with a strong sense of place, deep concentration and overall elegance that is on par with an exquisite Grand Cru Burgundy. It is the 2012 Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’, which is a 100% Pinot Noir Champagne from the Grand Cru village of Aÿ, and it is an exceptional monopole vineyard that the Bollinger family has owned for centuries.

Oak barrels at Champagne Bollinger
Photo Credit: Champagne Bollinger

This is Bollinger’s first release of a single vineyard, representing many key pillars of this famous Champagne house. They have been run by the same family since the early 1800s; it has always been a family business focused on owning a large amount of vineyards themselves – today approximately totaling 445 acres. Pinot Noir has always been a strong focus, with the Bollinger house located in the middle of the Grand Cru village of Aÿ, surrounded by vineyards. This village is famous for having some of the best Pinot Noir grapes in the Champagne wine region.

Classic Bollinger

For many Bollinger fans, it has been the Champagne that drank like a fine wine as even its non-vintage has a multi-layer complexity, deep concentration and that classic creamy texture that could hold up to a serious multi-course meal. They have always stayed true to their foundation which is built on a majority of Pinot Noir grapes in their blend as their flagship Bollinger Non-Vintage Brut Special Cuvée has 60% Pinot Noir, a high proportion of reserve wines (wines that have been held back for several years) that can range from a jaw-dropping 50-60% and to make it even more astonishing, 1/3 of the reserve wines in their cellars have been aged in magnum bottles for an average of ten years. Finally, a portion of the wines are initially fermented in small Burgundy oak barrels.

Bollinger vineyards
Photo Credit: Eric Vanden

And Bollinger fans could always depend on the house to keep these ridiculously high standards as well as never altering their principles to appease the latest trend, such as making Blanc de Blancs Champagne, made from 100% Chardonnay. As Bollinger’s managing director Charles-Armand de Belenet likes to say, “Bollinger is about Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir.” And it is serendipitous that he should be the managing director of such a globally renowned Champagne house that, in reality, is like a small Burgundy producer, owning its own vineyards and devoted to showing the terroir of those plots that have been in the family for generations, as Charles-Armand is from a tiny winemaking family in Burgundy.

100% Pinot Noir Terroir-Driven Wines

“This is a big change for Bollinger as the last new innovation was Bollinger Rosé, and that was about ten years ago, and now we have three new wines. It is a very exciting time for us,” exclaimed Charles-Armand as he started to talk about their new Pinot Noir projects. The projects include Vieilles Vignes Françaises (old pre-phylloxera Pinot Noir vines), Bollinger PN wines and the single vineyard ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ Champagne. When one considers how long Bollinger has kept offerings to a limited selection, with the last addition, a Rosé Champagne, added around a decade ago, it is quite the adventure for them now to dive into these very ambitious projects.

Pinot Noir grape bunch in Bollinger’s vineyard Photo Credit: Eric Vanden

The Bollinger PN represents a 100% Pinot Noir Champagne with a majority of the fruit from the same village and vintage. For example, the current release, PN TX17 has a majority of Pinot Noir grapes from the Tauxières village in the Champagne wine region and a majority from the 2017 vintage. Charles-Armand said they wanted to bring the ideals that Bollinger was built on to the consumer in a much more direct and specific way. And hence, being able to release a wine mainly from one of their top Pinot Noir villages, giving an expression of various pockets of Champagne during a particular window of time, is the best way to present their core values.

To make these wines more accessible and consistent in their desire for excellence year in and year out, there would need to be a small amount of room to add other villages and other vintages to find an ideal balance. And so, 25% of the wine comprises those decade-old magnum bottles from grapes grown in the Tauxières village. Interestingly, the markings on the label, PN TX17, are used as a shorthand in the Bollinger cellars, written on small boards above stacked bottles, to indicate the year and provenance. Through time, Bollinger would like to release PN bottlings from various villages to emphasize the varying terroirs that Pinot Noir can beautifully transmit to the drinker.

Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’

Champagne Bollinger’s sustainability
Photo Credit: Eric Zeziola

Bollinger connoisseurs may already be familiar with the ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ vineyard, which is in the Grand Cru village of Aÿ, where the Bollinger house and many of Bollinger vineyards (that they have owned for centuries) are located, as they make a tiny quantity of red wine from the ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ vineyard. Charles-Armand noted that the ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ is one of their top vineyards as it is greatly prized for its opulence and power balanced by freshness and overall elegance. The red wine comes from the southern section of the vineyard, while this newly released single vineyard sparkling Champagne comes from the northern side as the fruit in that section retains more freshness.

This single vineyard wine highlights a very special Bollinger monopole (a designated area, in this case, a vineyard, owned entirely by one producer). But just like the village bottlings of Pinot Noir called PN, Charles-Armand says they will be excited to release different single vineyards that display outstanding qualities of an array of Bollinger plots.

When one thinks about how steadfast Bollinger has been to its principles of producing Champagnes as serious fine wines, these new releases are not so much an exploration of other areas that they haven’t touched upon in Champagne but a focus on the things that have always been a part of the soul of the house. Many Champagne drinkers who have always gravitated to Bollinger might have yet to learn the extreme practices that the family continues to implement with every bottle, as consumers weren’t that curious to delve into the details of Champagne in the past. But all that has changed with Champagne lovers wanting to understand the sense of place and all the nuances that go into every bottle being popped. Champagne is no longer only for celebrations but for well-crafted meals, long conversations, or to contemplate alone – a Champagne mediation of sorts.

And so, these new releases are not only exciting because it gives consumers a great way to go deeper into these remarkable plots but it allows, after all this time, for Bollinger to finally gain recognition for the extraordinary treasures that they have always brought to the Champagne fine wine world.

***Link to original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/12/17/1000-bottle-of-champagne-demonstrates-bollinger-as-a-pinot-noir-fine-wine-specialist/

Bollinger PN VZ16 and Bollinger PN TZ17
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Bollinger wants to get fine wine lovers more involved in learning about their vineyards and everything they do, so, they are renovating the existing Bollinger house to include 20 rooms where people can stay and participate in master classes and vineyard visits.

2012 Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’
Photo Credit: Bollinger Champagne

Also, Bollinger has another project to bring the idea of expressing terroir to the next level. Fermenting in barrels is an essential part of Bollinger Champagne and they currently have 4,000 used barrels allowing them to ferment plot by plot. They have a cooperage that fixes any issues with the barrels but now they want to make their own. They plan to pair the forest, where the oak originates, with the Champagne village, where the grapes are harvested. Charles-Armand said it would probably take 200 years to replace all the 4,000 barrels with ones that match particular plots but Bollinger is up for the challenge.

2012 Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ Champagne: 100% single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Aÿ ; north side of this vineyard. Roasted hazelnuts, dried lilacs and honeysuckle on the nose and flavors of cranberry tart and baked golden apples with hints of cinnamon stick caresses the palate with a creamy texture, and on the finish, the crisp freshness is pure magic when it combines with the fine, tiny bubbles that sensually glide along the mouth; a breathtaking balance of deep concentration and overall elegance. Only 1,000 bottles made; suggested retail price is $1,000.

2012 Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ Champagne and 2016 Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ Côteaux Champenois Rouge
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2016 Bollinger ‘La Côte aux Enfants’ Côteaux Champenois Rouge: A red still wine made from 100% single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Aÿ; south side of this vineyard. 2/3 of the grapes were destemmed and 1/3 were not destemmed. Pretty floral notes with ripe red cherries and anise seeds with forest floor and a touch of morel mushrooms with an overall charming quality with lots of chalky minerality on the finish.

A short explanation about how the PN village wines below are developed in the Bollinger cellars: the blend is chosen from a blind tasting among the cellar master and his team to find the best Pinot Noir wines of that vintage and that is how they decide which village they will concentrate on in any given year.

Bollinger PN VZ16: 100% Pinot Noir where the majority comes from the Grand Cru village of Verzenay and the 2016 vintage; 25% of reserve wines from the same Grand Cru village are in this blend. 50% of the wine was vinified in barrels and the other 50% in stainless steel tanks. The saline minerality typical with Verzenay vineyards is shining through with lemon zest aromas with a hint of brioche and tart green apple and a racy acidity on the palate with a fine-laced mousse.

Bollinger PN TX17: 100% Pinot Noir where the majority comes from the Grand Cru village of Tauxières and the 2017 vintage; 25% of reserve wines from the same Grand Cru village are in this blend. 50% of the wine was vinified in barrel and the other 50% in stainless steel tanks. Softer acidity and richer flavors such as candied ginger and peach cobbler with an underpinning of oyster shell and lemon confit with a delectable creamy body with touches of marzipan – delicious.

Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée: 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. Charles-Armand says this is the most challenging wine as they have to make it every year and deliver that classic Bollinger house style. 30% of Special Cuvée is vinified in used oak of 228-liter barrels, with some 400-liter barrels up to 40 years old. The final blend consists of 50% reserve wines of which 5-10% consists of reserve wines from magnums that average ten years in age. Complex nose of freshly made croissants with yellow flowers and lemon verbena tea with crumbled chalk and dried apricots with exquisitely fine bubbles with a long persistence. The multifaceted quality of the Bollinger Special Cuvée is unmatched within the non-vintage blends in Champagne.

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Top Wine Vintages Explored To Celebrate 2nd Growth Bordeaux Producer’s 100th Anniversary

Building at Léoville-Poyferré
Photo Credit:
Château Léoville-Poyferré

On the Left Bank of the Bordeaux wine region live the prominent First Growths of the 1855 classification, when producers like Lafite and Latour were carved into history as the fine wines that all others would aspire to reach. Even with the anointing of greatness over a century ago, these top Grand Cru Classé wines still had to make significant improvements when their superlative quality was questioned during particular decades. Still, today, they are unquestionably considered the top of the Left Bank red wines that consistently deliver year in and year out. But the châteaux that are one notch down, the Second Growths, have a handful of producers that can reach First Growth quality in some years and they are given the unofficial name “Super Second,” despite never coming close to First Growth prices even in their best years.

When it comes to the Saint-Julien sub-region (a.k.a. appellation) in this area, located below the appellation of Pauillac, where Lafite and Latour are located, there is one château that always comes to mind when thinking of a “Super Second” and that is none other than Léoville-Las Cases. Yet a sibling seems to always follow behind Las Cases, either not taken as seriously in the past or not thought of at all, and that is Léoville-Poyferré. They just recently celebrated their 100th anniversary of the Cuvelier family running the estate, which is a key factor in majorly raising the quality to such a point that some would argue that Poyferré is performing at the same level as Las Cases in some vintages, although it will typically be priced 40% less.


Multi-faceted gravel terroir on Léoville plateau Photo Credit: Château Léoville-Poyferré

One might ask if Poyferré and Las Cases are somehow related and that wouldn’t be a foolish question as they were both part of one larger estate called Léoville. And back in the mid-1800s, Léoville was considered at the forefront of vineyard management and divided in 1840 using the appendices of Poyferré and Las Cases to represent the new owners of each property. To make things even more complicated, the land would be further separated into three different estates: Léoville-Poyferré, Léoville-Las Cases and Léoville Barton. All three would be seen as equals once the 1855 classification was designated, awarding the eternal ranking of Second Growth yet along the way, Las Cases started to gain a more prestigious name, hence commanding higher prices. 

When addressing the modern history of Léoville-Poyferré, there has been no greater influence than the Cuvelier family who bought the property in 1920. Perhaps part of the issue, initially, that Poyferré couldn’t distinguish itself earlier at the beginning of the Cuvelier era is because the family had the Léoville-Las Cases owner also manage their property. That all changed when Didier Cuvelier took over Léoville-Poyferré in 1979 and learned about wine from one of the greats, Emile Peynaud, the forefather of modern winemaking. Under Didier’s guidance, the winery was redone with state-of-the-art equipment and a replanting program that spanned two decades, increasing the percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyards and adding the first plantings of Petit Verdot, was implemented. As time went on, to those in the know, Léoville-Poyferré became one of the most exciting estates in Saint-Julien; it was the dark horse that all of a sudden started sprinting with a fierce velocity.

Didier retired a few years ago and handed the reigns to his cousin, Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, who celebrated Didier’s achievements recently with a vertical tasting celebrating the 2020 Léoville-Poyferré, the 100th vintage since the Cuvelier family has taken ownership.

1996 Vintage 

1996 Château Léoville-Poyferré
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The vertical in New York City showcased a handful of their best vintages in recent times, some being an outstanding vintage for the Left Bank as a whole and others a shining moment for only certain châteaux, including Léoville-Poyferré. First, they displayed the 2018 Léoville-Poyferré, which is already impressing top critics with Jeb Dunnuck giving it 100 points and famous British wine critic Jancis Robinson giving it 19 out of 20 points; and anyone familiar with Jancis Robinson scoring knows she rarely gives out a high score. Also, they gave a preview of their 2020 vintage, which is bottled in a stunning anniversary bottle showcasing their vineyards. 

2000 Château Léoville-Poyferré
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

Then the enchanting 2016, the lesser-known 2014, the superstar vintages of 2009, 2005 and 2000, and finally, the controversial 1996, were all in the lineup. Why is 1996 controversial? Many top Bordeaux wine collectors have differing views on this vintage as it has had more ups and downs than any other outstanding year and so some question whether it is on the same greatness level as 2000. 

From the first bottlings, the 1996s were considered excellent on the Left Bank, especially more Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends and so as one may guess, Léoville-Poyferré made a sensational wine. There was a lot of structure and power and the great ones, such as Poyferré, would make outstanding old bones, 30 years and beyond. Yet many of these wines have had a rollercoaster ride of varying stages, one stage showing its superiority and at other times, the same bottle will take a sharp turn and seem to be at the end of its life way too early without the tannins ever completely integrating.

But 1996 is an ideal vintage to show during this momentous occasion, not only because it was a vintage that brought a lot of attention to Léoville-Poyferré but it also represents the rocky journey of this estate that was always cut out for greatness but because of some missteps, it initially lost that momentum reinforcing that greatness in the minds of Bordeaux wine critics and collectors. In a way, no matter how stellar the bottling, there is always that first reaction to assume that Las Cases is better than Poyferré, as it is like that story about the sociological experiment, that may or may not be true, where researchers sprayed monkeys with ice-cold water every time they tried to climb up a ladder to get bananas; as they rotated new monkeys into the group and older ones out, through time the more seasoned monkeys kept the newer ones from trying to climb up the ladder. Eventually, none of the monkeys in the group have ever attempted to climb the ladder and they don’t know exactly why they shouldn’t as none of those had ever been sprayed with the ice-cold water – they only knew that they should never try it.

Sara Lecompte Cuvelier
Photo Credit: Château Léoville-Poyferré

That same behavior can be seen in humans, as no one wants to make a fool out of themselves by saying in any particular vintage that they prefer Poyferré over Las Cases, as it has been passed down that Las Cases is at the top of the pecking order when it comes to the Léoville wines. Indeed, no one can argue with Las Cases’ stellar quality in many vintages; the idea of Poyferré always defaulting to an afterthought is the issue. Many have assigned it to a lesser position than what it deserves. The Cuvelier family, especially Didier Cuvelier, never gave up on the property, no matter how unfair the situation might have seemed.

Their 1996, has had the same path – at first impressing the taster with its sensational qualities but then it went through awkward stages, even indicating at times that it might be at the end of its life after only two decades. But today, it is awe-inspiring and those who didn’t give up on it have been rewarded. And the newest 2018 Poyferré suggests that it has much more to give than its fans could have imagined. And now, Sara Lecompte Cuvelier has taken the baton to bring Bordeaux lovers into the next era of Léoville-Poyferré.

***Link to original Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/12/15/top-wine-vintages-explored-to-celebrate-2nd-growth-bordeaux-producers-100th-anniversary/

Vertical of Château Léoville-Poyferré
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2020 Château Léoville-Poyferré
Photo Credit: Château Léoville-Poyferré

2020 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The preview of the 100th Anniversary bottling has hit the market as a pre-sale that will arrive in the fall of 2023. Aromatic nose of purple flowers and blueberry pie with spicy notes of nutmeg and cinnamon with a stony minerality that has a plush body with cassis flavors with an overall freshness, finely chiseled tannins and long, expressive finish with an elegant precision.

Four different wines from the Léoville-Poyferré estate were shown for their recent 2018 vintage:

2018 M de Moulin Riche
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2018 Château Moulin Riche, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 12% Petit Verdot. The Moulin Riche is from the more western part of the Léoville-Poyferré estate, slightly further from the river, where most of their Petit Verdot vines are planted. Approachable flavors with blackberry jam and blueberry scones with a hint of fresh tobacco that has a silky texture.  

2018 M de Moulin Riche, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 69% Petit Verdot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Merlot. This is the second wine for Moulin Riche with 69% Petit Verdot. Crushed black cherries, licorice and rosemary on the nose with big, round tannins on the palate and black pepper on the finish.

2018 Château Léoville-Poyferré
Photo Credit: Château Léoville-Poyferré

2018 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Broken rocks and graphite with crushed rose petals and cigar box with a fantastic combination of intense concentration with lots of energy and sculpted tannins. Terrific!

2018 Château Pavillon de Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot. This is the second wine for Léoville-Poyferré. Fresh sage leaves and baked plum tarts with drive to the palate and slightly firm tannins giving shape.

The rest of the vertical:

2016 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Charming wine with aromatics that dance with hints of cocoa powder, lilacs, fresh mint and espresso with an overall harmonious quality to the palate with bright acidity and a long, expressive finish.

2014 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. 2014 was a mixed bag vintage and Léoville-Poyferré came out with an intriguing beauty with spice box, dried herbs and lit embers on the nose and generous fruit on the palate that is simply delicious.

2009 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Robert Parker originally gave this wine 100 points and it is in a stunning place right now. Jasmine oil, cherry blossoms and raspberry danish twist with plush tannins, fresh acidity and a lovely balance of richness with a clarity to the nuanced layers. Can’t use the word stunning enough!

2005 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon , 26% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. The intense concentration, expansive palate and silky texture are not a surprise, but the crystalline quality of the aromatics on the nose and the finish is a surprise and breathtaking! Sweet red fruit balanced by tobacco leaf and forest floor on the finish.

2000 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Pristine red strawberries and white pepper with cherry blossoms and stony minerality on the nose that has a juicy body with a long, flavorful finish. At an exquisite stage in its life!  

1996 Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Smoldering earth, cocoa nibs and sizzling bacon with blackberry preserves and weighty mid-palate with slightly firm tannins that are fine in quality at this stage and warm raspberry compote over blackberry sorbet, very, very long finish with finesse and power. Impressive!

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An Imprisoned Man’s Resilience Keeps Hope Alive For Wines In Southern Portugal

The fun and uplifting accordion music made people spontaneously dance around as the delicious smells of lamb stew and sausages filled the room. Wives and husbands broke out in song singing old traditional melodies, reminding themselves of their children as these were the songs they would always sing to them. The accordion player started to smile ear to ear, hearing songs that touched his soul as tears welled up in his eyes and when he couldn’t hold back any longer, they started to stream down his face. An overwhelming mixture of emotions overtook this man; some of his feelings were rooted in the happiness of seeing so much joy but there was a deep sadness as he was away from his family. His wife and kids were in Brazil and he was still in their home country, Portugal, a prisoner of the new government.

This accordion player, José Roquette, like the other men imprisoned, was a businessman who, at one time, ran one of the top banks in Portugal. Once he realized he would be sent to prison, he told his wife to leave with their kids simply saying, “All of you need to leave because then, if they kill me, it is just me.” But even with such a grim statement, he kept his spirits up as they allowed him to bring his accordion and permitted the other men’s wives to bring home-cooked food. Some of the guards would smile and laugh during these impromptu parties but others seethed with hate, as to them, in their brainwashed minds, these prisoners kept them in poverty as the propaganda from their new Soviet-like communist regime had reinforced such thoughts.

Even the talk that circulated around the prison, that all the prisoners would be taken to an arena, typically used for bullfighting, and shot dead, didn’t weigh on José as he felt there was nothing he could do about it and at least his family was safe.

Herdade do Esporão 

Sign to Herdade do Esporão estate
Photo Credit: Esporão

“My father is very brave,” said João Roquette, José’s youngest child, when telling the story of what happened almost 50 years ago. In 1975, when the Soviet Union backed the Portuguese military to install a repressive communist regime, they started throwing people in jail and everything became nationalized. João father had started a winery in the southern wine region in Portugal called Alentejo on an old estate named Herdade do Esporão (a.k.a. Esporão), one of the oldest estates in Europe demarcated in 1267, before the communist regime took over. Eventually, José joined his family in Brazil. After five years of living outside of Portugal, José brought his family back to their Portuguese home when a new election established a democratic socialist government.

José wanted to get back to working on the winery as the area surrounding their vineyards was a very depressed place with poor people who were, for the most part, forgotten. His dream was to build a wine business that was so successful that it would give opportunities to many of the families struggling in the area. But it wasn’t easy and after José and his partner spent a lot of money on an elaborate winery and cellar, as well as planting new vineyards, they were barely making enough to cover their costs. 

Despite José’s love for drinking wine, he had no experience in running a wine business, so his partner suggested selling the company and it was known at the time that the illustrious wine family, the Rothschilds, were looking for a wine estate in southern Portugal. José’s partner was in talks with the Rothschild family about visiting them and when it came up if there was an airport near the Esporão estate where they could land their private plane, the partner quickly replied yes. But there was no airport. Instead, they were able to contact a local guy who would make a runway. Even though a significant investment was never recouped, José still dreamed of lifting up the local area, so when the Rothschilds passed on the deal, José bought his partner out. He then hired a general manager with lots of experience to help make Esporão a successful wine producer. 

As time went on, Esporão wines became one of the most popular wine brands in Portugal for everyday moderate-priced drinking wines. Yet out of all six of his kids, none showed an interest in taking over which became a problem as José was approaching his golden years. José’s youngest son, João, who also inherited his father’s deep love for music, came back to Portugal after living in London and Barcelona; he was a banker by day and a jazz musician during his off time. 

Sheeps on the Esporão estate in Alentejo Photo Credit: Esporão

Despite João working at a bank in Lisbon, he decided he didn’t want to live in the city alone, so he lived in his family’s home in Alentejo with his parents, staying there three days a week. It was a fascinating time for João who was extremely intrigued by the winery, vineyards and how everything intertwined with the tight-knit community, something he desperately missed when he was away. João started to become close friends with the general manager at the winery and one day the general manager told João that he wanted to retire; still, he was conflicted as the business might not be able to continue without him.

João knew the general manager was right as it would be too much for his father to have to find a new person to run the company and João’s siblings had no interest in the wine business so his father would be forced to sell, sell to a company that may not have the same intention of helping the impoverish surrounding villages. But João wasn’t sure if he could do it as he was 32 years old and hadn’t managed more than two people in a bank. He was not the same man as his father who never doubted anything; he did not have the same confidence level. But the winery, vineyards and people had become his home and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing it so he decided to slowly transition into running things with the guidance of his general manager.

It is in the Soil 

Bird’s-eye view of Esporão estate
Photo Credit: Esporão

There was no more room to expand the market share in Portugal so João knew that they needed to find a way to build markets in other countries. They needed to start making higher quality wines if exporting was going to be the next goal, so, João and his general manager began reading books and going to conventions where they would meet one of the most respected soil analysis in the world, Claude Bourguignon. Claude believes there are two types of soils for making wine: the first expresses the grape variety and the second expresses the terroir, sense of place. Much of the Herdade do Esporão estate had many of the factors to produce a terroir-driven wine yet the soil needed a lot of work as the samples that Claude examined had very little microbial life. This sent João on a journey of understanding the ins and outs of organically grown grapes.

João Roquette on the Esporão estate Photo Credit: Esporão

But to João’s dismay, all the organic wines he tried back in 2005 seemed pretty bad as the whole impetus to go organic was to raise the quality of the wines significantly. But as he started to try organic wines around the world, he found some wonderful examples and he realized it wasn’t organic farming that was the problem. Through time, they have been able to make 100% organic work on the estate and isolate seven different types of soils among their almost 1,500 acres of vineyards with 40 types of grape varieties planted throughout as Portugal has a wealth of native grape varieties. To manage such a large and diverse ecosystem, João has hired a full-time biologist and a full-time IT guy to work in partnership with each other as the former will collect information from bioindicators and the latter will work with that data to help the vineyard management team work efficiently and effectively in the various parcels.  

Fox on Esporão estate
Photo Credit: Esporão

After a few years of setbacks in the beginning, Herdade do Esporão has been organic for over a decade and now João finds obvious markers of greater quality to the wines, such as balance, concentration, intensity and complexity, yet there is also an energy present that wasn’t there before. It reminds him of being a jazz musician and listening to the recordings where they improvise compared to redoing that arrangement, avoiding the initial mistakes. The polished set they had worked on had “no energy” to it, according to João, as there is something electric and compelling about that first improvisation. When it came to his wines, first he needed to bring the soil back to life, then he needed to keep that life going and not do anything to try to cover that vitality from coming through in the wines.

No Regrets

João is very different from his father and maybe that is part of why they have become such close friends in the process of João taking over the winery. It took a larger-than-life figure like his father to go through such unstable times, to pass on the temptation of starting a great life somewhere else but instead return to his mission of establishing a project that would keep the communities around their estate vibrant. 

Esporão estate vineyards
Photo Credit: Esporão

Today, in his own focused and quiet way, João has brought his family’s wine estate to the next level while constantly looking up to his father for inspiration. João’s wife has also expanded the mission as she left a very successful interior designer job to work with elders in remote villages who are the last to carry on their traditional arts and crafts. She commissions original pieces from them with a modern edge that is bringing appreciation from a new generation and expatriates who have moved to Portugal, and hence, commands higher prices that will not only be able to support these older people in their poor towns but encourage the younger people to take up these traditional arts.

Amazingly, João says his father has no regrets or resentment towards what happened all those decades ago when he was incarcerated. He understood that the Portuguese people were lied to, and like in many governments, the officials would rather point the finger at a particular group as causing the people’s struggles instead of taking responsibility themselves as paid politicians. His father loved the U.S. and even though it did enter his mind that the family should move to America during Portugal’s dark time, he knew that once the communist regime was thrown out, there would be a focus on improving the economies in the cities but there would be no assistance for the people in the remote villages. And all those memories – playing the accordion, people dancing and laughing, as those communities might be poor financially but are wealthy in enjoying what is most precious in life, lived in his heart.

And today, his father gets to witness with his own eyes that his mission has gone way beyond his wildest dreams as 300 families from those remote villages are employed by Esporão and it has been one of the most gratifying things he has done; so yes, no regrets whatsoever, only gratitude.  

***Link to original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/12/11/an-imprisoned-mans-resilience-keeps-hope-alive-for-wines-in-southern-portugal/

Herdade do Esporão Reserva
Photo Credit: Esporão

Esporão has also invested in buying wine estates in the North, one in Vinho Verde called Quinta do Ameal and one in the Douro Valley, Quinta dos Murças. The vineyards in the Douro Valley and Alentejo are 100% organic but the Vinho Verde is not 100% organic as it is wet and cool in that area, so more difficult to do organic every year. 

2021 Herdade do Esporão
‘Monte Velho’
Photo Credit: Esporão

2021 Herdade do Esporão ‘Monte Velho’, Alentejo, Portugal: Red blend of 40% Aragonez, 35% Trincadeira, 20% Touriga Nacional and 5% Syrah. Rich blueberry fruit with hints of lilacs and blackcurrant leaf with round tannins with an overall harmony, retailing for only $15.

2019 Herdade do Esporão, Reserva, Alentejo, Portugal: Red blend of 30% Aragonez, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Trincadeira, 15% Alicante Bouschet, 5% Syrah, 5% Touriga Nacional and 5% Touriga Franca; all from the Esporão estate vineyards that are 100% organic. Multilayered juicy fruit with red cherries, blackcurrants and warm blueberries with silky texture, and crushed rocks and cocoa nibs on the long finish with lots of concentration. Impressive especially considering it only retails at $25.

2017 Herdade do Esporão
‘Torre do Esporão’
Photo Credit: Esporão

2017 Herdade do Esporão ‘Torre do Esporão’, Alentejo, Portugal: Red blend of Aragonez, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet from their oldest vineyards. An enchanting nose with raspberry tart, violets and stony minerality with an exquisite balance to this wine that will make it irresistible to anyone who tries it. It has finely etched tannins with a supple texture and nuanced layers of spice and pristine red fruit on the extraordinarily long finish. All finesse with this wine. Retailing at $300. A rare wine, as this is the fourth release, and it only comes out in outstanding vintages. The vintages released are 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2017. They have a special winery just for this wine and the Private Selection, and so, in years when they don’t make the Torre do Esporão, they will make the Private Selection instead. This special winery has lagares for foot-treading the grapes. They will launch 75% of the 2017 now and in five years, release the other 25% onto the market.

2021 Ameal Loureiro
Photo Credit: Esporão

2021 Ameal, Loureiro, Vinho Verde, Portugal: 100% Loureiro grape variety. Lemon zest and citrus blossom on the nose with an underlying note of chalky minerality with a good mid-palate weight, ripe white peach flavors and mouthwatering acidity. Vinho Verde made its name on quaffable wines but smaller producers, in the past, never made it to export markets, so the serious, high-quality white wines of the area never made it to the U.S. This is one such property that has been a pioneer in making single-varietal Loureiro, an indigenous white grape, wines for 50 years and these wines can age beautifully for a couple of decades as they take on Riesling-like qualities with age. This property belonged to João’s friend’s father as he was ready to retire, so João bought the estate. João said that Loureiro often produces large yields, hence, the wines can be thin and highly acidic, which is acceptable in a blend for quaffable, fizzy wines. But these vines are older, producing lower yields, and the vineyard is located in the warmer Lima Valley, hence, the wines have more concentration that balances out the high acidity. João also makes two other bottlings of this estate, one that uses concrete eggs and the other is a Reserva using 2,000-liter Austrian oak tuns. Retailing at $18.

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