Luca Currado Vietti always felt that he had something to prove. Growing up in the heart of the Barolo region in northwest Italy, he yearned to make his mark at his family winery, Vietti, which has been making excellent Piedmont wines for close to two centuries. But his family resisted his desire to show what he could do.
"It was really frustrating to make the change from one generation to another," admits Vietti, 36, a handsome man with boyish enthusiasm. "It was a huge conflict. I wanted to revalidate the soil of our vineyards through making better wines that reflected where they came from. But my father didn't agree. I had to get away for a while, so I worked in various vineyards in California and then Bordeaux."
Stints with California's Simi Winery, Opus One and Long Vineyards and then with Bordeaux's Mouton-Rothschild gave Vietti a crash course in a new world of winemaking. "But I kept thinking about my father and my family in Piedmont," he says. "Can you imagine how hard it was to say to your father that he was not good enough? I hated it."
Yet after more than a year abroad, his father asked Luca, then 25, to return to Piedmont to oversee the 1992 harvest. It turned out to be one of the rainiest on record. Vietti remembers the harvest being so wet that they couldn't use tractors to transport the grapes from the vineyards to the winery.
"I literally had to carry the grapes on my back out of the vineyard to the winery," Vietti recalls. "It was incredible, but I made good wine that year despite the bad weather."
He has been working hard ever since to prove that his father made the right decision. He now makes the wine and tends to the vines, as he puts it, for his family's winery. "My father was so proud. I hope one day my children will do something similar and make me proud," he says. Luca and his wife, Elena, have a 3-year-old son, Michele, and a 2-year-old daughter, Giulia.
Vietti makes some of the cleanest, most terroir-driven wines in Piedmont, with a rare subtlety and elegance. Yet there is also a traditional undertone to the wines, giving them a personal style that wines from other modern young winemakers in the region often lack. His wines are rich due to low grape yields in his vineyards, not heavy extraction in the winery. He uses very few small, new French oak barrels for aging, relying instead on traditional, large oak casks.
The estate owns about 80 acres of vineyards spread over nearly all the key appellations, including Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d'Asti and Barbera d'Alba. Vietti's top wines are his single-vineyard Barolos, such as Brunate, Rocche, Lazzarito, Villero and Castiglione, particularly in great years such as 1996 and 1997. Vietti also makes two Barberas packed with fruit and flavor, Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne and Barbera d'Alba Scarrone Vigna Vecchia.
"A winemaker is like a tailor," he explains. "You have a vineyard, which is like a person, and you have to fit the winemaking to the vineyard. You have to do the best possible for the vineyard. It is a little like Burgundy. You have microrealities in Piedmont. Each vineyard is special and the wine should reflect that."
Happily, Vietti's dedication to producing what could be viewed as custom-tailored wines does not result in huge prices. His fantastic Barolos and Barbarescos sell for $70 to $80 per bottle -- not inexpensive, but still half or a third of the price demanded by most big-name wineries in the region. Vietti's best-buy reds are his Barberas, which start at less than $20 a bottle.
"I want my wines to be excellent quality for the price," insists Vietti. "It's important that people should not worry about the price of my wines, and that they drink them and enjoy them. We have to excite people with the wines of Piedmont and the wines of Vietti."
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