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Swimming Upstream with Marco Cecchini

Last week, Marco Cecchini popped in for a visit, and though he was busy out and about town, we managed some time to sit for a chat about agricultural practices and trends, his peers, and the effects of aging on selected yeasts.

Coming in from Faedis, a small town in eastern Friuli, in northeastern Italy, Marco built his winery from the single hectare that he inherited from his grandfather in 1998.  “I started 14 years ago, making wine from zero.  It was my grandfather, with 0.5ha who produced wine for his friends….[Now] I drink my wine with my friends.  We make wine for the people we care about and I don’t want to poison them with sulfites.”

An earnest, exuberant vintner who looks inward for his inspirations, as opposed to out and across the lands, Cecchini is one to steer clear of trends.  “We don’t like to fall into styles of wines,” he said.  “Orange wines are trendy.  Natural and biodynamic wines are trendy.  We like to follow our own.”  Choosing the biodynamic practices that suit their situations best, Marco said that they follow the lunar phases to determine when they should cut the grass between the vines; and they green harvest by hand when the lunar phase is going down, but they don’t use bull horns because as Marco said, “there’s no scientific/practical proof for this.”

Believing that wine should be a “human capital product,” Marco swims upstream against his peers.  “All of my colleagues are mechanizing all of the steps in agriculture to get cost savings, because people are more expensive,” he said.  “[But] a lot of my peers are rich.  [At Marco Cecchini] it’s me and two others who do this work, [while] they hire the top enologists and viticulturists.”

Much to his dismay, this kind of outsourcing doesn’t stop at the cellar door.  “Fruili,” said Cecchini, “is a region with a lot of small wineries like mine.  But the problem for small wineries is, whoever has the money to make the promotion wins.  If you’re small, and you don’t find people like TEW that focuses on small producers, you’re…[screwed].  Statistics say wine sales are growing, but it’s for the companies who can take out ads in Wine Spectator.”

Striving not to make wines that are consistent from year to year, but rather wines that represent the terroir and vintage, Marco charges that this yearly change in wine offers value to the consumer, because it represents real viticulture at the hand of individuals and not chemicals, machines or corporations.

“It’s a lot of years that I’ve been drinking wines from a viticulturist who’s grown his own grapes,” he added.  “There’s no sense in my drinking ‘perfect’ wines.”

And while Marco realizes that the market calls for the most recent vintage on a majority of white wines, he prefers to age them.  “I believe that if you make a good wine, it can age,” said Marco.  “You lose vertical aromas, including floral notes, but the wine gains better architecture. It’s smoother and more complex.”

Another practice that allows Cecchini to age his whites before release is his use of selected yeasts.  And though many argue that selected yeasts give unwanted flavors to wines, Marco argues that the secondary aromas from the fermentation process are lost after two to three years, in favor of tertiary aromas that are representative of the terroir.  “Selling wine with two to four years of aging allows me to give priority to aromas from terroir,” said Marco.  “We lose the yeast aromas and get something more complex.”

And while he accepts that the use of selected yeasts isn’t for everyone, Marco disdains the need to defend.  “What I don’t understand is biodynamic/natural wine people,” he said.  “They attack the others, but there are so many wines.  There’s something for everyone.  So many producers, varietals and terroir.  At the very end, to me, there is a dignity for every producer and every wine, if it’s made with dignity.”

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