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Damijan: Unearthing white gold in an Italian border region
Growing up in Gorizia, on Italy’s northeastern border with the former Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), Damijan Podversic dreamed of following his father’s path making wine for the family’s local eatery, Osteria Ronko Bienic.
But in his twenties, after Podversic planted his own vineyards and intentionally slashed production to get better flavor concentration in his grapes, his father disowned him.
“My father didn’t believe in quality,” recalls Podversic, 47, a bear of an ethnic Slovenian with laugh lines around gentle blue-green eyes. “He said, ‘That is stupid. You will die of hunger.’”
The two men didn’t talk for eight years.
Now, Podversic’s meticulously produced skin-contact whites—labeled Damijan and classified Venezia Giulia IGT—can be found in elite restaurants across Europe, Asia and the United States. In the 2008 vintage (the last sampled), Wine Spectator rated three of Podversic’s wines—each $50—at 91 or 92 points.
Tiziano Mazzoni spent most of his adult life as a mechanic, working on engines for race cars and boats.
Now he makes wine. In fact, very good red wine in the relatively obscure Ghemme appellation in Italy's northern Piedmont region.
“I decided to do something crazy,” says Mazzoni, 55, explaining why he retired his wrenches when he turned 40 and bought some vineyards to indulge his passion for red wine—particularly Nebbiolo.
Mazzoni, a compact man with clear blue eyes and a graying mustache, is today a leader for quality in Ghemme. Read the full blog at winespectator.com
Norther Piedmont's wine wunderkind goes deep into Nebbiolo
As a teenager in northern Piedmont, when most boys were enthralled by soccer, girls and cars, Cristiano Garella developed another obsession: Italian wine.
At 13, Garella bought his first wine guide, by the influential Italian writer Luigi Veronelli. A couple of years later, he spent his Christmas money on his first two bottles, one of them Barolo Brunate from Enzo Boglietti.
"Wine was like a sensation from a new world," says Garella, who can't pinpoint the origins of his precocious interest. "My father was a gymnastics teacher, my mother was a secretary, and my grandmother drank a lot of bad wine."
But this he knew: He wanted to be part of the booming Italian wine scene. He enlisted his older brother to drive him about 100 miles to southern Piedmont and knocked on the cellar doors of Barolo and Barbaresco producers—from Elio Altare to Angelo Gaja. He tasted wines and soaked up all the knowledge he could.
Exploring the Northern Piedmont Part 1
Christoph Künzli discovered northern Piedmont's Boca appellation at the end of the 1980s, it was, in a word, "dead."
="It was the end," says Künzli. "Everybody was gone. Most of the wines were undrinkable."
At the time, Künzli was a Swiss importer, guided by his friend Paolo de Marchi—the northern Piedmont native who created Tuscany's legendary Isole e Olena.
De Marchi introduced him to a Boca exception—retired farmer Antonio Cerri, who bottled elegant Nebbiolo-based reds from an acre he had worked for 40 years.
"Cerri made these incredible wines from another time," explains Künzli, now 54 and a gray-bearded bear of a man. "That is why I am here. I lost my heart here."
Before World War II in Italy, the hills around Boca and four other towns were covered with more than 10,000 vineyard acres. After the war, waves of locals left vinegrowing to work in local textile and plumbing industries. By the mid-1990s, only 25 acres remained under vine.
What's a rebel to do in the Jura?
It isn't easy being a rebel in one of France's smallest and strangest wine appellations. Just ask Laurent Macle.
Château-Chalon is, as the French say, particulier. The appellation allows only one kind of wine—the Jura's oxidative, Sherry-like vin jaune (yellow wine). No one knows how this white style from Savagnin grapes began, but in the cliff-top village of Château-Chalon (pop. 170) and neighboring burgs, it's taken very seriously.
Macle, however, is trying something different. "This is my little test I have been doing since 2007," Macle, 44, explains discreetly in his family's 17th-century cellars. The "little test" is four Burgundy barrels a year—1,000 bottles—of clean, complex, non-oxidative, Chardonnay-based Côtes du Jura wine.
Rosé a "cliché?"
Among Provence winemakers, Henning and Sylvain Hoesch are close to being heretics.
The father and son have made wine for a combined 40 years at Domaine Richeaume on the flanks of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, just east of Aix-en-Provence. The gorgeous 160-acre estate, drenched in sunlight reflected off the cliffs of Sainte-Victoire, is a landscape right off a Cézanne canvas, with 70 acres of organic red-soil vineyards, olive and almond groves, grain fields and a flock of 100 sheep.
The Hoesches are contrarians. They shun the local Côtes de Provence Ste.-Victoire appellation (created in 2005), cultivate outsider varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot, and even use a touch of American oak in aging wine.
And here's the worst of it: They don't care much for rosé, the dominant and booming wine synonymous with Provence.
"Personally, I would prefer not to make rosé at all," explained Sylvain, 44, a lanky, blue-eyed winemaker who bottles pink wine, in minuscule amounts, only because some customers demand it.
See the Video Trailer for PALMENTO on You Tube....
Robert reads from and discusses Palmento at McNally Jackson books in NY Sept. 2010.
Robert on radio