Thursday, August 11, 2016

Vietti (Castiglione Falletto, Piemonte): A pre-sale-announcement visit

Antonio Galloni has described the Castiglione-Falletto-based producer Vietti as "one of Italy's most historic wineries," credited as (i) being one of the first bottlers of single-vineyard Barolos and (ii) having revived the moribund Arneis variety in the 1960s. According to Antonio:
Winemaker Luca Currado, his brother-in-law Mario Cordero, along with their families and tightly knit staff, have taken the early groundbreaking work of Alfredo and Luciana Currado and built upon those successes, reaching an unprecedented level of consistency and quality across the entire range. 
My first encounter with Luca and Elena was at the Galloni Vietti Rocche di Castiglione Retrospective where I had the honor of sitting next to Luca. I found him to be warm, personable, knowledgeable, and committed to his craft. My next encounter was a visit to the estate in June of this year as a part of the launch of Suzanne Hoffman's Labor of Love. Elena led our group on that tour and did a wonderful job of presenting the estate and its products.

As you get closer to the Vietti winery, the roads become narrower, steeper, and winding. My wife was not very impressed with my efforts to navigate our rental car through this terrain. It was with a sigh of relief that I crested the hill on whose top the estate is located and saw some relatively level parking spaces.

I stepped up to the wrought-iron gates and rang the bell. Elena poked her head out of one of the buildings on the down slope at the same time as Suzanne and the rest of the team drove up. Elena buzzed us in and we walked down the incline towards the cellar. After our welcomes and introductions, Elena suggested that we go back outside to view and discuss the vineyards below the winery. It was slightly foggy but, from the vantage point of the winery, we had a very nice view of the Serralunga Valley. Elena began talking about the estate.

There had been an old winery on the site since at least 1873 -- based on the old bottles found behind the walls in the cellar -- but signs point to wine production on the property way before then.

In those days the property was a farm, rather than the grape monoculture that it is today. By the mid-1800s, they had begun to concentrate on wines and began bottling in the second half of the 1800s.

In the 1960s and 1970s Vietti, based on the activities of Luca and his dad, was one the first local wineries to promote Piemonte in the US. Today 70% of the Vietti production is exported, with the US, at 30 - 35%, the most important market.

One of the stellar figures in the Vietti history was Mario Vietti, an engineer who had lived in Boston for 25 years and only came back to Piemonte upon the death of his brother. Other Piemontese families called him "the crazy American" because he went around looking for sites to buy or rent. And he was the one working the vineyards in all those locations (i) at a time when it was much more difficult and time-consuming to get around than it is today and (ii) where the norm was to farm where you were.

Mario was a visionary. He planted Barbera in 1918 against the common wisdom. Previously, Barolo was fortified and most vineyards had been planted to Barbera. When Mario came back, Barolo was just becoming the "wine of Kings" and farmers were pulling out Barbera and planting Nebbiolo. He planted the Barbera for his personal use.

The chart below shows the current distribution of Vietti grape sources by region and the allocation of the sources by wine label. Grapes are from a mix of owned and long-term-contract (5) vineyards.

The figure shows three labels of Barbera sourced from Alba, one blended (Tre Vigne) and two crus (Vigna Scarrone and Vigna Vecchia Scarrone). The Scarrone vineyard is a 20.55 ha surface which lies below the estate and is planted to 81% Nebbiolo, 11% Barbera, 6% Dolcetto, and 2% other reds (Barolo MGA). It is in this vineyard that Mario planted his Barbera in 1906. A 100-year-old vineyard for Barbera is very unusual today.

In addition to the Alba Barberas, Vietti also produces two Asti Barberas, one a cuvee (Tre Vigne) and the other a cru (La Crena). The La Crena vineyard is a 3-ha plot which was planted in 1932 and has a vine density of 4800 plants/ha. According to Elena, this may have been one of the best quality-for-price acquisitions that the estate has made.

The winery is best known, though, for its five Cru Barolos: Rocche di Castiglione, Lazzarito, Brunate, Ravera, and Villero. Elena refers to them as Garnd Crus. The full complement of Barolo crus from which Vietti sources its grapes are shown in the table below.

       Barolo Crus Farmed by Vietti
Cru Township
Brunate Barolo
Bricco Boschis Castiglione Falletto
Rocche di Castiglione
Boiolo La Morra
Lazzarito Serralunga d'Alba

Elena sees the estate, at 300,000 bottles produced annually, as a medium-sized winery. One of her statements during the course of the visit stands in stark contrast to the current situation: "We are always looking for great vineyards. Wineries never sell but you never know with the farmers."

The vineyards are kept separate but are worked in the same way. Decisions are made regarding the wines after aging in wood. The crus are separated out with the rest being tasted blind and blended for Castiglione and Perbacco.

Nebbiolos are vinified in stainless steel tanks with fermentation and maceration of 35 - 40 days while Barberas complete the process in 25 - 30 days. Malolactic fermentation is conducted in stainless steel tanks or barriques. According to Elena, barriques are used as technical instruments; as an evolution, not a revolution.

At the conclusion of the cellar tour, we repaired to the tasting room to sample a few of the Vietti wines. I will report on that tasting in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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