Suzanne Hoffman
Behind the Scenes

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November 3, 2013
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Harvesting pleasure in the Langhe

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a three-part series. To read the first story, visit www.vaildaily.com.

This past week we heard firsthand from Barolo vintners about the promising 2013 vintage. Let’s continue our visit with other Piemontese producers as they breathe easier and sleep better now that their treasured grapes are safely home.

Marchesi di Barolo

Before leaving the town of Barolo, let’s stop at legendary Marchesi di Barolo on the main road to Alba, the 19th century home of Giulia Colbert Falletti, Marchesa di Barolo, whom many refer to as “the mother of modern Barolo.” The French-born Marchesa’s captivating story deserves its own essay, but no discussion of Marchesi di Barolo is complete without mentioning her. She was truly a woman ahead of her time, someone whom many of today’s women of the Piemontese vines look to for inspiration. Truth is, she has beguiled me as well.

The Marchesa recognized the potential of the thin-skinned, tannic red grape growing prolifically on her estate. She sensed it possessed the ability to be something far greater than the sweet wine produced from it for generations. With French oenologist Louis Oudart, Giulia Falletti added the creation of modern Barolo winemaking techniques to her long list of illustrious achievements.

In 1929, the Pietro Abbona acquired the estate from Opera Pia Barolo, established upon the Marchesa’s death in 1864. Five generations later, Ernesto and Anna Abbona continue with their children to sustain the winery’s rich traditions. Upon her return from a recent marketing trip in America, Valentina Abbona asked her father to share his harvest observations with me.

“Thanks to constant attention to weather forecasts, daily monitoring of the situation in the vineyard and the ability to adapt quickly to changing weather, we were able to take full advantage of this past agricultural year climate, even if unpredictable,” Ernesto Abbona said. “At the end of summer, we thinned bunches (green harvest) often in order to limit a great production, which the heavy spring rainfalls caused. We finished harvesting Nebbiolo from Barolo on the evening of Oct. 21, just in time to avoid the rain and rising temperatures that could affect the proper stage of ripeness and the perfect health of the clusters. Finally, a ‘traditional’ vintage.”

No doubt Abbona’s “commitment to vineyard management” helped him achieve good results in this meteorologically challenging vintage. “Given the long tenure of the grapes on the vines, there are good foundations for a balanced, harmonious, rich and complex Barolo, definitely durable during the years,” he said.

Livia Fontana

We’ll now make our way northeast to Castiglione Falletto along 4 miles of winding roads into the hills. Six generations of Livia Fontana’s family preceded her on the land. Now, Fontana and her sons Lorenzo and Michele produce wines from the estate’s 23 acres of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Arneis vineyards. In 1995, Fontana stepped beyond her gender’s social boundaries to join her father Ettore in the winery. It remains a successful family affair, keeping alive generations of excellence in winemaking.

The harvest was kind to Fontana. After it finished on Oct.19, she gladly reported to me, “The Nebbiolo grapes are all in the wine cellar and are now fermenting. The grapes were beautiful: mature, healthy and with a potential of color and tannins that gives hope for excellent Barolo wines. I think 2013 vintage will give wines that are complex and structured because we had a good summer and September with nice cool temperatures at night, and hot during the day that allowed a very good maturation. But you have to wait five years to drink!”

No doubt, it will be well worth the wait for the 2013 Barolo from this talented producer.

Ca’ del Baio

From Castiglione Falletto, we drive northwest 12 miles through Alba to Treiso, home of Azienda Agricola Ca’ del Baio in the Barbaresco zone. The differences in climate, soil and production methods make Barbaresco distinctly different from its aristocratic sibling to the west.

Nestled deep in the vineyards below Treiso, Ca’ del Baio’s winery erupts into a beehive of activity each autumn when proprietor-winemaker Giulio Grasso declares it’s time to harvest. Grasso is “very careful to choose the day to pick the grapes” given he must “find the best value of acidity, sugar and pH” for each of his six varietals.

Nebbiolo comprises 70 percent of Ca’ del Baio’s production. The noble grape does best when it’s slow to mature; therefore, it was the last varietal to reach the winery’s safe haven. Only then did the family’s anxiety level that rose during the seven months after bud burst decline.

As I read his answer to my question regarding his post-harvest feelings, I could hear Grasso’s gentle voice and see his shy smile and shining eyes that echoed what everyone felt, unbridled relief. “Maybe saying ‘happy’ is obvious,” he said to daughter Paola Grasso Deltetto who translated for me, “But working hard all season and having great results, (happiness) is naturally what we expect.”

Regarding the quality of the grapes, Paola answered, “The sugar content isn’t high as 2012, but there is good acidity and aromas. It makes us think there will be a good aging potential (for this vintage).” All indications point to a successful vintage for their 2013 Barbareschi – Pora, Asili and Valgrande.

Cascina delle Rose

A minute by car up the hill from Ca’ del Baio, we’ll find Cascine delle Rose in the hamlet of Tre Stelle. In 1975, Giovanna Rizzolio, a talented winemaker with grit and determination, began tending the vineyards of her family’s country home. By 1984, she was full-time running her agriturismo, still sending her grapes out to be vinified. Rizzolio stood strong against the male dominated factions of Barbaresco to whom a winery proprietress was unthinkable. With the new millennium came Rizzolio’s bold decision to expand the operation and vinify in-house.

At 20,000 bottles per year, Rizzolio is making inroads in foreign markets as her wines continue to garner praise. Her observations of the 2013 harvest echo those of her fellow Nebbiolo producers:

“Nebbiolo harvest began on Oct. 12 and finished on the 14,” she said. “Barbera began two days earlier and also finished on the 14. We believe this could be a great vintage, but difficult to know before looking at the ‘long winter’ and many rains in springtime. With the perfect summer, we reached great maturation. Dolcetto were fabulous (harvested mid-September) and the warm days and cold nights were perfect for Barbera and Nebbiolo. The grapes have a good balance in pH, acidity and sugar and mature tannins. Their fermentation started slowly at low temperatures with a perfect, regular extraction. This is giving us high expectations, but wine is nature. We can just take care of it and observe its life.”

It seems whenever I write about Piemonte my stories take on a life of their own. How can I keep from being carried away when my mind wanders to the Langhe’s gentle, vineyard blanketed slopes? What was meant to be one article, morphed into two and now, because I want to tell you more about the wineries behind the winemakers, the tale of the 2013 Piemonte Nebbiolo harvest has grown into three parts. We still have to visit Roero where some wonderful treats await us next week, including a fabulous lunch at the Villa Tiboldi in the Roero vineyards.

Suzanne Hoffman is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. Her blogs are www.suziknowsbest.com and www.winefamilies.com. Email comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Nov 5, 2013 04:01PM Published Nov 6, 2013 01:08PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.