Margaux has its stately neoclassical château. Dom Pérignon has the Hautvillers Abbey. Marqués de Riscal has its funky Frank Gehry ribbon candy/Kentucky Derby hat thing going on. Many, perhaps most, of the world's elite wines have palaces to match their pedigree. But until this year, the home of Masseto, one of the best and priciest wines of Italy, just looked like a bunch of (very, very good) vines and a dilapidated old farmhouse.
But now the svelte Merlot has stylish new digs to match its panache. Unveiled last month and first used to vinify the 2018 vintage, the new Masseto place still doesn't look like much on the surface. But burrow underneath that famed Bolgheri blue clay and there's a gleaming state-of-the-art subterranean cellar complex where the Masseto magic is happening.
Photo credit: Ornellaia e Masseto, ZitoMori
"The main thread for the design of the winery was to create the suggestion of a quarry dug deep into the very heart of Masseto’s clay terroir," estate director Axel Heinz told Unfiltered via email. "Building underground is ideal for a winery, as it allows us to benefit from regular and ideal temperatures for the wine’s aging and minimize need for air conditioning."
The 27,000-square-foot cellar was designed by Hikaru Mori of the Italian firm ZitoMori, which also counts Feudi di San Gregorio and Bisceglia among its portfolio of spiffy modern wineries. Clad throughout in polished concrete, burnished steel and glass, it houses a fermentation room with 12 6,500-liter concrete vats, fed by a gravity-flow system after crush, as well as a first-year barrel-aging room, second-year barrel room, bonus "experimental" barrel room, bottling line and a "caveau" holding library wines from every vintage of Masseto ever produced.
"Throughout the winery, the overhanging and recessed surfaces, along with the irregular shapes of the pillars and walls, all add to the feeling of being inside a quarry," Mori wrote in a description of her vision for the place. "Winery architecture should represent and reinforce the brand’s identity and embody its philosophy. It must offer a home for a very intricate mix of technical and human activities."
So it's got a good beat, and you can dance to it. But how does the new place improve the wine, which was previously vinified at the home of its Cabernet sibling, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia?
"In the winery itself everything is kept as simple as possible, but with everything required to Masseto’s needs," said Heinz. The fermentors are tulip-shaped on the inside, to promote gentle extraction. The tanks are small and numerous enough that parcels can be vinified separately, and the site-specific finessing is even more granular at the barrel level, where Heinz can compare how wines from plots with different soil management and training systems turn out. "These trials will hopefully give us precious information on how to adapt our farming to the upcoming challenges of climate change."
Oh, and up above ground, the old Masseto House got some TLC in the process as well, getting a top-to-bottom renovation and a badly needed paint job.
Everyone has a friend that is impossible to shop for—either they're too picky, or they have everything already. Luckily for the Houston Astros baseball team, José Altuve is not that friend. According to the Houston Chronicle, the second baseman, who turned 29 on Monday, told his fellow players that if they insisted on getting him a birthday present, he would prefer it be wine.
His teammates seem wholly unsurprised by the six-time All-Star's request. "He loves wine," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa told the newspaper. "His house is gorgeous and has a wine cellar, and he wants us to help him fill it up."
And he likely got at least one good bottle out of the declaration. According to the Chronicle, infielder Alex Bregman said he planned to gift his teammate a bottle of Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon—a home run of a choice, at least if you're asking Mariah Carey, LeBron James or, you know, Wine Spectator's wine ratings.
It’s not just Unfiltered noticing the pattern of Caymus shout-outs among celebs and athletes; vintner Chuck Wagner agreed his Cabernet seems to be a hot commodity these days among pop culture's who's whos. "We have not engaged in [any] efforts to establish ourselves amongst celebrities and or athletes. We simply make a product that can enhance the enjoyment of life," Wagner told Unfiltered. "I want to believe that many athletes have learned that we personally oversee vineyards and winemaking and that we are authentic and a 'real wine family' engaged in all aspects." As they say, there's no "I" in "enology."
Films and documentaries about California wine country are as abundant these days as the Chardonnay clusters in August—there's chef Tyler Florence's docu Uncrushable about the 2017 wildfires and, of course, tomorrow brings the release of Amy Poehler's Napa-set Netflix scripted comedy Wine Country.
Director Bernardo Ruiz's new documentary Harvest Season is also set in North Coast wine country, but his focus is a little different: spotlighting the often-underappreciated immigrant vineyard workers who make California wine possible. "With all of the kind of negative and hostile attitudes [toward] immigrants, I was looking for a way to make a film that highlighted all of the contributions of the behind-the-scenes players in the wine industry," Ruiz told Unfiltered.
The film tells the stories of three Latino immigrants, "former pickers and former farmworkers who have now built these really extraordinary wineries," explained Ruiz. "I just thought they were not getting enough attention." You might recognize one of these characters: Mexican-American veteran winemaker Gustavo Brambila owns Gustavo Wines now, but the former employee of Chateau Montelena appeared, in a way, in one movie already—as a character in the 2008 Judgment of Paris film Bottle Shock. In Harvest Season, Brambila takes the viewer on a winemaker's journey through the unpredictable conditions and other viticultural travails vintners face as the wine makes its way from bud to bottle.
Harvest Season premieres Monday, May 13 on PBS' Independent Lens series and will also be available on streaming platforms (PBS.org, Amazon Prime, Comcast and iTunes) beginning May 14.
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