Iconic vineyards from South Australia.

Almost ten years ago when I started my journey into wine, the distinction between Old world and New world was quite clear and somehow easy to grasp. The ancient european culture against the rest of the world, varietalism versus terroir, fruitiness versus minerality, openness and generosity versus discrete and closed wines. Free from layers of history, the New World had the opportunity to be more experimental and creative, proposing direct wines, easy to be enjoyed without the need to wait and swirl, wine with less intellectual weight, approachable by a wider public.

Today of course it’s no longer the case and my recent trip to South Australia has really strengthened my beliefs. I was fortunate enough to travel through what are considered the classic wine areas around Adelaide city and the viticulture heritage found there was something I was not expecting.

Before we adventure ourself into ancient vines it is important to remember that South Australia still remains one of the few areas in the world free of phylloxera. Australia has one of the toughest quarantine regulations and any vineyard you enter is protected with anti phylloxera liquid that has to be sprayed on shoes. Neighbour Victoria has seen a recent outbreak of phylloxera and anyone coming from those areas is in need of extra checks.

 

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With a vineyard heritage unique and amongst the oldest in the world, vines in Barossa are classified according to an old vine charter: a vine is considered Old when it is over thirty-five years old, then it is considered a Survival when it is over seventy-five years old, a Centurial when is over one-hundred years old and Ancestor when it’s over one hundred and fifty years old. Barossa, north-east of Adelaide, counts the oldest vines in South Australia, however examples can be found in Eden and Clare Valley.

Steingarten vineyard is an Old vineyard, property of Jacob Creek, at the hedge of the Barossa region into Eden Valley. The name translates as the “stone garden” for the soil characteristics. Positioned at 450m above sea level, it opens up to an arid scenery, where in the distance, on a clear day, the sea appears. A harsh place, characterised by hot summers, with temperature that could reach 40-42C and cool evenings influenced by the sea breeze. Irrigation has become essential here, but it was not the case few years ago. There is no topsoil, bare schist is at the base of the vine, dynamite had to be used to dig the ground when the vines were planted. There is also chalk and various metals all great elements for Riesling grape. Vines are 55 years old, un-grafted, they look younger, due to the slow growing conditions. Riesling is the main grape planted.

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In South Australia Riesling is a signature grape to be put side by side with traditional Riesling producers. Hard-wooded and frost resistant, Riesling is capable of expressing white wine with incredible agebility. But site selection is very important in order to achieve ripeness. Low fertility soils are best for a variety that can yield high if planted in the wrong place. Steingarten is definitely an ideal place.

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We tried Steingarten 2013, luminous green highlights anticipating low pH, steely and petrol, with citrus fruits, lime in particular, a touch of yellow stone fruits. Searing acidity, bone dry, dynamic and tense, the wine finishes with a great minerality. Elegance and vineyards’ identity are at the base of the wine, a truly Old world style that would confuse any blind tasting.

Moorooroo vineyard is a Survival vineyard, property of the Schild Estate, the northern vineyard of the family. Planted in 1947 in an area between 150-300m. Irrigation started here 2/3 years ago.

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Turkey Flat vineyard belongs to Turkey Flat winery. It is an Ancestor vineyard of shiraz grape planted in 1847 by Johann August Frederick Fiedler. Yield is extremely low providing concentrated grapes. Ancient vines give layers of complexity which are difficult to get from younger vines. Despite the difficulties to maintain vineyards like this, proprietors feel the moral responsibility to keep the genetic heritage alive.

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Shiraz is the symbolic grape of Australia. Robust and dark-skinned, in Australia it makes wine of great power and intensity in particularly from Barossa. Like Riesling, Shiraz needs attention with site selection and yield control.

Freedom vineyard recognised as the oldest shiraz vineyard in Barossa and probably in the world, it belongs to the Langmeil winery. Planted in 1843 it is another Ancestor vineyard of 3,5 acre, part of the Busby collection,  the pre-phylloxera european material, brought from France and Spain by James Busby the father of the Australian wine industry. The site is predominantly alluvial loam and red clay over limestone and ironstone, these conditions guarantee deep root penetration into the underlying water table of the near by Para river.

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Vines are like curling snakes, each vine is a sculpture full of history. It is incredible to think these vines are still producing grapes. There is a sense of respect, for a plant capable of living beyond time and space and there is a great responsibility to make sure these sites are kept alive for the future to come.

 

Green seal is used to protect the ancient vines from Eutypa dieback a fungus (Eutypa Lata) widely spread in South Australia. The fungus sends a toxic liquid that causes stunting of the shoots, the plant may still produce but yield will be reduced, over years the plant eventually may die.

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We tried Freedom 2015, dark intense ruby with purple highlights to underline its youth. The nose is generous with dark fruit first, then tar, dark chocolate and hints of eucalyptus which always reminded me of Australia. The wine shows egual power at the palate with a multilayer dimension that unfolds as the wine progresses through. Long lasting, fresh, velvet ripe tannins. The wine surprises for its delicate equilibrium into a full and powerful body.

Willows vineyard comprises the oldest Semillon vineyard in Barossa, together with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Planted in 1936, it is located on the banks of the North Para River near the village of Light Pass. Peter Lehmann historically has been sourcing grapes from here. Semillon is a real rarity in Barossa, however viticulturist Tony Marshall believe ist has great potential. Sand and red clay characterise the soil, a cooling breeze allows slow ripening and natural acidity.

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Hill of Grace is another historical vineyard dating back to 1860. The vineyard is the pride of the Henschke family based in Eden Valley. It is called a hill, but in actual fact is not a hill! A Lutheran church landmarks the site.

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The vineyard is run on biodynamic principals with preparation 500 and 501 used, although certification has not been pursued. Straw mulch is used to retain moisture, a practice quite common amongst Australian producers.

 

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Layering is used to propagate the vines. The technique consists of burying a branch of the vine to let a new plant grow and continue the life of the mother vine.WP_20171128_13_09_47_Pro

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At the winery we have the honour to taste Hill of Grace 2012 a vintage considered amongst the best. Full ripe blackberry and mulberry, black olive, roast and black pepper. Overt and generous, multilayered, with velvet polish tannins, spices and long lasting black fruits. An extremely complex wine, expression of its territory. The final taste of iconic vineyards around South Australia.

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One year ago over the Andes

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Exactly one year ago I had the incredible pleasure to take a wine trip to Chile. Organised by a fellow MW student, we travelled for over 10 days from Santiago to Itata, back up to Leyda and San Antonio.

It was not my first time in Chile, I entered Chile from Bolivia about twenty years ago through the Atacama desert during a Jeep trip that took us through the salty lake up to almost 6000m above sea level. We were travelling around the world for one year and my interests at the time were very different than now!

Chile geography is very unique: protected by the sea to the west, the Andes to the East, the Atacama desert to the north and Patagonia ice to the South. These feature have preserved the country from the devastation of phylloxera, leaving the majority of vines planted on their own rootstock. Wine, with no doubt, taste different here!

As the locals say, it is a country that should be looked in all directions: length and width. Although it is only 160 km wide, but 4200 km long, huge differences occur between the coast, the central valley and the Andes. Division was actually officially recognised in 2012 and wine lovers should be well aware of the diverse growing conditions.

Chile climate vary according to location. The coolest part are the coastal range, heavily influenced by the sea breeze, with the warmest part in the central valley, but with variation too. The Andes range is the less explored compared to Argentina, but producers, with climate change, are looking at the Andes for future development. The rainy season spams between June, July and August, in some part to the south, like Bio Bio, there is almost 1000mm of rain, then moving to the north in Maipo we hardly reach 250mm, irrigation here is a matter of survival. but climate change has hit hard and pattens have changed over the last 5/6 years.

Through the Spanish domination, vines were introduced here, but it is not only the ’90 that we can talk about wine making in Chile. It seams quite a brief history, but Chile in this short time has been able to find a very important place into the most prominent markets. Thanks to the copper industry the country  first found easy free trade agreements first with the fruits industry then with grapes given space amongst international players.

Today the export account for $1,6 billion, the export is the major force as consumption per capita is extremely low (12 litres). 80/90% of wineries’ production is sold abroad.

Our journey begins with a visit to Santa Rita (Maipo) were we spend the morning with winemaker Sebastian Labbe. Third largest winery in Chile Santa Rita was founded in 1880.

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Amongst all the winemaking procedures, we spend sometimes in the vineyard where we learn about Margaroder, also known how Ground Pearl. Similar to phylloxera, but less aggressive, these insect lives on the ground and according to the winery they seam to relatively disturb the vines.

We continue South to Itata where in Vina Lomas de Llhuen a wine tasting of local producers is organised for us. We are in the land of Pais, Cinsault and Muscat. Itata is the oldest wine region in Chile, most of the vines here are un-grafted.

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The local greet us with great hospitality. We try many wines hardly known to the export. Despite being the oldest wine region, locals have struggled to find a market place. Fragmentation is most to blame, with production sometimes hardly exceeding 1000/2000 bottles.

Maule region is our next stop where we meet Derek Mossman, owner and founder of Garage winery. It’s harvest time and any means is used to gather grapes.

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We are in the land of Carignan with vines dating back to 1940. Derek’s production is outstanding and the wine tasting set up at sunset, right in the middle of the vineyard, is a real treat for all!

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We spend the night at Bouchon Winery, after a long journey through dirty trucks.

Curico’ followed on day 3 where we meet Brett Jackson, winemaker at Valdivieso Winery. From the small productions of Itata and Maule to a 12 millions bottle production. Brett is very honest and answers all our invasive questions. It fascinated to encounter small production like Garage winery to huge operations like Valdivieso.

Colchagua next stop, the most prestigious region in Chile. At Cono Sur we meet Matias Rios enthusiastic winemaker, who takes us around the vineyard with  bicycles.

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Of the 300 hectares, 150ha are organic. Ducks are used for inter-row management, compost is made from grape left over, a blend of brown sugar, cow manure and cow milk is fermented, diluted with water and then spray before flowering. Innovation, quality and the environment are the three most important concepts of the company.

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In Colchagua we also visit Los Vascos property of the Rothschield family since 1988. Here we meet Claudio Naranco commercial director, who gives us a great overview of brand making and marketing. We also meet Julio Fariña QA and QC manager.

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Viña Maquis  followed: a unique winery geographically surrounded by 2 rivers, which act as natural climate mitigator. The winery is surrounded by a beautiful natural reserve which stretch along the river, creating a great walk.

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The wine tasting is set for us under kiwi trees.

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Here for the first time I understand what wine made for un-grafted vine means. I fall in love with the place, with the family story and with the wine. I see great potential for wine tourism a sector that the winery has not yet considered.

In Apalta Valley we visit Montes and Gavin Taylor South Africa winemaker. Extensive time is spent over wine making and tasting.

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As you come in the winery a sign invites visitors to take a deep breath as you enter a carbon neutral area.

But Lapostolle remains one of my journey highlight. Greeted by Andrea Leon, the winery runs 200 hectares in biodynamic since 2011. Some of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines dates back for 1910. Under the vineyard there is a water table which moves up and down according to season, shrimps live on site and irrigation is not necessary. The vines are all un-grafted.

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The winery is gravity fed and grapes are hand de-stemmed by a team of 24 women. Andrea points out that hand destemming is very important in particularly for Carmenere offering more definition to the final wine.

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Dinner at Lapostolle is simply the best, overlooking the valley on a beautiful starry night!

Maipo next stop with a visit to De Martino, where we meet fellow MW student Marco De Martino. Together with Marcello Retamal (chief winemaker) we spend the morning learning about Chile. I am glad to know that since 2010 the family has started a revival project of ancient tinajas: terracotta off-ground amphora used by the Spanish since the XVI century.

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Cinsault and Muscat are kept in Tinajas. Muscat macerate on skin for 7 months. No SO2 is used, therefore low pH is the key factor to avoid microbial spoilage.

Cousiño Macul is our next stop where we meet Rosario Palma winemaker. The place is National heritage founded in 1856 with an astonish underground cellar perfectly preserved.

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Impressive the hand sorted process for their top range wines all strictly done by women

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Tourism is a big business here with 12,000 visitors per year, in particularly coming from Brazil and Chile itself. Contrary to other wineries the brand is well recognised locally with only 55% of production exported.

We moving north and our last stops are Leyda and San Antonio.

In Leyda we meet Stefano Gandolini owner and chief winemaker of Ventolera winery. 150ha  mainly under Pinot Noir (35%), Sauvignon Blanc (50%) and the rest with Syrah, Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. Stefano’s Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are outstanding. The winery is only 12 km away from the Pacific, temperature here in summer never exceed 27C. Stefano explained that diurnal variation is very minimal contributing to avoid condensation the main cause of rot problems.

We are taken by Stefano into the vineyard to understand the soil characteristic. Geologically there are 20/30cm of top soil, follow by a 100 million years old granite rich in iron and quarts. Vigour here is moderate providing grape with small bunches.

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Stefano points out the sun light intensity which represent a big problem in Chile, double of what we get in Europe. Grapes must be protected with attentive canopy management to avoid the development of thick skin and accumulation of excess polyphenols. In some red varieties this may cause the build up of rough and course tannins.

In San Antonio we visit Casa Marin and I catch up with Jamie Fervraark commercial manager of the company, meet in Umbria few years back during a wine tourism conference.

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Marie Luz Marin is a symbolic figure first female winemaker in Chile in the early ’90. She started has a wine broker then decided to have her own vineyard and invest. The winery counts 40ha, 90% on hills planted with Riesling, Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache and Gewürztraminer.

The winery is 4km away from the Pacific and here the sea influence plays a major role. Frost is a big problem and water sprinklers are used to protect the vines. Another big issue is the strong wind and vines’ orientation is crucial to tackle the problem.

Sauvignon Gris catches my attention, a natural mutation of Sauvignon Blanc with smaller cluster, thick pink skin and small berries. It is rustic and naturally spicy.

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To conclude our trip we moved to Aconcagua where we pay a visit to Errazuris. Pedro Contrera introduces us to the winery production and all wines show a very high profile elegance and great research.WP_20170408_10_37_46_Pro

13 million cases, 98% export in 60 countries around the world. Today Edoardo Chadwich is an iconic producers who has contributed extensively to put Chile on the wine map.WP_20170408_12_21_32_Pro

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An certainly Chile has a bright future: diverse, with different and unique environments, from the cooler coast, to the warmer central valley to the Andes hardly discovered. Warm people, South America style, proud and generous, keen to share and ager to tell their stories, their difficulties and dreams.

Chile has left great memories in my heart not only as a great wine country but as place of amazing people and unbeatable hospitality.

“Ajola” winery: the burocratic truth of living a dream…

 

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It is not easy to choose to live as Jacopo from Ajola winery does with his two friends, Trisha from Australia and Gigi from Orvieto.  It takes a life time of commitment and a great dose of courage.

All seems beautiful and idillic: the rolling hills of Orvieto, nature at its best, crisp pure air, fresh produce from the garden, animals and a gorgeous farm house set far away from civilisation, however the romantic life has its down turns and only strong determination and a huge amount of dedication can drive people like them.

In 2011, Jacopo, a graduate in agricolture, decided to buy with two friends an abandon vineyard on the outskirts of Orvieto (Umbria). Everyone thought he was a crazy man: located at over 500m above sea level, he was told that grapes there will never reach maturity. The vineyard was neglected for years and treated conventionally with whatever was necessary to combat vines’ diseases. At the beginning grapes were purchased to maintain the cash flow and financial sustainability of the farm, however criticism soon arrived as the concept of purchasing was against the “natural” idea of making wine. Although only a few so far have come up with a specific meaning of “natural wine”, I personally cannot see any problems in purchasing grapes, as far as they are sourced from reliable producers.

Today Jacopo does not buy grapes anymore, but he rents a plot nearby, with a total of 3,5 hectares managed entirely from his own resources. The EU does not help wineries with less then 5 hectares and taxes are equally paid (in percentage) by the giant who makes a million bottles and the little guy with a production that barely reaches 8000. The bureaucracy is so intricate that Jacopo cannot plant new vines in the traditional “vite maritata” training,  or a vine supported by a tree, as the etruscan used to do. The system is no longer recognised and vines cannot be registered, so you can plant them, but then the wine made will be illegal!

Pesticides and systemics are band from the property, sulphur and copper are carefully selected and used to avoid contamination, nettle infusion is sprayed to protect from downy and powdery mildew, but little can be done when rainy vintages like 2014 reduces the yield to minimum and yes in front of mother nature producers have no power. Only a few days ago a massive hail storm wiped out the majority of his grapes: big holes can been seen on  leaves and grape berries were split in half and partially commencing to rot. A very sad scenario after over half a year of hard work and consequences that will be seen for the following vintage. What to do next is very hard to say in particularly with the vinification approach that Jacopo has. No SO2 is used, neither enzymes or selected yeasts. Spontaneous fermentation takes place in stainless steel and fiberglass with whatever time is necessary. Low pH, hygiene and temperature controlled vinification rooms are crucial factors for Jacopo to avoid contamination and bacterial spoilage. It is a very delicate process with little guarantees and the consciousness that some wines might be wasted. Extensive experimentation is taking place, French oak barrels, chestnuts and terracotta anfora are vessels used to understand where the wine expresses best. It is a necessary time needed to gain experience and find a unique identity.

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Jacopo is honest and recognises all the limits, but Jacopo is also brave and on a life time quest. He is open for suggestions and keen to take risks. The barrel samples we tasted from vintage 2016 are expressions of the work in progress, but also clearly address a style of wine that escapes trends and looks for uniqueness and somehow lack of perfection.

The wines are never generous and sometimes hostile at the nose, but with a little time and swirling they emerge from the glass with their honesty and sincere nature. The Orvieto classico blend 2016 ( a blend from the field, as tradition dictate) suffers of reduction and high VA, however the palate was fresh, well balanced and incredibly lifting, macerated for 5 days and kept in a chestnut oval shaped barrel. The 100% Procanico was my favourite with 1 months’ maceration, a slight tannic attack, great acidity and floral scents of camomile, unripe apricot and acacia on the finish. Less convincing the nose on the Sangiovese, kept in old French oak barrique,  much better however the palate well balanced and finely calibrated.

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Of course these wines are for a niche clientele, call it “natural”, “organic”, “biodynamic”, “sustainable”, Jacopo is not looking for a certification or a label to stick on his product, but is looking for  authenticity and the revival of ancient practises forgotten by the industry.

Is this the way forward? Yes it could be, but not the only one. In the wine world there is space for everyone and a good wine critic should observe all the possible point of  views with an open mind and soul. It was inevitable that eventually the world of wine would have changed.

The question is: is perfection necessary ?

Nature is full of imperfection and often the fruits less appealing at the eye are the ones with much more taste. Maybe the concept of perfectly clean and luminous wines, scented and perfumed, immaculate at the palate  is not necessary a unique approach. Less perfection and more personality, variability and lack of consistency. All concepts against business and market expectation, but after all everyone is free to take its path, let the market continue, but also let people like Jacopo believe that there are other ways to make and appreciate wine. Everyone is free to embrace or reject the style, no one however should criticise without understanding.

I take my hat off to Ajola winery and hope for a system that one day will give credit to young people who choose to confront themselves with nature. Making a living out of the land, as Jacopo and his friends do, is hard work, you have to take the good and the bad and accept it with an open mind and the clear consciousness that in the space of no time your hard work may be wiped out by a freak storm!

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My journey through Stage 2 exam.

No one ever told me that it was going to be easy and actually I knew in the back of my mind what to expect, however nothing can prepare you for the four days ahead, even if you try really hard to imagine.

I trained all year, very hard, I debated all year if I should go for it or if I should wait, no regrets, but at one point I came to the conclusion that if I leave it I will loose a year, because with my style of life, the family and three kids you can easily shift into that kind of mentally that tell you to do everything tomorrow!

April arrived together with the dead line and with my heart betting fast I made my decision. Everyone at home was shocked in disbelieve.

I pushed as much as I could making myself sick by the end of April, temperature reached me at the speed of a tornado and I was lying in bed for a few days, unable to do anything.

I had time to think over my choices and overall my strange life, those kinds of crises that hit you hard and you start wondering.

However it was too late to go back and as soon as I was back on my feet I was spinning again like a crazy woman.

And of course June was not far, together with Tuesday 6th.

I arrived in London the day before and met my super patient husband, no much sleep follow that night: numbers, names, surnames, statistics, rootstocks, enzymes, additives, laboratory analyses, markets, grape varieties…all were going through my head without a precise order and logic.

Woke up at 5 of course, no much sleep could follow. We left for London and arrived at the hotel hall by 8am.

I cannot describe enough my fear, my desire to run away and that constant feeling of saying: “why am I here?”…But a strange inner force was overcoming and I kept repeating that there was no fear, but only courage and determination.

10am: 12 white wines follow in 2 hours and 15 minutes; you have an average of 3-4 questions per wine and no more then 10 minutes to spare per each set of questions. There is no time to wonder, a decision must be made regardless and your ability is to be focused and vigilant to small details because it’s them that make the difference.

3 essays about viticulture follow in the afternoon, with three hours time and the giant clock ticking the second left. By 5pm we were done and I felt this was just day 1.

Day 2 the same scenario: 12 reds, same time table, same pressure and stress level, with your palate pulling like crazy for the amount of tannins and everything of course by the end feel tannic! One hour and half for lunch and in the afternoon 3 essays in wine making followed. Technical questions, a joy for wine makers, less for me a woman of art and literature dealing with enzymes, yeasts and sulphur dioxide! Of course by 5pm I was cooked.

So far not so bad…super tired but overall satisfy!

The cherry on the cake arrived on the third day with what all of us called “ the F….G” paper. We knew it could have been anything, we call it the mixed bag, but on average sparkling and fortified wines are part of it and everyone prepares mentally for that kind of treatment. Instead it was not the case, there was only one sparkling and 2 fortified and the rest was a macerated wine, 2 rose’, 2 sweets and 4 still reds.. I was sweeting heavily thinking how to taste and which order to follow, with a paper like this you have to think strategically otherwise your palate will go. I started with the sparkling follow by the 2 rose’, then I moved to the red but went into panic, so I thought to myself I need to move on there is no time to waste, so I approached the fortified to feel safe and somehow confident. The reds were left last but by then my palate was somehow compromised. I read the question and thought tactically, the wine spoke to me, somehow I felt where I was. The time was ticking few minutes to go..

I managed to finish everything, but I was in pieces. Everyone was in pieces, confronting each other we were all over the place. It was a difficult paper no doubt about it!

But the day was not over and in the afternoon 2 more lovely essays on handling of wine followed, the most boring paper ever, which I still do not know why we should know in such details. Laboratory analysis, HACCP, ISO, QA, QC, bottling line, shipping wine in bulk…great fun of course for those who do this for living. We finished at 4pm,, on my way home I felt like a zombie!

And of course day 4 was left, the last day of the long wine marathon, no more tasting, but 5 essays writing, three in the morning for marketing and two in the afternoon with contemporary topics. The titles were great, I must admit, but I wish I had a bit more time to spare and less fatigue on me.

Anyway you can only imagine my great relief when by the afternoon it was all over. I thought I would exalt of enjoy, instead I was in pieces.. Hardly unable to say anything…. We all went to the pub and I drunk a pint of Guinness as fresh water from the tap!

Friday the 9th had arrived.. Time to go home see my children, go to the garden, catch up with some friends,.

This was by far the most incredible week of my life to remember and share., but this of course was also the week I realise why Masters of wine are so few and rare!

 

 

Gli artigiani del vino

E’ all’undicesima manifestazione di Amelia Doc che incontriamo l’Abruzzo nella sua veste artigianale, così definita dai tre produttori di Loreto Aprutino, piccolo comune in provincia di Pescara a pochi kilometri dalla costa Adriatica.

Francesco Paolo Valentini, proprietario dell’omonima cantina Valentini, storica icona abruzzese che già agli arbori del XVII secolo è dedita al mondo dell’agricoltura. Stefano Papetti, produttore dell’azienda Torre dei Beati: un progetto che nasce a fine anni ’90 con l’assunzione di terreni di famiglia e la conversione in biologico. Fausto Albanesi, biodinamico al servizio della terra, “operaio e vignaiolo” della cantina De Fermo, “servitore del vino che nasce da sé”.

Un orgoglio comune affiata le tre voci, un solo credo supporta il loro lavoro: l’essere artigiano al servizio della materia. Un concetto alternativo al controverso mondo del vino naturale oggi tanto di moda, ma poco compreso dal consumatore poco attento che non guarda ai contenuti.

Ma chi è l’artigiano del vino? Che cosa fa e come traduce il suo lavoro?

Decisiva la risposta di Francesco Paolo Valentini tinta di pura passione e fermezza. L’artigiano è colui che lavora la materia, che asseconda ed interpreta il frutto della terra, che vive la sostanza nella sua essenza e che non scende a compromessi. L’artigiano è l’artista, nel suo genio sensibile che osserva, assimila, filtra e ordina in una logica interiore che poi si traduce in opera d’arte. Lavorare la materia seguendo l’andamento climatico e stagionale, nelle sue svariate sfaccettature essere sinceri con se stessi e con il consumatore finale. Tradurre l’uva in vino con il minimo interventismo, accompagnando il processo fermentativo assecondando temperature libere che possono raggiungere anche i 37°c, usufruire dei lieviti indigeni contenuti nell’uva, unici veri marcatori territoriali, traduttori sinceri del concetto di terroir. Fare vino con pazienza, osservando ogni minimo dettaglio e non lasciando nulla al caso.

All’artigiano non servono certificazioni, la sua è una scelta consapevole da offrire solo a quel consumatore attendo e sensibile.

In un mondo centrato sul protagonismo del branding dei flussi economici che vedono sempre più il consumatore dettare le regole del gioco, la sopravvivenza dell’artigianalità risulta quanto più importante. Solo il produttore, interprete e creatore, può offrire un altro punto di vista guardando al risultato finale senza scendere a compromessi di alcuna sorta. Come giustamente osserva Valentini, l’essere artigiano preclude una responsabilità verso se stessi e verso gli altri: è un atto di onestà che non può essere servitore di mode passeggere. La natura non è una moda, le stagioni nelle più svariate sfaccettature devono sapersi raccontare attraverso il vino. Standardizzare il prodotto per seguire un gusto comune significa de-naturalizzare quello che l’annata voleva raccontarci nel suo essere bello, nelle situazioni felici, e nel suo essere brutto, in quelle in cui l’andamento climatico ha richiesto uno sforzo ulteriore.

Ed in effetti sotto questa luce illuminante e profonda che parlano i vini di tutti e tre i produttori.

Il primo campione proposto è un Pecorino in purezza figlio dell’annata 2015. “Giocheremo con i fiori” il nome del vino non a caso scelto proprio per l’aromaticità che il bicchiere offre: alla foglia di limone si accompagna il gelsomino bianco e nella trama agrumata s’intreccia la spinta acida ed una materia sostenuta dalla scelta di lasciare il vino sulle fecce fini per dare carica autolitica e briosità dinamica in bocca.

Il Trebbiano d’Abruzzo di Valentini è l’annata 2012 vinificato in botte grande di legno di Slavonia: potente l’impatto olfattivo che non lascia spazio ad aromaticità di frutto e fiore, ma rivela sensazioni quasi idrocarburiche, la canna di fucile unita ad una nespola gialla fresca. Il vino è profondo, misterioso, ricco di sostanza estrattiva. I caldi dell’annata 2012 hanno portato a maturazione zuccherina le uve, la vendemmia è stata anticipata, ma oggi sempre più maturità fenolica e maturità zuccherina non coincidono e l’aspetto preoccupante è l’osservare uno scompenso naturale frutto del cambiamento climatico a cui aimè l’uomo moderno ha contribuito.

Francesco Paolo denuncia a cuore aperto la sua preoccupazione verso un futuro vitivinicolo a cui personalmente penso dovremo dare delle risposte trovando soluzioni alternative per non soccombere al negativismo e all’immobilità.

I cerasuoli che seguono nascono da scelte enologiche diverse. “Le cince” 2015, dell’azienda De Fermo, presenta un colore che più ricorda la natura del cerasuolo: Stefano lascia le bucce a contatto per qualche ora estraendo colore dall’uva Montepulciano. L’acidità affilata come una lama sostiene un vino verticale che viaggia come un treno ad alta velocità. Sanguineo, succoso, con punte di bacca rossa selvatica, è sorretto da sostanza materica che lo rende versatile e dinamico nelle nostre tavole quotidiane.

Petalo di rosa, invece, il Cerasuolo di Valentini 2014, più vicino ai colori dei vini provenzali. La vinificazione del Montepulcino è fatta in bianco ed il rosa pallido che ne deriva è frutto del mosto fiore. La componente floreale vuole essere protagonista sorretta da una spalla acida che racconta l’annata 2014. C’è meno materia in bocca, ma tanta freschezza ed ancora una volta è quella facilità di beva che ammalia ed incanta.

La batteria si chiude con due rossi da uve Montepulciano: “Prologo” 2011 è figlio di una vinificazione in vecchie vasche di cemento della cantina De Fermo. Amico dell’ossigeno, così definito dal suo autore, rimane a tini aperti dopo la fermentazione. L’attenta osservazione del vino ha portato a capire che non si poteva chiudere la materia ricavata all’interno di serbatoi, il vino aveva ancora bisogno di tempo, dinamico e vibrante, andava assecondato. La matrice scura come l’inchiostro tinge di rosso le pareti del bicchiere, la dominante olfattiva ci racconta di terra, frutto scuro e ferro, anche qui ritrovo quella nota sanguinea, intrisa di spezie. Non manca la freschezza ed un tannino dalla trama fitta e compatta.

“Mazzamurello” 2011 è l’ultimo vino che ci viene proposto di Torre dei Beati. Vinificato con l’utilizzo di barrique e ripetuti batônnage esprime un frutto tinto di sentori vanigliati, spezie dolci con accenni floreali. Deciso il tannino ancora non perfettamente composto, il vino ha bisogno di tempo, e la trama tannica si discosta in un viaggio assolo.

 

Grazie artigiani del “savoir faire”, grazie Amelia Doc, grazie Giampaolo Gravina per questo viaggio intimo nel cuore di Loreto Aprutino e dei suoi protagonisti difensori di un concetto di artigianalità che oggi accolgo con immenso piacere pensando che forse proprio questo termine conia al meglio un flusso di vini alternativi all’industria.

Accolgo anche l’invito di visitare il piccolo comune di Loreto Aprutino per conoscere nell’essenza di quanto il bicchiere ha saputo tradurre. Il loro è un invito sincero, un gesto di coraggio in un mondo della globalizzazione che tutto sta omologando anche il nostro tanto amato vino.

NOBLE ROT: a natural wonder

 

 

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Botrytis cinerea is the name of a common rot that affects all kinds of fruits. Known also as the grey rot, it represents a common headache for producers all over the world.

It overwinters in dead wood and spores in spring when humidity and early morning mist create the perfect environment to thrive in. At this early stage it will damage grapes splitting the skin and exposing the fragile berries to other enemies.

Conventional and unconventional practises are adopted world wide to prevent and stop its spreading. In biodynamic agriculture horsetail tea is used to spray the vines, in conventional viticulture anti botrytis spray is a common practise to safeguard the crop. However botrytis can become noble rot when in the latest part of harvest the grape are already formed and contain the equivalent of 7% volume in alcohol. It punctures the berries isolating the tiny hole from other bacteria. Water evaporates (almost 70% will be lost) and berry’s will shrivel. Botrytis metabolizes sugar and acidity, increases glycerol, acetic acid and gluconic acid. Producers need to monitor their vines when botrytis affects the grapes. More then one harvest might be performed and it is crucial to pick at the right time.

Have you ever seen a noble rot bunch? In all honesty you might not like to see it (picture attached). You will never expect that from such poor bunches one of the most extraordinary wine in the world is made. Not all the grapes are suitable for botrytis, some of the most popular varieties are: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Furmint and Gewurztraminer. France with their Sauternes, Hungary with the Tokaij, Germany with the auslese, beerenauslese e trockenbeerenauslese, Australia with noble rot grapes from Riverina (New South Wales), South africa, California and of course Orvieto in Italy are amongst the most extraordinary areas in the world. Muffa Nobile is the name used in Italy, which translates as Noble rot, or Pourriture Noble in French.

Light or amber colour, gold in some vintages the brilliant luminous appearance irradiates its own light. Flavours are often related to dry fruits: apricots, dates, honey and saffron, depending on the varieties nuts and floral notes are also a characteristic. The palate expresses pure pleasure: viscose, velvety texture, sweet and rich with fruit intensity, acidity is essential to counterpart the residual sugar and to leave a clean and defined finish. Try some almond based biscuits or cakes and for a true and unique experience blue cheeses are amongst our favourite choices.

ENJOY!!!

 

Baden: the sunniest region of Germany

 

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Baden is not the usual place for a wine lover! Despite tradition and great potential, it is a corner of Germany that remains in the shadows.

Set in the southwest part of the country, Baden stretches from the 47,99 to the 47,50 parallel reviling a diversity of climate and geological strata. Pinot Noir covers almost 70% of the 15,800 hectares under vines: a surface bigger then all plantation of Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are the next most important grape varieties, together with Muller Thurgau, Silvaner and Muskatelle.

The soil varies from granite to the north, to calcareous and volcanic in the south. Geographically protected by the Black Forest, in perfect line with Alsace, it is separated by the Vosge Mountain: a natural geographical barrier that, on clear days, can be seen from a distance. This is the hottest part of Germany and drip irrigation is well implemented, however the hot temperatures of the day are well balanced by the important variation of temperature at night, which guarantees acidity and natural aromas, clearly shown in exceptional Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Alcohol is on the rise and to consider Baden a cool climate region is adventurous and risky. “Temperate” is the most appropriate term; on a blind tasting you could easily be fooled into Alto Adige or Friuli (depending on the grape varieties).

The presence of red wine has been documented since ancient times when burgundian monks, in the XIII century, made new settlements here. However, although the long history and the extensive area dedicated to Pinot Noir, its long tradition is unknown to many.

Ruled by co-ops for 75% of the production, slowly many have moved away from the system and have become independent, there is a new awareness and emphasis on terroir, grape varieties and wine style. This is the future of Baden to compete internationally with authentic wines.

There are two styles of Pinot Noir depending on the clones used and the vinification process, the type of soil also has an important role together with seasonal temperature. Freiburg clones are popular, but also French clones and opinions vary amongst producers to which is the best. Sometimes Pinot Noir can be alcoholic and quite heavily influenced by new oak, other times it can be spicy, juicy and crisp. The latter is often shown from producers working in the Kaiserstulh area where the volcanic soil, rich in minerals and limestone, gives depth and a true sense of place.

Producers worth to visit: Weingut Bernhard Huber, where Pinot Noir clones were introduced by the founder in the late 1980, Weingut Bercher, in the beautiful village of Burkhem and Franz Keller with a classy Michelin star restaurant.

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Francesco Carfagna: the Giglio Island dream

It was not easy to get an appointment with Francesco Carfagna of Vigneto Altura. I contacted him over a month ago, he was pleased and surprised, however, he could not give me a date: ” We might be harvesting” was his answer.

At the end of August my family and I travelled to the Island of Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany, as agreed I called Francesco, but he was not feeling very well and busy with everyday life in the vineyard and cellar. He told me to call the day after and this happened for three consecutive days. I was almost going to give up, I did not want to intrude into his life, but I knew I needed to give it another try as I felt it was worth it.

He probably eventually understood my desire, or had enough of me (I am not sure!), however on the third day at 6,30pm he decided to welcome me. I rushed to the car and drove off to Giglio Castello, the medieval town perched on granite rock overlooking the entire island. The winery is actually his own house: an old round mill with the most amazing scenery at 360 degrees, underground there is a small room, very cramped, where Francesco make his wine.

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About 8 small stainless steel tanks (maybe less), one barrel, a destemmer crusher and a pneumatic press, nothing else. He takes me to the cellar and we try the Ansonaco 2015. There are 3 tanks and one of them still fermenting from last year. The wine is gold, unfiltered, although hazy it shines and vibrates. Made from one quarter of the grapes vinified in white, the rest is fermented in red with skin and stems for as long as needed. The gentle bubbles and small residual sugar show a wine “vivo” (= alive) as Francesco says. Rich of substance, fruity, dynamic, refreshing with a salty finish that reminds of the surrounding sea. I am stunned, I would like some more but I am too polite to ask. Francesco is worried about this tank :”By now” he says “It should be bottled, but how can I confine this wine yet! It is still fermenting over a year later! I must follow the will of the wine and wait. Nature should never be forced!”.

The next taste is a Chiaretto from Sangiovese grapes that Francesco buys from dear friends in Maremma. A few days of maceration, removal of the skin, then spontaneous fermentation, a splash of SO2 and the rest is experience. I feel I am drinking fruit juice, with an alcoholic hint, VA is at the limit, but it gives that intriguing character that enriches the wine and gives pure personality. I gulped the wine like never before, I am surprised it is not my habit to swallow!

We finished with a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Grenache, Vermentino Nero and maybe something else. Francesco tells me that historically in Giglio there was more red grapes varieties then white. Already in the XVI century Andrea Bacci was dedicating a section of his work to the Giglio grapes. The island once was  covered in vines and as we travelled through a dirt truck to reach his vineyards, he shows me all the abandoned terraces now covered in wild bushes. The scenery is breathtaking: the ancient vines curled through the rocks, making their way, fighting for survival.

The grapes overlook the sea, sloping along the side of the granite south-west aspect, the silence around hits you hard, the total absence of noise fulfils the soul, I feel I am touched to the deepest part of my heart.

WP_20160831_19_12_44_Pro-3Every single intervention here is manual. The wild rabbits, this year, have had a feast and temporary fences had to be put to avoid their devastation. They eat everything, grapes and leaves and after three consecutive years the plant is lost forever. Sadness arises over Francesco’s eyes: it is the battle of a lonely man against nature, I feel for him and realised that over that apparent hard shell there is a big heart hidden away.

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The bright gold colour of the grape is the colour of the wine, the exposed part of the berry is burned by the sun: “Now you know where my wine comes from” he says. ” Look how generous the plant is” he points out with big pride: “These are plants that have not seen any proper rain since October and look how the vine responds. I have treated them twice this year with sulphur and copper..but the rabbits these are my real pests!”

The spirit of surviving through the difficulty and the adversity. This is my deep thought in the silence that surrounds us. I look at the distant sea and without voice I thank this man for this extraordinary experience. Out of the multitude of vineyards visited so far and the numerous tastes undertaken to understand the world of wine, this has to be one my most memorable moments. I had so many questions to ask, I was eager to come home with considerable examples from my MW study, but in all truth I could not ask any. What was I supposed to ask? How could I have questioned the dream of a man who started almost twenty years ago when the island became his home and after years of hard work has three hectares of land reclaimed? No I could not have asked any questions, this was not the usual visit, this was a human moment shared, a brief encounter between a master of experience and a woman in need to know. My full respect and silence was the only thing I could offer and these few lines dedicated to this man, his dream, his fantastic wines, his beautiful island and the genius talent that with great hope I wish someone, somewhere will be able to carry forward. Thank you Francesco and for sure see you again soon.

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A taste of Aleatico grape

 

Aleatico is an ancien grape variety appreciated by Romans, although its origin is not clear. DNA profiling has shown a relation with Moscato Bianco and some genetic relation with Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, Sangiovese and Gaglioppo, but genetic is a complicated game and as the last three grapes have little in common the relation seems quite improbable.  Vigorous with good tolerance to drought, it prefers well ventilated sites and Bolsena Lake, in Lazio region, seams to suit perfectly its necessities.

Andrea Occhipinti belongs to a new generation of producers devoted to Aleatico grape. His vines are sloping along the side of the volcanic lake in a breath taking scenery, the soil is dark rich of minerals, all the vines come from an ancient vineyard and were propagated through selection massale, Andrea has now his own private nursery. The spontaneous fermentation takes place in small cement tanks to control the temperature, no oak is used and stainless steel is only for storage prior bottling. All the wines remain on lees and undertake malolactic fermentation. Fining and clarification are avoided, only a gross filtration is applied before bottling.

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Alea Viva 2014 was my favourite taste. 100% Aleatico grape purple transparent with floral scents, red roses and black berry juice dominates the nose with hints of dark spices. The wine is dynamic with crisp acidity and soft tannins, the floral and fruity character remarks the palate leaving that pleasant feeling of “I want some more”.

Impressive Alea Rosa 2015, 100% Aleatico with 24 hours maceration to provide an attractive light pink colour, the floral flavours are the main dominant: rose, lili and violet with fresh fruits scents. Linear  and well balance, the gentle tannins and crisp acidity offer a pleasant drink to be served chilled.

WP_20160801_014Antonella Pacchiarotti hosts her guests in the historical town of Grotte di Castro, very impressive the underground cellar and the winemaking cellar. Since 2009 Antonella has dedicated her time to Aleatico grape: a tradition learned from the family, but without specific studies. The three and half hectares of land are dedicated to the local Aleatico: there is a lot of experimentation going on and the line of wines has jet to find a clear direction.

Impressive Antonella enthusiasm: a woman full of bubbles and energy, however the wine is missing her input and from one bottle to the next there is little continuity. I would personally reduce the line and let the territory and grape variety express more. Too often the choices in the winery were emerging from the glass, leaving aside the true soul of Aleatico grape.

Antonella has energy to spare and I am sure she will be able to find a true identity soon.

Podernuovo località Palazzone

Attention to details like a precious stone counts very much at Podernuovo winery. The Bulgari family (the famous jewellery company) has been here since the early 2000, dedicating their passion to a territory not far from Siena. Impeccable vines dominate the scenery the “potatura dolce” taught through Simonit and Sirch “Potatori d’uva” school, is an effective pruning style that allow the plant to develop without imparting dramatic cuts subject to future trunk diseases (Esca here does not exist). Heavy clay (the famous “Crete Senesi”) characterises the soil, precise attention on when and how to work the soil is necessary, inter-row management is crucial to aeriate the soil, minerals are not always available and addition of nitrogen, iron and cobalt sometimes is essential. They do not combat problems they try to prevent the problem. “Induttori di difesa” are used to build up the natural immune system of the plant to strengthen  natural defences. The grapes this year look healthy and promise a good harvest.

The winery  is a master piece of architecture: modern, spacious with the latest technologies. Geothermic energy is utilised to provide energy for the entire building. Experimenting recently has moved the team to vinify in terracotta anfora made locally by Sirio Anfore. Open fermenters are used through spontaneous fermentation and natural yeasts.

And the wines? There is space to grow.

Sotirio 2010 100% Sangiovese revels notes of mature fruits, dark spice and tobacco, but the tannins are dusty and the finish is slightly bitter.

Argirio 2013 mainly Cabernet Franc with 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon is much more harmonious although the alcohol stand out at the nose with piercing pungency (15%). Powerful, rich, opulent but I can’t stop noticing the slight bitterness on the finish.

Terra 2012 is a blend of many grapes including Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Merlot is considered their entry level label,  however I think the opposite: mature fruits, dark cherries and sweet vanilla anticipate a full extractive wine, mouth filling and rich. Out of all the other wines is the one that leave a fond memory.

All through the wine tasting  I feel the estate still searching for its own identity, I am lacking a sense of place and vibrancy, all the potentials are there to offer a great product, however it is just a matter of time, try and errors..after all there is only one harvest per year!

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