This visit with Julie Balagny took place in August, 2015.
Words and photos by Jules Dresssner.
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After a warm greeting from Mélanie and Benoît, we took a quick walk to Pierre de Bellevue, a nearby parcel characterized by the thinnest soils in the Marne valley.
From there, Benoît started breaking it down for us.
All in all, the Tarlants work 57 single parcels. Most are in Oeuilly but the vines are spread over four villages: Oeuilly, Celles-lès-Condé, Boursault and Saint-Agnan. Sparnacian soils (clay and limestone) are located on the higher portion of the hillsides, with more chalk on the bottom.
In Oeuilly, most of the vines are exposed east/northeast:
Being so close to the Marne river helps in dampening the effect of sunlight, allowing the grapes to mature very slowly. This is great for both concentration and acidity.
The other main village for the Tarlant's vines in called Celles-lès-Condé. Mostly Pinot noir is planted there, and the slopes are very steep and south facing. The total surface of the vineyards makes up 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier and 5% of Champagne's "forgotten" grapes: Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Petit Meslier. The vines average at 35 years old, with the oldest around 70-ish.
Everyone was really cold, so we walked back to the Tarlant cellar to taste.
Maybe it was the jetlag, but the lighting was super trippy. Also, who knows where this leads?
Our friend Gaboush bravely went down there to explore and never came back, so we'll never know. Anyway, let's get back to being serious. While in the cellar, Benoît was quick to point out that:
"The simpler winemaking can be, the better it is."
Yet immediately after telling us this, we were explained that of the 57 vineyards, everything is harvested and vinified separately! All in all, there will be around 80 individual wines for Benoît to work with and blend EACH VINTAGE! That doesn't sound all that simple!
Fermentation is done 2/3 in barrel and 1/3 tank, always from indigenous yeast. Usually, young vines are fermented in tank. Very little is done to the wine, save a few batonnâges towards the end of fermentation for the yeasts to finish off the last grams of RS. Malolactic fermentation is rare and not what Benoît is looking for.
To ensure this, only new barrels are brought into the winery. About 3 to 5% on barrels are renewed every year, and Benoît prefers purchasing these in more powerful vintages so that the wood marks the wine less. Only the best juices are used for brand new barrels.
Tasting of the vins clairs begins in January. Benoît's first focus is always on making the best Brut Nature, then the rosé, then the single vineyard wines. Each year, one third of the harvest is kept as reserve wine.
Guess what else Benoît has been tinkering with?
Yup, amphoras. The big one has Chardonnay, the small one has Pinot Noir.
And though it isn't necessarily shocking for us to see tinajas/amphoras getting play in cellars these days (here is a list of people who use them), it still came as a surprise seeing these in the Tarlant cellar.
"I'm was very lucky that my family has always encouraged me to experiment with different ways of doing things."
Benoît is waiting to see if it brings anything extra to the wine, or if the secondary fermentation covers up anything that differs from the other barrel fermented wines. Regardless of the results, it's experiments like these that show how truly dedicated Benoît is to pushing things forward. He is truly next level in the cellar, and the work ethic is both impressive and inspiring.
From the cellar, we headed back up to the tasting room. But before we were allowed to taste any bottled Champagne, Mélanie had us all sign our names on two magnums of Cuvée Louis.
"We'll drink these next time you all come visit!"
From there, it was an all-out taste-a-thon of current and soon to be releases:
EXCLUSIVE: Get ready for this 2003 vintage wine, La Matinale.
Plus we got to eat a really healthy, hearty meal from Mme Tarlant senior!
CHECK THE AGNANUM PROFILE OVER HERE!
There's an old Italian expression that goes: "Vedi Napoli e poi muori", or "See Naples and Die". I can't really explain why, but any city where traffic is this fucking insane at any random street corner will always have a special place in my heart.
It's worth watching until the end. So many close calls... So few helmets...
Best. Outfit. Ever.
But Napoli isn't just panic-inducing traffic, insane all-night street parties, incredible architecture, delicious pizza and fashionable children. If you head to the Western edge of the city, you find yourself in Campi Flegrei, a unique area on the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Geologically, Campi Flegrei is marked by many large volcanic craters. Combine this with the sea's constant winds and you have a fascinating terroir.
While still within the city limits, much of the area feels desolate and forgotten. However, if you follow the twisty, unkempt roads to the crater of Agnano, there is plenty of beauty to experience at Raffaele Moccia's 4 hectare estate, Agnanum.
All of Raffaele's vines are located on a single, steep hillside overlooking the mainland in all its postindustrial glory.
Here is Agnano's lovely hippodrome:
Fortunately, once you turn away from the urban panoramic, you are treated to an absolutely stunning vineyard site.
The soils here are sand and volcanic ash, with the vines planted on terraces that make mechanization impossible. Terraces have been the traditional way of planting in this area for centuries, but in an all too familiar tale, most growers are abandoning them because it's too much work. Speaking of too much work, Rafaelle has to be very careful with his soils.
"If you don't till, the rain goes right through (the soil) and messes everything up."
To avoid this, he lets grass grow wild to absorb water that would otherwise overfeed the vines. The grass also helps create a layer of moisture that helps cool down the vines.
"I didn't come up with this system. It is very old!"
Rafaelle's land is considered a historical vineyard: the youngest vines are 60 years old and the oldest are "at least" 200. Because his soils are so sandy, everything is planted in franc de pied.
"We're drinking the wines the Romans were drinking. Well, with the help of a more modern cellar!"
2.8 hectares of the native Falanghina are planted for white and 1.2 hectares of Piedirosso for red. The vines are some of the most strangely shaped I've ever witnessed.
Rafaelle described the training system as pergola, yet it doesn't resemble what one usually associates with the term.
At one point, a distinct whiff of sulfur overtook the group. That's because there are nearby sulfur eruptions all the time.
See that smoke in the middle? Sulfur cloud.
As we continued our walk through the vines, Rafaelle explained that there are 4 layers to his soil: sandy volcanic, humus, fine sand from basalt and finally basalt subsoils. It is very compact, and in such the roots of the vines feed from all 4 layers.
"Though the younger vines only reach the first 3."
By "younger", I'm pretty sure he meant the 60 year old vines.
Another particularity of these soils is that they auto-restrict yields, which was surprising since the vines are so huge.
Look, it's an old lady working her land alone in the horizon!
I spotted hoses in the vines, and asked Rafaelle about them.
"These are not for irrigation, but rather to have water handy when doing treatments. It's much easier to start from the top of the vines and having pitstops on the way down than having to go all the way back down each time."
At the very top of the hill, some young vines have been planted in massale and franc de pied. They are 15. To help them grow and develop, Rafaelle has planted fava beans in the rows and fertilizes the land with rabbit shit.
I found rabbit shit to be an oddly specific animal for this task, but it turns out that Rafaelle has a side-buisness of raising rabbits, so that makes sense. Speaking of which:
Our tasting/lunch took place in this medieval dungeon type space that was a stark contrast to the beautiful vines.
Rafaelle's son, who is currently in culinary school, made us a banging lunch from this amazing wood fire oven.
Of course, we had to eat some rabbit!
We also tasted some wine. In the cellar, slow native yeast fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic has never occurred since Rafaelle took over the winemaking.
For the white wine, 10mg of sulfur is added at the beginning of fermentation and nothing after. A light filtration also takes place. The red is unfiltered and un-fined.
Rafaelle's great, great grandfather used to sell the wine in vrac to to restaurants in Naples. He would load barrels up in a horse wagon and bring them to town.
"The wine became so popular that my father had to start a lottery system. The wine would go to the winners."
Rafaelle is the first generation to bottle the wine with the 2002 vintage. 4 wines are produced: a Campi Flegrei Bianco that is 100% Falanghina, a IGT white that's 50% Falanghina and 50% grapes I've never heard of. He also makes two reds from Piedirosso: Per e Palumm and Vigne del Volpe, a selection from the oldest vines. They are all delicious.
After leaving, we got a little lost on the way to our next appointment and, after pulling over, met a really ugly dog with a heart of gold.
Due to his underbite, we nicknamed him Teeth. I wanted to keep him forever.
Did you guys know we like wine from the Loire? Did you know that we work with 6 producers from Touraine? Well make it 7!
I met up with Laurent Lebled in the center square of Saint-Aignan, just a 5 minute drive from Clos Roche Blanche. From there, it was a quick drive to to a good portion of the land he rents.
Laurent currently rents land from 3 separate owners. Because he currently lives too far to do so, for the time being the Saint-Aignan owner does all of the viticultural work here. Laurent makes his specific requests (working the soil, yields, etc...), then comes with his team to harvest. And because he vinifies over an hour away (more on this later), he then shuttles the grapes in a refrigerated truck.
Originally from Saumur, Laurent planned to start his estate in Touraine. After some diligent research, he was able to secure rented vines and a cellar, but the guy with the cellar dropped the ball at the last minute. Laurent had to improvise and, as you will see, found himself forced to spread himself all over the place. He currently vinifies over an hour away in Savigny en Véron, but is confident he will eventually relocate to Saint-Aignan. Laurent been working the same 1.7 hectares here since he started in 2010.
0.8 hectares consist of Sauvignon planted in 1962 on clay and limestone. The Gamay is massale from vines planted in 1950 and 1970, and planted in rockier subsoils which give the wine a more structured acidity. The Cabernet Franc is on similar soil to the Gamay and planted in the 60's and 70's.
Laurent was born and raised in Saumur. Before making wine, he was a successful wood merchant for 30 years. Specializing in chestnut trees, he sourced woods from Spain, Portugal and Italy. But by 2008, the recession hit hard and Laurent had to shut up shop.
"I had never done anything else. But it was clearly the end of an era for this type of work. I had no idea what I was going to do, and never thought about making wine. Not even for a second."
It was his childhood friend Sebastien Bobinet, who himself gave up a first career to tend his grandfather's 2 hectares of Cabernet Franc, who proposed that Laurent follow a similar path. After some rigorous research to find land and a cellar, A la Vôtre's first vintage was in 2010.
"I just jumped right into it by learning in the vines. Sebastien helped me through the entire process in 2010, from pruning to vinification. Combined with the additional help of Patrick Corbineau, this gave me the confidence to continue. It's a beautiful second chance. It's an incredible feeling to see something through from beginning to end."
We then drove an hour to Chinon country, where Laurent was able to find the chai where he vinifies and ages the wine. Because of his proximity to nice vineyards, he couldn't resist renting some land here as well. This he works 100% from beginning to end. The first plot we visited was 0.49 hectares of Cabernet Franc planted on pure sand.
This plot used to be worked conventionally, and after 4 years of conversion Laurent is finally able to easily work the grass and soils.
"No one wanted this vineyard because the rows are all different (in length) and you can't use machines here."
The grapes here are blended with the Cabernet from Saint-Aignan to make the On Est Su l' Sable cuvée.
Both sites are vinified separately. I was surprised to learn that a parcel this far out could still be classified as an AOC Touraine wine.
"It can! The first vintage we made it a Touraine wine, but have stuck to Vin de France since then."
A lot of replacements have been necessary, and Laurent planted many in 2012. His neighbors also replanted a bunch at the exact same time, and the difference is shocking. Here's Laurent's:
And here are his neighbor's:
"I have no idea how that's even possible."
Me neither. As we drove off, I couldn't help but feel I'd been to this vineyard before. It all felt eerily familiar...
We then drove to Laurent's 0.6 hectares in Les Picasses, the famed lieu-dit where Olga Raffault (amongst many others) produce some of their most expressive wines. In fact, it turns out that Laurent's parcel direct neighbors Olga Raffault's Chenin Blanc!
This parcel was also worked conventionally prior to Laurent's rental, and in still in conversion. The grapes were looking nice, and Laurent believed he'd harvest a few days later.
From Les Picasses, we drove to Laurent's vinification chai, which just so happens to be in Savigny-en-Véron, the village where Olga Rafault is based. And it just so happened that Laurent's chai is literally three doors down from the Raffault house! Neighbors again!
We naturally popped in to say hi. Eric and Sylvie had no idea I'd be visiting, and were just returning from picking a parcel in Les Picasses. Though Eric was busy getting the grapes into tank, Sylvie graciously offered us a few drinks of older vintages.
As we kept chatting, the fact that they were neighbors in Les Picasses came up. And from there, it was confirmed that the parcel that the Raffault produce Les Barnabés with is RIGHT NEXT to Laurent's sandy parcel. That's why it felt so familiar! So to recap, Laurent Lebled and the Olga Raffault are neighbors EVERYWHERE. What are the odds?
As we left for the chai, Laurent was really happy that I introduced him to Eric and Sylvie.
"This is the first time I'm meeting a colleague and neighbor since I started. Sometimes I feel all alone out here. It's good to know there are nice people just next door!"
In the chai, Laurent showed me his vinification process. During fermentation, he keeps a heater on because it gets very cold in there. He tries keeping it around 20˚.
The main vinifications happen in concrete tanks with wood planks on the bottom. A full carbonic maceration takes place for 30 days (an average, "normal" carbonic maceration goes from 10-12 days). Here are the whole clusters in tank:
Once the fermentation takes place, the grapes are pressed and racked to fiberglass tanks:
The wines stay on their lees until bottling.
To taste the older vintages, we THEN had to drive to Laurent's storage cellar, an old tuffeau cave in a neighboring village.
Man this is a lot of bouncing around! We did a vertical all the way back to 2010. Each vintage- and this is not a bad thing- was radically different.
"I have no shame admitting that I am completely new to this and learning as I go. Every vintage has proven to be a completely unique experience, both in the work and in the flavors of the wines."
I found it particularly interesting how the wines are able to keep a more rustic, terroir driven quality than most pure-carbo vinifications. Laurent believes this is due to the extended period of time he lets the intra-cellular fermentation occur.
We THEN drove to Saumur to eat at the excellent Bistro des Jean, a tiny spot doing amazing French bistro fare. Highly recommended. The two owners were are originally from Saumur but had a successful place in Paris for years. Eventually, they got sick of the big city and moved back home. More importantly, they have this incredibly huge dog:
His name is Gandalf, and he is the size or a small horse!
Apologies for the lack of recent updates. All the craziness leading up to our annual portfolio tasting (which was a huge success!) and a trip to DC has set me back on posting new stuff on the blog, but rest assured that there will soon be a FLURRY of new content, including new interviews, producer visits, and of course our annual HARVEST REPORTS, which have usually already been published at this point.
Louis/Dressner Selections: We've Got Internet Content!™
On a lovely afternoon, Julien Pineau and I accompany Didier to Domaine de la Méchinière, an estate run by Valérie Forgues. Didier chose to wear this sweet T-Shirt, purchased in NYC during a trip in 1998.
Founded in 1999, Méchinière spans 14 hectares in Mareuil-sur-Cher, is planted in the 6 grapes of the Touraine AOC and is in its second year of converting the vines to organic viticulture. Didier met Valérie because she is dating his brother, and for the last few years has been helping her out in the cellar.
"She's gone through a lot of setbacks and I think she deserves the help. She's a fast learner and I think that she will be able to do everything on her own very soon."
Here is her awesome dog Drago, Crusher of Souls.
The reason for our visit was to scope out the damage from the what would turn out to be the hot topic on everyone's mind: the drosophila suzukii. Originally from Japan, these flies have been fucking shit up in the US since 2008, and were first spotted in France sometime in 2010. They look like fruit flies (which are a common occurrence around fruits, so no one really worried at first), and feed themselves by stinging soft summer fruits and sucking out the sugars. They also lay their eggs between the skin and the pulp, and in both cases the berries start turning to vinegar. Normally these bugs die after summer, but the strange climactic conditions of 2014 kept them around too long. As far as anyone knows, this is the first time they've actively targeted grapes in France.
Here's what the damage looks like:
"It's crazy. Here we are a few days after our Pineau D'Aunis harvest, and you can easily spot the damaged grapes. When we were picking ours, you could barely see the stings and the only way to know was smelling the bunches to see if they stunk of vinegar. Good luck explaining that to the harvesters!"
Valérie was one of the last people in the area to harvest her Pineau D' Aunis, so this was a rare opportunity to see what the grapes look like after about a week after being stung. The worst is reports of suzukii bites began only TWO WEEKS before harvest, which many believed was going to be an abundant year after the very challenging 2012 and 2013 (I've heard some growers have lost up to 50% of their harvest because of this).
Still, not all hope was lost:
"The grapes that haven't been stung are ripe and in good shape. This is salvageable, but only if you hit the tank with sulfur immediately after cuvaison. Otherwise the vinegar yeasts, which are in full force, will take over."
Stories like this are stark reminders that the work of a vigneron is one of constant adaptation, and that dogmatic extremism -I'm specifically referring to sulfur use here- can only work in ideal conditions or states of complete mastery (Overnoy, Dard & Ribo and Massa Vecchia immediately come to mind). Many vignerons who traditionally do not sulfur during vinification felt obliged to do so this year, and I do not fault them for it: if they hadn't I can't imagine what the juices would have ended up as. For Valérie, whose Pineau D' Aunis rosé is a big seller, you can understand why she'd be losing sleep at night over this.
On a brighter note, we then visited Valérie's 80+ year old Chenins, which were in tip-top shape and ready to make some bubbles.
After a walk through the vines, we went to taste the juices in the cellar, which had a shockingly over-powering odor of reduction.
"It's intense right?"
These crazy concrete tanks that looked like submarines captured my imagination.
We tasted Sauvignon from an organic parcel, and Sauvignon Rose from one in conversion. We also tried some Gamay.
Outside, I admitted to Julien that tasting juice is really hard, and that I found it almost impossible to tell what was going on.
"Me too. But it's still fun to do!"
When I wake up on my third day at CRB, the sun has already risen. Today Didier, Julien Pineau and I are going to do a remontage!
Just as I step out to catch some fresh morning air, Julien pulls up ready to work.
Who is Julien Pineau?
photo copyright Jim Budd.
Julien is originally from Tours, where for many years he worked as a geological analyst for a real estate contractor. His job mainly involved analyzing the geological compositions of pre-built or build-able land in order to advise on how to proceed with construction on the most sound foundations possible.
"You'd be surprised how much stuff was built anywhere in the 70's. So much has to be done to make sure these don't crumble to the ground."
Though he found the geological aspect of his job fascinating, the corporate environment was not really his jam so he decided to quit and try something new. Along with a few friends, he had gotten increasingly into natural wine and wondered if there was a place for him working in the vines. After some research he landed at an estate in Provence for 2 years, followed by a year stint as Noella Morantin's employee.
During that time he met Didier, and the two hit it off during Julien's benevolent help in the CRB cellar. He is currently interning with Didier for a year, and will be one of the partners taking over the CRB land in coming vintages (more on that in a future post).
Anyhow, back to wine stuff. For Didier, the two first days after harvest are the most important when making red wine.
"The first two days, you extract the best colors and tannins. After this initial period, it gets much less interesting."
In order to extract said color and tannin, it was time for me to do my first of many remontages! A remontage, which translates to "bringing back up", consists of pumping the juice trapped at the bottom of the tank back onto the grape bunches so they can interact with each other. It is important to remember that at this point the grapes are macerating and haven't been pressed yet. The pumped juice will precipitate the berries that haven't "popped" yet to do so, and the contact with the skins and stems help with extraction of color and tannin.
"What do you have in there (the tank)? Juice at the bottom and grapes at the top. If we don't do a remontage, there is no exchange between the two."
The remontage is done with the help of this pump:
In the photo below, you can see how a tube from the bottom gets pumped through the pump and pumped back onto the grapes:
Before pumps like the one used existed, this process was done bucket by bucket, and would take twice and much manpower and time!
Speaking of buckets, there's always a little juice left in the pumps so we made sure to catch it and not let it go to waste.
"The white foam shows the beginnings of yeasts fermenting and eating away at the sugars."
After Julien took care of the Gamays, Didier asked me to do a "special, one time above oxygen level" remontage. You see, in the very early stages of fermentation, yeasts need oxygen to multiply. Yet the very act of fermentation emits carbonic gas, which smothers oxygen. Didier proved this with the "lighter trick":
The point when the lighter goes out is when their is no more oxygen in the tank.
"You have to be very careful with this. It's the number one cause of fatal accidents in this line of work. The body reacts extremely poorly to a lack of oxygen."
The idea of the "special one time only above air" remontage is to pump the juice where it is exposed to oxygen (where the flame stays lit), which will kickstart and invigorate the active, native yeasts that will then continue to work on the sugars. I was a little freaked out at the prospect of instant death, but got up there and did it anyway. It's hard to see, but this is what the grape bunches look like:
Up until press, a remontage is done each day. After it is done, Didier measures the density of liquid in the tank.
When it gets to 1000, this means there is very little sugar left and it is time to press. Today it was the Gamay was at 1074.
I have no idea how this is read.
On the way back to the cellar, my bud Jack the Rooster was just hanging out.
Back in the cellar, we tasted the juices again. The Sauvignon had just started fermenting.
"You can feel that bite on the edge of your tongue."
The wine was also more cloudy.
"That's totally normal. It means the yeasts are getting to work."
The Sauvignon in wood, however, had not started fermenting.
"That's because of the wood. Unlike stainless steel, which adapts to its environment, wood stays colder in the initial stages of fermentations. However, because fermentation emits heat, the wood will stay hotter than stainless steel at that point. This is ok with small volumes but becomes much more challenging otherwise."
The Pineau D'Aunis Rosé was fermenting a little bit as well, but will really kick start the next day according to Didier. The color this year is surprising, and will be darker than usual.
NOTE: ALL PHOTOS COPYRIGHT JIM BUDD. JIM HAS GRACIOUSLY GIVEN ME PERMISSION TO USE THESE PHOTOS FROM HIS EXCELLENT BLOG JIM'S LOIRE. THESE PHOTOS, ALONG WITH MANY OTHERS, ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THIS BLOG POST.
When I wake up at 7:am, it's still dark outside. The meet-up is set for 8 to harvest the Côt at La Boudinerie, the farm where Didier, Noella Morantin and Laurant Saillard live (the first picture here is the parcel we harvested). Catherine drives me over and we are the last ones to get there. The team of harvesters is a hodge-podge of younger people and some middle aged women who, as I would later find out, love gossiping about the goings-on in the village like some weird rural Days of Our Lives recap. They are not particularly friendly to me, but not mean either. Then again, I'm showing up 2 weeks in, working at a slow and confused pace.
Like with most things, my first attempt at harvesting grapes comes with a hefty amount of over-analysis. It this bunch with a few shrunken grapes good? What about that one with only four grapes? When I ask Catherine, she just says: "Sure, take it." and keeps moving. In a year like 2014, there weren't any issues with rot, so harvesting is really as simple as finding bunches and putting them in your bucket.
Everyone works at a steady pace, and my bucket always seems half full compared to the rest of the group. The organization is semi-informal: two people per row, but Catherine and a few others jump around rows to help out where they see fit. If someone finishes a row before the other, then they help finish their neighbors' before moving on to the next. Two harvesters man the "hotte", big open container backpacks which the pickers dump their grapes in for them to unload back to the truck.
Didier is knee-deep in arriving grapes, sorting through bunches as they arrive, making sure to get rid of leaves, grass and undesirable grapes. When we are almost done with the first parcel, he tells me to come with him to do a "prélevement" of the Cabernets, which are just a short walk away. Walking through the unpicked parcel, Didier randomly picks grape bunches here and there from various rows. We return to La Boudinerie, where he crushes them with his hands to extract the juice. This is poured into a beaker, and the sugar/acidity/PH tests are done.
"Not Ripe. Friday at the earliest, but most probably Sunday or Monday."
It's Friday the 3rd, and Didier is talking about the 10th.
By the time we get back, the parcel is finished and it's off to Clos Roche Blanche to harvest the 120 year old Côt. In my jet-lagged state, I forgot to charge my phone and was super bummed that I wouldn't get any pictures of the proceedings. Fortunately, Jim Budd (from the fantastic blog Jim's Loire, which you should go read immediately) was there to capture the moment.
Here's a picture of me to prove I was actually doing something...
After another 17 row parcel of younger vines, harvesting is done for the day, just shy of 12:30. Catherine sends the team home, and we head over to the the press to sort grapes for them to start their fermentation. First, we collect the juice from the crushed grapes at the bottom of truck, dumping it bucket by bucket into the vat. When this is done, the grapes get unloaded on a conveyor belt tray table, where they endlessly flow from right to left as 6 of us de-stem the bunches and throw out as many stems as we can before they get end up in one of Didier's custom stainless steel cuves to macerate and ferment. It's a messy procedure which leaves my grey tee full of splashes, stains and pulp, and my hands sticky and red from the juice.
"If your hands stick, it means the alcohol will be there!"
If anyone is interested in a super limited stained XL grey tee full of 120 year old Côt from Clos Roche Blanche's last vintage, I'm putting it up on Ebay. Bids start at 500$.
PART 1: SETTLING IN...
(NOTE: There will be a lack of pics in the first two posts, but I will more than make up for this afterwards.)
I arrived to the Saint-Aignan train station on October 2nd around 5:10pm. As per usual, I hadn't slept on my red-eye flight (where I watched 22 Jump Street and X-Men: Days of Future Past), and was pretty loopy. Catherine Roussel picked me up, and told me that we hadn't exactly calculated my arrival correctly: the Sauvignons had been picked the week before, the Pineau D'Aunis was done but a mess because of some new asian bug that came out of nowhere a few weeks ago (more on that in future posts), and that I had missed the Gamay by a day. All that was left was the Côt, which would be harvested the next day, and the Cabernets, which would be done sometime next week. Slightly disappointed but undeterred, I thought to myself: "Shit, this may actually be a vacation!"
A few minutes after settling in to the beautiful Clos Roche Blanche house, I hear Didier chatting away with his colleague Valérie. For the last 4 years, Didier has been guiding Valérie in the cellar. She founded the estate in 1999, has always worked sustainably and is in her second year of converting the estate to organics.
They are outside doing the analysis for sugar density, acidity and Ph levels, crucial info for when to harvest. This process, which I always imagined to be extremely elaborate, with everyone putting on white lab coats on and breaking out microscopes, turns out to be almost crude in its simplicity. First, the sugars are weighed by an instrument that looks a lot like a thermometer: it's dunked in the juice, and floats back up with an indication of the sugar density. Acidity is measured by adding liquid that changes the juice's color, and somehow you know what it is based on the color. Finally, Ph is done with an instrument that looks like a lot like a taser, which again is placed in the juice, and a reading is done.
The juice Valérie has brought is called a prélèvement: she has taken a few bunches of grapes, crushed and analyzed them to decide if the time is right to pick or not. Didier tells her the Chenins are in good shape, but when it comes to the Pineau d'Aunis, there is a dangerous amount of volatile acidity due to the suzukii bugs. These bugs are from Asia, and came out of nowhere 2 weeks ago. They sting grapes to feed themselves from the sugars, which then dry out and start reeking of vinegar (acetate acid). Dider tells her we'll go visit in a few days to check the damage.
After Valérie says her goodbyes, Didier asks me if I want to taste some juices. Duh!
We start with a stainless steel tank of Sauvignon Blanc. I missed the last day of Sauvignon picking by two days: it was harvested on September 30th. It has 13.3 degrees of alcohol. We both laugh that it tastes like canned pineapple juice, or pineapple gummy bears. But way better.
Didier tells me that stainless has the best exchange between the inside and the outside environment. Therefore the thermic exchange adapts to the cellar, which in CRB's case is ideal.
Next, we try Sauvignon from foudre, which Didier thinks will producer a N#5. It tastes more concentrated to me, but he assures me it's the exact same, although with higher acidity and Ph.
We end with Pineau D'Aunis rosé, which has a beautiful color. It has a sweet candied taste, and we both laugh that it tastes like Strawberry Haribos. Except way better.
-"Does the peppery thing come with the fermentation?"
That's the picture Salvo sent us the night before our visit. Oh Etna, always erupting!
After a lovely morning visit at Romeo del Castello, it was once again time to visit the grand, mysterious Salvo Foti!
While waiting for him, many of us got into a heated debate on who was going to buy this sweet miniature automobile.
No one could agree, so we decided to grab a coffee at the best named cafe of all time:
YES, I know it's spelled with a K but I still thought it was funny.
Not making us wait too long, Salvo pulled up with his left-hand man Mauricio and we drove up to a new vineyard.
This parcel is at 1100 meters elevation, and was planted 3 years ago. Salvo does not plant Nerello Mascalese above 800m, as it doesn't grow well in those circumstances. Whites, on the other hand, fare well, and this vineyard has been planted in Grecanico and Minella.
A small crew of the I Vigneri team was busy hoeing the soils.
"Every time they do this, it's like adding a fertilizer to the vineyard. It's the vines' water."
It's very important to do this work in the vines' infancy due to Etna's volcanic ash soils. If the ash isn't constantly being shifted around, the roots will stay superficial and not reach the subsoils. Furthermore, wild grasses and flowers grow very quickly on volcanic ash, making for too much competition.
"If we weren't constantly hoeing, these vines would look like this."
From there, we took a terrifying, extremely steep road that almost resulted in a few accidents. Certainly not for stick-shift novices... Fortunately no one was harmed and we were able to visit the Vigna Bosco:
Salvo acquired this vineyard 12 years ago. To his knowledge, this is one of if not THE highest vineyard in all of Etna, towering at 1300 meters elevation. Very few people still own vineyards at these types of altitude.
"In their eyes, it's too much work for too little result. Plus you need to have workers who know what they are doing, and these are getting harder and harder to come by."
Do to the altitude, the vineyard produces very low alcohol grapes. Harvests here are always extremely late as well. 2013 was picked on November 5th!
Grenache, Alicante, Grecanico and a bunch of grapes Salvo can't recognize are planted here. The vines are 110 years old, and all planted in franc de pied.
Speaking of franc de pied, a new plantation is in the works, all in massale.
Of course, everything will be raised in Albarello.
"Albarello is the best and oldest training method in the world. If this was used world-wide, fungal illness disappear. Other training systems are for chemicals and machines."
That's quite a hefty statement I'm sure many would disagree with. Perhaps Salvo was specifically referring to hotter regions? Then again, Mark Angéli trains all his Chenin in gobelet. Ultimately, his argument lies in the fact that Albarello gets no shadows from other vines and is exposed to more air.
"The cure for any plant's illness is sunshine."
Salvo then busted out a picnic basket with a couple of bottles in it.
It was none other than 2011 Vinudilice Sparkling!
Vinudilice is the wine produced from the Vigna Bosco, and usually consists of a still rosé field blend. With the 2011 vintage, Salvo exceptionally decide to make bubbles due to low quantities and maturity issues.
The wine is already sold out.
From Vigna Bosco, we headed to Vinupetra, undoubtedly in the top 5 vineyards I've seen in my lifetime.
At 240 years old (!!!), Salvo thinks these are "probably" the oldest existing vines in Etna.
"You have to treat these vines with the same respect and care and you would a 90 year old person. When you're 90 you can't do the same stuff you were doing when you were 20. It's the same with vines."
On average, the work to maintain these old vines requires his team 250 days of work. Young vines trained in Cordon on these soils require approximately 50 days of work a year.
"40 years ago, all of Etna's vines were trained in Albarello. Now it's water, chemicals and vines planted to last only 20 years before being ripped up."
The craziest of these vines were HUGE. Here's one taller than me!
And I'm tall!
Conveniently enough, Salvo's house overlooks Vinupetra, and it was at a long table that we sat down to eat dinner and taste wine.
As always, the antipasti alone was enough to fill an average human being up.
Of course, Salvo has a oven set up outside, perfect for making flatbreads and pizza.
As we set up, we asked for a spit bucket. Reluctantly, Salvo got up and brought some to the table. The one on my side had a large spider web in it.
"As you can see, no one uses that thing!"
We started with some white, then the 2013 Vinudilice Rosé, which if you recall is from the Vigna Bosco we visited earlier. Before Salvo acquired it, the prior owner used this parcel to make house wine for his family.
"When I took over, he told me that his grandfather had always made the wine with one night skin maceration. So I continue this tradition."
We then moved on to the Etna Rosso 2012. Did you know that the Etna DOC is the oldest in Sicily, dating back to 1968? Did you also know that this wine is a wine illegally made in a Palmento? If not, re-read this. On the subject, Salvo chimed in:
"Sicilians always expect something illegal. So we don't worry."
The Etna Rosso is always foot-trodden, then and open fermentation takes place for 7 to 10 days before the wine is racked to chestnut barrels.
The tasting ended with younger vintages of Vinupetra, followed by 06, 02 and 01.
As we ended dinner, Salvo toasted us and had this to say:
"I thank you all for coming and doing what you do. Wine is important, wine is three dimensional: there is time (the cycle of the year, the wine aging...), space (the context of where it is consumed, whether in its place of origin or all the way in the US...) and the mental (how it makes us feel, how it brings us together...)."
I guarantee you a lot was lost in translation, but it was a special way to end a special night.
Before visiting Arianna in her native Vittoria, we spent a night in the lovely town of San Leone. Serious sunset vibes.
The main reason we stayed there was because of this legendary seafood spot that was a pure joy.
Check out this before and after jam:
This whole octopus were pretty stellar as well:
On a much stranger note, our hotel was adorned with seriously bizarre artwork, including crying clowns and this police brutality portrait:
Way to set the mood...
Ok, on to the good stuff! Occhipinti time!
The big news is that Arianna has built a beautiful new cellar on the farm she acquired two years ago (read up on that in my first recap in 2012).
Besides the obvious advantage of having way more space, it has permitted Arianna to start a new regiment of concrete fermentation and aging for both SP68's (in the past everything was done in stainless steel and fiberglass). Some of the tanks are glass lined, some aren't. They are all 2mx2m, and with the way they are set up, the juice can be worked by gravity.
"We can smell and feel the grapes from the top, which is a huge step up from the old cellar."
From concrete tank, we tried both SP68 Bianco and Rosso. The Bianco is 40% Albanello and 60% Zibibbo this year, with no skin contact. SP68 Rosso is 70% Frapatto and 30% Nero d' Avola in 2013, with 30 days skin contact and 6 months aging in cement. For both blends, Arianna usually co-fermented the wines, though some years this is not possible.
We then tasted through the 2013's barrels of Frapatto, Siccagno and Cerusuelo.
Some 2012 Il Frapatto was also being bottled.
While tasting, Jill from Domaine LA asked Arianna for insight on why her wines are so elegant and light compared to most Sicilian wine. Besides the fact that Vittoria is located amongst many mountains that provide the vines with constant wind, Arianna had this to say:
"Not irrigating, harvesting late and not using fertilizers are the secret to making more elegant wines in the area. The freshness and minerality in my wines come from the subsoils. Any wine made from young vines or chemically grown vines feeding only off of the top soil will have the cooked, hot characteristics people associate with wine from warm regions."
After a great lunch where we tasted currently bottled offerings, Arianna showed us the old farm house she is currently renovating. More precisely, she showed us the Palmento, which pretty much a staple of nearly every farm-house in Sicily.
These Palmentos are extremely common, but also extremely abandoned. The reason is less that they were made illegal for "sanitary" reasons in the 1970's and more that there are simply a lot less people making wine on the island. Today only 600 hectare of vines are planted in the Vittoria region, and Arianna estimates it was 20 times as much in early 1900's.
We then took a coffee break, which served as an excellent moment for everyone to pet Arianna's dog Paco.
I decided to join the fun:
I then began fluffing him, which got Paco frisky.
Then, out of nowhere, he snatched my notebook!
Naturally, I panicked since all of my precious notes (including the ones used to write this) were in there! My reflex was to chase Paco around trying to get my book back:
This proved unsuccessful, but after some screaming on Arianna's part, Paco dropped the book. He was a bit bummed his mom wouldn't let him play anymore:
The book was more or less unscathed, but did suffer a bit of superficial damage.
After all that excitement, we walked over Arianna's new plantation of 3.5 hectares of Frapatto on red sand over limestone.
These were all grafted in place in massale. 19 000 plants will be re-grafted on the roots starting in August. Arianna will undertake this daunting task with the help of 3 local contadinos.
The visit ended with a quick tour of the bianco parcel, which is trained in Albarello.
While there, we were informed that Ari only performed 1 copper and sulfur treatment in 2014! That's crazy!
Walking back to the house, we were surrounded by a never ending amount of bright red poppies.
It was a great visit.
On our first day in Sicily, we got a day off to hang out in the incredibly photogenic town of Trapani.
While walking around, I kept noticing locals hanging outside burning huge candles. At first I thought little of it; after all I'm not from there and maybe that's how people hang. But then I started hearing marching band music!
And along with the marching band, a huge group of people where following a statue of this guy!
Our group was a bit stumped as to what this ritual pertained to, but with some googling we were able to figure out it was a celebration for Santo Padre, who, amongst other accolades, was the 2nd Pope. Ever!
As an aside, the best painting of all time was on proud display at the restaurant we ate at that night:
The following morning we drove over to Marsala to see the de Bartoli family. Their hamlet still looks like a cross of Miami Vice and a Spaghetti Western.
Here is their adorable dog Picasso, who many felt was the cutest canine of the trip:
Here I am angering Picasso by trying to do "extreme" maneuvers on a tiny, tiny skateboard not much bigger than my foot:
This video truly gives you all an inside glimpse in the sheer professionalism we here at Louis/Dressner profess with every visit.
Right on the outskirts of the de Bartoli cellar, a limestone quarry provides a good look into what the soils/subsoils of the area look like.
Interestingly, the limestone from Western Sicily is not only great for growing white grapes, but also for building houses.
"Half of Sicily was built from our area's stones."
I couldn't help but notice this everywhere we went for our remainder of the time on the island.
To the side of the quarry, 9 hectares are planted in Grillo.
These 9 hectares produce all of the de Bartoli Grillo based cuvées: Vigna Verde, Grappoli di Grillo, Integer Grillo and of course the beautiful line-up of Marsalas the estate is famous for. The Cataratto that produces Lucido are a short 4 kilometers away and the Pignatello that produces Rosso di Marco are 10km away.
From the vines, we set off to the de Bartolis' beautiful and elaborate cellar. Before I jump into the technical stuff, I highly recommend re-reading my visit re-cap from two years ago. There will certainly be some overlap (as well as a past Miami Vice reference), but many of the details I delve into below will complement the information from our past visit that I didn't catch the first time around.
The Marsala process begins in the ground level part of the cellar:
To understand how the solera process works, the first concept to grasp is that alcohol molecules are bigger than water molecules, and therefore water molecules disappear first with evaporation, leaving a more concentrated alcoholic liquid to be topped off with new wine each year.
The top floor cellar is where the Solera process takes place, going from top to bottom barrel, which if you scroll up will notice go from smallest at the top to biggest at the bottom. The new wine added each vintage is vinified like the Integer Grillo: barrel fermentation and aging without any added sulfur. Every year, Marsala is bottled from the small aging barrels in the underground cellar (we'll get to that shortly), and wine from the huge bottom barrels is racked back into the small barrels, where they will continue aging until they are bottled. In practice, this is a never-ending process that can continue endlessly:
"Marsala can age for hundreds of years."
The average mix in a big bottom barrel is 20 vintages.
From the ground level cellar, we walked two flights down into the aging cellar.
As explained earlier, these little barrels are where the wine that has already gone through the solera process age. It is at this point that the wine is either left to age on its own before bottling or fortified with mistella to produce the Superiore line.
"Traditional Marsala was never fortified, but my father wanted to look forward while also honoring tradition, and this is how the Superiore line came to be. Still, it is the territory, the grape and oxygenation that makes a Marsala, not fortification."
At the end of the cellar visit, Sebastiano drew this very helpful diagram to understand the whole process of making a de Bartoli Marsala.
It all seems so simple when you add a cute drawing!
It was time to taste, which is always a lot of fun since the family produces so many different wines from the same vines and land.
We also got to taste the Zibibbo based passitos from the island of Pantelleria, a project started in 1984. As a fun treat, Sebastiano pulled out a few bunches of the dried grapes that make the wine for us to taste.
BEST. RAISINS. EVER.
We ended our visit with a tour of the late Marco's prized car cellar, which is full of rare automobiles from the 60's, 70's and 80's.
The funnest part was seeing his favorite sports car, this red Alpha-Romeo that served as the inspiration for the Rosso di Marco label!
Right next to the Roagna family house is the historic and majestic Pajé vineyard.
The Roagna family has been working this land for over 130 years, and have owned the majority of this Cru since the 1950's; they currently work 2 of the site's 4 hectares, which is shared two other growers. The site is shaped like an amphitheater, and exposed South-Southwest.
Many cuvées are bottled from the Pajé, all depending on the age of the vines and the conditions of the vintage: the base Pajé comes from 45-50 year old vines, Pajé Riserva is from vines that are 60+ and the Crichet Pajé is produced only in the best vintages, and from the oldest vines (70-100).
The soils are composed of marly limestone. The Roagnas never cut the grass at any time in any of their land:
Luca explained that this creates an incredible biodiversity in the vineyards and soil, which -amongst a multitude of herbs and flowers- includes more than 10 varieties of mint.
"If we ever fail at wine, we can become premium Mojito producers!"
The young Nebbiolo vines from Pajé (which are 20 to 50) partially produce the Roagna's Langhe Rosso, and the estates's Dolcetto is also planted here.
A short drive from Pajé, we visited the Asili Cru, the second of three lieu-dits within the village of Barbaresco that the Roagnas produce from.
The soils here are clay, limestone and sand. The youngest vines are 55.
A little further down, you can spot their tiny parcel of the Montefico Cru. Can you guess which it is?
Hint: grass grows wild...
If you guessed this:
You are wrong and chose a parcel with evident, heavy handed herbicide use!
If you chose this:
Then you are correct!!!!!!!!
All joking aside, the picture above is a very interesting contrast of the varying degrees of herbicide use in vineyards. From the full "Brazilian Wax" to "just in between the rows" to "let it grow free!", you get to see it all. Still, I feel I must ask the rhetorical question: which plot looks the healthiest and most full of life?
From Barbaresco, we hopped into our Dressner mobiles and drove the half hour to Barolo. It was looking like rain the whole way over, but we still felt that it was necessary to visit La Pira, the 8 hectare Cru and monopole Alfredo purchased in 1990.
The total property is 11 hectares, with 8 hectares of vines planted. The oldest vines here were planted in 1937, but there have historically been plantings here for at least 500 years.
In addition to the obviously planted Nebbiolo, La Pira is also where the Langhe Bianco and Barbera grapes are grown. As you can see from the pictures, the grass stays just as tall here as in Barbaresco. This is particularly useful for harvesting herbs and making their Chinato, which is one of the best in the game. La Pira is an isolated clos.
At the bottom of the hill, Luca is conducting a franc de pied experiment with the best clones from his various parcels.
The goal is to see which react the best to this situation in order to propagate them in the future.
Our visit ended in a visit in the brand new cellar installation Luca has constructed above La Pira. It is fucking huge and kind of looks like the Legion of Doom headquarters.
It isn't clear if all the vinifications will take place here, but the idea is to do all of the aging here; because space is longer an issue, this will permit Luca to age wines much longer than he has been able to in the past. Even though everything looks really new, the space already has that cold, moldy cellar feel.
Cages will eventually hold reserve bottles of wine.
Or maybe lock up pesky importers if they misbehave.
Luca has also started custom building his own concrete tanks because he doesn't trust the manufacturers.
"I want it to not have lining and the concrete to have very specific dimensions. I want it to to be the most neutral tank possible, and I cannot find what I am looking for on the current market."
Here are some pics:
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise; to this day Alfredo and Luca are the only ones allowed to prune the entirety of their land. That's two guys for 15 hectares!
We tasted wine, it was good. As we drove off, a nice rainbow led the way to Torino.
That was the view from our hotel.
As you know, we here at Louis/Dressner are big fans of underdog regions and the crazy indigenous grapes grown there. We also are big fans of die-hard traditionalists, preservers of history and lovers of the land. After our visit with Giulio Moriondo of Vinirari, I can confirm he exemplifies these qualities to a tee.
First off, if you don't know Vinirari, rest assured that 99.3% of wine drinkers are right there with you. Giulio is truly a garagiste (his cellar in his garage), owns about 1 hectare of vines spread over a gazillion parcels, and tends vines/makes wine purely out of passion and love for his region's viticultural history. He's even written two books about it! And it's not even his full time job!
We only visited two micro parcels very close to Giulio's house, but still learned a ton. The first parcel we visited was planted in Pinot Noir for a long time, but Giulio has spent the last years re-grafting these with over 20 different massale clones of the indigenous Petit Rouge.
Here you can see the grafted vines.
When asked about getting rid of his Pinot, Giulio answered:
"This is not Burgundy. I've tried every vinification possible and still have never found a way to express the grape properly in this terroir."
If you're wondering how Giulio found 20 massale clones of a weird grape you'd never heard of before, it's because he's made it his lifework to discover, analyze, understand and preserve Aosta's indigenous grapes. Through his own rigorous, self funded research, which mostly involved talking to old timers but also DNA analysis, he's been able to identify and in some cases re-discover varieties long believed to have disappeared from the area.
We were lucky, because the only other parcel we'd visit that day (just a short walk from the Petit Rouge) is Giulio's training ground for all the clones he's been able to find and preserve over the years.
One, for example, is called Blanc Commun, a grape from the 18th century. Only 8 plants of this are planted within the vineyard.
Cornalin, another unknown indigenous variety, was considered to have disappeared in the area. Most confused the remaining plants as a strain of Petit Rouge. Giulio, armed with a hunch and DNA analysis, was able to identify the grape and help it regain its identity. But here is the confusing thing: What they call Cornalin in Aosta is actually Humagne Rouge in the Valais of Switzerland!
Other grapes in the vineyard include Oriou Gris, Fumin, Vien de Nus and Giulio's new darling, Nebbiolo Rose.
"This is a very different strain then the Nebbiolo grown in Piemonte. The traditional wine made with this grape was considered a luxury good. It was called a "Clairet", and made like a Recioto."
Petit Rouge and Fumin are the grapes with the longest historical standing in the area. Aosta used to have a much richer vitculutural history: in the 18th century, 4000 hectares of vines were planted on the region's mountains. Today there are barely 400.
"70 years ago, this entire mountain had vines as far as the eye can see."
As far as agriculture, the soils are very poor so Giulio lets grass grow wild, then selectively tills what he doesn't want. He also needs to have gates surrounding the vineyards because of badgers.
"If you don't take preventative measures with them, they can eat up to 70% on the crop."
Heading back to Giulio's house, he was excited to show us "the rarest wine in the world", a mutated strain of Petit Rouge that produces white grapes. Giulio had dubbed it Petit Rouge Blanc (not a confusing name at all...) and planted three rows in his front yard.
The vines are three years old and 2013 was the first year they produced fruit. 23 liters total!
When it came time to see the cellar, Giulio warned us to not expect much:
"My cellar is more of a workshop than anything."
It was indeed tiny and in his garage. The wines are fermented off their native yeasts. Giulio never filters or fines. The wines are usually bottled two winters after they were harvested.
Because he does 100% of the vineyard work alone, Giulio has customized this seat with wheels to make things easier on his back.
I had to make sure it was comfortable to be used on a daily basis.
This customized seat with wheels is Jules Dressner approved™.
We ended the visit by tasting some wine, starting with the Petit Rouge Blanc. It had an aromatic, clean nose.
"It reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc."
It was fresh, with balanced acidity, minerality and again, slightly aromatic. Due to the vines' very young age, there was not much complexity in the body.
Someone asked for a spit bucket and Giulio replied:
"I'll go get a spit bucket for you, but remember that you are tasting the RAREST WINE IN THE WORLD!"
Next we tried the Saint-Ours 2011, a blend of 70% Cornalin and 30% Petit Rouge from the re-grafted parcel we visited. It was very good.
This was followed up by a 2009 Pinot Noir from the aforementioned re-grafted vineyard. This was the last year he made it, and Giulio blended it with 15% Cornalin. We all agreed it was "not bad".
"My wines really take time to develop. I wish I could age them for 4 of 5 years, but I just don't have the room."
We ended the tasting with a wine very dear to Giulio's heart, a "Clairet" style wine he made from Petit Rouge and Vien de Nus.
Lo Vrej translates to "The Real", and is Giulio's homage to the traditional luxury wines of the 18th century.
Unfortunately, both bottles were corked.
Vallée d'Aoste. Holy shit.
In all of my years of visiting viticultural regions, Aoste just might be the most visually remarkable. You can't take a picture here without it looking majestic! Proof's in the pudding: the picture above, is the view from Franco Noussan's front yard.
Speaking of Franco, he lives in the commune of Maillod, which itself is part of the town of Saint Christophe. If all these names sound kind of French to you, that's because they are: Aoste used to be part of the Royaume de Savoie, and only became part of Italy in the aftermath of World War 1. In such, Franco speaks a local dialect called Patois with his wife and daughters, but is fluent in French and Italian.
"We are not French, we are not Italian. We are people of the Alps."
Though vines have been planted in Aoste since Roman times, the idea of terroir driven viticulture is a recent one, dating back to the 70's. This is because more traditional, rural ways of living were abandoned and forgotten during the Industrial Revolution.
As locals began working in the metal industry to build railroads, Aoste wine became for family consumption, while the more established viticultural region of Piedmonte began providing them their every day wine.
"Our tiny micro vineyards could not compete with our much more established neighbors in Piedmonte."
The first vineyard we visited was young Pinot Gris planted in 2007.
The vines are planted in very high density and in Cordon to reduce yields.
The elevation here is 1300m! As we walked through the vines, Franco started breaking down some of his viticultural practices.
In a new plantation, he always uses a small amount of herbicide along the rows for the first three years of their growth. This is because the area has a ton of cereal production, and the grains fly into vineyards because of the wind, then start growing wildly. This creates too much competition for young vines. He also irrigates the first three years, because Aoste only gets 500ml of annual rainfall.
"If the young vines don't get water in their infancy, their roots don't dig deep enough into the soil and won't fully express the terroir."
If the vines are over 3 years old or acquired at a later stage in their growth, Franco never uses herbicides or irrigation.
"After this initial step, I work organically."
Franco's "estate" consists of 1.5 hectares of vines, spread over 13 parcels in 3 communes. 7 different grapes are grown: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Vien de Nus, Mayolet, Cornalin, Fumin and Petit Rouge. He rents all of his parcels, but has fixed them up himself.
"Everything is small production here. You can't make a "commercial" wine in the sense of volume; the numbers just aren't there. The best you can do is produce a great wine of terroir that expresses its place."
Most of the people who currently live in Franco's commune are residential habitants who work in the nearby city of Aoste. Almost no agriculturalists are left.
The next plot we visited was some 20 year old Pinot Noir.
A tiny part of this parcel is a 90 year old field blend. Though he likes the current results, Franco believes it will take at least 20 more years before these vines produce "really great" grapes.
Driving to Franco's main site, we passed a 12 year old, very low yielding vineyard composed of 70% Petit Rouge, 30% Fumin.
Our final stop was Franco's main vineyard site, where 6 of his 13 parcels co-exist amongst his neighbors' vines. It is one of the most stunning vineyards I've ever seen.
The vines that produces Franco's Torrette are located here, and stand tall at a whopping 710m elevation. The soils consist of sand, and it was abandoned before Franco gave it new life.
The highest parcel here 800m elevation planted in Pinot Gris. In the same area, there is some very old Petit Rouge.
"I'm not sure how old these vines are, but they are definitely older than me."
Unlike the earlier parcels we visited, which were trained in Guyot, the much older vines here are trained in gobelet.
The soils in this particular section are very light clay that breaks up like sand.
The sun was beginning to set, so we decided to head back to Franco's house to visit the cellar. Unsurprisingly, it is tiny. So small in fact that Franco is forced to vinify all of his wines at different times. The wines ferment off of their native yeasts for 12 days.
Along with some incredible local charcuterie and cheese, we tried a bunch of wine. Each bottle features the date of harvest on the label, and looking at the lot number is the only way to identify the vintage, since it is not listed.
Blanc de Tzanté: means "little hill" and is all Pinot Gris. We tried 2012 and 2013, and both had a lot of Alpine Charm™. I'm trademarking that because it sounds like the name for a Febreze or Old Spice odor, and you never know with these multi-national corporations! I need to keep my creative endeavors safe!
Torrette 2012 had a dark nose, with a smoky, Mountain Freshness™ and herbaceous character. The blend always consists of 70% Petit Rouge, but the rest varies vintage to vintage.
11 Torrette had a fruitier nose which also marked the palate. It was the fresher of the 12.
Cuvée de la Cote is a blend of all his red grapes, all co-fermented. Both 12 and 11 were super glugable, easy drinking wines.
"You have to want to drink the wine. If finishing a glass seems like a burden, you haven't done your job correctly."
The tasting ended with a 2011 Pinot Noir that was my favorite of the night. Why?
Tune in next time...
When you've travelled all the way from another continent to visit an estate, the last thing you want is getting rained out. It really dampens the mood!
This was unfortunately the case as we pulled up to Casa del Bosco to visit father and son team Odilio and Mattia Antoniotti; in the winter it's not the end of the world since the vines are hibernating and it's cold as shit out. But when you've just landed in Italy in early May and the vines bursting full of vigor and life, you definitely want to spend as much time as possible outside. Alas, the rain was coming down hard, and it looked like it was going to be an "inside only" visit...
Luckily, the Antoniottis have some nice inside stuff to visit. For example, their really old cellar:
The cellar is directly under their family house, divided in two parts and dates back to the late 1700's. What you see here is the vinification area.
Grapes come in through this window:
All of the wine ferments in these large concrete vats from 1910.
There used to only be a single huge vat, but Odilio split it in 2 to focus on more precise vinifications. The grapes are de-stemmed, and fermentations take about 3 weeks, with 2 to 3 remontages a day. The wine then clarifies (decants) in stainless steel before being racked to barrel about a month later to age. Many of their barrels are made from oak chopped down on their own land.
The Antoniotti family produces two D.O.C wines: Bramaterra and Coste della Sesia. Both are micro-appellations, with 8 producers bottling Bramattera and 20 for Coste della Sesia.
"And each producer has a tiny annual production."
Factoid: the tiny village of Casa del Bosco was originally built as a lord's hunting resort. The historical reason vines were planted in the area is because the lord and his crew naturally needed wine to celebrate after the hunt!
Moving on, Mattia showed us their labeling room, which is literally just a room where they hand label EVERY SINGLE BOTTLE ONE AT A TIME WITH GLUE AND A PAINT BRUSH!
That's what I call attention to detail!
From the cellar, we trekked upwards to the Antoniotti's semi-formal tasting room. Old bottles were proudly on display, including this 1964 produced by Odilio's grandfather.
From the tasting room, a large window faces a large hill right by the house.
While sitting down, Odilio explained how this entire hillside was planted in vines just 50 years ago.
Before getting to down to business, Mattia busted out some local cheeses.
There was also some Prosciutto thrown in for good measure.
Finally, there was some wine to taste!
We started the tasting with a first time experiment, a delicious Rosato made from 24 hour saignée. It follows the same blend as the Bramaterra: 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina (also known as Bonarda in Emilia-Romagna) 7% Vespolina and 3% Uva Rara (which literally translates to rare grape). My notes said it was "super good" with "super purity".
Next up was the Coste della Sesia 2011, which is always 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Croatina. It was dark and fully bodied but super fresh, with bright acidity and nice finish.
"This is the best Coste we've ever made."
Conditions were perfect in 2011: cool winds, no illness, no hail.
We ended with the Bramaterra 2010, which is aged 3 years in barrel before release. It showed more structure than the Coste della Sesia, and even though there is less Nebbiolo in it than the Coste, I felt the wine to be more marked by the Nebbiolo than the rest.
Someone asked about the lesser planted and known grapes used at the estate, and Odilio answered:
"Having many grape varieties balances the vineyard and ensures that if something goes wrong (with one of the grapes), you have the luxury of a back up plan."
By the time the tasting was over, the rain had majorly subsided and we decided to brave the elements to visit some nearby vineyards. Incredibly, Odilio had eight million umbrellas handy and was able to lend one to each of us.
Well, everyone but me. I actually had a broken parasol.
The first vineyard we visited is 450 m elevation and produces Coste della Sesia.
In better weather conditions, you can clearly see the Alps and the Sesia river in the background.
The vineyard is and isolated clos, exposed full South and is planted in Nebiollo and Vespolina. The soils here consist of volcanic Porphyry, which is a type of granite. Odilio decided to grab a huge chunk of it to break it down.
"Every different color you see in a different mineral, which adds much complexity to the wine."
Here's another, smaller piece to give you an idea.
The next vineyard we visited took us through a crazy, slippery and very uneven road that I have no idea how anyone could access without a 4x4 truck.
This is their main vineyard; the current vines were planted in 1978, but the Antoniotti family purchased the land in 1860 (Odilio still has the contract papers stashed somewhere!) The soils are also Porphyry, but much finer and pebbly.
The site is a proper viticultural amphitheater, and as such the exposition spans from South to South-West.
The Antoniottis have never used herbicides.
"We till the grass, and that becomes a natural compost."
Cascina Degli Ulivi will always hold a special place in my heart. You see, when I was 19 years old, I felt a need to distance myself from my social scene (Montreal), and after an initial plan to "move to Vancouver", Joe proposed I go work in vineyards somewhere. I'd never been to Italy, and Joe, knowing that Stefano Bellotti runs a poly-cultural farm and there would be plenty for me to do there, proposed Ulivi. After a quick chat with Stefano, it was agreed I would get room at board at the Cascina in exchange for manual labor. I could (and probably should) write an entire entry on the 5 months I lived and worked there, but this is neither the time nor place. Suffice to say, my time there was -whether I was aware of it or not at the time- the catalyst in finding a personal connection with the traditions of peasantry and wine. Also, working in the fields gave em the only legit tan I've ever had in my life. But I digress...
After landing in Milan, we drove straight to the town of Novi Ligure, where Ulivi is located.
Though Novi Ligure is actually a modestly sized town (28,500) with a bustling urban core, the Ulivi farm is about ten minutes out, completely surrounded by woods and only accessible via a small road. Chickens, ducks and geese are just hanging around everywhere.
Love was definitely in the air.
Because of all the animal fornication going on around us, we assumed it was mating season. Later, Stefano confirmed we were wrong:
"It's like this all the time. They never stop."
As I mentioned earlier, the farm is completely self-sufficient. For example: 23 cows!
These are almost exclusively used for dairy: fresh milk, delicious homemade cheeses, and yogurts/panna cotta,etc... On average, only 2 male cows are slaughtered a year for meat, which is served exclusively at the restaurant/agriturismo within the farm grounds. That's right people: two cows last an entire year!
A lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are also planted throughout.
Look, a goat family!
As you can see, there are all types of animals at Cascina degli Ulivi! But Stefano's favorite, of course, is his Maremma sheepdog Guantanamobai.
You may recognize this big guy from the Filagnotti labels:
Well, that's not actually the same dog; Stefano has loved this breed for as long as he can remember, and owned many since his early 20's.
But beyond farming, restaurants and animals, the real bread and butter of Cascina Degli Ulivi is, you guessed it, WINE!
We started our tour by checking out Stefano's brand new experimental vineyard.
Planted last June, these 3 hectares are all planted in franc de pied aka un-grafted roots. Stefano explained that these 4 varieties were historically considered "shit", but that have also been historically proven to resist mildew and odium over the long term.
Stefano's discovery of these "shit" varieties stems from research dating back to 1910. A pépinièriste (whose job involves growing young vines in a nursery for future use) in Südtirol based his life work on this, and was able to find 25 hybrid grapes that resist the two of the most damaging fungal illnesses in viticulture. Stefano picked the ones that made the most sense for his soils and micro-climates, but also the flavors he liked.
"I didn't want anything aromatic."
Interestingly the soils here are not sand (where the phylloxera bug cannot survive) but heavy clay.
"They are already very alive."
Next, we headed over to the beautiful Filagnotti vineyard, which produces the aforementioned bottling of the same name.
The village you can spot in the background is Tassarolo.
In this vineyard, Cortese is planted on very acidic red clay that is rich in iron. Stefano has been working this vineyard since 1984, which coincides with his first year practicing biodynamics.
Looking in the distance, then back at the budding vines, Stefano proclaimed:
"This is my favorite time of the year. I love looking at individual buds and thinking: This will soon be a glass of wine!"
As with most of Piemonte, a lot of Stefano's vines have been dying for from Flavescence Dorée (read more about this lesser known disease here).
"The best way to fight this is franc de pied, but this directly confronts you with the problem of phylloxera. Still, I believe fighting a bug is easier than fighting a disease."
"The problem is that all funded research is geared towards "fixing" these problems through chemical treatments. Any alternative means always falls on our backs, through our own independent experiments. In the end, their is not one magic solution. It will be a combination of many factors that will lead us to an answer."
Speaking of individual experimentation, Stefano has planted an entire portion of Filagnotti in Franc de Pied.
He feels that these much younger vines already have much more vigor and life than their grafted siblings.
Last but not least, we visited Cascina degli Ulivi's most prized vineyard, Montemarino.
Holy shit that's beautiful!
The soils here are clay and limestone. Standing in Montemarino, the difference in micro-climate between Filagnotti was clear: a constant wind sweeping through the vineyards (as opposed to Filagnotti's much dryer nature) creates a cooler, more elegant wine.
Though the vast majority of Montemarino is planted in Cortese, the oldest vines in the estate are planted here (94 years old, planted in 1920), and consist of Nibio, the local name for the region's indigenous strand of Dolcetto.
Stefano acquired the vast majority of this lieu-dit, which consists of 6 hectares, in 2000. To do so, he had to purchase individual plots from 39 different owners!!! Montemarino is exposed full South, at 310 meters of elevation.
After walking through the vines, it was time for Stefano's self-admitted "schtick I do every time": The Shovel Experiment™
"Of all my vineyards, Montemarino is the only one were I have a neighbor. And of course, he works more chemically than anyone I know!"
The Shovel Experiment™ consists of shoveling a hunk of land from Montemarino as well as his neighbor's to compare and contrast the amount of life in both. Here's a side by side pick to give you an idea of what a vineyard heavily treated with herbicide where one doesn't work the soils looks like versus that of a biodynamic pioneer.
Keep in mind those are less than 50 meters apart!
At the top of Montemarino, Stefano's vinification cellar hosts all his future releases. He works almost exclusively with large wood vessels.
"I like using wood because it keeps the wine alive. This is because it is constantly dancing with oxygen. But it not's oxygenation I look for; it's so that the wine is in constant contact with something alive (air)."
We tasted through a range of 2013 wines, which were a solid vintage for Ulivi. By the time we were done tasting through the current releases, jet lag had started seriously kicking in so we sat down for an early dinner at the agriturismo which naturally consisted of all the meats, vegetables, dairy and fruit of the farm.
It was good to know that 8 years after my time there, Cascina degli Ulivi is still as magical as ever.
After eating lunch in Saumur, Fredrik Filliatreau met us up for coffee before setting out to his vines. Before seeing any of his own land, he asked me (and consequently, the 6 other cars following us) to pull over to the side of the road.
"From here, I can give everyone a general overview of the area."
Saumur-Champigny is located between the Loire and Saône rivers, and was declared an AOC in 1957. It consists of 1600 hectares of Cabernet Franc spread over 9 villages. 100 independent growers make wine from their own land, and 40% of the AOC's vines are run and produced by huge cave cooperatives. With 45 hectares to their name, Domaine Filliatreau's is one of the biggest independent producers in the area.
The Filliatreau family has been based in the village of Chaintres for many generations. Fredrik's grandfather was the first to focus entirely on viticulture, and before that their main crops were asparagus and cereals. He was also one of the first 4 independent vignerons in the area. His father Paul started in 1967 with a very small production, but through many decades of successes and ambitious expansion, the estate now exists as 45h of land spread over 37 parcels.
The first site Fredrik showed were young vines from the lieu-dit La Croix.
As you can see from the photo above, it's been a rainy winter in the Loire.
We then walked by a clos whose name I didn't catch.
Fredrik had forgotten the key to this site so we couldn't go in. He shares this surface with a handful of other growers.
Just a short walk further, we entered one of Fredrik's favorite parcels, Clos Candi.
This 1.2 hectare clos' vines are 75 years old and some of the oldest at the estate. The soils consist of clay and limestone with limestone subsoils.
Fredrik explains how this is technically a "monopole" of a terroir, but since growers and consumers don't take things like that too seriously in the Loire, it makes it hard to justify bottling such a small amount of wine as its own cuvée. This did however happen once, and ended up as a Cuvée Buster.
Before getting back into our cars to go taste in the cellar, Fredrik wanted to show us a project very dear to his heart.
6 years ago, Saumur-Champigny became the first viticultural region in France to invest collectively as an AOC to transform into a bio-diversity zone. Bio-diversity has been discussed numerous times on this website, but the gist of it is a) to not use herbicides and b) to plant anything OTHER than vines. By taking these two steps, the growers of Saumur-Champigny are permitting a more balanced eco-system to form itself around its vineyards, thus attracting other types of life (plants, animals and bugs) that will help nature defend itself with minimal to no chemical aid.
30 km of hedges have been planted alongside many rows of vineyards.
These have brought insect populations that haven't been present in many generations. Furthermore, herbicides have been abolished completely in order to permit not only grass, but all of the flowers and plants that grow along with it to invigorate the vineyards' soil and micro-biological life.
"It's impossible to force everyone to work organically, but with this agreement we've found a way to reduce chemical use as a whole. I consider this a very important accomplishment."
From the rain soaked vines, we drove over to the Filliatreau's vinification cellar, built by Paul in 1978 and nicknamed Le Chai.
Originally, the entire production was made in concrete tanks. The resulting wines were very tannic, and often tricky to vinify due to lack of proper temperature control. In 1978, Paul discovered stainless steel and had a revelation: not only could this vessel be temperature controlled, but it could also permit him to make a lighter, fruitier wine in the style he'd always wanted to make. Domaine Filliatreau was the first to produce this style of Saumur-Champigny, which he jokingly labeled "Champigny Nouveau", a term which has since been banned.
Paris went apeshit for the "Fillatreau style", and as a result more and more producers started bottling similar wines to supply the ever-increasing demand of Parisian bistros and bar à vins. Unfortunately, as with most trends, big négoces and caves coopératives also started emulating and mass producing this style, eventually pushing things too far (à la Beaujolais Nouveau) and ruining that the reputation of the light gulpers Paul had pioneered in the late 70's.
Though thick and thin, Fredrik has continued to make this stainless steel style, which remain in high demand due to his knack for quality. Every year, a 50 to 60 person harvest team that works over the course of 2 weeks.
"You never really need to rush."
80% of the estate is hand-harvested. For the other 20% (young vines), Fredrik had this to say:
"If you make the decision to machine harvest part or all of your crop, It's very important to have your OWN harvesting machine, because it gives you control. Most people who machine harvest hire guys who are trying to get the job done as soon as possible, and don't care about timing or multiple passes."
Tanks macerate 1 to 5 weeks depending on the wine. The 13 Domaine had 10 days maceration.
In the tasting room, we got to try a bottle a bottle of 2013 Saumur Rosé.
"Every year, a local bar holds a competition for the best rosé. 3rd place gets an entire Serrano Ham, 2nd place gets 10kg of extremely rare and seasonal mushrooms, and first place gets:"
That's right, folks. First place for best rosé get you a weird boob statue. Fredrik in no way tried to explain how this made any sense (probably because it doesn't), and since we all know that a whole Serrano ham is way better than a weird boob statue:
"The secret is learning how to make the 3rd best rose!"
Fredrik then disgorged some Fillibule 13.
The wine is much darker in color this year, and slightly sweeter. Grapes for this PET NAT are sourced from the same parcel as the rosé, and it was delicious.
From Le Chai, we went to the Filliatreau's underground tuffeau cellar, which was built in the early 18th century.
As you may have noticed, all the barrel aged stuff is down here. A lot of old, moldy bottles also age down there, and we got to try a bunch of them.
2003 Chateau Fouquet was very fresh and balanced 95 Domaine Vielles Vignes had beautiful cherry fruit. I wanted V.V 1986 to be the best since it was my birth year, but Fredrik disagreed.
"It wasn't the best vintage. Still pretty good though!"
Thanks a lot Fredrik! The 85 V.V, on the other hand, was banging.
We then got to take a mini break back at the hotel before joining Fredrik for dinner at La Grande Vignolle, the lieu dit that produces the cuvée of the same name. This is what it looks like from a bird's eye view:
Yes, that's a vine maze. If you look towards, the top of the photo above, the beautiful monuments are built purely out of tuffeau limestone.
Outside, we spotted a super creepy and mysterious mannequin man.
Fredrik told us he has always been there, and any soul foolish enough to get too close has inevitably been hexed with a curse of getting drunk way too fast at public functions and making a total fool of themselves.
Dinner was awesome.
Cristiano Guttarolo is a pure joy. The guy is humble, enthusiastic, generous, respectful of his land and others, always up for a good laugh and most importantly, constantly questioning his work in order to improve. Not to mention his wines are ON POINT.
Most of Cristiano's vines surround his house and cantina. We began by checking out some young Primitivo planted in 2005.
The vines around the house are all trained in Guyot. The soils consist of clay and limestone. Currently, Cristiano works 6.5 hectares of land, with the possibility of planting 13.
The white flowers you can spot in every picture grow wild, and are closely related to chicory. Cristiano only does one light tilling in the summer, which is why the vineyards were so dense in greenery.
Cristiano has been doing biodynamic treatments for the last two years, and is extremely satisfied with the results. Though it is still very early, he already feels a new, inspiring energy he'd never noticed prior to the conversion. And while fully convinced, he has no plans of asking for certification. None of the vineyards have irrigation systems. Cristiano only did one copper and sulfur treatment in 2013, and none in 2012!!!
Continuing our walk through the vines, the sun started hitting the landscape in a way that, in alignment with the white flowers and lush greenery, struck Eben and I as the perfect photo-op for the cover of a cheesy rock album.
Here is the cover of my debut album, Reaching for the Sky.
Alternate titles: A New Beginning or Shine Your Light.
A little further, Cristiano showed us a small plot of Negroamaro.
You can't see those little guys amongst the flowers, but trust me, they're there.
These were re-grafted 3 years ago on Primitivo rootstock. Many haven't matured correctly because it has been too cool. Not too far off, he's also planted some Chardonnay, mostly as an experiment to see how they will behave in his terroirs.
"Limestone grabs macro-elements from the soil, which takes the vines longer to properly express the terroir. But when it does, it's splendid. This is why so many vines and great wines of the world come from limestone soils."
Has also recently planted some very young Sussumaniello, as well as 1 ha of a white grape I didn't catch the name of.
The last part of the the vineyard that we visited was an experiment on Cristiano's part, intentionally re-training some Primitivo vines to Albarello.
He doesn't mind the results, but prefers the superior yield controls of Guyot.
As we were chatting, our little friend Lady Bug decided to say hi.
By the time we were done walking through the vines, the sun was setting.
More importantly the picture above will serve as the back-cover to Reaching for the Sky.
Before we knew it, it was cellar time!
Most of Cristiano's vinifications are in stainless steel.
Here's the top-of-bottle waxing station in all its exciting glory.
And of course, here are the beautiful amphoras that produce the unique and extremely limited wines that instantly sell out as soon as we get them.
Interestingly, Cristiano does 3 passes on average each harvest, and has no idea what wines he will make until the last minute.
"I need to bring in the the new material (grapes) first to decide what I want to do with it."
His reasoning is that having a set game plan every year would standardize the process and be pointless.
We got to taste 2013 Primitivo Rose, 13 Susumaniello, 13 Primitivo, Lamie della Vina 12, and Antello Antelo delle Murge 10 from barrel. Everything was ON POINT: Cristiano's wines have this transcendent quality, where you forget you're drinking wine from Puglia or Italy. They are infinitely complex yet incredibly drinkable, and I'll let Cristiano have the final word on what really matters:
"Es fondamentale que GLOU GLOU GLOU!"
Before I start this recap, can we all agree that Antonio and Daniela di Gruttola's dogs look like they're up to no good in these pictures? I mean, seriously:
Look, they're even whispering evil things to each other!
They were actually super nice, but because they are hunting dogs, needed to be contained or they'd kill everything non human/dog in sight. Animal instincts, you know...
After getting a little lost, Daniela came to get us and we stepped into the lovely di Gruttola abode. The first thing Eben spotted was this original piece of art that later served as inspiration for the "Clown Oenologue" label.
I know 95% of people hate clowns, but even I have to admit that that is a seriously cool piece.
Antonio was teaching at his school (his full time job), and Daniela informed us he would get back at around 3. So we had a big ass lunch while we waited, which also permitted us to taste all of the currently bottled Giardino wines. Amongst them, new liter bottlings of both red and white were pretty awesome (and cheap!), but the favorite new guy was a Pet' Nat' Greco sourced from 80+ year old vines. Antonio and Daniela recently started renting this parcel from an 86 year old woman who has always made this wine with her "special technique", which as far as we could tell is méthode ancestrale, a style nary if ever produced in Italy.
Antonio eventually showed up, and because our daylight time was quickly dwindling, we all hurried into the di Gruttola's van to visit some vines.
This vineyard is 2,5 hectares. It's planted in Fiano and Coda di Volpe, the latter translating to "tail of the fox" because of the variety's very long, atypical bunches.
The vines themselves are extremely tall.
To give you a better idea just how big these are, here is 6'3 giant Eben Lillie standing next to one.
Antonio and Daniela bought this vineyard a few years ago. It totals 2,5 hectares of vines (the surrounding woods were also purchased to keep it a clos), was was planted in 1933, and the soils consist of a very compact, sculpt-able clay with limestone subsoil.
This clay is SO sculpt-able that Daniela now makes all of the estate's hand-made amphoras from it (more on that later). The di Grutolla's never work the soils of any of their vineyards.
As the sun was setting, we cracked open two more of those frizzantes to celebrate.
That's some dramatic imagery right there! Very majestic...
By the time we got back to the cellar, it was already pitch black.
The Cantina Giardino cellar is rather small, but still chock full of every wine aging vessel you could ever imagine.
In the cellar, we tasted a plethora of 2013 Fiano's and Greco's with varying amounts of skin contact, as well as a bunch of yet to be released Aglianicos. From what I could gather, it seems like the decisions are very instinctual and change each vintage, meaning that the juices ferment in different vessels each year, the skin contact varies from wine to wine, as do the blends.
The wines we didn't get to taste were in these sealed, home-made amphoras.
These are sealed in beeswax, and cracking them open to taste would expose the wine to a dangerous amount of oxydation. It's kind of like a pressure cooker: you just need to let the contents do their things until it's ready, and trust it'll be good.
Our final conversation revolved around the beautiful labels that people are always going apeshit about. Daniela explained that the first 3 (Le Fole, Drogone and Nude) were done by 3 different artist friends, who then put them in touch with others to do future labels. The name of each cuvée inspires the art or vice versa.
"There is no real rhyme or reason to it."
6 months later, here is the final post from last summer! After that, expect recaps from Luciano Saetti, Cantina Giardino, Perrini Organic, Natalino Del Prete and Cristiano Guttarolo, as well as some interviews and other stuff.
Louis/Dressner: We've Got Internet Content™
We began by visiting the parcel of Chenin Blanc that produces the Kharaktêr cuvée.
The soils here are composed of limestone and flint.
Recently, Natalie had to rip out some old vines that were in bad shape and dangerous to work with the tractor.
"If I replant, we will definitely make it parallel to the slope like the rest of the vines."
With those old timers gone, the vines now average 45 years old.
Just a little further up, we drove up to an unassuming path that is actually the geographical divide between Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. On the CdL side, three 3 parcels of Pineau d'Aunis grow on the same limestone and flint soils as Kharaktêr. The vines here are 35, total .75 ha and interestingly were much taller and developed than the Chenin we'd just seen.
I didn't take any pictures of these for some reason, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
From there, we jumped back into the LDM Mobile to visit the lieu-dit Le Briseau, the site the estate takes its name from.
This was the first piece of land Christian and Natalie purchased after moving from Vouvray. The land represents about 4 ha, with 1.36 ha planted in Chenin Blanc. Le Briseau roughly translates to "the shatterer", as the subsoil consists of a solid layer of flint that is near impossible to penetrate.
"Tractors and teals always break here."
The superficial soils consist of heavy clay mixed with very rocky chunks of flint.
The oldest vines are 60+ years old and produce an insanely low 8hl/h. In really good years this produces the Briseau Blanc, otherwise, as was the case in 2012, the wine is called Patapon Blanc.
Le Briseau is a clos, and this peaceful atmosphere was where our late friend Christian Chaussard liked working the most. In bittersweet fashion, it was here that he had his fatal tractor accident last year. His ashes are buried at the foot of this shelter, just a few feet from the vines.
It's comforting (and admittedly poetic) that Christian would be one with the very soils he loved so much.
Heading back from Le Briseau, we drove back to Natalie's home to taste some currently bottled stuff. I could tell you all about how good everything tasted, but I'd much rather show you PICTURES OF NATALIE'S ADORABLE DOG GROVER!!!
Our final vineyard visit was a quick walk to Le Briseau's other major lieu-dit, Les Mortiers.
The soils here are heavy clay.
Les Mortiers roughly translates to "wet cement", because if it rains, the clay soils become impenetrable after drying up. A lot of impenetrable soils around these parts...
In total, 4 hectares of Pineau d'Aunis are planted here.
We ended our tasting in Natalie's cellar, where we got to taste some stuff, including Kharaktêr 09, 11 and 12, as well as Les Mortiers 11.
Before leaving, Grover made sure to mark his territory on the LDM mobile so other vigneron dogs wouldn't get it twisted.
We are happy to announce our newest Calabrian estate, L'Acino! Go read all about them on their BRAND SPANKING NEW PROFILE!
We first tasted L'Acino on a late night at Tabarro, the bar in Parma I'm always ranting and raving about. After requesting a "Beaujolais style" red, the owner Diego laughed and quickly brought out a bottle of Calabrian wine called Chora Rosso, made from a grape we'd never heard of. Everyone LOVED IT, and was very excited since it turned out the guys were participating in Vini di Vignaioli and that meant tasting the entire lineup the following day. The other three wines (for a total of 2 whites and 2 reds) were so good that Kevin instantly decided to modify our trip to visit the estate.
Two days later, we were smack-dab in the middle of San Marco Argentano waiting for head vignaiolo Antonello Canonico to show us some vineyards.
Though I much prefer driving stick-shift, the old town's extremely narrow, curvy and seemingly uphill only roads made me grateful that we had an automatic for once. While we were waiting, Eben and I made sure to buy some RumJungle jeans for all our cool American friends.
Antonello scooped us up and we drove over the 5 hectare site that produces both Chora Bianco and Chora Rosso cuvées.
The vines here are very young, and were planted by the L'Acino team 6 years ago. As you can see, the soils had been heavily plowed; the guys are doing this every year following harvest, and adding legumes, straw and many other good, biodynamic things to promote mineral richness and depth to the soils, which have never had anything planted in them.
Antonello explained that their are 5 distinct soil compositions within the vineyard, which are essentially varying amounts of sands. In the sandiest parts of this double-sided hill, the guys have planted in franc de pied. The sands go for 1.5 meters until they hit a solid, very hard to penetrate sheet of rock.
That's Antonello in the picture above. His partner Dino pointed out that this layer of rock will always keep yields very low. Furthermore:
"Because we are working organically from the start, the vines are taking a long time to find themselves in the soil."
As far as the grapes planted, the vineyard features the indigenous Magliocco (red) and Mantonico (white), as well as some Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc. Everything is planted in massale.
By the time we were ready to see another piece of land, the sun was almost gone.
Even though it quickly became too dark to take any good landscape pictures, the second site that Antonello, Dino and Emilio brought us to was a recently acquired plot of land that they will start planting in 2014. The iron infused sand and clay had a red intensity I've only seen at Mas des Chimères.
They are extremely excited about planting here, because this is a completely different terroir than their other vineyards.
We then drove to the cellar to taste the 2013's as well as some bottled stuff. The first thing I spotted was this TOTALLY BODACIOUS poster.
This is their cellar.
Stainless steel tanks take up the majority of the space, but there are some old French oak barrels hiding in the back.
Here are what the labels for the whites look like.
I don't really want to try describing how these taste since that's not really my forte, but they are really fucking good and the Mantonico whites are like nothing I've ever tried before.
Dinner was upon on, and the guys pulled out all the stops: the antipasti was about two meals worth of food on its own, the pasta was banging and the baby lamb slaughtered the night before did not die in vain. More importantly, it was a chance to get to know Antonello, Dino and Emilio, who are super nice guys. Chatting them up, it was obvious how enthusiastic and dedicated they are to the L'Acino project, and I can only imagine great things in the future for them.
The following morning, we set out for the 30 minute drive into the mountains to visit Mantonico vineyard, which produces the Mantonicoz bottling and totals just about 1 hectare.
These vineyards are right on the border of the Pollino National Park, which you can see in the photo above.
Antonello explained that these are very hard to work. The soils feature a little bit of clay, but are mostly comprised of very compact sand. These cool looking rocks can also be spotted throughout the vineyard.
The vineyard is 650 meters above sea level, and exposed North. This gives the area a uniquely cool microclimate that is very rare in the area.
"This microclimate really sets it apart."
The vines are 15 years old. Here's what second growth Mantonico looks like.
The 20 year old Magliocco vines are just a short walk away.
This represents about 1.5 hectares.
"When we took over, it was worked more than conventionally."
This is what second growth Magliocco looks like.
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!".
First thing's first: go read the BRAND SPANKING NEW interview with Jean Maupertuis on his profile. If you're unfamiliar with Auvergne's viticultural history, you will definitely learn a thing or two.
ON TO THE RECAP:
Two years ago, Jean Maupertuis purchased some vines in the commune of Riom. These are 45 minutes away from his village of Saint-Georges-sur-Allier, so we met him at at edge of an autoroute toll-booth (which admittedly was a bit confusing) to visit these first. Our first stop was a 1,5 hectare plot of Gamay d'Auvergne (a local strain that distinguishes itself by its later maturities and more rustic, peppery flavors) planted right after WW2.
The vineyard directly faces the town of Clermont-Ferrand, which you can see in the background of the above picture. These vines are planted on what was once one of Auvergne's most celebrated coteaux: designated as the Madargues cru, this was reportedly one of Louis XVI's favorite wines and was extremely popular in 17th century Paris. Today, only 12 h still remain in the cru (now a sub-appellation of the Auvergne AOC) and this is the only parcel left on this coteau.
The plot is wedged between expensive suburban houses.
"I don't know how long vineyards like this can last in the long run. This land is worth 5000 euros as a vineyard, and 1 million euros as a building site for housing."
The soils consist of white sands.
Grapes from this parcel go into the La Plage cuvée, which translates to "the beach". Get it?
The next plot of land we visited was a short drive away, all Gamay planted in even sandier soils.
It's this parcel that inspired the name La Plage, as the sands are the exact same you'd find on, well, a beach.
"Even the herbs that grow here look like the beach!"
The last parcel we visited from Riom is home to the Pinot Noir that produces Neyrou.
I immediately noticed a training system for the vines that I'd never seen before, which Jean defined as "En Lyre" training:
Essentially, "En Lyre" is a double palissage with nothing in the middle, permitting both sides to get optimal aeration and sun.
It quickly went out of fashion because this training system is impossible to work mechanically, and has therefore all but disappeared. According to Jean, it takes about 7 years to properly shape one. The vines here are 25 years old.
Another reason it became unpopular is due to the fact that you're getting grapes on both sides of each row, which automatically translates to low yields since one root is essentially sharing the work of two vines. Jean says that his Gamay and Pinot Noir planted in En Lyre produce teeny-tiny grapes, but that they are unbelievably full of concentration.
The vines here are exposed full South, and planted on clay heavy soils.
Jean has yet to work these soils, but plans to do so in the coming year. When he acquired these in 2011, they were abandoned and completely surrounded with extremely high thorns.
"It took a crew of 5 an entire month to clean everything up!"
The next morning, we set off to vineyards just a few minutes from Jean's home.
This 1.2 h parcel of Gamay was almost on some Clos Roche Blanche levels of flower-power!
All of these are wild flowers. The vines themselves were planted in the 60's and the soils are limestone.
The final parcel Denyse and I checked out produces the Pierres Noires cuvée. Zaggy was loving all the open space to run around in.
The soils here are all volcanic ash and debris.
Clermond-Ferrand can once again be spotted in the background.
The vines here are 60-70 years old and average 25 to 30 hl/h yields.
After a beautiful morning, we stepped into yet another contender for "smallest cellar in the universe".
Yup. That's all of it.
One thing that was sweet was this home-made spit bucket with a gutted bowl going placed on top of a vase.
Jean had already bottled all of his 2012's, which we gleefully re-tasted before setting off. They were quite nice.
You'd think that by this point, we'd have run out of things to say about Domaine de la Pépière. WRONG!
We started the visit by driving to the lieu-dit Gras Moutons, a terroir Marc started vinifying in 2007.
Soil wise, Gras Moutons distinguishes itself by being very clay heavy and rocky.
The microclimate is also unique, characterized by its constant winds.
"This helps aerate the vines, and keeps them clean of illness."
Sadly, the constant winds also mean that shitty chemicals being used by neighbors occasionally float over to the Pépière vines. Here's a leaf suffering from herbicide burn:
The Gras Moutons vines are spread over two parcels for a total of 1.7 hectares. They are 15, 40 and 65 years old. Rémi's father grandfather owned 9h of these at one point.
Here's a picture of a weird bug I'd never seen before.
After hopping back into the Marc Mobile, we drove over to Pépière's newest Cru, Château-Thébaud.
The soils here are rich granite and sand.
1.5 h are spread over two parcels. The first is planted in extremely vigorous young vines, so much so that in some vintages Marc and Rémi feel obligated to green harvest in order to LOWER yields. Melon de Bourgogne vines tend to produce very high yields even without chemical fertilizers, and to assure optimal concentrations, the Pépière crew intentionally keeps things at a very low 35 to 40 hl/h.
The lower yielding, older vines are over 60 years old.
Marc and Rémi love working here because the exposition is more South, and the "hotter soils" means more advanced, homogeneous flowering and maturing.
Our final and longest vineyard visit was a long stroll through the Pépière vineyard, the 10 hectare clos that produce the base Pépière and Clos des Briords cuvées.
The soils here are composed of super-light, sandy granite.
Upon further inspection, Marc pointed out the slender, silver micha-schist chunks that can be spotted all over the vineyard.
While they don't add anything to the soil's complexity, Marc theorizes that their constant reflection of the sun affects grape maturities. Upon even the slightest bit of friction, these flake into paper thin morsels.
In the late 90's, Marc decided to plant some reds here. At the time, he used what was available to him and planted, amongst others, Côt from clonal selections. Years later, he was able to acquire some massales from Clos Roche Blanche's 100+ year old vines. The difference in vigor and quality has amused Marc for a long time, so he decided to give us a side by side comparison.
The massale is the one on the right: a third less vigorous, but two thirds more concentrated. If it hasn't already been made clear, Marc is a fan of quality over quantity.
We also saw the oldest vines on the estate, which are over 100 years old.
Marc says these are productive as ever.