In Italian, “Pane e vino” means “bread and wine.” Gianfranco Manca was raised a baker. At an early age he took over his uncle’s bakery, baking the classic Sardinian breads that he learned to make from his mother and aunts. Their bread is still prized in his town and the bakery was a success. Along with the bakery, plots of land with very old vines had somehow remained in the family despite being neglected for years. They were trained in albarello (goblet), the traditional back-braking, low-growing system used on the islands of Italy. While majoritarily Cannonau, over 30 different grapes were planted.
Since he was already an expert at fermentation with bread, Gianfranco believed the natural progression would be to understand wine fermentation with the help of these old vines. He set about rehabilitating them and planted a parcel of new vines in Monica and Carignano del Sulcis, a local strain of the famous grape. And though Gianfranco started making wine in the mid 80’s, it wasn’t until 2005 that he was ready to put a label on it and offer his interpretation to the rest of the world.
What do you say about a winemaker whose self-professed greatest influences are Bob Dylan and Jesus? Gianfranco is a rare soul in the wine business. He is an empath/winemaker. First, his love for the vines is so strong that he says he feels a particular relationship with each one. Furthermore, he thinks the vines tell him what to do with the grapes. He has been working these vines for a long time now, so I can imagine some deeper understanding of one’s vineyards comes through with that much time.
As proof, Gianfranco's wines stylistically change from year to year. This also means a new label and name for each wine, each vintage. With each new wine Gianfranco expresses his personal point of view on what he experienced that year. In 2005 the wine was called Perdacoddura and it was above 15.5%, a big, brawny wine. In 2006, the expression of the same wine was called Mariposa, the results of a search for the more elegant and seductive side to the grape. In 2007, a very good harvest, it is called ‘Ogu – which simultaneously means "fire", "eye" and "bud". It is wine born of fire (there was a raging wildfire that year that stopped literally at the next hill over from his vineyards and house) and it is through this wine which Gianfranco presents his vision and through which the world sees him.
Of course, minimal treatments (2g of Bordeaux mix) and plowing, no use of systemic treatments, herbicides or pesticides are tolerated at Panevino (we visited an estate in Bossa that was doing a treatment. After artfully haranguing the owner for using these systemic treatments and offering to show him how to get along without them, sensitive Gianfranco became violently ill from the bad air). The vinifications are carried out on the natural yeasts of the vines and cellar culture. All the wines ferment in open-top wood vats, then are aged 12 months in barrique of at least 3 years. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration or added sulfites. The wines are all certified organic by the AIAB, an Italian organic certification board.
In 2008 Gianfranco planted another 1.5 ha of Cannonau from massale selection. In 2009, he had hoped to plant two more, but the weather was not being cooperative last we heard. I am pretty sure they finally were planted.
Gianfranco only rarely makes bread these days (mostly classes and demonstrations for children and young adults) but when he does, he must be very carefully with clothing and hygiene to keep the two cultures of yeast from intermingling.
This visit at Panevino took place in May, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Maya Pedersen.
From the Cagliari airport, we drove over to the town of Siddi for lunch with Gianfranco and his family. We were a little early, so we walked around a while before drinking the first of many big bottles of Ichnusa.
It was a national holiday -the Italian equivalent of labor day- and Kevin had told us that people celebrate by getting together for a big worker's lunch. All of us were expecting a family style meal with communal tables, big pots everywhere and a never-ending supply of beer, but instead we ended up having a 7 course wine pairing lunch at the Michelin rated restaurant, S'Apposentu.
Not exactly what we were expecting, but the food was really good and we got to taste all types of wine pairings from local growers, all of which were in attendance. Gianfranco's wine was the recently bottled C.C.P.
From there, we drove to our hotel, where we met Anya!
As you can see from the photos, she REALLY loves belly rubs.
The next morning, we met up with Gianfranco in his hometown of Nurri, then set off for a long day in the vines.
We started the visit by checking out a .6 h parcel Gianfranco has been renting for 4 years.
This is one of three parcels that goes into the U.V.A bottling. U.V.A, besides the obvious spelling out of grape in Italian, stands for 'United Vineyards of Angiona'. An Angiona is a local word for a widespread agricultural region.
"It's a project to bring different parcels together, to give expression to a larger area."
Just like America or the European Union! At least in theory...
At the moment, 3 parcels with vines ranging from 30 years old to 70 years old are vinified separately, then blended according to feeling.
Gianfranco found this parcel through a "sort of" relative. The guy never had the right feeling for it, and in hopes of striking gold, ended up planting Trebbiano, Barbera, weird local grapes and Vermentino.
"At first it seemed illogical to work with these non-local grapes, but then I realized I had the potential of being a great experiment. I could use this to understand the vineyard's expression of the territory through different grapes."
The soils here are sand and red clay rich in iron.
To get to the second parcel, the group had to walk up this steep, grassy hill.
It was an unexpected treck, but the reward was getting to walk through the Montassio vineyard!
At 600 m altitude, this parcel has less rocky, richer soils. You can visually spot big chunks of schist, which extends deep into the subsoils. Though he's not exactly sure, Gianfranco estimates that there are about 40 different red and white varietials co-planted here (over 200 grape varieties are grown in Sardinia). The red grapes go into the U.V.A and whites go into the Billuke pétillant naturel.
I got to sit shotgun with Gianfranco all day, and through a mix of Italian, French and English, we managed to have some great conversations. We'd never met, and he certainly lives up to his reputation of having fascinating and deeply personal insights on viticulture, wine and life. My own interpretation is that Gianfranco considers himself an integral part of his terroir, that his state of mind is just as important as any soil or microclimate. It reminded me of Chris Debarr's quote on New Orleans being the "psychic terroir" of his life: an undeniable cause and effect between environment and behavior.
In a particularly quotable moment (out of so many), here is one statement I managed to jot down:
"Your thoughts are a tree that go into the soil of a territory. Mine is a cloud, it moves from place to place, rains into the sea and evaporates back up."
This will hopefully make more sense later.
We drove to the third parcel, 60 year old vines planted on heavy schist rich in silica and clay.
Before eating lunch, we did a quick tour of the cellar.
Gianfranco is seriously considering phasing out stainless steel from his wine production.
"It's like putting a baby to sleep in a metal bed instead of a wool one. "
The previous cellar was in his mom's basement in Nurri. When he built this new one by the side of his house (which is in the middle of nowhere), Gianfranco scraped off the walls of the old cantina, mixed them with a mud paste and spread it all over the walls of the new one in hopes of keeping the native yeasts that had formed over the years.
"I have no idea if it worked!"
Our cellar visit was followed by lunch, a great opportunity to hear Gianfranco out on a wide range of issues. For example, if you're familiar with the Panevino wines, you know that the blends change every year, and that each vintage spawns one-off bottlings with their own names and labels. Every cuvée's name has a meaning, because Gianfranco wants each bottle to tell a story. So while the wines clearly reflect specific terroirs, grapes and vintage, Gianfranco is more interested in bottling his emotions from that given year. Everything is done by intuition.
"The wines tell me what to do. Intuition is the alphabet of God: to think you can decide anything is an illusion."
Many of the cuvée names are rich in symbolism. C.C.P, for example, is an answer to contrast the U.V.A. While the latter "unites" vineyards from different territories to make a whole, C.C.P is a reference to the ex-Soviet Union. In such, C.C.P is a metaphor for winemaking dogma: the USSR's iron curtain meant nothing could be revealed to outsiders, and this dogma hid the truth of Russia's beauty. Gianfranco feels that a lot of the politics in winemaking have a similar effect. On a much cuter level, pronouncing C.C.P sounds like chi-chi-pii, or the sound of a bird chirping. That's why there's a bird on the label.
And why not talk about Ogu, which translates to the eye?
This bottling was a metaphor for the huge forest fire that wiped out a huge amount of land in 2003. "The eye" represents the life that that saw the fire take place, survived and continued growing to bring nature back from ravage, as indicated by the imagery on the label.
"Maybe I've gotten used to it, but I like that taste of smoke in the wine."
As far as beautiful labels, Gianfranco and his wife come up with the designs, then work closely with a local typographer to get the desired results.
After lunch, we headed out to see more vineyards. The first parcel we visited is named Pikkade.
A wine is named after this lieu-dit using the parcel's red grapes. The vines are over 100 years old; for many years they were half abandoned, but another farmer renovated them 16 years ago. Monica, Carignan, Girol and Moscato are planted here on decomposed schist soils.
All of the vineyard work is done with minimal intervention. Gianfranco has only used copper treatments twice in his whole career (!!!), only as a last resort. In both cases, he used about 400g. The legal European limit is 6kg. Gianfranco has never used sulfur in the vines or wines.
"I only use it to clean the floor."
Pikkade had some of the most visually striking vines of the whole trip.
Here's a particularly artsy shot of Jermemy "Uber somm" Quinn caught between the vines.
From Pikkade, we drove to up a very steep, narrow road to the Cugussi vineyards, Gianfranco's highest at 680 meters!
These vines were planted in 1996, 97 and 98. Gio, Moscato and Cannonau are grown here on schist, clay and sandy soils. The reds go into the C.C.P.
The last plot of land we visited was a steep, unplanted plot that Gianfranco will use to increase his production of Alva, the white skin contact wine and only cuvée bottled under the same name every year.
The day was done, so we decided to go drink some beers by the water. Before, we could make it, we got stuck in a LAMB traffic jam!
This happened three times while we were in Sardinia. The dogs are so used to cars that they confidently stand in front them, controlling the pace of the vehicle to not injure the livestock. Here's another, separate instance of this happening.
The lake was nice!
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF ALVAS, THEY CHANGE EVERY YEAR! CUT US SOME SLACK!