Bruno Giacosa, one of the greatest winemakers of Italy’s Piedmont region, known for beautiful Barbarescos, Barolos and Barberas, died peacefully after a brief illness on Jan. 22. He was 88.
Giacosa succeeded his father and grandfather as a grape broker and knew the vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco like the back of his hand. "I learned how to know the best positions and how to understand the soils of the vineyards," he told Wine Spectator in 2013. That knowledge and his skill as a taster and attention to detail in the cellar resulted in many memorable vineyard-designated wines over the span of his career.
"Bruno Giacosa knew the vineyards in minute detail: every sorì, every winding path, every ridge, every headland," said Angelo Gaja, whose winery lies just up the road in Barbaresco, in a 2013 interview. "He had tasted the grapes everywhere."
In a region where the wines were traditionally blends of grapes from different sites, Giacosa was one of the early proponents of expressing the unique character of individual vineyards. In his cellars in the town of Neive, he bottled his first Barbaresco Santo Stefano from the 1964 vintage. A Barolo Colline Rionda (Vigna Rionda) and Barbaresco Asili Riserva followed from the 1967 harvest. Giacosa solely purchased grapes until 1982, when he bought 25 acres in the Falletto vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba. Today, the estate consists of 55 acres.
"When I had opportunities to participate in tastings that Bruno attended as well, those were the moments in which his fond knowledge of each of the many different great crus of these two areas [Barolo and Barbaresco] was shining above everyone in the room," fellow winemaker Pio Boffa told Wine Spectator. "Not too many comments, not too many words—such was his character—but just: 'This is typical of this particular cru“ and not only that, but 'of this particular cru in this specific vintage.'"
Solitary by nature and a man of few words, Giacosa was joined by his daughter Bruna in 1982. She gradually became the face of the business while Bruno spent his time in the vineyards and cellar. She has devoted her life to the winery and handles all the commercial aspects.
Bruno suffered a stroke in 2006 that kept him sidelined for a year, but with the help of Dante Scaglione, who had joined Giacosa in 1991, he soldiered on. Scaglione left to start a consulting business in 2007, returning in that capacity to work with Giacosa again in 2011.
Giacosa defined a style of Barolo and Barbaresco that emphasized elegance and finesse over power, yet they were capable of aging beautifully. A Barolo Falletto Riserva Speciale 1971, tasted in 2013, was superb. He wasn’t afraid to innovate, changing from cement to stainless steel for fermentation and Slavonian to French oak for aging, but he could never be labeled a traditionalist or modernist. He was simply Bruno Giacosa, the Maestro, making ethereal wines vintage after vintage that were highly sought around the world.
Giacosa is survived by his daughters Marina and Bruna.