Friday, October 20, 2017

The 18 greatest vineyards in the Barolo zone

Three of the foremost Barolo vineyard experts -- Renato Ratti, Alessandro Masnaghetti, and Antonio Galloni -- have each taken a shot at classifying the crus in the Barolo zone (I have shared the frameworks of the individual schemes in a prior post.). By taking the top-rated crus under their individual classification schemes, I have arrived at a list of the best Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barolo zone (and, hence, in the world). These 18 vineyards are shown graphically on the Barolo Zone map below and are summarized in the text following.

According to, Brunate had been identified as producing "wines of special character" over 500 years ago. This 25-ha cru is an inter-commune vineyard with administrative responsibility shared between the towns of Barolo and La Morra. According to, the soil profiles and exposure on both sides of the dividing line are essentially the same but the altitudes differ, ranging from 230 m to 400 m. The soils feature marls of S. Agata fossils with good levels of sand, especially in the higher elevations.
The lower sand levels in the soil result in aromas that are less intense but feature notes of fruit and spice such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As the wine matures, the fine structure of the terroir translates into hints of tobacco, rose and liquorice. And in great vintages, the nose has notes of truffle and tar. Alkalinity and elevated calcium levels give the final wine a touch of delicate elegance ... The Barolo of Brunate can be defined as a particularly balanced wine with an ample nose and an intense structure with good alcohol levels, as well as generous tannins and body.
According to, "It is one of the most representative vineyards of the commune of La Morra and has always been considered one of the points of reference of the entire appellation." Vinous cites Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini who identified Brunate wines as "austere, yet ethereal, notes of spices, mint, licorice and balsamic are all very typical." Polaner Selections was pithy: "Brunate is one of the greatest vineyards in the Barolo region ... with wines that "... are prized for their depth, power and brilliant balance..."

Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA) describes this MGA as extending over two virtually opposing slopes with the one facing Casa Nere being better exposed and yielding the better wines of the two.The micro-climate of the MGA is excellent, protected as it is from the cold northern winds by the La Morra hills. The loose soils, primarily silt and clay, "favors the production of structured, tannic wines that are more powerful than those from Brunate" (

Cerequio vineyard looking out from Palas Cerequio.

Masnaghetti sees Cerequio as "An MGA of truly superior level, accordingly, which generally expresses a style characterized by structure and austerity but with an innate sense of power and proportion which gives this Barolo a warmer and more dynamic development on the palate compared to Brunate."

Rocche di Castiglione
Rocche di Castiglione, described by Masnaghetti as one of the most prestigious crus in all of the Barolo appellation, is located 88% in the Castiglione Falletto township and 12% in Monforte d'Alba. Its 14.36 ha (stated elsewhere in the book as 16.33 ha) has 52% devoted to vineyards (92% of vines in Castiglione Falletto and the remainder in Monforte d'Alba) and 95% of those vines growing Barolo-targeted Nebbiolo fruit. The remaining vines are targeted at Dolcetto (5%), Barbera (0.5%), and Langhe Rosso (0.5%). describes the cru thusly:
Rocche di Castiglione is one of the smallest and most renowned vineyards of the entire Barolo area. Located at an altitude of 300-350 meters above sea level, this "Cru" consists of a number of small, steep vineyard properties, and forms a long narrow strip along the side of a very steep hill with an east-southeast exposition. The lower part of this long strip of earth, which is about 1.5 km long and 60-70 meters high, sits on a cliff (rocche) that in some places drops as much as 150 meters to the Perno river at the bottom. It is characterized by large, sharp limestone blocks mixed in with the marl soil typical of the eastern side of the Barolo appellation, known as "Helvetian soils" and producing the more structured, long aging and complex wines. 
These characteristics give the wines of Rocche unique, well-defined aromas of floral and mineral compounds, softer tannins than the rest of the Helvetian zone resulting in excellent balance, and a distinctive elegance. An 'iron fist in a velvet glove."
Luca Currado, in his comments at the Galloni Rocche di Castiglione Retrospective, described Rocche wine as being like a Swiss watch in that it is very difficult to put together. First, the vineyard is steep and very difficult to work; everything has to be done by hand.  Second, vinifying Rocche is a challenging exercise. They do extended submerged cap and the tannins always take a long time to come together and then ... pop. According to Luca, you have to wait longer for the Rocche tannins to resolve than for any of his other wines.

Overlooking the Scarrone Vineyard from the Vietti winery.

Castiglione Falletto is located between Serralunga d'Alba and La Morra and its Rocche di Castiglione MGA has elements of both of these bordering communes. According to Luca, Rocche wines have the silky tannins and elegance of La Morra and the complexity, depth and power of Serralunga d'Alba.

Rocche dell'Annunziata
One of the three La Morra crus included in the top-rated-Barolo-cru categorization (the other two are Brunate and Cerequio), Rocche dell'Annunziato was part of a larger territory (Marcenasco) managed by the Benedictine monks resident in the Abbey of San Martine. According to, the vineyard appears to have grown in three distinct stages:
  • Stage 1 -- The original part of the vineyard (18.8 ha) covering the lower, south- and west-facing lands below the road to Torriglione.
  • Stage 2 -- Somewhere between 1988 and 1994, it grew to encompass the southwest-facing plots (Oberto, Mascarellos, Scavino, Accomasso) just above the aforementioned road.
  • Stage 3 -- A final push to the borgata ofoiolo (Rocche Costamagna, Erbaluna). 
The vineyard lies in a hollow between the hills of San Martini and Cerequio-Brunate and, as such, experiences the sun's rays from early morning until late in the afternoon.

The Tortonian-era soils are of a clayey-calcareous nature, chalky white on the higher slopes, and siltier lower down. According to, the soil is between 40% and 50% silt, a characteristic it holds in common with the lower vineyard of Cannubi Boschis. The stones present in the soils aid in drainage.

The wines from this MGA are noted for body (less noticeable than in the cases of Brunate and Cerequio), elegance (more concrete and less ethereal than is the case for Rocche di Castiglione), and complexity (Masnaghetti). Further, they are graceful and richly scented (Carlo Petrini, A Wine Atlas of the Langhe)

For Antonio Galloni, Rocche dell'Annunziata
... yields Barolos of finesse. Rocche dell'Annunziata is known for its striking, floral perfume (violets, roses), sweet spices, dark red fruit and silky tannins. These are gracious, feminine Barolos that tend to open up relatively early, but also age with grace. Rocche dell'Annunziata showcases the refined side of Barolo.
    Monprivato is an "exceptionally fine vineyard on the long strip of hillside that descends from the village of Castglione Falletto to the houses of Garbelletto" (Petrini). It is "doubtlessly one of the most prestigious of the MGAs ..." (Masnaghetti).

    Monprivato is an historic vineyard, as shown by land registry archives dating to 1666. It is primarily farmed by Giuseppe Mascarello e Figli, with a small portion held by Giovanni Sordo. The crus southwest exposure, and lack of surrounding obstacles, ensures all-day access to the sun's rays.

    According to, the soil is a "clayey-silty marl with good structure, a high content of active limestone, and a well-proportioned supply of micro-elements." This soil is similar to soils of the other great vineyards on the western side of Castiglione Falletto (Petrini).

    Monprivato wines are well-structured but also offer  "elegance and intense aromas" (Petrini). Masnaghetti notes that Monprivato wines are sometimes similar to the wines of Rocche and sometimes similar to the "balanced austerity" of Villero and have delivered a long series of frequently memorable vintages.
    The soil composition and vineyard's south-westerly exposure at midday provides the Barolo wine with excellent body, a subtle bouquet, delicate tar, a lingering aftertaste, an unmistakably clear elegance, and the ability to evolve in a very positive way over time.
    A favored plot within the monopole was planted with the best clones of Michét and, in 1988, the estate began making a wine called Ca' d'Morrisio from this parcel. Both the Ca' d'Morrisio and the Monprivato cru are only made in the very best years.

    Even though Villero is only located "a few dozen meters" from the vineyards at Rocche di Castiglione, it has a very different soil type ( Villero's
    ... soil is tough and more compact than the Rocche because it has a higher amount of clay with limestones. The presence of clay silicates helps it retain water ... Rocche is looser and poor in nutrients.
    Both Masnaghetti and Petrini concur with this characterization. In addition, Masnaghetti sees the Villero soil as, at times, deeper and more fertile than the soils of Monprivato.

    Villero is one of the "most divided up" of the Castiglione Falletto MGAs as well as being one of the most homogenous in terms of aspect (Masnaghetti). With the exception of the lowest and highest parts of the slope -- west-facing -- the vineyard has a southwest exposure. Masnaghetti identifies the upper middle parts of the slope as being most favorably positioned while the lower portions are best suited for non-Nebbiolo reds and white grapes.

    The wines from Villero grapes are a little less elegant, with more structure, alcohol, and tannins than wines from Rocche (Petrini). Masnaghetti also describes the wines in this comparative manner seeing it as having more structure and less finesse than the wines of Monprivato. Oddero finds the wines of Villero to be rounder and juicier, with warm tones and dark fruit notes" as compared to Rocche wines which are "longer, more vertical in structure, and have more marked minerality."

    According to Selected Estates, "the presence of loam and brown clay in the soil makes Villero stand out as one of the most profound, dark-fruited crus of Barolo, with characteristic aromas of black plum, anise seeds, withered rose petals, and rhubarb."

    Previously known as Cascina Francia, this cru was renamed Francia as part of the MGA naming process. This vineyard was purchased by the Conterno family in 1974.

    The soil is a calcareous limestone and, combined with the southwest exposure of the vineyards, yields high-quality grapes (Petrini).

    One of the southernmost of the Serralunga crus, it has relatively recently been planted to Nebbiolo. Previously it was dominated by Dolcetto, Freisa, and Barbera.

    The wines are rich in tannins and require 7 to 8 years in the cellar to reveal their true potential. According to Masnagheti, the cru yields wines that are "truly classic, rigorous but not hard, solid but not excessively concentrated." The wines have a high degree of salinity (

    Monfortino is made from the best grapes in the greatest year and that search begins in the vineyard with selection and vinification of "proto-Monfortino" and Francia wines.

    Vignarionda is a round-shaped (hence the name), gently sloping (300 to 350 m) vineyard located in the Serralunga d'Alba subzone.
    If you ask a resident of Serralunga to name the town's three finest vineyards, one of the trio is sure to be Vigna Rionda. It is an historic vineyard. The quality of its grapes has been celebrated for hundreds of years and the greatest names in Langhe winemaking have for many years made special efforts to acquire grapes from Vigna Rionda (Petrini).
    The vineyard's location ensures access to sunshine for most of the day while also using the Castelleto hills for protection from excessive winds.

    According to
    Like all soil in Serralunga, its origins date back to the Serravallian Age (sometimes called Helvetian), characterized by Lequio soil, or layers of grey marl alternating with sandstone, formed by siliceous sands that are more or less cemented between the marl layers, and calcium carbonate, iron carbonate, and inorganic residuals of vegetable and mineral organisms. Vignarionda's soil is rich in microelements like potassium, boron, manganese, and magnesium. Its active limestone content is quite high -- at 13.58%, it is the highest in the entire Barolo zone.
    The wines from the cru are "fairly tannic ... with outstanding structure and excellent aging potential" (Petrini). Masnaghetti sees the wines as "austere, severe, and sometimes unyielding, whether they be made from from the grapes of the historical nucleus ... or those grown in the western-facing sector."

    Cannubi is a long, gradually sloping hill which extends northeast from the village of Barolo and is contained in its entirety within the namesake commune. According to the Marchesi di Barolo website, Cannubi hill is protected from storms and extreme weather by higher neighboring hills. Both Damilano and Marchesi di Barolo point to the uniqueness of the hill in that it sits at the convergence of the aforementioned Helvetian and Tortonian soil zones resulting in "grey-blue marls rich in magnesium and manganese carbonate that, on the surface, thanks to the air and the weathering, turn into grey-white marls" (Marchesi di Barolo).

    Chiara Boschis' Pira e Figli was the first Cannubi estate to convert to organic farming, gaining its certification in 2014 (Labor of Love). But she was not content with practicing this only in her vineyard. She became an evangelist on Cannubi such that today fully 99% of the producers on the hill are organic.

    "We are not exaggerating when we say that Gabutti is the starting point of a long ribbon of vineyards along the side of the most prestigious hill in the municipality of Serralunga, and one of the most outstanding in the entire Barolo DOCG zone." (Petrini).

    The south-facing aspect, steep slope, and protection from the wind combine to render this MGA a prime location for the growth of Nebbiolo grapes. Soils are of the Lequio Formation with loose calcareous clay marls from the Langhian stage of the Miocene epoch.

    Masnaghetti sees the beating heart of the MGA as the area between Parafada and Cascina Marianot where the southern exposure compensates for the relative lack of luminosity. The style of wines from that area range from "the rugged and rather classical tannic impact of of the Cappellano wines to the rougher Barolo of Franco Boasso, whereas the eastern side of the cru offers the flowing and floral style of Giovanni Sordo's Gabutti."

    This vineyard is more uniform in its exposure than Gabutti or Lazzarito and can be seen as a bridge between those two MGAs (Masnaghetti). The Delizia plot, primarily owned by Fontanafredda, produces very high-quality wines from its "fairly shallow white clay and limestone marl" soils (Petrini).

    The wines from Parafada are "less voluminous than Lazzarito and more refined than Gabutti" and are endowed with the vigor and presence on palate and nose that is the hallmark of a first-order wine (Masnaghetti).

    A large vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba whose name can probably be traced back to an ancient hospital for Black Plague victims on the property. According to Masnaghetti, the vineyard can be divided into two parts:
    • Eastern slope -- smaller in size and less well known
    • Western slope -- can be further divided into the La Delizia and Lazzarito amphitheaters
    Masnaghetti also references a < 2 ha plot lower down on the slope called Lazzairasco, an area with favorable south to southeast exposure and with excellent quality potential. Santa Caterina, on the southern boundary, like Lazzairasco, was absorbed by Lazzarito in 1990 during the township-mapping process.

    A significant portion of the vineyard is owned by Fontanafredda but Ettore Germano and Vietti also farm plots there. Sergio Germano (Ettore Germano) and Luca Currado (Vietti) were both interviewed about the vineyard on a Vinous video. Sergio sees the main characteristics of the vineyard as the elegance and finesse that it imparts to the wine. The wine is strong with lean-textured tannins and a lengthy finish. The soil has a high limestone concentration but also has some beach-like sand which gives a "slim texture" to the wine.

    The pronounced amphitheater of the Marenca vineyard provides the vines with excellent exposure to sunlight. The soil is a calcareous clay.

    There is only one labeled wine originating from the vineyard -- produced by Luigi Pira -- but it is of high quality "with a structure which is among the deepest and most complex of the entire township" (Masnaghetti).

    The vineyard sits at the foot of the inhabited area of Serralunga d'Alba and is immediately recognizable by the vine rows running vertically up the hillside rather than horizontally across the hill, as is the case for neighboring  vineyards.

    According to Petrini, Rivette has always been regarded as an excellent location for growing Nebbiolo. The soil is a loosely packed marl and limestone mix and the quality of the grape are "beyond dispute." Petrini's description of the MGA is a little at odds with that of Masnaghetti's who states that, with the exception of a few small plots owned by Pira and Massolino, the remainder of the vineyard -- owned by Gaja -- is used for white grape production.

    Only one of the top-level vineyards covered in this series that is not represented in A Wine Atlas of the Langhe. Also called Ca'Mia and, according to Masnaghetti, had had some repute in past times but had fallen out of favor until resurrected by the Brovias in the 1990s. Masnaghetti describes the wines as having classic and austere elegance.

    This cru is synonymous with the name Bruno Giacosa, one of the most heralded of the Barolo and Barbaresco producers. When the cru and winemaking are combined, the results are Barolos that are austere, balanced, and in possession of an "unimitable classicism."

    Giacosa made his wines with purchased fruit until he bought the "majestic" Falletto vineyard in 1982. This vineyard, it is widely agreed, became the source of one of his greatest Barolos.

    The Giacosa formula for great vineyards is (i) high hill country positioning, (ii) south to southwest sun exposure, and (iii) amphitheatre-like vineyards; Falletto fits this profile almost perfectly.

    The Giacosa wines from this vineyard are labeled Falletto (white label) and Rocche del Falletto (from four south-facing plots on the upper slopes of the vineyard.

    The map below shows the Cru Ginestra divided into four subzones (indicated by names in capital letters): Ginestra, Gavarini, Grassi, and Pajana.

    Ginestra cru, sub-crus (all caps), and vineyards
    In discussing this cru, Masnaghetti focuses on the ridge of the Ginestra subzone. A tongue of hillside, he says, "as majestic as it is elegant and from which, over the past thirty years, have issued forth some of the wines which have made the story of the Barolo appellation."

    The other subzones, according to Masnaghetti, "have always enjoyed their own separate identity" and "their historic and viticultural value, particularly in the case of Gavarini, should have assured them of an official delimitation of their own." This separateness is illustrated in A Wine Atlas of the Langhe wherein Petrini treats each of these subzones as individual crus.

    This zone is almost exclusively owned by the Grasso family and is the source of the grapes for the estate's Gavarini Chinieri wine. This vineyard is 3 ha (7.41 acres) in size, convex, has good ventilation, and its soil is comprised of clay, limestone, and eroded sandstone. At a recent tasting at the estate, I found that the 2013 Barolo Gavarini Chinieri had a beautiful sandalwood nose with sweet florality, rose petals, nut, spice, and tar. On the palate, tar and earthy red fruits. Medium weight.

    Like the Chinieri vineyard, Runcot is located within the Gavarini sub-cru. This 18-ha (44.48-acre) vineyard was replanted in 1989 - 1990 at 4500 vines/ha with the first vintage produced in 1997. This wine is only produced in great vintages. 

    In the years when Runcot is not produced, the fruit is declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo. The Langhe Nebbiolo is vinified in stainless steel and is sold in the spring following vinification. The 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo was floral with sweet strawberry, cherries and tar on the palate. Aggressive tannins. Pure Nebbiolo.

    The plots with favorable exposition cluster around the center of the cru (Masnaghetti). The soil is more compact and less sandy, especially in the lower parts of the vineyard.

    As described by Masnaghetti:
    The highest part has given us Ciabot Mentin Ginestra, powerful, and, at times, brooding and somber while in the lower parts we find, respectively, the elegant Casa Maté and Sori Ginestra, a type of ideal blend of the two previously cited wines. In the final part, characterized by a deep indentation, we find the vineyards of the Barolo of Paolo Conterno and of Conterno Fantino's Vigna del Gris, more classic and fresher the first, more rugged the second.
    Casa Maté is located within an amphitheatre, is south-facing, ripens earlier, and has clay and limestone soils. We tasted a number of vintages of this single-vineyard wine during our visit to the estate: 2013, 2007, and 2004. The 2013 showed spice, tar, baking spices, and an earthiness. Depth and structure. Great mouthfeel. The 2007 showed obvious development. Tar, waxiness, honeyed fruit, mint, eucalyptus, herbs, florality, and curry. Tar on the palate along with a long, caressing finish. The 2004 also showed curry and tar on the nose. Great weight on the palate. Beautifully balanced.

    This subzone is located at the forking of the Ginestra ridge. Its Barolo, made famous by Clerico, is forceful but less-complex than the Barolos of Ginestra (Petrini).

    With the exception of two small plots farmed by Palladino, the Ornato cru is owned by Pio Cesare. According to Masnaghetti, the cru is characterized by "steep slopes, excellent soils, and a full southern exposure." The 6.59-ha (16.28-acre) cru is planted only to Nebbiolo on soils that are mainly limestone and clay with a small portion of sandstone (Pio Cesare). The Ornato Barolo produced by Pio Cesare is sourced from three plots in the vineyard.

    Pio Cesare stipulates that the wines of the cru have big structure and tannins as well as long aging potential. The fruit from the Ornato vineyard is "exceptionally ripe and constantly produces bright, robust, focused wines with incredible complexity and length" (Rogers and Company).

    Carlo Petrini: "Barolo Ornato is known for its intense aromas, which over time acquire a distinct note of tar. Their structure is unmistakably that of a wine from Serralunga, which means that they have excellent aging prospects."

    Masnaghetti observes that the wines "express power, fleshiness, and -- after a certain aging period -- a good dose of elegance as well."

    I conclude with a compilation of the key characteristics of each of the mentioned vineyards arranged by degree of agreement among the three experts.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Virginia wine: The physical environment

    I recently visited a number of Virginia wineries with Frank Morgan (Drink What You Like) and will be reporting on those visits in upcoming posts. Prior to those posts, however, I will attempt to familiarize readers with the physical environment within which the region's grape growers operate. I will begin with the landscape, given its role in shaping the state's climate.

    Virginia Landscape
    With the exception of alluvium and wind-blown soils, an area's soil is derivative of its underlying rocks. As shown in the charts below, Virginia, as a result of long-term tectonic, orogenic, erosional, sedimentary, and intrusional activity, is divided into five major geologic zones. The first chart describes the formation and characteristics of each zone while the latter identifies the rock types included in each zone as well as its period of deposition/intrusion.


    Virginia Climate
    Climate, according to Dr. Tony Wolf (Lecturer and Viticulturist, Virginia Tech) and John D. Boyer, is the average course of weather in a region over an extended period as measured by temperature, precipitation, and wind speed, among other variables (Vineyard Site Selection, Virginia Cooperative Extension).  Weather is itself defined as the state of the atmosphere at a specific point in time using the same variables as referenced in the climate definition above.  The climate of a grape-growing region will determine, to a large extent -- and all things being equal -- both the grape varieties that can be grown and the styles of wine that can be produced. The climatic requirements for successful viticulture include: a growing season long enough to mature both the fruit and vegetative aspects of the plant; production of sufficient carbohydrates to ripen the fruit as well as to maintain future productive potential; and an adequate supply of water.

    Virginia's climate is officially described as humid subtropical but, in reality, it has one of the most complex climates in the US. This complexity is reflected by the fact that the state is divided into five climate zones (The figure below actually shows six zones because it breaks Piedmont into eastern and western portions).

    VA climate zones: 1 - Tidewater; 2 and 3 - Piedmont;
    4 - Northern; 5 - Central Mountain; and 6 - Southwestern Mountain
    According to the University of Virginia Climatology Office, "Virginia's climate results from global-scale weather patterns that are modified by the diverse landscape of the Commonwealth." The following two charts show the manner in which these global-scale weather patterns are modified within the Commonwealth. The first chart shows two temperature modification events. The first is associated with winter storms. These storms work from west to east across the state and turn northeast when they encounter the Gulf Stream. Moisture-laden air from these storms are then blown onto land from the east and northeast, with most of the rain ending up on the eastern slopes and foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    The second event is the classic rain-shadow effect where winds from the west encounter the Appalachian Mountains and dumps moisture on the western slopes of that range as they climb while eastern winds encounter the Blue Ridge Mountains and act accordingly. As shown in the figure, the regions between those mountains are the driest in the state.

    Derived from
    The water falling on the state is drained off by an extensive riverine system. The workings of this third climate modifier is shown in the figure below.

    Acording to Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, Virginia is one of the wettest viticultural regions on the planet. The chart below shows the trend of VA average annual precipitation between 1895 and 2010 and the trend is towards increasing levels statewide. The table below the chart shows the distribution of that precipitation by climate zone.

    Trend of VA average annual precipitation, 1895 - 2010

    Climate Zone Annual Average Rainfall (inches) January Average Temperature (F) July Average Temperature (F)
    35 - 48 71 - 85
    27 - 47 68 - 88
    Northern Virginia
    19 - 42 61 - 86
    Western Mountain
    27 - 45 65 - 87
    Southwestern Mountain
    24 - 44 60 - 85

    As shown in the table above, the average annual rainfall in Virginia ranges between 38.29 and 47.33 inches per year. Contrast this with Napa which receives an average of 20.39 inches, less than half of the rain that Virginia receives. The problem with that much water is that it requires the right type of soil and slope in order to allow proper drainage of the vineyard. Some grape varieties do not like wet soils while too much water does not allow for stressing of the vines, a key requirement in growing high-quality red wine grapes.

    In a May 2012 interview with Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, then Professor of Enology at Virginia Tech (and former State Enologist), he told me that Virginia winemakers had to deal with late frosts, drought, high humidity, and tropical storms in the fall and that they needed to continue working to understand these phenomena and then to incorporate their learnings into their viticultural processes.

    Virginia Wine Regions
    The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (VWBMO) provides a map which divides the state into various wine regions and then indicated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within those regions. I used such a map as the basis for a graphical presentation of the characteristics of each region (see below).

    During the compilation of chart, I became curious as to the genesis of the wine region map and pursued answers along a number of paths. Frank Morgan was finally able to get me a response from Annette Ringwood Boyd of VWBMO which stated that the regions were determined by Virginia Tourism and, when VWBMO started 10 years ago, they "used these so that there would be continuity in how people were talking about Virginia regionally." According to Annette:
    As they have added regions, we have mimicked them to continue that seamless presentation of Virginia. One of the strong arguments in support of this strategy is that 60% or more of VA wineries are not in AVAs ... In addition, in 2009 or 2010 we added Virginia AVAs to begin to add wine specific regions to our map. To date this is still imperfect, but long term, this is how we would like for the regions of Virginia to be defined. Until the AVAs are more inclusive, we will use the VTC regions of Virginia.
    In other words, the Virginia wine regions, as currently configured, is a marketing contrivance with no undergirding viticultural rationale. While this will work for a tourist-based wine economy, it will force us to continue to look to individual wineries to determine high-quality wines because comparisons within and across regions (outside of the AVAs) are essentially meaningless.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Wednesday, October 11, 2017

    Crossflow filtration and the Barboursville Vineyards (Barboursville, VA) experience: A conversation with Luca Paschina, General Manager-Winemaker

    Winemakers are largely divided between those who filter their wines and those who do not. Those who eschew filtration are concerned that the practice can strip out aroma and flavor molecules, thus rendering the finished product less-than-optimal. In his argument against traditional filtration, Clark Smith, author of postmodern winemaking, states thusly:
    The focus of postmodern philosophy is the creation and preservation of beneficial macromolecular structure. This structure manifests in wine as colloidal particles sometimes nearly as large as a bacterial cell. The benefits of good structure -- profundity, aromatic integration, and graceful longevity -- appear to be lost in sterile filtration, despite the fact that no tannin material may be retained by the filter. While this lack of residue has convinced some of my colleagues that filtration cannot be harmful to wine structure, I do not concur. My hypothesis is that the action of tight filtration somehow disrupts rather than removes structure.
    In a January 2003 article, Smith  described a class of filtration systems which he called the Tangential Flow Family of Filtration. This family is shown in the table below, classified based on the molecular weight of particles that pass through the pores.

    Tangential Flow Filtration

    Filtration SystemApplicationMolecular Weight Range (Daltons)
    Crossflow Clarification

    200,000 - 500,000

    1000 - 200,000

    Tannin and Browning Removal10,000 - 200,000

    Protein Removal10,000 - 40,000

    Decolorization1,000 - 5,000

    200 - 1000
    Reverse Osmosis

    50 - 200
    Source: Clark Smith, The Crossflow Manifesto, Wine Business, January 2003.

    According to Smith, the idea of tangential flow filters developed in the 1960s. One of the major problems with sterile filtration is the fouling of the membrane which occurs when tight pore sizes are used. This fouling prevents the passage of material through the pores. The effective limit of traditional filtration is 0.1µ. Tangential flow filters use the scrubbing action of the flow across the surface of the membrane to keep it clean thus allowing the utilization of ever-smaller pore sizes.

    All of the systems mentioned in the table employ the strategy of pumping the wine across the membrane at high velocity. As the wine flows across the membrane it continually scrubs the surface, removing fouling material. The majority of the feed stream does not pass through the filter but is retained upstream and returned to the tank. This stream, called the retentate, contains all of the high-molecular-weight components. The low-molecular-weight material that passes through the filter is called the permeate. A comparison of traditional (dead-end) versus tangential filtration is shown in the figure below.

    Dead-end versus tangential-flow filtration

    The Holy Grail of tangential filtrations, according to Smith, "is to be able to clarify wine without harming its structure, and crossflow clarification ... continues to gain steam." In his opinion, the technology works well for unstructured whites, "where a little tannin and color stripping is a good thing, but can prove disastrous for structured reds."

    I now turn to my discussion of crossflow with Luca Paschina of Barboursville, a follow-up on a wide-ranging discussion of the estate and its wines. As stated above, Smith has some problem with crossflow filtration and I wanted to see whether his views were being validated at Barboursville.

    Luca first became aware of crossflow technology around the year 2000 and was immediately impressed. Barboursville first employed the Bucher-produced system in 2004 in an attempt to clarify its wines in a one-step process. Prior to its implementation of crossflow, the winery was going through at least two levels of filtration and wasting a lot of time and product. The process employed for filtration prior to the acquisition of the crossflow technology was diatomaceous earth (DE) and different levels of pad porosity, staples of the dead-end approach. The issues associated with this approach are catalogued below.

    In addition to the one-and-done aspect of crossflow, Barboursville also uses it to remove yeast and bacteria in white wines (thus avoiding the potential of malolactic or yeast fermentation of residual sugar in the bottle) and in reds to avoid Brett bloom in the bottle.

    The technology is used on white wines after stainless steel aging on lees, allowing for filtering of the fine lees. These wines are filtered the day before bottling. Red wines are transferred from barrels to tank and then filtered the day after (or later if necessary). Crossflow filtration is applied to every wine once per week between mid-January and late July.

    Barboursville purchased its crossflow equipment and paid it off over 5 years. The technology is easy to use but requires an operator with an attention to detail and the ability to follow procedures. The winery is very satisfied with the equipment and the associated process. Staff has adapted positively to the implementation of the product.

    In terms of additional advantages, Luca can time his bottling schedule with more versatility (such as filtering today and bottling tomorrow), with no surprises arising from filtration difficulties.

    In closing, Luca mentioned that he had initially been skeptical of the product but after seeing how the wines were aging gracefully, he is now a firm believer in the technology.

    My conclusion: Luca is using crossflow in an effective and traditional manner (that is, replacement for a DE system) and is currently very satisfied. None of the Clark Smith concerns are evident here.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Sunday, October 1, 2017

    Esca grapevine trunk disease (GTD) and the role of the Guyot-Poussard pruning system in combating it

    During my recent visit to Tenuta di Trinoro, I discovered that the estate had an Esca problem and was employing a pruning system called Guyot-Poussard (G-P) to combat it. I was unfamiliar with G-P so I did some research after my visit with the intent of (i) gaining an understanding and (ii) writing a blog post on the topic.

    My good intentions were derailed by a flurry of writings on the Barolo zone. That is, until my visit to Barboursville Vineyards (Barboursville, VA) where, in discussions with GM-Winemaker Luca Paschina, he also mentioned that he was battling Esca and his staff was undergoing training in order to implement the G-P system of the Italian duo Simonit and Sirch. That was a sign. I had to write this blog post. And I had to write it now.

    First some background on Esca.

    Grapevine pruning, arguably one of the most important viticultural practices, is employed during the vine's dormant phase and, when done properly, structures the plant such that there is balance between vegetative and reproductive growth. It is generally held that a balanced vine will allow for adequate yields and good quality fruit, assuming no deficiency in the other grape-growing parameters.

    Two examples of pruning systems
    One of the characteristics of traditional pruning systems is numerous large pruning wounds in the grapevine trunk with the potential for (i) intrusion of desiccated material into the interior of the trunk -- and the interruption of sap flow therein -- and (ii) serving as the infection pathway for grapevine trunk disease (GTD) fungi (Infowine).

    Esca is one of the most feared of these GTDs. According to (Experimental cure of Esca in the Loire), this disease was known in ancient times but has had an alarming resurgence, especially after the banning of the carcinogen Arsenite which had been used to keep it under control. According to Jane Anson, vineyards across Europe has been losing 10 - 20% of their vines to Esca. But the disease is not limited to Europe, as evidenced by the fact that the Esca-fighting duo Siminot and Sirch have 130 customers across the world.

    Esca is caused by several different fungi to include Phaeoacremonium aleophilium, Phaeomoniella chlamydospora, and Formitiporia mediterranea. Symptoms appear on mature grapevines in vineyards (Úrbanz-Torres, et al.):
    • First, symptoms appear as dark red (red cultivars) or yellow (white cultivars) stripes on leaves. These eventually die and become necrotic.
    • As the disease progresses, it causes:
      • Gray to dark-brown speckling of berries, known as "black measles"
      • Sudden wilting of the vines, including shriveling of the fruit that normally occurs in summer and is known as "vine apoplexy"
      • A dieback of the entire grapevine.
    "Esca vascular symptoms include primarily a white rot characterized by a yellowish spongy mass of wood, usually in the center of the trunk and/or cordons, which can be observed alone or along with dark-brown to black spots in the xylem vessels (Úrbanz-Torres, et al.). Examples of Esca symptoms are shown in the figures below.

    Leaf "burning" associated with Esca

    Wood rot associated with Esca

    Esca-infected berries speckled with measles
    Guyot-Poussard Training System
    The principle behind the G-P pruning system (or soft pruning, as it is called in some circles) is simple: If pruning wounds are a gateway for pathogen entry into the vine, then let us seek to reduce the number and severity of those wounds. The hypothesis is that the probability of new infections would decline with a reduction in the number and size of pruning wounds.

    The soft-pruning method was adopted by Lafon from a training system used in France in the early 20th century and eventually renamed Guyot-Poussard. It has been further refined and evangelized by the Italian duo of Simonit and Sirch who have traveled around the world preaching the benefits of the approach and who train practitioners of the system at their school in Italy.

    The system uses small cuts in the upper portions of the cordon to promote continuous horizontal development of adjacent perennial spurs. The small cuts reduce the size of wound desiccation, minimizes the inward-facing size of the desiccation, and, through their placement on the upper part of the structure, leaves unobstructed channels at the lower part of the established structure. The system structure is depicted in the figure below.

    Illustration of the Guyot-Poussard pruning system.
    Note the pruning cuts st the top of the cordon
    allowing the free flow of sap along the bottom
    portion of the cordon (
    According to Infowine, this system:
    • Reduces the probability of new GTD infections
    • Promotes more homogenous development of phenological stages
    • Promotes more balanced vegetative growth and more balanced ripening.
    A 2016 study of the system as applied in a German vineyard has shown that:
    • Activities such as shoot removal are more extensive and important in maintenance of the training system
    • Leaf removal at flowering and fruit set requires less manpower
    • A higher amount of work is required in the early years
      • G-P pruning 37.7 hours/ha while traditional takes about 23 hours/ha
    • Transition from a traditional to a G-P pruning system will take several years
      • G-P a demanding pruning method and requires significant training before implementation.
    According to Bowman, Simonit and Sirch assert that their approach will "double the life of a vineyard and dramatically reduce the incidence of grapevine trunk diseases." Bowman goes on to say that there is no scientific evidence as regards claims about sap flow but that a 2006 study by Geoffrion and Renaudin showed a 50% reduction in Esca-affected vines in G-P-pruned vines when compared to traditional Guyot-pruned vines.

    G-P a la Simonit and Sirich has been implemented in a number of high-profile vineyards to include Domaine Leroy, Ornellaia, Chateau Latour, Haut-Bailly, and Louis Roederer. I have previously mentioned Tenuta du Trinoro and Barboursville Vineyards. According to Delbecque, 60% of the producers in the Sancerrois vineyard have trained their employees in this method while 80% have at least one person competent in this approach.

    Adoption levels will only increase as we go forward.

    Jane Anson, Anson on Thursday: The Prada of Vineyard Pruning, Decanter, 12/10/2015.
    Sam Bowman, Pruning: The right cuts to improve vine health and longevity, Grapevine and Winemakers,
    Xavier Delbecque, The Guyot-Poussard has the wind in its sails, RéussirVigne, October 29, 2015.
    Antonio Graniti, et al., Esca of Grapevine: A Disease Complex or a Complex of Diseases, Phytopathologia, 39(1), September 2006.
    Infowine, Technical Data Sheet: Pruning with regard to sap flux,
    C. Mutawilla, et al., An overview of grapevine pruning wound protection in South Africa, June 2011,
    Jan van Niekerk, et al., Susceptibility of grapevine pruning wounds to trunk pathogen infections,
    J.R. Úrbaz-Torres, et al., Grapevine Trunk Diseases in British Columbia: Incidence and Characterization of the Fungal Pathogens Associated with Esca and Petri Diseases of Grapevine, Plant Disease, 98(4), April 2014.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    Soils of the Barolo Zone

    In order to provide a full context for for the discussion of the soils of the Barolo zone, I initially discussed the formation of the basement rocks, then followed that up with posts on the Tertiary Piedmont Basin, with one post each devoted to the Oligocene - Miocene deposit sequence and the Messinian Salinity Crisis and its deposits. This post on the soils of the Barolo Zone culminates the series.

    Marco Giardino, Associate Professor of Applied Geomorphology at the University of Turin, is quoted in Kerin O'Keefe's Barolo and Barbaresco thusly: "About five million years ago, strong seismic activity beneath the Langhe Basin ... thrust the submerged land upwards, causing the trapped water to escape and forming the Langhe hills."

    These hills are, according to Dr. Giardino, cuestas (ridges formed by tilted sedimentary rock) and, when they were initially formed, eroded such that newer layers moved to the lower parts of the slopes.These hills were subjected to further erosion when the Tanaro River changed from a northerly to an easterly course 60,000 years ago.

    According to Kerin, the soils of the Langhe as a whole is comprised of "marine sediments characterized by a substratum of alternating layers of marls and sandstones." In her conversations with Ferdinando Vignolo-Lutati, he described the soils according to the sequences mentioned in a previous post. Those soils are presented in Table 1 below and the geologic formation associated with the region in Table 2. These data are summarized in the figure immediately following the tables.

    Table 1. Barolo Zone soil characteristics (Source: Vignolo-Lutati quoted in Barolo and Barbaresco)
    Soil Type Characteristics Location
    Serravallian Alternating layers of beds of sand and sandstone layered with marls and sandy marls Almost all of Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, parts of Barolo and Grignano

    Generally gray or yellowish sporadically interspersed with layers of bluish gray marls

    Tortonian Principally gray and bluish marls Much of Barolo, small portion of Castiglione Falletto, most of La Morra and Verduno
    Messinian Clays mixed with very fine sands  with concentrated calcareous content Parts of Verduno and La Morra

    Table 2. Geologic soil formations (Source: Barolo and Barbaresco)
    Formation Period Characteristics Location
    Lequio Serravalian and Tortonian Silty marls comprised of clay, calcium carbonate and sandstone; ranges from light yellow, almost white, tending to gray Predominantly in Serralunga d’Alba and parts of Monforte d’Alba
    Sant’Agata Fossili Marls Tortonian (predominantly) and Messinian (partly) Mainly calcareous clay and bluish-gray marls Villages of Barolo and La Morra
    Arenarie di Diano d’Alba Serravalian and Tortonian Particularly rich in sand, especially in the subsoils Primarily in parts of Castiglione Falletto

    In comparative terms, the Serravallian soils are seen to be richer in iron content than the Tortonian soils which are seen as richer in magnesium oxide and manganese and, with its calcareous marls, as being more fertile and compact than its counterpart.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Thursday, September 21, 2017

    The Langhe Hills Landscape: The Messinian Salinity Crisis and the Tertiary Piedmont Basin

    My previous post treated the Tertiary Piedmont Basin succession through the Tortonian. In this post I treat the sedimentation occurring during the Messinian period.

    The Tethys Ocean separated Africa and Europe during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods but was mostly eliminated as a result of the collision of the continents. Elements of this ocean survive today as the Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, and Aral Seas.
    The Mediterranean Sea maintained its connection to the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans until early in the Miocene when it was reduced with the joining of the two continents along the Middle East front around 14 million years ago (mya). This joining of the two continents began a gradual change to a more arid Mediterranean climate.

    The Mediterranean Sea connection to the Atlantic Ocean was maintained through various avenues (see figure below) until the closure of the Rifean Corridor in the early Messinian.

    The closure of the Atlantic access precipitated a rapid environmental and climatic change driven by high evaporation rates in the Mediterranean Sea and the inability of riverine sources to replenish the water loss. This event is generally referred to as the Messinian Salinity Crisis and a rough timeline is as follows:

    ·       5.96 mya – Closure of the Rifean Corridor and partial dessication of the Red Sea
    ·       5.8 mya – Mediterranean almost dries out. Massive dessication leaves a deep, dry basin 3 to 5 km below sea level with a few hyper-saline pockets
    ·       5.5 mya – Less dry climatic conditions ensue resulting in more fresh water from the rivers. This fresh water progressively fills the basins and dilutes hyper-saline pockets into larger pockets of brackish water
    ·       5.33 mya – Zanclean flood. Strait of Gibraltar opens up, quickly filling the Mediterranean with water from the Atlantic Ocean. The end of the crisis.
    As described in Progeo Piemonte (Climate variability and past environmental changes: lessons from the Messinian record of the Tertiary Piemonte Basin), “In less than a million years, deep sea sediments are replaced by shallow sea deposits, continental deposits, lacustrine sediments and eventually deep sea sediments.”
    According to Nesteroff (The Sedimentary History of the Mediterranean during the Neocene), all of the Messinian deposits they encountered during their drilling explorations in the region “proved to be evaporitic species comprised of dolomitic marls interbedded with massive gypsum, anhydrite and halite.” On land, they found that, in the same period, The Tortonian blue marls were suddenly replaced by either evaporitic series or by lacustrine and continental deposits. The evaporitic deposits are primarily found in the deepest part of the sea but some fragments are found on margins that have been tectonically uplifted.
    According to Progeo Piemonte, Messinian age rocks present in the Langhe describe a chronological sequence of the events associated with the Messinian Salinity Crisis:
    ·       Marls and Mudstones – rocks derived from deep sea sediments. These rocks record the alternation between a warm and humid climate and a cooler, less-humid one. Microfossils in the rock point to the exact moment when the Mediterranean weas cut off from the Atlantic.
    ·       Gypsum selenite and laminate – These minerals were formed in water with high salinity and point to an increased evaporation linked to the isolation of the Mediterranean Sea.
    ·       Sandstones and mudstones – Sediments deposited on the continent in low-salinity waters, rich in fossil vertebrate remains and shells of lacustrine molluscs. These remains testify to a savannah environment with temporary pools of fresh water.
    ·       Calcareous marl – These rocks tell the story of a re-established full connection between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. These rocks are rich in marine planktonic microfossils recording a deep (around 800 m) marine basin.
    ·       Erosion surface – This surface describes an event of rapid dismantling of sediments caused by compressive tectonic forces.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme