For this coming round of Italian visits, I am very happy that Eben Lillie of Chambers Street Wines was around to take so many great pictures. Thanks Eben!
For our annual fall tour of Italy, we got things started by visiting Carlo Venturini and Alessandra Zantedeschi of Monte dall' Ora!
They have a pretty sweet backyard.
Yes, that's their mail box. They also have an awesome dog named Vladimir who loves playing with this old soccer ball.
Before setting off to see a newly acquired vineyard, these stacks on stacks on stacks of drying Amarone grapes caught everyone's attention.
These are left in open without temperature control. Carlo does have a big fan constantly blowing on them though, so maybe that counts as temperature control. You tell me.
Carlo was really excited to show us his newly acquired land just above the mountain commune of San Giorgio, which is located on the Northern-most edge of Valpolicella.
The vineyard is completely enclosed by woods, with no neighbors. It is mostly planted in Guyot. The soils consist of limestone rich in iron. Throw in a complimentary full South exposition, and you have all the factors for great terroir.
The vines are 7 years old and planted in Corvina, Corvinone, and Teroldego. Unbeknownst to the group, Teroldego is permitted in Valpolicella vineyards, up to 15%. The vines were being worked chemically and Carlo is converting them to biodynamics. In total this represents 2 hectares.
He is not sure where the grapes from this land will end up for the time being, as this will require experimentation. The eventual goal, once the vines are older, is to make a site specific bottling from this terroir.
Part of the acquisition included a tiny parcel of whites planted in Pergola.
Cortese, Garganega, Chardonnay and a mystery grape are planted here.
"I'll try making a little white this year. I've only tried this once before, and it was the worst thing ever!"
As we were contemplating the beautiful view, a strange sound started galloping towards us. Everyone got freaked out, but we were quickly relieved to know that it was just a horse running freely through the mountain.
I then unsuccessfully tried to convince the group that this was all staged and that we at Louis/Dressner intentionally set up beautiful acts of nature to impress our customers.
Because it was on our way down, Carlo had us stop by San Giorgo, which was built in Roman-Pagan times. Here's the village's beautiful Church.
And here's a beautiful mountain sunset.
The sun was setting fast, but we still had a bit of time to rush over to the Camporenzo vineyard, which produces the Valpolicella cuvée of the same name.
Camporenzo totals 3 hectares and faces east. Everything is grown in Pergola, which is normal for the region. It's also right next to Brad Pitt and Angolina Jolie's villa, a converted old monastery. No word yet if they plan to produce a Valpolicella after the huge success of their first wine, Miraval Rosé.
The soils here are sand with a loose clay subsoil.
By the time we were done with Camporenzo it was pitch black outside, so the natural transition was to head to the cellar.
We started by tasting the base for the 2013 Sasetti (local dialect for "little rock"), but with the late harvest it was so young (we were there in mid-November) that it was hard to taste much more than fresh grape juice.
The Superiore, which macerates in the wood vats you can see above, needs to be foot-trodden once a day. Since we all happened to be there, Carlo figured he'd give us a demonstration.
"Right now the grapes are very soft. With the Amarone, the grapes are much harder and it's much less fun.".
Speaking of the Amarone, drying time is variable. Carlo waits at least until the 1st of January of the next year, and will be February for this year's harvest. It usually takes 10 to 15 days to start the fermentation. In the first few days, Carlo does very little foot treading. After that, he does 3 treadings a day (about 5 hours apart) for 10 days. In the vats, you have approximately 70% skins and 30% juice, which was the opposite of what he was stomping on with the Superiore in the video. The wine then ages 3 years in barrel and one year in bottle before release.
Dinner WAS INSANE, and featured never-ending polenta with anchovies, Valpolicella ravioli (the pasta was made with wine), pork stuffed with pork and Italian Cronuts. It was also a good time to hear Carlo talk of his early experiences in the area. When he first took over what would become Monte dall' Ora, he made a point to chat up all the old timers and ask them how they used to work. The thing that resonated most with him was that:
"When everything was still done by hand, there were way less treatments simply because it meant so much more work (spraying row by row with a heavy backpack). That's also why people started building bigger barrels. 1000 hl at a time is the way to do it!".
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÀ
First person to correctly identify every grower we work with in that picture wins a Coste Piane apron!
Over the many years of Louis/Dressner's existence, we've developed a formula where these trips always revolve around a series of trade tastings. Italy 2012 was no different, so after a beautiful tour of Prosecco country, we drove off to Verona for a three day taste-a-thon.
Our first stop was Vini Veri in Cerea. Founded by the late Teobaldo Cappellano, this was the 9th edition of Vini Veri, where one can taste:
"...wines that are authentically unique, because they're the final result of a natural philosophy of production, and of a precious work done in the vineyard with organic or biodynamic method, or simply without the use of synthetic chemistry, and into the cellar without any forced stabilizations."
Many of our growers were there, including Altura, Odilio Antoniotti, Campi di Fonterenza, Casa Coste Piane, Clai Bijele Zemjle, Čotar, Domaine Matassa, Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Massa Vechia and Luciano Saetti.
Stuff worth mentioning: Antonietti's 09's (which should just have been bottled), Fonterenza 09's and their new Pettirosso (glou-glou, stainless steel Sangiovese), The Cotar whites, the Massa Vecchia 10 white and Luciano Saetti's 11's. I had a lot of fun at the head of a small tasting group, practicing my horrible Italian with a lot of people I'd never met before. Between their English, my Italian and a lot of expressive hand gestures, I think I did ok.
The next day, it was off to the 12th edition of Villa Favorita, organized by Vinnatur. If you're not familiar with Angiolino Maule's organization and the work they do, check out the blog post I wrote about our visit to La Biancara back in November and refresh your memory with this video:
Villa Favorita takes place in a beautiful Villa called Favorita.
Of the Italians, we got to taste with Camillo Donati, Ca' de Noci, Cascina Tavijn, Giovanni Montisci, Elisabetta Foradori, La Biancara, Monte dall'Ora, Costadilà, Del Prete and Radoar (profiles for both these guys coming soon). Haut les Vins, which teamed up with Vinnatur 4 years ago, was also there in full force, so we got to taste with Eric Texier, Eric Nicolas, Evelyne de Jessey (check out her newly updated profile), Alexandre Bain and João Roseira.
Highlights: Bain's 2010 Pouilly Fumé, Biancara 2011's, Montischi Rosé, Tavijn 11's, and Eric Texier's Picpoul petillant naturel.
We also bumped into Alberto Tedeschi. He was just hanging out, but had some tank samples for us to taste at dinner.
We got a chance to check out the 2011 Bellaria, as a well as Alberto's first attempt at red wine, a Barbera/Merlot blend (don't think this will make it State side, he made very little). After a great dinner, it was time to mentally prepare for the most epicly important wine event of the unviverse:
From the collective tales of Kevin McKenna, Jeff Vierra and Robert Brownsen, three grizzled veterans, Vinitaly sounded like a shit show: 600,000 people over three days, thousands of booths, millions of euros spent on marketing, guys in suits, scantily clad Prosecco girls, displays of raging public intoxication... It basically sounded like the wine industry at its worst. But let me tell you...
You'll never quite understand how big Vinitaly is until you visit (fact master extraordinaire Alex Finberg told me that if you were to put each booth side by side, it would span 2.5 miles!). Everything about it is over-produced, over-hyped and over-the-top. There is no shame. Do you you want to purchase Prosecco packaged in a gold bottle?
One stand had the entire Verona basketball team, including some American guys Ian Becker followed when they played in college, looking bored out of their minds (and obviously completely out of place), sitting around and sipping whatever brand pays for their uniforms. Complimentary foam mini-basketballs were available for those who tasted. Also, for some reason the Marche has officially made Dustin Hoffman their spokesperson.
Don't believe me?
I actually got really excited about this, and couldn't wait to meet Dustin in person, since I'm a huge fan of Rain Man. I was furious to find out he wasn't even there! What a rip! Needless to say I will be boycotting the Marche
for their false advertising.
But none of this could even come close to the Astoria 9.5 Pink Rosé stand.
You can't see it in that picture, but the girl in the picture is rubbing a dripping ice cube on her face. Girls in skin tight, pink and white spandex would wait outside to flirt with guys and encourage them to come visit the stand. There was a "bouncer" at the front working the velvet rope, and loud techno was blaring. The kicker: on the side of the stand, written in white on pink:
"I have a dream" MLK
Ian couldn't get a picture because the stand was too crowded. I will eternally regret this.
If you're wondering if we went to VinItaly solely to make fun of absurd stands, you're wrong! We totally had a legitimate reason to be there and it's called ViViT. Spearheaded by Silvio Messana, Elisabetta Foradori and Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, here is the manifesto:
"Vivit is the exhibition this year at Vinitaly dedicated, for the first time, to natural wines from organic and biodynamic agriculture. Wines from organic and biodynamic agriculture are increasingly attracting the interest of consumers. This trend should by no means be underestimated, since society as a whole is requesting production methods ensuring low environmental impact. Vivit at Vin italy offeres producers and traders the chance to get to know each other better, over and above ideologies and in the name of fine wine. Vinitialy has asked the companies involved in ViVit to sign a very strict self certification document concerning the production methods applied in vineyard and in the wine cellar."
This is the first time a part of VinItaly has been organized by the producers themselves. It's also the first time different countries and regions have been grouped together by the way they farm, so it's kind of a big deal that were able to pull this off. All together, 100 vigniaoli from Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia came together to show off their hard work. Stefano Belloti and Nicolas Joly helped with the organization, so there was a very strong Renaissance des Appelations presence. Of our producers, Montesecondo, Cascina degli Ulivi, Monte D'all Ora, Arianna Occhipinti, Costadilà, Cristiano Guttarolo, Alessandra Bera, Cantina Giardino, Elisabetta Foradori and Luciano Saetti were present (there was some overlap between this, Vini Veri and Villa Favorita). Silvio later told me that it was a huge success, with thousands of people visiting each day (I commend him for his hard work). VinItaly has agreed to redo ViVit next year in a bigger, more open space.
We didn't have too many stands to check out, but we did swing by Radikon. Saša made us taste from black gobelets so we couldn't see the wine. The idea was to show that without seeing it, the experience is similar to drinking a red. We tasted something new, a 2000 "Riserva" that has aged 9 years in bottle and is only being released now (we're getting some in), and it was the best wine I tasted the entire trip. I also finally got to meet Stanko for the first time; he was really busy but we still got to talk for a few minutes about how much I looked like my dad and our upcoming visit to the estate in November.
We also swung by Sanguineto's stand to taste the 11 bianco (which will be bottled in July), the Rosso 10 (bottled in January) and the Nobile 09. Dora was wearing a blazer, which was awesome, and brought out wild boar and black and white spotted pig sausage for us to munch on while we tasted. Naturally she'd hunted the animals and made the sausages herself. The wines are fantastic.
On our way to the parking lot, my lace became undone. This had been happening constantly on the trip, and Ian told me I really needed to learn how to tie my laces correctly. Right when he said that we bumped into Sonia Torretta, who applied the powerful "double knot" technique on my shoes.
My laces haven't come undone since.
Stay tuned for Part 4, detailing our visit at Nusserhof!
Alessandra Zantedeschi just sent me a bunch of really well shot pictures today. Whoever took them has some serious skills!
Check them out in the harvest reports section.
Also, if you missed it last week, make sure to read up on what this estate is all about on their recently updated producer profile.
I apologize to any insomniac readers eagerly anticipating a 4:30 am post.
After a wild night at Boys Alternative Disco, it was off to visit Angiolino Maule. When we arrived, we were a little shocked to see one of his dogs hanging out on the roof.
Angiolino was off harvesting his olives, which he uses to make oil for personal consumption, so his son Francesco gave us a tour of the vines.
With the exception of a few rows, every vine of the estate has been planted by Angiolino over the years in Guyot as opposed to Italy's traditional Pergola. When I asked why, Francesco answered: "quality". While Pergola vine tending is used in hotter climates to protect the grapes from the sun, Francesco explained that in the case of Garganega, the principle variety used at the estate, the grape does not benefit in any way from this type of vine tending, and vigniaolis hide behind this excuse because Pergola vines are much more productive, which results in higher yields.
For those who don't know, Angiolino is the founder of Vinnatur, what I consider to be the most forward thinking and progressive association dedicated to natural wine. Vinnatur is more than a group of vignerons working the same way: it's an institution dedicated to exploration, research and analysis of what goes on in the vineyards -and most importantly in the soil- in order to find reliable and proven methods to work as naturally as possible. Francesco told us their ultimate goal is to eliminate mildew and oidium in order to stop using copper and sulphur treatments, which he and his father feel are the final step to producing 100% natural wines.
Francesco showed us a small plot of six rows that is funded by Vinnatur; in each row a different technique is used (he didn't elaborate further) in order to observe the results and report back to a laboratory in hopes of finding an answer. While they're still searching, one thing is certain: this answer lies in the soil.
Francesco explained that vines have only suffered chronic illness like mildew and oidium since the beginning of chemical warfare, the very same technology which ultimately led to the creation of all chemical products used in industrial agriculture today. In just 70 years the soils have completely shifted in their composition, and while Angiolino and Vinnatur hope to find out why and rectify this, he acknowledges that even if they do we have many generations of work ahead of us to bring the soil back to its' original state...
Francesco then showed us their new cellar at the very top of a beautiful hill surrounded by the family's vineyards. The installation is completely solar powered, and is much more spacious than the one currently used. They also plan to build a tasting room and a kitchen for parties, and maybe have the top floor converted to a bed and breakfast. 2012 will be the first vintage produced here.
Well, that's not entirely true, as the Maule's have begun using a specifically designed open air room to hang the grapes that will become this vintage's Recioto.
Francesco says that this room is much better than the one they were currently using because the elevation provides a more steady and constant wind which greatly benefits the drying of the grapes.
We ended our visit by tasting some 2011 barrel samples, currently bottled releases and a special treat no one knew existed:
Angiolino loves Chenin Blanc and planted 3 rows of it for fun. It was a very unique expression of the variety to say the least. Everything's tasting great, by the way.
45 minutes later we were being greeted by Carlo Venturini and Alessandra Zantedeschi at Monte dall' Ora.
After touring the beautiful vines and checking out the cellar, we tasted some 2011 tank samples. Carlo and Alessandra are both very satisfied with 2011 and expect great things. They promised me a bunch of pictures and videos of the harvest so expect that to be up on the site soon.
The visit ended with Carlo talking very passionately about biodymanic viticulure. More or less in his own (Italian) words:
"All organic agriculture is telling you to do is not to use any chemicals. For me biodynamic agriculture means you're always searching for something, always learning and always trying to move forward. It's a way to open my eyes every day and see something different, something new. It lets me face problems as they come along, to work with nature and to find a solution.
When we first started the estate in 1995, we knew that an environment where we had to use chemicals so harmful that masks were required was not a place we'd want to raise our children. We wanted to work traditionally, but we didn't know what that meant. Back then, the concept of organic and biodynamic agriculture wasn't common knowledge; I only discovered these practices in 2004.
Biodynamic work is a way for me to learn how to work traditionally; a link to how our ancestors did things before technology and philosophy took over. It's not about if the treatments work or not, or to be dogmatic about lunar cycles and root days. It's simply a way to look at the vineyards in a different way."
Hmmm. Seems like these guys are on to something...
Anyway I'm very tired and need to go to bed. A domani!