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Extreme Nebbiolo Part II
I confess. I'm one of those wine lovers who regard Nebbiolo as more than a wine grape. I won't say Nebbiolo wines provide a mystical experience. But some get pretty close.
A recent Nebbiolo pilgrimage across Northern Italy led me inevitably to the door of Ar.Pe.Pe.—the perfectionist, traditionalist producer in the grape's alpine frontier of the Valtellina valley bordering Switzerland.
And what a door it is.
The winery threshold is carved into a steep mountainside, terraced with vineyards, in the appellation's Grumello zone. Here the centuries-old terraces, built from 10-foot drywalls of schist and granite, lead way up to a medieval castle perched in the distance.
Inside, I was immediately struck by the cathedralic vastness of Ar.Pe.Pe.'s cellars. The family company, after all, produces a modest 5,000 cases. But this is a winery that could produce hundreds of thousands more.
Extreme Nebbiolo Part 1: A helicopter harvest in Alpine Italy
Casimiro Maule, tall and elegant in a pin-striped suit and supple black shoes, races across some of Northern Italy's most rugged terraced vineyards like a mountain goat.
The 65-year-old winemaker, who over the past four decades has led Nino Negri through ups and downs to its place as one of Italy's leading quality producers, darts over a makeshift plank bridge and bounds over a series of ditches where the vertiginous terrace walls have eroded.
"Attenzione!" he warns younger visitors trying to keep up in hiking boots.
It is end-of-October harvest, and we are traversing the ominously named Inferno—one of five wine zones in Italy's steep Valtellina valley. Its dramatic 25 miles of vineyards cling to the lower slopes of the Alps that form the border with Switzerland.
"No photo!" Giuseppe Cavallotto waved me off as I aimed my iPhone in his direction.
He stood atop of one of Barolo's most gorgeous vineyards, his family's monopole Bricco Boschis, a steep, sunny, concave hillside that stretches below the family home and winery in Castiglione Falletto.
Giuseppe, the middle of three siblings who run Tenuta Cavallotto, said posing for photographs was for his younger brother, Alfio. Then I asked Giuseppe his age. "That doesn't matter," he responded, and after an awkward silence added, "I'm more-or-less 46—it's no secret."
Coaxing Elegance from an Italian Monster
"The trouble with Sagrantino is to understand Sagrantino," says Giampaolo Tabarrini, who grows the indigenous red grape in Montefalco, in Italy's Umbria region. "It's much easier to make a Sangiovese, Cabernet or Merlot than Sagrantino."
"Because Sagrantino has too much of everything!" He seems to shout with his whole body, from his skinny torso to the standout ears on his near-shaven head. "There are a lot of polyphenols. A lot of tannins. A lot of sugar. It is many times over: A lot! A lot! A lot! So how do you balance it?"
A freewheeling Provence winemaker's ride from ruin to recovery
Raimond de Villeneuve grins like he's won the French Loto as he looks over rows of Syrah vines loaded with dark, healthy grapes.
"It's my first real harvest since 2011," says the 52-year-old producer, who is in his 20th vintage at his Château de Roquefort in Provence.
It's a happy chapter in a story that looked like a tragedy two years ago after a hail storm destroyed his entire 62-acre crop and left half his vines damaged for the next vintage.
Just after the storm, de Villeneuve faced financial ruin. He was saved by the rallying of 35 Provence and Rhône producers (and the flexibility of French authorities) who contributed grapes for a special rosé and two reds labeled Grêle (Hail) 2012, under his name rather than the château's.
De Villeneuve's survival is a good thing for Provence wine: Château de Roquefort is a one-of-a-kind place run by a singular category-defying winemaker…Read the full blog at Wine Spectator
A hard-learned winemaking lesson: Growing is the tough part
This was the year I coulda been a contender. Instead, here I am crying in my grape juice.
The 2014 harvest was going to be the one when my small, 100-vine plot of Syrah on a patch of earth in southern France was going to shine. I am not a professional winemaker so there was no hope of my wine being tasted and scored 95 points by Wine Spectator. But it was going to put a smile on the faces of friends and vignerons who drank it.
Today I have one word: fuhgeddaboudit.
What happened? Grape rot. While I was waiting for those little dark beauties to ripen in September, the Provençal sun disappeared, clouds came in, rain followed and voilà. Less than 10 percent of the crop was salvageable—enough to fill one picking basket. The rest? Damaged grapes oozing juice that was already turning to vinegar.
Before you start saying that winemaking is difficult, let me say: It's not.
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