What's in a name? A lot, when it's the name of a vineyard. And when that vineyard is arguably the most historic in Barolo—Cannubi—there's money, history and local pride at stake.
Italy's Council of State has ruled that wines made from four vineyards neighboring Cannubi can be labeled Cannubi. The decision effectively enlarges Cannubi from 37 acres of vines to 84. The ruling has angered 11 producers who own parcels in the 37 acres and have been fighting to maintain the previous boundaries. But it's a victory for one of Barolo's larger and most historic wineries, Marchesi di Barolo.
"We are very surprised and saddened by the decision of the Council of State," said Marta Rinaldi, whose family winery Giuseppe Rinaldi owns a parcel. "It is a clear choice in favor of the commercial needs of the company Marchesi di Barolo."
No one is arguing about the historic value of the name Cannubi. The oldest record of it appearing on a wine label was 1752, before winemakers even began putting Barolo on labels. Located on a southeast-facing ridge just north of the village of Barolo, it captures morning sunshine, and Nebbiolo planted on it ripens even in challenging years. For centuries, Cannubi has been a signifier of quality, which is why wineries often wrote it on their labels even if the fruit came from the other vineyards on the ridge—Muscatel, Valletta, San Lorenzo and Boschis.
In 1995, as the appellation was delineating official vineyard boundaries, the commune of Barolo defined Cannubi as 37 acres on the heart of the ridge. But it also recommended that wines from the four neighbors, which have slightly different exposures and soils, be allowed to include Cannubi—Cannubi-Muscatel, etc. But in 2009, Ernesto Abbona, president of Marchesi di Barolo, challenged this rule, arguing that his winery and others had historically used grapes from the other vineyards in their Cannubi. Marchesi di Barolo had owned a large portion of Cannubi, but in 2008, a split among the owners led the group that held the vineyard to lease it to another winery. When the official vineyard boundaries were finally released in 2010, Cannubi had grown to 84 acres.
Eleven producers appealed, and a regional tribunal agreed with them, overturning the act. But on Oct. 3, Abbona won his appeal to the state council in Rome. "This ruling does justice to the work led by my family, which for decades has grown grapes and made Barolo produced from estate vineyards in Cannubi and was the architect of the promotion of this extraordinary hill," Abbona told Italian media.
It's unclear what further action other wineries can take. "All these producers who are upset, I understand," said Giacomo Conterno, whose winery Poderi Aldo Conterno produces its own single-vineyard wines in nearby Bussia. "They have had generations on this land. To change and suddenly say all these differences no longer exist, there is one Cannubi, maybe it's easier for marketing. But more than a century ago, they put these different names because people already understood the soil was similar but with plenty of little differences."
"I think the customers lost," said Luca Currado, of the Vietti winery and a member of the leadership committee of the regional consorzio, "because there are now Cannubi wines and secondary Cannubi wines, and now the customers will not be able to judge from the labels."