Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Return to Bartolo Mascarello

The lower, tenderloin portion of Cannubi has been replanted by Maria Teresa Mascarello.

Back in 2011 when the above picture was taken, this part of the Bartolo Mascarello parcel had lain fallow, and planted to a cover crop.

Now young vines pushed through the soil.

Soil that was dense and soggy on a late September day.

These new vines will be left to themselves for a few years, and then the fruit of the harvests will be in the Langhe Nebbiolo (a Langhe Nebbiolo from Cannubi? Get it when you can!). After the vines reach 8 or 9 years of age those grapes will in turn be added to the blend of the Bartolo Mascarello Barolo. You shouldn't expect the Barolo to increase in quantity much, however. Maria Teresa has plans to pull up and replant in another old vine parcel in another vineyard, and will do so around that time.

The other Bartolo vines in Cannubi, which are around 15-20 years old, are mostly in the parcel that you can see in the picture above, running roughly from where the tool shed is, up to top of the picture, where a road acts as a border.

I headed up there to take a few pictures.

In general they don't plant cover crops at Bartolo. What grows between the rows is what grows there naturally.

As a prevention against hail, long vine tendrils are pulled and tied over the canopies of the trellised rows. This is a particularly old time method, and not seen much in the area any longer.

The tendrils basically act as a hat, bunched up and covering the rows, in the same way that you or I might put old papers over our head in the rain.

There was a bit of hail damage in Bartolo's portion of Cannubi in 2012, as you can see here. The top berries of the grape bunches tended to be damaged most.

But in general the fruit looked great.

They don't do a green harvest at Bartolo per se, as they aren't looking for increased ripeness. Sandro the cellarman and all around helper at Bartolo does go through the rows about 2 or 3 weeks before harvest, though, and he drops fruit that looks especially underripe.

But there was still plenty left on the vine for the pickers to find on their visit.

Maria Teresa has no real wish to expand her vineyard holdings, because more vines means another fermenting tank, and then another botti, and where would she put them all? Besides, she likes the family aspect to the amount of workers she already has (currently there are 5 employees), and she does not covet adding more to the team. However, she wouldn't mind a parcel of vines in Castiglione one day, if that were to happen. There are also some vines in La Morra's Rocche that once belonged to her family, and that she would like to have back. Those vines are near the ones she still owns in Rocche, which are above. This Bartolo parcel is in the area of Torriglione.

Sandro had recently been through to pull some of the vegetation there, something he does 3 or 4 times a year.

I can't really explain to you why, but Rocche is one of my favorite vineyards to walk. So I took my time in the rows there.

It was early in the day, and the grapes were covered by the morning's moisture.

The mist was still strong in the distance.

While closer to me, I thought I saw a glimmer for a moment.

And indeed there was a fine weave in the vineyards that day.

Near vines that wore their own rough quilt.

Back in the cellar there was much to see.

Such as this botti, which at 55 years of age is the oldest in the cantina.

Two Slavonian oak botti are new, and just installed at Bartolo.

This past summer there had been empty spaces here where two old botti had been removed. This was also true at Giuseppe Rinaldi, where two new botti have also been added to the cellar.

The cooper was the same for the botti at Beppe and for here: Garbellotto. You give them the specifications of how big you would like the botti to be, and they make them up for you out of the wood that you choose.

Unfortunately it is still up to you to get the botti through the door of the cellar, and you can see from the paint stains on the frame that this was quite the struggle at Bartolo. The cellar doors are the real deciders of botti size at each cantina.

Sandro was busy topping up botti during our visit. Sandro has been working in this cellar since 1999, and he helped Bartolo with his last few vintages. That is a G N' R sweatshirt Sandro is wearing, btw, which is in contrast to the cellarman at Beppe, whom I know to be a Black Eyed Peas fan.

They top up Nebbiolo with Nebbiolo here, which is as it should be but maybe not always as it is in the Piemonte.

The wines for topping up are stored in these demijohns.

Alan Manley was at Bartolo while we were there, and he was nice enough to supply several details about the cellar work. Alan helps with translation and tours at Bartolo and at other wineries in the area, including Cavallotto and Sandrone. He has worked the harvest at each of these, and so he has a pretty diverse perspective on how Nebbiolo might be raised. He also rents a small parcel of vines himself, and is making his own wine. Alan really helped me understand better some of the method behind the wines at Bartolo.

There is no fining or filtering of wine at Bartolo, and everything is racked once a year with the exception of the Dolcetto, which is cold stabilized. When you think about it, one of the ways that the "style" of a Nebbiolo producer is determined is by the amount that they rack. Wines are exposed to a lot of air when they are racked. Exposure to air results in a different fruit character for the wine. A producer making the choice to rack less is also making the choice to preserve more primary fruit in their finished wines.

But of course before the wines make it to botti, they are fermented. The fermentation takes place at Bartolo in cement tanks that were installed sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. The Barolo is a cofermentation of all the vineyards together. There are not separate vats for each vineyard. The grapes for the Barolo are all put in the same vats. There is no sorting table at Bartolo, and what is picked in the vineyard is what is fermented at the cantina. Grape selection takes place during the harvest. The fermenting must is pumped over twice a day, and there are no punch downs. The grip that might come from punching down the cap is perhaps supplied at Bartolo by the press wine, all of which is used in the final blend.

The fermentation typically takes place over 14-20 days, and generally the Nebbiolo is macerated for 30 days on the skins. Sometimes this takes a bit longer, as in 2010, when the Nebbiolo for the Barolo was macerated for 56 days. The Langhe Nebbiolo and the Nebbiolo for the Barolo are fermented and macerated in a similar manner and for a similar length of time, but the Langhe Nebbiolo grapes are harvested earlier from the vineyards and vinified separately. The malo happens in wood at Bartolo, and is not forced to start. They don't raise the temperature in the cellar to get it going. So usually the malo happens in the spring, as the temperature begins to rise naturally. The malo is not forced to finish, either. One vintage in particular was notable for a barrel that had a malo running for 3 years.

Franca, seen above, is Bartolo Mascarello's widow and Maria Teresa's mother. She lives in a house to one side of the tasting room, and Maria Teresa lives in a house on the other side.

The portion of the cellar that lies under Franca's house is the original cellar. It dates back to around 1918, when Bartolo's father Giulio purchased the house. The rest of the cellar, including the space where the fermentation vats now are, is more recent. Passing through them, we headed back outside.

The long vine that connects Franca's house to the newer part of the cellar was bearing fruit on this day.

And the leaves had turned several colored, a sign that this was not a Nebbiolo vine.

From the courtyard, we turned towards the tasting room.

And made a brief stop into the shipping cellar and labeling room.

Boxes awaiting collection come in various sizes. It turns out that while Americans prefer 12 bottle cases, the Europeans prefer to buy six-packs. Also, some of the boxes used load vertically and some load horizontally. This is dependent on the preferences of the destination market. And there are magnums to contend with, which are not made every year. In general, Maria Teresa likes to offer two vintages of Barolo for sale at the same time: one vintage in 750ml and one that is a bit older in magnum.

The labeling machine was purchased in 2008. Prior to that, all the labels were glued on by hand. This machine's addition marked a new era of sorts at Bartolo, just as the arrival of the telephone there did in 1994 or 1995, and the fax machine in 2002. There is still no winery website, or tumblr, and if there is an email address it is not public.

Speaking of labels, Alan clarified for me the subject of the Art Labels which are found on certain bottles from Bartolo Mascarello, but not others. After Bartolo died in 2005, Maria Teresa found 600 labels that Bartolo had drawn and left in a drawer. She had them scanned, and reproduces them as bottle labels today. One of each was chosen for the Dolcetto, the Barbera, the Freisa, and the Langhe Nebbiolo, and those art labels are constant. They don't change from year to year.

For the Barolo, different art labels are used regularly, but only on a few bottles from each vintage. Generally, the Barolo bottles with an art label are sold at the winery, with one included in every case purchase of Barolo sold cellar door. So if you buy 12 bottles of Barolo from Bartolo at the cantina, in general one of the bottles will have an art label on it. A sticker is put on the side of cases that contain an art label, to distinguish them. The wine in the bottle is the same, it is only the label that is different. Of course you occasionally see art label Barolo bottles for sale at various specialty wine shops, but the idea is that they are supposed to be purchased directly at the cantina.

One of the art labels is never reproduced, which is the "No Barrique, No Berlusconi" label. Bartolo drew each of those that there are with his own hand, and no copies have been issued from the winery. Maria Teresa refuses to replicate it today, because she feels strongly that it belonged to Bartolo.

You can see the No Barrique, No Berlusconi label in a picture that I took earlier this year. You can also see the labels for the normal, non-art label Barolo, and (from left to right) the Freisa, the Barbera, and the Dolcetto.

Other art is added to the cantina walls by school children from the area, who make regular visits to the cellar.

Traditionally, new wines from the cellar are released each September 1st. The Freisa is always kept at the winery for an extra year longer than the Dolcetto, the Barbera, and the Langhe Nebbiolo, so this 2011 is still hiding in the cellar, and not in the tasting room.

We tasted several wines, including a Dolcetto 2011 that had been bottled in August, a Barbera 2010 that is a degree lower in alcohol than the Barbera 2009 was, a Freisa 2009 from a vineyard in the Barolo zone, a Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 that saw an extra year in wood beyond what is normal because of a lengthy malo, a reticent Barolo 2008, and a plump Barolo 2009 that had been bottled 5 weeks previously. This last had a finish that really pulled it all together texturally, much as the Barolo 2007 (now sold out from the winery in 750ml) did when I tasted it this past summer. The Barolo 2009 won't be released until next year, while the Barolo 2008 will be shipped to the States soon. As regards the Freisa, the 2010 has been released, but there is still some 2009 left at the winery, so that is what they poured us.

It was a good lineup of wine to taste as I settled into my seat and took the place in. A lot about wine is totemic. The way that we ascribe certain characteristics to a particular vineyard, or vintage, for instance, and then summon that totality to mind with a picture or a label. We let a part stand in for the whole.

But totems can work on a more personal level as well. There is a way that seeing a particular object can recall for you the whole of a place, its history, and your visits there. At least this is what I find happening for me.

There is a culture in that room.

And there are reminders of the people who support it.

People whom I feel lucky to spend time with.

And learn from.

On this visit Maria Teresa shared with me her frustration with a market that doesn't properly appreciate Dolcetto, a grape variety which "is delicate" and which "needs more work in the vineyard and cellar than Barbera or Nebbiolo even though it sells for cheaper." She also recommended decanting the Freisa off the sediment, which I will do the next time I am in Italy or Japan, the only markets it is sold in.

Our visit was close to over. Eventually we returned to the rainy day out of doors, aware that while the outside world was more familiar, it was also less real.


Do Bianchi said...

stunning, vital, necessary post... "awesome" as we would say in so cal. thank you for this levi.

leviopenswine said...

Thank you, Jeremy. Much appreciated.

Tomas said...

Thanks for all this great Barolo posts. Very interesting. And they really makes me want to go back!

leviopenswine said...

Thank you, Tomas. I appreciate your reading the blog.

Eric Lecours said...

Levy, I've never read a more detailed overview of Bartolo Mascarello. Bravo.

CharlieCA said...

At the risk of repeating everything already that's been said, great post. First time reader on a link from Alfonso Cevola's excellent blog. Bookmarking your site so that I can return. Gosh, you make me long for visiting Italy again soon. Thankfully, I've got some great bottles to enjoy while I await another visit,

Alan Manley said...

Levi - thanks for the excellent post and congrats on a great blog. And thanks for the visit! It was great to take you through the Cantina Mascarello. One slight correction: the Langhe Nebbiolo does not get the extended maceration that the Nebbiolo for Barolo receives. The LN is racked off the skins and pressed as soon as the must is dry. MT really wants this bottling to be fresh and lively and ready to drink a few months after release.

Thanks again and I look forward to seeing you the next time you are in Barolo.


leviopenswine said...

Thank you, Alan!

Veronica Stoler said...

"The way that we ascribe certain characteristics to a particular vineyard, or vintage, for instance, and then summon that totality to mind with a picture or a label. We let a part stand in for the whole."

And then the picture of the blue and white china. That was a perfect moment that you described, and I just loved reading about your trip! Thanks for the post Levi!

J Henahan said...

I hear the echo of Wallace Stevens when I read your words about wine:
"Thirteen Ways of Thinking about Barolo".

Alexander said...

Any suggestions on how to arrange a visit with them? I can't find much contact information other than a phone number.