One of the most-revealing ways to visit a winery is to walk its vineyards. This long has been popular as a way to get close to the very land that grows the grapes. You may smell, touch and even taste what it is winemakers are talking about when promoting the importance of terroir, “minerality”, and the like.
The concept of “terroir” can encompass many variants but it has been best served by several writers as the “somewhereness” of a wine, meaning the sum of those factors contributing to a sense of place from which a wine comes.
I’ve spent hours in vineyards with grape growers explaining the differences in soil texture, color and mineral/chemical content and then retiring to tasting rooms where all the strands converge and are revealed in the glass.
If, as it often is, the grape grower and the winemakers are the same person (or work closely together), the message you received in the vineyards is the same message speaking to you from the glass.
However, with the recent discovery of the vine-devastating phylloxera louse in Colorado’s vineyards, the opportunity is gone to walk vineyards (the louse can spread from one vineyard to another by the soil on your shoes) but you still you can look from a distance and, of course, talk to the winemakers about the most-basic of the tools they work with.
While the type and condition of the soil is a common topic of discussion in other winemaking regions, I’ve rarely heard the topic presented in Colorado tasting rooms. Maybe the hosts and hostesses just don’t get asked, or maybe there’s a feeling that the audiences may quickly go glassy-eyed at the very mention of soil chemistry.
And, indeed, some wine critics are skeptical of the concept of terroir or that a vine’s roots can absorb and transfer flavor-enhancing compounds from the soil to the roots.
There’s an interesting article (at least to the stone-suckers among us) about the role of soil to terroir and wine flavors on the wineanorak.com site. The New York Times’ wine critic Eric Asimov recently wrote about the “many variables” that go into “making a wine from a particular place can often be overwhelmed by grape-growing and winemaking decisions.”
This, he argues, loses the “intricacies of terroir” that one finds in wines from, say, Burgundy where that expression “has been raised to a high art.”
He does emphasize, terroir not withstanding, that “the human element” remains uppermost in winemaking. A talented winemaker (the human element) can make good wines no matter where the grapes come from, that’s a given. And that same winemaker learns to use the flavors of the terroir to the wine’s best advantage.
Now let’s return to Colorado wines. I’m often asked (it’s the nature of the job) for my favorite Colorado wine and over the years I’ve discovered there isn’t one, only favorite winemakers.
I’m a firm believer in the role of terroir (I wrote about it here) and this valley and the North Fork Valley have immense ranges of terroir. The Grand Valley has sandy terraces on the west and heavy clay soils on the east, with a few ancient riverbeds, floodplains and long-dry lakebeds thrown in.
The most-obvious example might be in the North Fork, where the Gunnison River divides the landscape into distinct geological regions, volcanic on one side, lots of Mancos Shale across the river, and the wines reflect those differences.
The wines might not taste exactly alike, depending on their origin (part of the terroir). Even grapes from within the same vineyard can taste differently, which is what French winemakers learned centuries ago.
You can test this: Find a winery that makes estate-grown wines and also makes wines from purchased grapes and see if you can distinguish place-of-origin (estate grown) vs. winemaker’s touch theory.
It’s certainly not a bad thing that the human element has a determining role in a wine’s finished product, and you may find it’s not the place or the grape but the winemaker that lifts your spirits.
– Story and photos by Dave Buchanan
BIGOLINO di Valdobbiadene (TV) – Standing amidst rows of spring-fresh vines climbing the razorback hills rising steeply to of the pre-Alps of northeast Italy, Francesco Drusian smiles at the thought of this region becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“We did everything we could to preserve our heritage,” Drusian says, reaching out to a light-green shoot just opening to the April sun. “Now, it’s up to others to decide if we did enough.”
It’s only a few days past VinItaly and I’ve called on Francesco Drusian in hopes of learning more about Prosecco and Drusian’s place in the narrative of Italy’s popular yet oft-underappreciated sparkling wine.
I’ll post more about our discussions in the future.
Few people would argue Francesco Drusian has done as much as anyone to preserve his heritage and that of Prosecco.
According to Francesco, he’s the fourth generation of his family (the fifth, his daughter Marika, already is producing Prosecco DOCG under her own label) to make wine from these geometrically perfect vineyards overlooking the village of Bigolino, which itself lies on the north bank of the Fiume Piave near where the river cuts through the famed Valdobbiadene hills.
The winery began in the mid-19th Century with grandfather Giuseppe Drusian and then his son Rino making still wines. Francesco took over in 1984 and today the name Drusian connotes Prosecco Superiore DOCG, one of the best versions of the iconic Italian sparkling wine now soaring on a crest of popularity.
Francesco introduced sparkling wine to his winery in 1986, shortly after the autoclave afforded a way to control the secondary fermentation that gives Prosecco its sparkle and shortly before the world’s love affair with everything Italian became the tsunami we see today.
The advantages of the pressurized autoclave – including preserving bubbles and fresh flavors and reducing the labor and cost involved with metodo classico – suddenly made it possible for lovers of sparkling wine worldwide to enjoy a wine that is light, refreshing, food-friendly and surprisingly affordable.
“Prosecco DOC is the ultimate simple but sophisticated wine which personifies the unique Italian lifestyle” says the Prosecco DOC Consorzio website.
However, the international rush to adopt elements of the “Italian lifestyle” had its expected result: a flood of Prosecco, much of it poorly made and of dubious background (google “Paris Hilton prosecco”), hitting the market.
Even the very existence of a Prosecco DOC gives voice to the expansion, some say uncontrolled, of Prosecco as an industrial product.
By the mid-2000s, Prosecco, as with many other great things, had to be saved from its own success. Read more…
NEW YORK – Romano Baruzzi took a breath and looked out at the sea of faces in front of him.
“Buona sera a tutti, welcome everyone,” said Baruzzi, deputy trade commissioner for the Italian Trade Commission in New York City. “Welcome to the biggest event promoting Italian wines in the U.S.”
It’s opening night for Italian Wine Week/Vino 2016 and the featured panel discussion is titled “On the Bright Side: What’s Ahead for 2016.”
This first-night talk offers the attending producers, importers and the occasional journalist insights into what lies ahead for the next two days of concentrated immersion into Italian wine.
More than 160 Italian wine makers and their representatives are here, some of them plying their wares to almost that many importers and buyers while other winemakers, nearly one-third of those present, simply are seeking someone trustworthy in whom to entrust their wines. Read more…
As sure as the swallows return each spring to the old mission at San Juan Capistrano, Italian winemakers each spring pack up their road show and head to Verona for the annual return of VinItaly, which bills itself as the world’s leading wine trade fair.
This year’s event (April 10-13) marks VinItaly’s 50th anniversary and understandably the buzz has been in the air for months, since no one can outdo the Italians when it comes to celebrating big events, especially one that attracts an international audience (last year more than 150,000 attendees from 30 countries) of wine buyers, importers, critics and wine lovers.
It can be a bit overwhelming – this year’s fair is expected to feature more than 4,100 exhibitors covering an impressive 100,000 square meters (that’s about 1.07 million square feet) of exhibition space. That’s big.
Looking out at a well-lit seminar room on the second floor of the midtown Hilton Hotel, at tables laden with wine glasses and lined with eager listeners, McCoy informed her audience that “It couldn’t be a better time for wines from southern Italy.”
It was a theme to be repeated, although never again quite as succinctly, throughout the all-too-short run of this year’s Italian Wine Week presented by the Italian Trade Commission. Subtitled “The Grandest Italian Wine Event Ever Held Outside of Italy” and focusing this year on wines from Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicily, the event (this year was its fifth edition) brought together about 200 Italian wineries (not all from the south and about a quarter of which were looking for a U.S. importer) and countless importers and distributors and other wine-trade people.
Among the many memorable remarks from the week’s speakers and guests:
“This week there is a peaceful invasion of Italian producers and wine experts.” – Maurizio Forte, Trade Commissioner and Executive Director for the Italian Trade Commission.
“The U.S. market is the most-important market for Italian wine; we export almost $1.5 billion per year.”– Maurizio Forte
Wines from southern Italy are largely unknown to the U.S. market because “most American tourists still do not visit Southern Italy.” – former wine director Charles Scicolone.
“They are a ‘hand-sell, meaning that it often takes talking about these wines and explaining them to the customer in order to get them to try a bottle or two.” – Charles Scicolone
“People want to know who you are, not just your wines.” – Chad Turnbull, president of New York-based importer Savorian, Inc., told the producers. “One of the most fundamental things you can do is to introduce yourself to your market.”
“Puglia and Calabria are at the edge of the western world.” – blogger/importer/Italophile Jeremy Parzen. “They just needed a small nudge to enter the modern world of winemaking.”
“When you taste (the wines of southern Italy), it’s hard to imagine what the wines were like 20 years ago.” – Elin McCoy. “These were wines you didn’t want to know about.”
“Sicily is sexy; it was sexy even before the wines were so good.” Roberta Morrell, president and CEO of Morrell Wine Bar and Café, New York City.”The good reds came before the good whites…now the whites are fresh, fruity and minerally.”
“I’m consumer driven. If you can’t say it, you can’t buy it.” – author/wine educator Kevin Zraly.
“In Italy, people mostly eat at home.” – restaurateur/ author Lidia Bastianich. “First, because good eating means eating their mother’s cooking, nobody makes it better, and secondly, because of the economic crisis that is currently afflicting the country.”
“Buying a wine made in Italy means buying a piece of wine history from a country that has made wine for a thousand years.” – journalist Luciano Pignataro.
Verona – VinItaly came early this years, and while rain isn’t unexpected during this spring four-day gathering, the transition from late winter to early spring weather seems a bit cooler than normal.
That’s certainly not a complaint, since it’s always a thrill to arrive in this bustling north-Italy city, to see the coliseum and Castel Vecchio and stumble on fine restaurants hidden down narrow cobbly streets.
However, a comment on the weather is a suitable way to start as one of the laments heard from winemakers in northern Italy is that last year was one of the wettest vintages in memory, with rain until late August.
The sun returned in late summer but didn’t leave some winemakers with enough time to have their grapes reach the desired level of ripeness.
On the morning of Day 1 I first made a quick run through the Franciacorta region, which is one of my favorite places to start this fair, and several people remarked how their 2014 wines were a little “sharper” than normal, even in their young state.
That gave a bit more acidity to the wines, a characteristic I found pleasing and certainly makes the wines more food-friendly. Apparently a lot of people agree; by mid-morning this always popular area had people three and four deep at some of the booths.
Another oft-heard remark was the early start to VinItaly (last year’s fair was two weeks later) gave winemakers a short time between finishing and bottling their wines for presentation here in Verona.
“It’s a little young” or “It’s not ready ” was heard at many booths although there was no lack of enthusiasm for the wines from either winemakers or fairgoers.
My first day normally is a whirlwind as I get my bearings and seek out old friends and try their latest vintages. As customary, I spent most of the day on sparkling wines, from the metodo classico of Franciacorta to the tre bicchiere Prosecci of Graziano Merotto in Valdobbiadene.
I also stopped to see Ambra Tiraboschi from Ca’Lojera in Lugana, of whom I’ll write more after my visit there Saturday.
And that’s enough from Day One.