Monday, June 4, 2012

Poderi Oddero

Luca Veglio, the talented and thoughtful oenologist at Poderi Oddero, has just been married. In honor of Luca and his new wife I begin the story of our latest visit to Poderi Oddero here, outside the happy decorations of the Sol LeWitt Chapel in La Morra.

The proper name of this place is the Santa Madonna delle Grazie Chapel, but the artist Sol LeWitt redecorated the exterior in 1999, and he did so in such bright colors that one cannot help but think of his contribution here when you think of the place.

Nearby the chapel, my friend Isabella Oddero led us on a tour of the Brunate cru, which has portions in both the commune of La Morra and the commune of Barolo.

This is of course one of the most famous vineyards in all of the Piemonte, and the Oddero family is part of a group trying hard to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status for this place.

We took a walk along the rows.

The red tie on the vine contains pheromones that help deter harmful insects from advancing.

A look up the slope of Brunate.

And a look out and down the slope.

Brunate is quite large, and I am told that where your parcel is located on the slope can have a big determination on the final style of the wine. I can certainly say that from this place on the slope everything seems very beautiful indeed.

As we headed out of Brunate and past the Sol LeWitt Chapel, Isabella informed me that Luca is honeymooning in the Champagne region, tasting the wines. I think it says a lot about a guy that he would want to go taste wine on his honeymoon, and it reinforces the thought that I had about Luca when I met him last year, which is that Luca is a real wine guy.

Isabella is herself planning a marriage, in this case her own, and to her longtime fiance. She will be wed this coming September. Many happy Congratulations are indeed due to those at Poderi Oddero.

After the Brunate tour, we drove over to Castiglione and got a chance to see some of Oddero's oldest vines in the Rocche cru there.

The white netting is a protection against hail, and a recent addition to this vineyard. In 2007 there was no such netting, and the entire grape production of the cru was lost to hail in that year.

The vines here are often over 50 years old, with many of them as old as 65 years.

To give some context about where Rocche di Castiglione is, Brovia's Rocche is also Rocche di Castiglione, but at a different point along the road in. Above that road is the location of Ceretto's Bricco Rocche, while if you were at the very bottom of Brovia's Rocche you would also be close to Roagna's Pira vineyard.

If on the other hand you were standing in Poderi Oddero's parcel of Rocche di Castiglione, you would have a clear view of the Poderi Aldo Conterno winery in Monforte.

Our next vineyard stop was actually in Monforte, at Mondoca di Bussia Soprana.

 Which is a pretty amazing bit of vista.

And steep. You may yourself notice in this picture what had to be pointed to me: the soil is quite compact here.

The nets in Mondoca ("mon-DOUGH-ka") are also in the interest of hail prevention. The folks at Oddero are experimenting with different color netting to see what might work best.
The trellising has been recently raised here. I personally haven't seen trellising this tall for Nebbiolo in any vineyard except perhaps Cascina Francia. I must say that the new trellising must be working well, because I tried the 2010 Mondoca from Oddero on this trip (it had just been racked, and returned to botti) and it was one of the most impressive Barolo I have tried. Not just from this trip, but from the modern day. I mean it was really superb. Impressive would be the correct word for the wine. Really impressive. Let's see what it tastes like after bottling, but please do as I will and keep your fingers crossed.

 The average vine age in Mondoca is about 35 years.

Mariacristina Oddero amongst the vines. Although I have met Mariacristina several times, she has often in the past mentioned that she can not understand what I am saying, and requested a translation. On this particular visit Mariacristina let me know that she could finally make out the meaning of my pronunciations. I was indeed very happy to hear that my English had finally gotten better. I am getting there.

On a more serious note, it is Mariacristina who has overseen the changes at Oddero that have resulted in the likes of the 2010 Mondoca, and I think she deserves more acknowledgement for her excellent stewardship of the estate.

After the stop in Mondoca we headed to the Poderi Oddero cantina in Santa Maria, which once also served as the schoolhouse for the children in that portion of La Morra, circa 1900.

On our day the old schoolyard was empty, except for Isabella's cute dog. His name is Manhattan. Isabella is a fan of New York and has fond memories of her visits there.

Seeing as recess was over, we headed down to the cellar.

Poderi Oddero owns a significant portion of the Bricco Fiasco cru, which is a very well known cru (think of Azelia, or of Paolo Scavino's "Bric del Fiasc," which is the same thing). But because the Oddero Fiasco fruit is blended with the fruit of other vineyards like Bricco Chiesa into the Oddero Barolo normale, you do not see Fiasco noted on a Poderi Oddero label. The folks at Oddero would like to change that, and they want to mention the particular vineyard sources on a bottle of their Barolo normale. That is why they objected to the new cru labelling regulations taking effect soon, as did Giuseppe Rinaldi and Bartolo Mascarello. This is the same subject that also came up during the Giuseppe Rinaldi visit this year.

They keep super in depth notes about each botti at Poderi Oddero, and they like to experiment as well. For example, in 2009 and then again in 2011 they split in half the production of Bricco Chiesa (which totals 2 botti) and exposed each botti to a different method of maceration. With one botti they did what they normally do: they pumped the fermenting must over the cap of skins that had formed at the top. With the other botti they did something else: they took wooden stakes and pushed the cap down into the must and held it there submerged for 60 days. And let me tell you what: COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. A totally and completely different result. This is one of the most enlightening tastings I have ever been a witness to, because think about it: the vineyard is the same, the vineyard work is the same, the plowing, the pruning, everything is the same. Then you get to the winery: the oak is from the same source, the cellar is the same temperature, the sulphur use is the same, the yeasts are the same, all of that. But the samples were WILDLY different. And that difference was all due to the skin maceration. How long the skins were in contact with the juice and how they were kept in that contact. That's it. And in one glass you had classic Oddero red fruit finesse while in the other you had this black beast of dark fruit with a thousand elbows. Skin maceration. That was the difference.

Consider what that means for the so-called modern vs. traditional debate in Barolo. Is it all only about barriques and the size of the wood, or is there a significant role played by the style of maceration? I, especially after that tasting at Oddero, think that the style and length of maceration is a huge consideration. Say you use old botti for maturation of the wine, but you shorten the length of time the fermenting juice is in contact with the skins: is this still "traditional"? It is a question worth asking. Remember that in the old days some producers would keep the cap held down with a metal grate, and for very long periods of time.

Something else Poderi Oddero is experimenting with is longer time in bottle for certain wines before release. The Brunate and the Vigna Rionda bottlings will both now both be kept longer at the winery before sale.
The Vigna Rionda will actually not be sold until 10 years from the vintage date, so this wine will not be sold for another 3 years. I did try this 2005 during our visit, and the intensely lifted red fruit nose reminded me of what I like so much about good 2005s: fragance rises out of the glass like the smoke rises from a candle that you have just tried to snuff but couldn't. Perhaps the difficulty of the 2005 harvest made this result possible.

A sample of 2007 Vigna Rionda, a wine which is still in botti, also showed the signature perfume of Rionda.

Vigna Rionda in the middle distance.
I asked the Odderos why they have decided to hold the Vigna Rionda for as long as they have begun to, and they told me that they think the wines of this place are being misunderstood, and they would like to prevent that. They think that time will present a fuller picture to the drinker. I suspect that they are correct.

I'll be honest, it is an extremely exciting time to be following the wines of Poderi Oddero. This is a winery that is not only hitting real highs - highs as high as any of the great Oddero bottlings from the 50s and 60s - but they are also providing an excellent baseline of quality Barolo with the Barolo normale. Each year I become more convinced that a renaissance is taking place in Santa Maria.

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