In the City with Alberto Longo
Alberto Longo (center) with Bruce Phillips of VHR (left) & Greg Reeves, Our Italian Portfolio Director
Last week, Alberto Longo came to town and threw us a rooftop party near the South Street Seaport, and let us tell you, not only does this man make amazing wines from Puglia, but he also throws a kick-ass party. For party pics, scroll down to the bottom of the post.
“I started with my mother and father in 1968, when I was ten years old,” said Alberto, when we sat to chat in Studio TEW. “After school and every Sunday, I went to work in the [1ha] vineyard. At the time, everything was handmade. Vineyard rows were short, so there was no room for machines…We pressed with our feet, me and my father. He did other agriculture too, but he loved this. He was the only one in the village to produce nice wines, the others were undrinkable.”
In 1999, when his father stopped producing wine, Alberto followed with a trip to Sonoma in 2000. “When I saw what they do,” he said, “I thought to myself, if they could do it without history, then why, in the south of Italy with 2000 years of history and culture of vineyards, I thought, why don’t I do the same?” Working with Giacomo Tachis as his consultant, Alberto planted 22ha of vines by 2002, adding an additional 13ha by 2003. “He’s the best in Italy,” Alberto said of his friend, the ‘father of Super Tuscan wines’. Responsible for creating such legendary labels as Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia, Tachis told Alberto when to plant and what he had to do to get the winery started.
“After he told me what to do,” said Alberto, “I asked him, if he could assist me. He said, ‘Alberto, I’m 72 years old. I’m leaving the winery.’ But, he taught me as a pupil. He said he could assist me indirectly with Graziana Grassini.” As Tachis’s star protege, Grassini became the chief enologist at the San Guido Estate, where Sassicaia is produced. Living in Tuscany, very close to Tachis, Grassini produced her first vintage with Alberto in 2004.
“We start in January, when the vineyards are sleeping,” said Alberto of his work with Grassini. “We go over the plantings and decide what we have to produce. We review the last vintage and every year we modify. We analyze to maximize. Every 20-25 days, she comes and consults…Of course I am responsible for everything,” he added. “When we taste the wine, I decide. But she assures me of the technical quality of the wine.”
Working with his 35ha of vineyards, 15ha of which are hand-harvested and dedicated to the Alberto Longo label, they now know which lots produce the best quality fruit. With 5,600 vines per hectare, the yield is small with 70 tons per hectare. “Every year we reduce the quantity,” said Alberto. “This is the only way to improve quality.”
Alberto Longo Cantina
By employing the cordon system in his vineyards, Alberto is able to better manage his yields than his Puglian peers who employ a higher yielding system that produces on average, 30-40 tons of fruit per hectare. The quality of his methods and production have also helped put the Cacc’e Mmitte DOC on the map. With only a handful of producers, the DOC’s image had been destroyed by cheap wines in the past, but the quality of Alberto’s wines has helped rebuild it.
Originally constructing his winery inside of an older winery in Lucera that was originally built 100-115 years ago, Alberto purchased it from the owners who’d stopped producing wine in 1956. “He gave me a book as a present,” said Alberto of the previous owner, “with the history of the winery and the vineyards…When I read that we had Falanghina 100 years ago, I was happy to plant it!”
In 2004, Alberto was the first in Puglia to bottle Falanghina, and now 15 other wineries in the region produce it. In 1930-40, all of the pre-existing Falanghina vines were replaced with Bombino Bianco, because it’s a higher yielding fruit. “Everyone thought I was crazy to plant it,” said Alberto of his 1.5ha, “but I planted it for myself because I love it and now it’s recognized as the best white wine from Puglia.”
Nicole & Alberto
Ivey with Alberto