. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: July 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grapes Vs The Winemaker's Hand: Which is More Important?

A symbiotic relationship exists between man and vines, where the grape is domesticated by man, and man, in turn is eventually rewarded by the grapes - the care of a human hand is repaid by the grapes the plant produces. The grapes are obviously a key factor in producing a good wine but without the hand of man, the juices will naturally turn to vinegar, which is very good on your salad - a little less tasty in your glass. So, considering the relevance of the two equal, let me ask another question; how important is the grape varietal? I believe that it is important, but that it also has to be appropriate for its environment. I love Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, for example, but if I have land in a warm and dry place, I would most likely not have good results with those grapes, no matter how good of a winemaker I am. So at an early stage, the importance of a man's hand is key. But, it is also true that we have found naturally cross bred grapes like the Caberlot in Veneto and indigenous vines abandoned like the Schioppettino in Friuli that now produce great wines. In these cases, the plants had found their homes by themselves, but needed the care and the patience of man to restore them to health and productivity. The Finca (vineyard in Argentine) Altamira owned by Achaval Ferrer has a story that illustrates that same idea. After a long and strenuous search, the operating partners of the winery came across a little flat in between mountains, at a hight of 1200 m above sea level facing north (in the southern hemisphere the best exposition is north). The flat was inhabited by what appeared to be old abandoned vines, that in few years were brought up to produce perhaps the best Malbec in the world. What happened here is that the men found a hidden treasure (the vines were over 60 years old) that needed restoration and time to recover. Their care, in this case, was repaid by the quality of the final product. So who had more relevance to the final result in this case? The man that brought the vines back to life, and transformed it into a beautiful wine? Or was it the vines, with the complexity and concentration that several decades of life can give? I would say in this case that the input is pretty even. It shows a kind of relationship like the bond between humans and dogs - the man gives the dog care and food and the dog grows loyal and protective of the owner. With wine, the plant produces healthy grapes that the man needs to bottle an exceptional wine that, after sold, will give prosperity and financial security. You might argue that all kinds of vegetables, plants and fruits have that kind of a relationship with their farmer, and I think you would be right. I would add, however, that a grapevine is one plant that needs more care to survive - most trees and plants do not need that much attention. There are also several passages that require the care of man in order to turn grapes into fine wine. Other plants, like olives, do not need that many passages. once they are pressed, voila - olive oil! The grape, on the other hand, becomes must after it's pressed, must which has to be fermented, filtered, fined and cared for, not to mention AGED before it even comes close to the end of its transformation.

It is also enlighting to see how differently the same grape tastes after it is bottled, even if it is coming from the same area. Just think about Burgundy, where 2 adjacent vineyards, owned by the same estate, planted with the same grapes (Pinot Noir in this case) are separated by just a ditch - the grapes result in two dramatically different wines that are differentiated, for a trained nose, just by smelling the glass. That wouldn't happen with, say, potatoes - if they're planted in the same soil, they will not taste different from each other.
So - I think the best answer to the original question is that is that both the grapes themselves and the hands of the winemaker are important, and it is essential that the relationship between the vines and humans stays as balanced as possible, where one cannot exist without the other.
I'll be going on vacation for couple of weeks, and I don't know how good my internet connection will be, so I might be silent for a little while. Also, a reminder - the shop will be closed from august 11th to the 27th.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is It Possible...

... that the big companies that govern a large portion of our economy are never accountable for the problems they create? It looks like this has become a generalized issue all-around: there is ConEd's ridiculous refund decision for the 8-day blackout a of couple years ago; anybody that ships regularly with UPS knows that if they lose or break a package it will take several hours on the phone in order to get a refund that, in my experience, is rarely a full one. The funny thing is that Verizon, UPS, FedEx, Con Ed and many others have increased their prices dramatically, while exponentially lowering their service standard. Today, to send 12 bottles to California via ground shipping will cost little over $45; 3 years ago the same shipment was $ 25. It almost doubled, and proportionally their customer relations got twice as bad, as did the services they provide. UPS lost and broke a fair few of my packages, and every single time that sort of mistake was made, I ended up frustrated by the way their errors are handled.
I'll give you one of the truly ridiculous examples of what I'm talking about, just so it doesn't sound like I'm whining over spilled milk; if UPS loses a package, their policy states that it is the shipper's responsibility to notify UPS, open a claim and wait 8 business days to hear from the claims department regarding reimbursement. First of all, can anyone explain to me why I'm responsible for notification (or anything, really) when UPS loses something? How am I even supposed to know? Second - in the case of a lost package, if I ask them what I should do while the claims department is coming to a decision the answer is, as usual, that my course of action is my responsibility, and that UPS has 8 business days to find the package and deliver it. Now I understand the reservation of a number of business days (though 8 seems a little hefty), so they don't deliver the same package twice, should I choose to ship a replacement. But it is truly incredible how many times I have heard, "IT'S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY" when someone has lost or damaged something I entrusted to their care.
To top it all off, when I want to know exactly what the responsibilities of UPS are, because I don't feel like they're fulfilling them, the conversation always ends up tethered to the phrase, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Well, I do feel that way, because of the moronic mistakes of these companies. - Today, it was Verizon's turn... the credit card and fax line was down, so I called the Verizon repair number, and I was told that there was a problem with some cable that will be repaired by June 17th at 8pm. I said, "that's 60 hours from now... how can I do business without processing credit cards?" Peter, my brilliant Verizon representative, answered: "well, you are the businessman, you figure out how to overcome the problem. Maybe hook the credit card machine to another line." What other line? The only line I have available is the store line, the one that needs to be free to receive orders! This was my unanswered reply, and when I asked about compensation, they told me that MAYBE I would get a refund for the days of non-service (a whopping $6), but that Verizon is not responsible for loss of business. Once again, those words of wonder - "NOT RESPONSIBLE."
"Considering the fact that my business is done mostly on credit cards," I told Peter, "you do the math, and see if $6 will do me any good." The last words I hear are:" things break... we didn't do this on purpose, you know... cars break, airplanes break etc etc." Yes. Things break down. I know. But again, I don't understand how that allows these companies to shirk responsibility for their problems. Why is it that their problem has to fall on my shoulder? Why is it, when UPS loses a package, I automatically lose several business hours to report the loss, and start a long and painful refund process that would never happen if I, the non-offender, didn't initiate it? What happened to the services that made this nation powerful and efficient? Where is common courtesy, now that we are almost slave to the services (read: functions) the companies that take advantage of their stronger position to steal our time and money?
The saddest part of this mess is that the situation is getting worse, and is spreading into every company. I switched to FedEx because I was fed up with UPS. FedEx promptly broke a package insured for $260, and I got a check for $118 because according to them, I didn't declare the package's value. So I had to download the shipping detail from the FedEx's website, print it out, then call an 800 number and fax them the details in order to retrieve what was missing... and when I asked how it was possible that FedEx denies a claim based on a lie, the conversation's culmination was, of course:
"I'm sorry you feel that way."

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Meet The Makers Bruno De Conciliis Part One

Previously, we already established that many of the great wines, you’ll taste or have tasted in your lifetime aren’t simply an expression of a good vintage and of an excellent way of making wine. Out there, there are so many different Barolo, Nebbiolo, Aglianico ect. The prices vary, based on the vintage, the type of grape they’re made from, and the winemaker. So what makes one wine more special than the other when it comes to the same wine type but different winemakers? We all know by now that a good vintage per se or a perfect winemaking technique is not the answer. In fact, great wines aren’t simply the wines that were well made. Great wines are a direct reflection of the personality behind the winemaking process and of all the little nuances that helped in such process. To prove my point, I could not think of a better example than Bruno De Conciliis. His wines, from the moment the grapes are picked until they are bottled carry with them every little hint of the passion for wine itself and for the land they come from. They are also a magnificent expression of their winemaker’s great personality and of all the people who work with him. Their names, the labels he picked, every single detail will distinguish his wines from all the other Aglianico, Fiano and spumante out there. The following interview will be a revelation of the sensation you’ve felt when you tasted his wines, or a preview of what you’ll discover when you will taste them.

Here is the first part of it enjoy.

Gabrio: Bruno De Conciliis, visiting New York. Thanks for coming.

Bruno: Thank you!

G: I know that these are the last days of your tour, how did it go?

B: Extremely well! Warm welcoming on the wines, the new vintages….

G: I can see you happy, and very tan.

Let’s talk about the beginning of your adventure; your life, for as little as I know, was totally different. Can you briefly explain the events that have led you to your present life?

B: Yes! I’ve apparently lived two or three lives; something that nowadays seems to be a normal occurrence. More often than not, when I talk to people this pluralism comes out, and I, like many of our generation, my generation, have lived at least three. This will be the last one: farmers plant their roots once and forever. Inside this life, I brought… I brought the precious treasures that I collected in my previous lives: the open, revolutionary -if I’m allowed to say so- vision of the world; certainly the will to change; the desire to…

I always thought that my generation was one of the last ones who had the impression that they could hold their fate, their future into their own hands. This is something that I could not see in the new ones: the ability to decide of your own existence, of your own future, of the organization, of the structure to live in. In the “maturity” phase, if mature is the phase I’m leaving now, this will, this awareness to hold the future in my hands and to give it a shape; to inform the world with my terrestrial passage, still holds a social drive. The Cilento area has been and still is one of the most disadvantaged and poorest areas in Italy. At the beginning, this drive was definitely stronger. I strove to prove to my fellow neighbors, that it was possible to go behind the logic of power and the servitudes passed on from one generation to the next and to demonstrate - and this is a paradoxical act for an anarchist- that through individual effort, the ability to put oneself in the field and to transform in an entrepreneur able to manage people and things, one can be able to move on to a different society in a microcosm, and in a microeconomics.

G: It would almost seem that you have closed the circle by touching the two ends. Let’s talk about your winery. How long has it been your family’s property?

B: The vineyards were planted by my father in the 70s, the oldest ones, or even the others ones that we have then, taken over little by little. Until 1997, most of the grapes were sent to a Cantina Sociale. My dad established the winery in 1961, a year before I was born. However, again, the grapes were granted to a Cantina Sociale. In 1993, when my first daughter, Chiara, was born, I decided that I had to do something with my passion for wine. Therefore, I went back to my family. I asked my father and my brothers to assist me with this project. I spent three years studying the possibility to make wine because, as you already know, we do not have an enologist. I always had the idea that if we had to do something, it should have been from within ourselves; the energy should have come totally from the inside of the winery. After my three years of studies, in 1996, we had our first harvest, only white wines: Fiano, and at the time, we had also Trebbiano and Malvasia. In 1997, it was our first harvest for the red wines. Therefore, the 2006 harvest has chronologically been my 10th one and this is the reason why we came out with the idea of the Cilento pictures on the Aglianico bottles…

G: Really nice! I’ve seen it this summer when I was there to visit you. Who helps you in the cellar? Who are the other key players of the team?

B: The slave players. The cellars as you know….

G: Slaves?

B: Slaves… (Both laugh) Yeah, yeah, a Freudian slip. (Pause) First of all, there is my brother in the vineyard. He is a key player because he has inherited the most serene and tranquil family trait. Supervising the vineyards entails waking up at 5 am in the morning, every morning and starting the work, establishing the timing and the techniques. It also means to have to go in the vineyard and determine the health state of everything else related to the vines. He took over this part of the job and he’s constantly improving himself. The true path of a farmer is never ending because it is a path of constant growth.

Then, there is Giovanni, my brother-in-law, considered the mother of the wines. He is, like me, totally self-taught. He’s done 2000 different things in his life. He still writes and paints; he has a highly creative soul. In the cellar instead, paradoxically, probably because of me- I’m too invasive, I occupy his creative space- he has an extremely strong, precise, productive behavior. He is fully committed and in total control of the wines and their evolution. He is the mother of the wines. He “feeds” them daily. Then, there are the girls who make up for the female component, which is vital in winemaking; the devotion in the feminine and maternal sense is a really strong one.

G: When I was there during the summer, we tasted some wines from the barriques. We also tasted some bottles. Many of the barriques I’ve seen there, you told me that were only experiments, that you were not convinced, you didn’t know and that most likely you would have never bottled those wines. Specifically, you made me taste an Aglianico that was a bit peculiar, and that you said you would not bottle, but I could not understand why?

B: I’ve said that I’ve learned to make wine on my own by making mistakes and mistakes, mistakes, mistakes, mistakes… I’m an empiricist. To learn means to experiment. If we try to play “The Game of Roles” and you put on the winemaker pants and shoes; you can understand how exciting it can be the possibility to have a game so variegated and so vast where truly… during vinification sometimes it is enough to raise by a half degree and the structure and the characteristic of the wine changes in a way…. How to say?

G: A drastic way.

B: Yes, yes, in a total and absolute way and…Since I’m not starting from an absolute certainty, from a requirement, from a recipe, nor from a consolidated history of the wine… The one thing that one can find in the Cilento area today is the fact that we can start from a land, which has a very ancient history: if the grapes came with the Greeks 2600 years before Christ, and we are now in 2008…

G: No...

B: Yes, 600 years before Christ. They have been around for 2600 years. However, it is also true that there isn’t anything encoded about winemaking. For this reason we have always had; I have always had in front of me a blank piece of paper and I have to admit that I never had the writer’s angst…

G: …of filling this paper…

B: Yes of filling it… because the variety of things, the quantity of ideas that came up to me and the ability to read the grapes and the will to imagine what could have been the wine’s evolution of this raw material has always been… actually it has always been an element of added confusion. This is the reason why these wines, some of these wines, most of these wines are in experimental or approaching phases, which I’d define as the courtship of the wine, which even in this field is the part that gives you the most adrenaline charge because…

G: Hm! That’s nice.

B: Eh…Because you go around it, because it’s not…. Many things in the contemporary world are banal because they are assertive and in this way they are self-referential. Saying that the paper is white is banal and it is also useless and, therefore, there is no need to say it. It becomes monolithic and monochord and senseless to the purpose of the conversation. Instead, it is good to say and to think: “I see this paper baby blue, purple, orange or full of leaves, of butterflies”. This is the phase where the objects assume a shape within the one who has the responsibility to create them, or to give them a definite shape, or to make them become objects that are concrete, tangible, drinkable in our case (laughs)…

G: Mostly drinkable (laughs)

B: Exactly! This phase is for me the most interesting one. The harvest is the time where we reach the peak of the hormonal explosion… no?...

G: Is it there where-as they would say in a Northern Italian expression- you get hard! (laughs)

B: No… No! On the contrary… On the contrary, once again, this is a game where it is important to reach a balance between the masculine and the feminine components. Therefore, the one, which, in a way, takes, owns the things, and gives them a shape in the creative phase and which I would define as the masculine component has to absolutely find a balance with the feminine one. This is the one that, instead, comprehends and takes things in. If you are not… If you are not able… if I weren’t able… This is my creative process I do not want to, and it would be crazy to universalize it….

My creative process starts from the comprehension, it starts surely and always from the feminine component.

During the potential phase, everything that I can express from the wine can be found in the grape. Not in the grape as…. How to say this…

We are not talking about the Fiano and the Aglianico and we’re not talking about the Fiano and the Aglianico from the Cilento area but of every single harvest, which, based on the climate condition, based on a series of processes that took place over that vineyard and that vintage, brings to the grape an aromatic or a potential structural characteristic that is very precise and distinctive. If the “wine creator”, the one who has to imagine and create this wine, is not able to comprehend this peculiarity, the only thing that he can do is to amplify to an extreme level the masculine component. Therefore, he states that this is the way the wine has to be, and this is a way to force the harvest in function of a state, of an idea, of a prejudice…

G: of an objective

B: Exactly! This is poles apart from my idea of what a wine should be. I hope I was clear, or at least less confused than what I feel I’m being right now...

Stay Tuned for the Secon Part

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Pictures Of Champagne Night

The Swimming Pool

A Little Order Please

Bubbling Smiles

The Guests Are Warming Up...

...And Art Is Performed!!!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Champagne Night Among Friends

I happen to be lucky enough to be part of a wine group called NY Grapes, which is a fun and great concept, as well as a great excuse to dig into the cellar and open some "sleepers." The system is easy and efficient; we meet in a member's house or office every couple of months, and the host provides food and sets the theme of the night. Then, the members that can attend the dinner bring their chosen bottle in accordance with the theme. I attended my first dinner in September, when I was invited by the President of the group Eric Porres, whom I met in the store and bonded with, thanks to a magnum of Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 1997 that he bought for a dinner with the mirroring group in the west coast. The bottle, coincidentally, turned out to be the wine of night and from there we had started a good friendship. We've had quite a few dinners since I joined, and many with some great wines from around the world. The last dinner, one of my favorites thus far, was hosted by Paul DeBraccio in his office, and the theme was small growers from Champagne. The lineup for the night was composed of 4 Brut non-vintage, two Rose non-vintage, 5 Millesime (3 1999 and 2 2000) Champagnes and two outsiders: Huet 2002, a sparkler from Loire made from Chenin Blanc, and the Erpacrife from Piedmont made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes which were both very interesting. It was definitely a great array to experience the difference in terroir for real champagnes. On the NY Grapes site you will find our president's descriptions of the wines and winners, so I won't repeat those here, but I'd like to point out that a denomination or an appellation do not guarantee a level of quality. That evening the difference between bigger and small wineries came out clearly, wineries like Mumm and Gosset didn't stand up to the others, and to tell the truth, the Loire sparkler was more complex and interesting then the ones described "as done by the book" by Eric. Pricing-wise, I noticed that the Millesime weren't much more expensive then the non-vintages, but the difference in taste was dramatic. With prices ranging from the high 50's to the low 70's, the tasting also showed that 1999 was a more elegant and probably better vintage then 2000. Being part of these kind of groups is a great way to experience and learn about the nectar of the gods among friends, so if it interests you, get together with your friends and take an evening off every couple of months to get together around several great wine bottles.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti!!!