Domenico Clerico, the renowned vintner who helped build a new wave of enthusiasm for the wines of Barolo, died yesterday at his home in Monforte d'Alba after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.
Clerico, who considered himself more a grapegrower than a winemaker, made rich, dense Barolos from his 52 acres of vines in Monforte. His Barolos from Ciabot Mentin and Pajana in the cru Ginestra vineyard; Percristina, named after his late daughter and sourced from the Mosconi vineyard; and Aeroplan Servaj from the Baudana cru in Serralunga, expressed their sites, showing purity of fruit, minerality and the structure for aging.
Clerico's Barolos have been routinely outstanding (90 points or more) if not classic. In 2011, Clerico's Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra 2006 was Wine Spectator's No. 8 wine of Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year.
Clerico's infectious smile and generous nature earned him many friends, while his passion and work ethic gained respect from his colleagues. "Domenico Clerico was one of my dearest friends," recalled Enrico Scavino, of Paolo Scavino. He remembers meeting Clerico in 1970 and running into him again just a few days later. "[My wife and I] stopped at Monforte d'Alba where there was the Patronal Festival and as Domenico saw and recognized us, he right away made us sit at a table and at the end we were told that Domenico already paid for us. This gesture deeply impressed us and made us understand his greatness of mind and heart."
Luca Currado of Vietti remembers a tasting he attended in Tuscany 15 years ago with Clerico. At 2 a.m., after the tasting and dinner, Clerico announced that he had to return to the Langhe to spray his vines because it was going to rain in the next days. "Next morning at 7 a.m. all the producers were in the hotel having a cappuccino. Domenico was not there," said Currado. "We called him and with his big smile and happiness he said 'I'm happy and safe on my tractor in my vineyards.'"
Clerico took over the winery from his father in 1976. In 1977, he purchased his first vineyard parcel in Bussia, called Bricotto. Ciabot Mentin, Pajana and Mosconi followed and, in 2005, Clerico leased vineyards in Baudana for Aeroplan Servaj, named for a nickname given to him by his father that means "free spirit." He had very little money in the early days. To age his wines, he bought dismantled casks from Germany, cleaned them and put them back together.
Shortly after, he made a trip to Burgundy and bought 19 pièces, the 228-liter Burgundy barrels. He eventually incorporated barriques into his aging regime, and the Clerico style was born. But he was always trying to improve, experimenting with rotofermentors and other technologies. In 2008, he finished a new state-of-the-art winery and aging cellars on the outskirts of Monforte d'Alba. By the 2011 vintage, his macerations had increased to three weeks.
But Clerico's focus was always his vineyards, where he was often found and where he employed organic viticulture. "In the last years Domenico was mainly working in the vineyard, because it was the job he loved the most, leaving the management of the cellar to his collaborators," said a statement released by the winery.
Clerico is survived by his wife, Giuliana. She will continue his work, with the assistance of Domenico's deputies, Gianmatteo Rainieri and Oscar Arrivabene, and the existing team. Domenico had already made arrangements to leave the vineyards and winery to his nephew Orlando and niece Cecilia.