Barolo Camp at Gianfranco Alessandria
Along with Georgia Sugarman, Meghan Ivey also attended Langhe/Barolo Camp, and what follows are her notes from their visit to Gianfranco Alessandria. Thanks Meghan!
When we approached Monforte d’ Alba mid-morning, to visit the vineyards of Gianfranco Alessandria, we could smell the beginning stages of harvest. The Dolcetto had been picked just days before, and was in tank upon our arrival. They were still two weeks out from picking Nebbiolo, and at least one week away from Barbera. I couldn’t wait to get busy.
We were greeted by Vittoria, Gianfranco’s daughter, who’s currently in charge and has been working closely with her father since she was thirteen. Immediately, her enthusiasm made me feel at ease. This was the moment when I began to understand the foresight of these farmers. To harbor any resistant energy towards Mother Nature would be counter-intuitive. The best farmers live in the moment and make the best of each day.
As we stepped inside the winery, Vittoria began pumping-over the one-week-old tank of Dolcetto, and floods of plummy purple juice came rushing out and into a large container. She grabbed a glass and offered me a taste of this year’s harvest in its infancy. Bright and cheery. Juicy, lively, and provocative. A Dolcetto that offers more than cranberries and sunshine. The wine’s structure was already evident, and I knew this was going to be a beautiful vintage.
Vittoria turned to us and asked, Who would like to stir the tank? I jump at the opportunity, climbed a small step ladder, grabbed the baton and couldn’t believe how much strength it took. Working harvest is not a glamorous job, as I have often heard. And after a few minutes, I was pleasantly sore.
After this we took a walk through the San Giovanni vineyard. Home to Barbera, Nebiollo, and Dolcetto, and totaling 5.5 ha, the vineyards are steep with southeast facing slopes, and rich soils of clay/limestone and sand. We walked through the Vittoria vineyard with its 80 to 90-year-old Barbera, and I was blown away at how gigantic the trunks were. They looked like tree trunks compared to the younger vines. They were so healthy looking. I could immediately tell what set them apart from other large-scale producers. For one, they are incredibly meticulous. The family does all of its own pruning, one leaf at a time, paying very close attention to the spacing between each shoot. There are plenty of open intervals for aeration and sun. There were no weeds present anywhere in the soil, and Vittoria informed us that they only spray with sulfur or copper when absolutely necessary. As far as she’s concerned, all the of the winemaking happens in the vineyard. Being there, I could see that they were letting the vintage dictate the final outcome of the wine. And though July brought hail, there was a very nice heat spike in August, and in the days following our return to the States, there was plenty of sun.
San Giovanni at Gianfranco Alessandria, Monforte d’Alba
We headed to lunch, where there was an incredible spread of homemade, Tajarin pasta from Grandma, cheeses, meats, tomatoes from their garden, and plenty of wine and conversation. The San Giovanni 2010 Barolo was my personal favorite. I had the privilege of drinking two different vintages of their old-vine Barbera from the Vittoria vineyard – 1995 and 2011. The ‘95 showed beautifully. It had all of the balance one wants in a Barbera, with bright fruit, incredible depth and structure. The ‘95 had been somewhat of a difficult vintage too, yet it was silky, elegant, and vivacious. The brightness had softened over the years and was showcased against a rich, back-palate of stewed blackberries, and a hint of anise. The ‘11 was also incredible, though a very ripe vintage, offering opulent character. The ‘11 will only get better with age. I took a bottle home with me, although I don’t think I can hang on to it for another 10 years without drinking it.
When we left, I thought about the relationship between Gianfranco and his daughter Vittoria, and how proud he is of her. He started to bottle his own wines so that he could leave behind a legacy for both his daughters. She works hard yet remains humble about her efforts. I admire the family for their love of fun. Yes, it’s hard work, but there also seems to be something natural about it for them. It’s what they know.
For more on Gianfranco Alessandria, read here.