I spent most of last week in Piedmont, visiting some of the top wineries and vineyards in Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto di Dogliani, and it reinforced my admiration for the vine growers and winemakers in the regions.
They have to be so dedicated to work the steep hillside vineyards of the region, regardless if they are planted to Nebbiolo, Barbera or Dolcetto. Most of the people I visited do either all or a large part of their vineyard work themselves. They probably were relieved to take a break from their hard work and spend some time with me, looking around their vineyards and cellars and tasting a few wines from bottle and barrel! Check out my video with Aldo Conterno and his son Franco at the Colonello vineyard.
This growing season apparently has been a bear. Late spring was wet and cold, which started the vines off late in their growth. Then the weather was poor during the flowering, so the berry set was bad. And there was an influx of powdery mildew, which made rigorous treatment necessary. The months of June and July were better and sunnier. However, isolated hail showers have hit most growers, and now some rot is setting in with the warm and humid weather.
Yet, growers were still optimistic for 2008, and had their fingers crossed that good, warm and sunny weather would prevail though the end of October. That’s a long time. I wish them luck. Most serious winemakers in the region have improved their vineyard techniques beyond imagination in the last 10 years, and they pay incredible attention to every detail in order to harvest the best possible grapes. So they seem to be able to pull off outstanding wines even in less-than-ideal harvests.
This is why they've had only one poor vintage in 12 years – 2002. Otherwise, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 have all been very good to outstanding years. The current vintage on the market for Barolo is 2004 and for Barbaresco is 2005. Many outstanding wines have been made in both years. The 2004 Barolo reminds me of the legendary 1996, and the 2005 Barbaresco the generous and fabulous 1997, but I don’t think they are quite as superb in quality as those older classics.
One of the most memorable moments in my trip was visiting the top vineyards of Aldo Conterno. Their vineyards--Colonello, Cicala and Romirasco--are legends for “Barolistas” – Barolo aficionados. I have to admit that I usually have a slight preference for Cicala, which makes more aromatic and firmer, racier Barolos. But I went crazy for the 2004 Colonello in my blind tastings of Barolos earlier this year, giving it 97 points. The Cicala was not made due to hail damage in the vineyard in 2004.
"For me, it's always been important to keep the vineyards very clean,” said Aldo, as we walked through Colonello. I noticed that the vineyards had small nets, called “mini-skirts” in Italian, that protect the grapes from possible hail. “A great wine has to come from great vineyards. And that vineyard has to be clean. Even if I don't make a great wine one year, it's such a pleasure to see a beautiful vineyard.”
Indeed, his vineyards look like large, well-kept gardens. And it’s impressive how they're real suntraps. It was about 7:30 pm and there was still sunshine on the vines, while the top vineyards near the town of La Morra, including Brunate or Cerequio, were already in the shade.
"We have the sun here from the early morning until the late evening. That is what makes great Barolo,” he said, as we basked in the evening sunshine.
Vine grower and winemakers in Piedmont are a pretty stoic bunch, and also very humble. So, I wish to add something to Aldo’s comment about the sun in making great Barolos. I think great men and women who are dedicated to growing great grapes in some of the toughest hillside vineyards in the world are also some of the main reasons for making great Barolos. Thanks, Aldo, and others ...
Conor Twomey — Ireland — August 26, 2008 4:17am ET
Albert Jochems — The Netherlands — August 27, 2008 2:30am ET
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