Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Returning to the cellar with Roberto Conterno

This trip provided for a lot of time spent in the company of Roberto Conterno, and I was lucky for that. I had visited the cellar of Giacomo Conterno already earlier this year, but this trip happily brought a lot more conversation with Roberto. This is someone who gives a lot of consideration to what he does, and I find it easy to learn from his experience.

Asked about the harvest that was underway, Roberto explained that vintages are not simply understood by the weather conditions during the year, but also by what the fruit does during the fermentation. And that process was only beginning: Barbera had already been harvested when we arrived, but the Nebbiolo grapes were still on the vine. That being said, he suspected 2012, which Roberto called a "strange vintage," would have more in common with 2008 than with the fruity 2009s or firm 2010s. 2008 is a cooler, more reticent vintage in general than those others, and I myself tend to like the Barolos from that year. It will be interesting to see if the wines from 2012 behave in a similar fashion to those of 2008. Roberto also said that he feels Nebbiolo as a grape behaves well in the cooler years, while Barbera reacts better in the warmer vintages.

Perhaps to reinforce his point about understanding the harvest through the conditions of the fermentation, Roberto showed us all to the fermentation room.

As before, it was gleaming, as spotless as it was spacious, and well-ordered.

The tanks stood at attention.

The floor was swept.

There was a gleam around the edges of the tanks.

And it wasn't hard to catch a reflection in the polish.

Everything there was accorded a place.

Roberto has an experiment going, a special side project that he is doing, and it was fermenting on this day in a barrel against the wall.

He wouldn't tell us much about it.

But it was there and we were interested,

so he did give us a sneak peak.

And in my own expert opinion I would say that it was not Arneis.

Aside from the wine itself, there is a lot that is quietly picturesque in the winery.

Even including a window that looked out on the fog.

Our time in the fermentation room over, Roberto led us to taste in the ageing cellar.

The symmetry of this placement  is a little bit hypnotic to my eyes in person, although I haven't done it justice in the photo.

The oversized old wooden botti have a texture that also holds my interest.

And there are also other sculptures to be found around the large room.

Roberto offered us both bottled wines and samples from botti on this visit, which was great, because on my previous visit we had only tried wines from botti.

Neither of these wines had yet been bottled when I visited the cellar this summer. But here they were. You wouldn't think that visiting the same winery twice inside of 6 months would bring many opportunities for learning, until you do it.

The 2010 vintage continues to be my favorite for Cerretta, in both Barbera and Nebbiolo. In fact, the 2010s are extremely strong at G. Conterno across the board, and they may well prove to be some of the finest wines produced from the region in that excellent and impressive year. Interestingly, this 2010 Barbera from Cerretta was at the same alcohol level as the 2009 Cerretta Barbera, which is something I wouldn't have expected.

The 2009 Cerretta Nebbiolo displays a big fruit profile. It is less firm than the 2010 of the same, although I wouldn't call it lighter.

We proceeded on to taste some of the wines still in wood.

There was a side by side of the Barberas from 2011. Roberto feels that the 2011 Cerretta Barbera has some similarities to the 2009 Cerretta Barbera. The Cascina Francia, in my own estimation, had a more mineral tinged aspect than either.

Interestingly, although the 2009 Cerretta Nebbiolo had already been bottled, the 2009 Cascina Francia Nebbiolo has not been. The 2009 Cascina Francia Nebbiolo, if I understood correctly, will be in wood for a year longer than the Cerretta Nebbiolo 2009 was. Roberto said that he did not want to dry out the fruit of the Cerretta with more time in wood.

The Cerretta Nebbiolo from 2010 will be the first Nebbiolo release from Cerretta that is labelled as a Barolo from Giacomo Conterno. Previously the wines have been labelled simply as Nebbiolo, but Roberto feels that the quality of the 2010 merits the Barolo appellation.

The 2011 Cerretta Nebbiolo, however, is a question mark. Roberto said that he does not know yet if he will label this wine as Barolo or not. It was interesting what he said about this actually, because he said that he must taste the wines several times in the cellar to understand them, and that because he does this, there is no bigger critic of the wines than him. The wine has to pass muster.

There was a latticework texture to the 2011 Cerretta Nebbiolo, an intricacy that I could see through, that I wouldn't normally associate with that cru, at least not from how I understand it in the other vintages from Giacomo Conterno. We'll see if that texture sticks with the wine as it matures, or if it melts into the fruit like a snowflake.

In the bottling room the future was being packed up. There are some places on earth where every sound has a long echo.

Giacomo Conterno's cantina is like that. There is a tangible sense that this place is watched closely by the wine world. Each change is recorded somewhere, and each bottle is expected to over perform. The ramifications ripple through the wine conversation.

These bottles would travel to Germany.

We, however, would go to Cascina Francia, where a walk reminded us how big it is. There are 14 hectares of vines at Cascina Francia: 9 hectares of Nebbiolo and 5 hectares of Barbera. The vineyard itself is actually 16 hectares in total, but 2 of those hectares are given over to trees. Although that seems like a lot of hectares planted to vine, it is worth remembering that the spacing between the rows there is like the spacing inside the Giacomo Conterno winery: wide.

Cascina Francia has some of the highest trellising of any Barolo vineyard I have seen. High trellising seems to be something Roberto believes in. He has also been raising the height of the trellises in Cerretta since he purchased them.

As you might expect in a Giacomo Conterno vineyard, everything seemed immaculate. The vineyard is harvested entirely by hand.

This was all Nebbiolo fruit. The Barbera had already been harvested from Cascina Francia when we visited. At one point there was both Dolcetto and Freisa planted in Cascina Francia, but they were both removed and replaced. The 2000 vintage was their last.

Although I had visited Cascina Francia once before, I had not on that previous visit walked the distance down to this road, which bisects the vineyard. When you are standing on it you can see how the vineyard actually curves a bit.

Some of the vines in Cascina Francia were planted 10 years ago, in 2002. Those are the youngest vines in the vineyard.

Other vines there are over 70 years of age. And Roberto goes to a lot of trouble to bind those vines to the wires. He actually grows reeds in Cascina Francia, and then harvests them to use as ties.

He doesn't like to use plastic ties because plastic doesn't allow for expansion or contraction in changing temperatures. The reeds do.

Roberto really has thought it through. And that's not all. Ask him about the yeasts sometime. There is quite an answer waiting. Or just share a smile with him, if that's what interests you more. Here is a deacon in the Church of Wine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for these great posts and photos! I can practically taste the Barbera. I guess can understand taking the vines out, but I would love to have some Dolcetto from Cascina Francia!
Mike H.