Friday, January 31, 2014

The Story of an 80 Year Old Vineyard… With a Vintage Chart to Boot!

"He put the Barabba in the Rossore and he mix it all up…"

A little Iuli Barabba history for those of you that are new to Iuli and his wines… or for those of you that are forgetful :)

Lets go back...

In ~1930 Gioacchino Felice Natale Iuli (the two middle names translate to 'happy Christmas'… true story) planted a little less than a hectare of Barbera vines atop a hill in a little village called Montaldo, that at the time, was covered in vineyards. Nothing special… everyone grew either Barbera or grignolino. At the time Monferrato was covered with vines, most terraced as our hills are less 'dolce' (less 'sweet' or aka they are steeper) then the hills of our neighbor to the south, the hills of the Langhe. The Iuli family, just like all the families of the village of ~400 people, made wine. The only difference being that the Iuli family had a little 'osteria.' At the time, in the 30's and 40's an Osteria was not just another of the many Italian words for what is more or less a restaurant, but a place not only to get a hot meal, but also possibly to spend the night. It was more of a 'home' that opened its doors to serve food and drink and offer a warm place to rest to travelers or visitors. The Iuli wine from that little vineyard was obviously served to the guests in those years… baby Barabba that at the time was just 'il rosso della casa.'

The family's Osteria expanded over the years and expanded next door, to include a little general store. They continued to serve hot meals, and continued to serve their family wine. Fast forward to the early 60's. Gioacchino's son, Lorenzo married a woman named Mariuccia from a neighboring village that he met, 'at a dance,' and his new wife took a job in the Iuli family business and learned how to cook with her mother in law at the age of 20. The restaurant grew a little reputation not only for the delicious home grown and hand made traditional fare that mom and daughter in law cooked up, but for this Barbera that at this point was coming from a vineyard that was ~30 years old. In this same decade, the 60's, two important things happened; Fabrizio Iuli was born, and there were also three consecutive years of hail that wiped out all the vineyards in most of the Monferrato region. Families that existed on agriculture couldn't make it after three years with no income, and there was a mass exodus to Torino, many to work in the Fiat factory that was having a economic boom and needed a labor force for the factory.

Fabrizio's family on the other hand didn't abandon their little vineyard, they harvested the first vintage that the vines recovered after the three devastating years before, and by the age of 6 Fabrizio was riding with his dad on the tractor to farm not only the vineyard, but the other mixed crops they planted each year on their land. The vineyard and hence the wine was saved… and continued to be served at the family restaurant. They family expanded the restaurant again with Fabrizio's mother now at the helm. They served the vegetables they grew, they served the game and fowl the Iuli men caught each season, and Mariuccia hand picked (still does) the wild spontaneous different greens that grow between the rows of vines each season so that they always had fresh, seasonal salad greens. Slow Food didn't mean anything, farm to table was the only thing they knew… this little town was, and still is, somewhat untouched by time. Needless to say, the Iuli land has always been also untouched by any chemical. There was no 'organic' at that time, but the old way things were done, and they worked, so why would they start spraying this new 'stuff' on their plants and vineyards that they've never needed before!? The restaurant, (named sometime in the 60's 'Ristorante Universo'), also didn't change a thing until 2005 when Mariuccia, after almost 50 years of cooking and serving, closed their doors and retired to her garden where we can still find her every day of every season today. By the time they closed their doors in 2005 the restaurant was accoladed by not only Slow Food, but Veronelli himself came to honor and award the restaurant before his death.

When Nonno Gioacchino passed, Fabrizio inherited the vineyard his grandfather planted. Working in the restaurant over the years along side his mother and sister, Fabrizio's interest in wine expanded beyond the cultivating and vinification of the families one vineyard. He added some other labels to the restaurant wine list, and took the 2-year Italian Sommelier certification course. One thing he noticed was that regardless of what other wines were ordered and drank each night in the restaurant, that the families 'house red' was always finished first, and the bottles were always empty. He decided then and there, at the age of 30, to start labeling his families house wine, he knew and believed that this vineyard was special. With the help of dad, he planted another 6 hectares of Barbera vines on his families land, and a few years later, the one hectare of Pinot Nero.

Now 80+ years old, the Barabba vineyard produces a minuscule yield, but a fruit that comes only from that vineyard. A Barbera I have never before met the likes of… to this day, I have not tasted a Barbera that come close to the wine this vineyard produces. The vines and land in that vineyard have never, ever, seen a single chemical… the only thing ever sprayed on the vineyard was and is copper and sulfur mix a few times a season. Truffle hunters find truffles between the rows of the vines in that vineyard because the roots of the surrounding truffle bearing trees extend all the way into the vineyard because the land and plants surrounding and within the vineyard have all been left to grow as they please without intervention, since 'forever'.

Barabba is made every year, picked, vinified and aged separate from the other Barberas. However, it is not bottled every year… When the vintage is not a perfect one, Fabrizio prefers to use Barabba as the 'vitamin' that Rossore needs. In hot vintages, the 80 year old vines are able to pick up water and what they need with their deep roots, bringing much needed acidity to Rossore. In cool vintages when Rossore lacks body, or 'pulp' the Barabba fruit has that extra structure and fruit to give to his little brother Rossore. Rather than make 3,000 bottles of Barabba, and a mediocre Rossore, he prefers to make 8,000 bottles of an incredible wine.

Barabba Vintage Chart 

1999… First vintage of Barabba, if you come to the winery you can still taste it, we have a few cases hidden :) If we get one of those 'perfect bottles,' it demands us to 'meditate'...
2000… Made… however, not one bottle left.
2001… Bright beautiful vintage, there was some new oak barrels bought this year, and believe it or not, the new wood is still perceivable to us even though it was neutral. Tends to be the biggest crowd pleaser of the back vintages.
2002… Not a perfect vintage, rainy and cold, and most producers did not make their top wine, but those that did, did for a reason. My own favorite back vintage of Barabba - masculine, linear, and pure.
2003… Made, sold every last bottle,
2004*… TRE BICCHIERI… and more importantly, the wine that introduced me to Fabrizio and his wines :) Released in 2008, this was the best vintage Fabrizio had farmed since he started, and he quickly sold out of the 750ml's. However, there is a secret. He bottled 800 magnums that he put aside, and planned to release after 10 years. There was one part of the vineyard that was particularly perfect that he vinified and aged separately, with a fixed acidity of 8.5. This wine will be released this year, the US will see only half of this production, so be ready for 2004 to be back on the market!!!!
2005… Cool Vintage, Barabba went into Rossore.
2006… Beautiful vintage, elegant, and another of my personal favorite vintages. We still have some mags but no more 750mls'
2007… CURRENT STOCK, warm vintage, the wine is luscious and after some years of shut down, is drinking beautifully right now, more approachable and open than the 2006 mags.
2008… NOT MADE, rainy and cold vintage, Barabba all went into Rossore!!
2009… NOT MADE, hot vintage, and Rossore needed Barabba's acidity...
2010… Fabrizio's favorite vintage… epic and beautiful. After 11 years, he found his harmonious and elegant side. 2010 is less about power, and more about finesse.
2011… NOT MADE, vintage hot and not perfect. First vintage that Barabba was raised in large oak casks rather than used barrels. ALL BARABBA went into ROSSORE again for some extra acidity and structure.
2012… HAIL, no harvest
2013… WILD BOAR ATE OUR ENTIRE PRODUCTION. It was super hot, and dry, and the Boar were literally crazed with 'thirst.'

So what does this mean? For now 2010 is the last time we made Barabba… and 2011 is the last time we harvested fruit from the vineyard.

Sadly, the climate change and global warming are not helping the old 'cowboys' like the Barabba vineyard…sadly, I fear these old vines and vineyards are a dying breed. (Fabrizio in Barabba in the spring of 2011, the last time this vineyard brought home fruit)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Quick Quote on Natural Wine...

I was recently asked for a quote for a local newspaper on my definition of a 'natural wine.'  I quickly started typing thinking I could make it short and sweet, and get to my next email quickly... I was wrong.  I started typing and couldn't stop myself... My usual passion on the subject boiled over, and so I thought I'd share it here with you as well.

The article is on natural, sustainable & biodynamic wines. The topic being such a controversial one not only here in Europe, but also in the small geeky wine circles of NYC, SF, LA and beyond... I thought I'd throw some coal on the fire...

"The definition of a 'Natural Wine' has been for a while, and continues to be a very hot topic.  In general, especially in America, we tend to want things put into neat little boxes; an organic wine has x, y and z, and is different from a biodynamic wine because of a, b and c.  Clean, concise 'rules' that define the category.  The reality of the situation is that wine is art, obviously here I am not talking about the industrial sized producers that make 'beverages' and get to call them wine, but the small artisanal producers. Wine is subjective... and hence we cannot attach these strict parameters that everyone continues to try and define.  What organic and biodynamic wine means to me and alike minds is often very different to what it means to many of the various certifying bodies in Italy and Europe.  The new EU standards for organic certified wines are a very far cry from what every single one of the organic producers I work with and know, have as their own parameters for sulfur used, and treatments allowed in the vineyard.  These laws were made by, and for, the large industrial estates who want to jump on the organic marketing band wagon.  What I love about natural wine is that we can't, nor (I hope) will we ever be able to put it in a nice neat box allowing someone with a clipboard and a fanny pack to come to our estates and decide if we are indeed making 'natural' wine or not.  It is and was a movement born from producers wanting to experiment with making wine in just that manner, as naturally as possible.  For most people, as well as producers, this means absolutely minuscule to zero sulfites ADDED to the wine (important differentiation as this does not apply to the already naturally occurring sulfites in the wine).  This being said, the natural wine movement is a philosophy and a way of thinking and a way of farming... so we can say, for these producers, a way of life.  Unfortunately the natural wine argument normally just talks about the sulfites, but for me the even more important fact is that I know that these producers that are making 'natural wines,' are not only farming organically and often biodynamically... they don't even need to be certified, or care to be, because the idea of poisoning their land with herbicides and pesticides, or over use of copper is a given, it doesn't need to be proven by a sticker or a emblem that just costs more money and causes more headaches.  I am not against certification of course, but for me just seeing the certification is not enough, I'll need to see the vineyards, taste the wine, and above all, get to know the artist making the wine.  Instead, if someone pours me a 'natural' wine, I can for the most part, rest assured that this producer is natural from the vines to the cellar.  Final clarification on natural wines... not all natural wines are good wines.  As always, the wine needs to make you want a second glass... it needs to be drinkable, and enjoyable, as well as be made with respect to the land and hence ourselves."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thoughts on Paying $175 for a Headache...

As I've written before, my mission is to convince people that it is just as important to drink 'organic' wines, and know where your wines come from as it is your food.  Shopping at Whole Foods, and drinking wine that is full of chemicals just doesn't make sense.   It's like going to whole foods and asking for the 'caged' meat section.

I am not ashamed to admit that, because of facility, we almost always drink Indie Wines at home.  If not 'Indies,' then wines of friends or wines gifted to us by winemaker friends... as in any industry, birds of a feather flock together.  Wine making and vine growing philosophies form friendships and circles that have rather heavily armed borders.

There is nothing better than drinking a wine of one of our friends to celebrate, or share with our dinner table... creating a new 'discovery' for our guests.  We'll then talk about that producer friend, Fabrizio will undoubtedly stand up and start telling some funny story that happened a million years ago, and it becomes almost as if that producer friend is with us at the table.  For our guests, it becomes almost as if they come to know that producer friend as well... drinking the wine they made, and listening to us giggle over stories of past encounters.

When we are at wine fairs, they are almost always 'natural' and small organic wine fairs, where I can count on the fact that the wines I am tasting are all made in the old style, aka 'organically,' (which as we know, is how all wines were once made - and had no 'title' or category), whether certified or not.

When we dine out, again, we'll order the wines of our friends, or wines that whom ever we're dining with recommends and want to share with us.  Or, we'll ask the advice of the wine director to recommend something within some given parameters.

I would never think to pigeon hole myself and my continuing exploration of the wine world by saying; "I only drink organic."  It feels wrong even writing that... it's like saying, "I only eat at Michelin star restaurants." Or; "I only eat Italian."  Well, maybe not exactly, but I think you all understand where I'm going.

However, after a recent experience... the reality of the importance of what our producers, and the producers of the same philosophy as ours are doing came crashing down.  Again.

Fabrizio and I went out to celebrate our recent engagement at a local enoteca, owned by a friend. He carries Fabrizio's wines, as well as the wines of many of our friends.  Fabrizio's Italian distributor, who also focuses on organic and biodynamic wines sells many of the wines from his portfolio to this wine bar as well.  We asked the owner to choose a Champagne, and I added; "a GOOD one," with a smile, which means - 'we're splurging.'

I will not disclose the producer, but we enjoyed every sip of the wine that evening.  In fact, I quickly looked it up to see if it was already being brought into the US.  Delicious, balanced, incredible acidity - fresh and bright.  It went down smoothly and easily.  We shared a few glasses with friends, so I'd say between Fabrizio and I we drank a little more than half the bottle (nothing for us :).

We went on to have dinner at another restaurant.  We each drank a glass of a local Grignolino, which we knew was farmed organically.  No after dinner drink, no coffee... went home and called it a night.

To explain the headache I had the next day is impossible with words.  Imagine a wood clamp on your head, all day, making reading, eating, walking, anything - painful.  Fabrizio was also eating Advil like they were potato chips - and he will never take anything.  Horrible.  Of course, we both knew right away it was the Champagne.  In fact, even thinking back on the label makes me wince in pain.  Sulfites, and everything-else-chemical that we're not used to drinking.

While I'd rather not suffer quite that terribly to have my little epiphanies, I'm glad to have had the reminder.  A few glasses of this wine and we were both devastated for a day... what about the earth these vines are growing on?  There can't be anything left alive in that soil with the amount of chemicals this estate is using (again, this is not fact, but my and Fabrizio's pretty educated opinions).  The vines are most likely essentially on life support... it being impossible for them to develop any immune system of their own with all the intervention and 'dumping' that must go on.

What about the families and children that live on or near this estate?  My mind goes on and on about the ramifications of all the irresponsible farming and wine making that is still going on (and not to even get started on the food industry).  With the obvious suffering of our mother earth, and the how angry the environment is, and not to mention what is happening to our health as a human race (cancer, infertility rates), and the other members of the animal kingdom we share the planet with, the bee's, the fish, and on and on and on, how the HELL are there still people out there that feel good and ok about dumping all of these chemical products on their land and their plants that they then eat and drink off of??

So, I retract my earlier statement that I would never pigeon hole myself into saying that; "I only drink organic."  I would like to get as close to that as possible... not everyone can be certified, and with the new EU Organic standards, certification doesn't make all that much difference anyway.  However, I can know where my wine comes from, who makes it - who imports it, and be an educated drinker.  I implore all of you to do the same, if you don't know the producer, know your importer, there are plenty of fantastic importers in the US now - lucky for us.  Period.  One of our most potent rights is to boycott and choose what we spend our money on.  Let's not spend it supporting the people polluting our earth, and hence ourselves.

The grand finale; the wine we drank, and that stole a day of our lives, costs $175 in NY.

Thanks but I'll take the  Pithon Paille Cremant de Loire for $40 ANYDAY, I don't care if CHAMPAGNE is not written on the label.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Frozen Baseball Insurance and January in August...

If a frozen baseball were to come crashing down from the sky and hit you on the head... what would you anticipate the damage to be? Maybe a big lump at best, stitches, concussion, or of course... worse case scenario; death by frozen baseball. Would you take out insurance if you knew that frozen baseballs only came flying down from the sky once every ten years?  This is the biggest risk for vignerons every year - hail storms (or for vines, the equivalent of frozen baseballs falling from the sky), and an assessment to make... to take or not to take hail insurance!

(this photo from local newspaper)

On August 3rd I woke up at 6AM, the weather was cool, and it was a perfect sunny day... I went for a run and on my way back extended my normal 'running route' to visit Fabrizio in the vineyard.  He was cleaning between the vines on the tractor, and had a huge smile on his face.  The vineyard was beautiful, the fruit as well... and he said, 'Ta-da, this is it for the season... I hope (no need to tantalize fate), no more treatments or vineyard work, this should do it... now we can just wait and watch the fruit ripen."  He had finished up all the work he wanted to in order for us to take a few days to go visit Martin Arndorfer in Austria, and Primoz in Slovenia.  We left beautiful vineyards, and what was shaping up to be a really nice vintage behind.

On Sunday August 5th, we were in the stunning vineyards of the Wachau, over looking the majestical Danube.  A sea of green, healthy beautiful vines, gorgeous fruit... and we were all commenting on what looked like to be an incredible vintage for this region of Austria (together with the Kamptal where Martin and Anna are).  Suddenly Fabrizio's phone started ringing off the hook... 

At around 6:30pm that day, Monferrato saw one of the worst hail storms anyone (still alive) in the region can remember.  The hail in our little village of Montaldo (pop:100 people, on a good day) lasted only 6 minutes, but it was enough to bring down parts of walls, put dents in cars, take out antennas, roof tiles, and scare the living sh** out of everyone.  Fabrizio on the phone was almost like watching someone get that horrible news that you are always afraid of when you see someones face fall from the words on the other end of the line. 

(Montaldo, our town)

We were with our good friends, and his Italian distributor and his wife, as well as Martin and Anna; so they all knew the gravity of the situation... and what 6 minutes of hail could mean.  We went from being tourists on vacation, to a quickly somber and respectfully quite mood, spending the rest of the evening rather solemnly.  There was however nothing we could do until we got home, assessed, and waited 10 days or so for the vines to 'dry out,' and heal a bit.   

Among all the phone calls coming in, we got a call from a friend that was staying at the house where the Nebbiolo vineyard is, and he told us he was stranded... the hail broke the windshield of his car, completely smashed, pieces of glass had fallen INTO his car, and there were even holes in the roof of the car... there was clearly no electricity, and needless to say... no words were even necessary for the vineyard situation, it was understood.  It looks like it does in January before the pruning... not only in the vineyard, but in the surrounding hills as well.  From green to brown in 6 minutes.

In a few towns over, hit equally as hard, people were sent to the hospital with wounds requiring up to 7 stitches... a few animals were lost, and lots and lots and lots of work for roofers!!

(Nebbiolo vineyard 4 days after the hail storm... not a leaf spared - not to mention a grape)
(Same vineyard last year at the same time)

Fortunately our Barbera and Pinot vineyards were spared in comparison.  We think we lost about 20%-30% of the fruit, but we were lucky none the less that even only a few kilometers away, the hail was slightly less severe.  

I don't need to wax poetic about the work that goes into a growing season, the nurturing, and constant attention needed for not just vines, but all crops.  You all know.  However, the sadness that only 6 minutes can ruin a years worth of work is just devastating.

Insurance?  Ha.  I am not sure how insurance works for the farmers of corn, wheat, alfalfa, sunflowers, poplars, and all the other crops grown in our area, but a large chunk of them lost 100% of their production, and unlike in wine, they do not have 'other vintages' to sell.  They can not spread out the loss over the next few years selling, 'back vintage corn'.  These guys have lost an entire years income, and I just hope that the insurance they have for weather damage is different then ours.  I know one town delcared a state of emergency, so hopefully that will help release some governmental funds (again, ha ha, that is summer being incredibly optimistic and/or naive :).

For vines, the 'hail insurance' pays the producer a PERCENTAGE of the market value of the fruit... not  the wine, and certainly not the finished product in bottle.  So what does this mean?  You pay a ridiculous amount each year for hail insurance.  Normal hail happens once every ten years or so, and serious hail like this... we hope only once every 50 years or so.  Pretty easy to do the math, regardless of insurance, we end up loosing not only our crops, but also more money.  Yes folks, another racket.

On a final note, Fabrizio always recounts the fact that in the 1960's, Monferrato saw three years of consecutive hail right before harvest, and the farmers couldn't afford to go on after loosing three years income, and so almost all of the vineyards were abandoned as folks moved to Torino to work for Fiat.  Leaving the land to work in a factory.  We hence feel very lucky to have the Barabba vineyard from 1935, as vineyards of that age are almost inexistent due to abandonment of the country side.  When he tells the story, we are usually in the vineyard itself, and without fail, everytime I think, "how could you leave this, regardless, I would never give this up... no silly hail could force me to abandon this!"

I still feel that way... but I must say, I feel closer to those that worked this land before us, and feel their sadness.   

What can we/you do?  Open a bottle of Iuli, or any Indie wine, and enjoy it... and appreciate even more what goes into it all - and the risks involved with being a producer and farmer.  Each bottle is a labor of love, art and passion - otherwise it would take only one frozen baseball storm to scare us away!

So there... a little lesson and story about hail for those of you that didn't know!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From Dolia to Fusti; Indie Wine in N2 Kegs...

Wine in kegs is a hot topic in the US right now, and there are two very clear sides and lines. Personally, traveling and living in Europe since 1998, I am captain of the cheerleading squad for wine on tap (insert high jump and pom pom wave here), finally!  Typically American, what many fail to recognize is that this is NOT a new concept, and something that is simply a new concept in our country.  Being a primarily beer culture until quite recently, we associate taps with 'pub's' and cheap pitchers of beer flavored water, and I think this is the problem a lot of the 'haters' are having with wine on tap.  In Italy, almost 100% of the tap systems will have both wine and beer, and this is how it has always been.  What is new about this concept is using quality wine, sourcing from top producers, and using top of the line systems to pour the wine out of put together by trained professionals.  Wine on tap will never replace 'bottles', it's ridiculous for people to even mention this absurdity, what it does is offer both the consumer AS WELL AS the producer a new opportunity in the US wine market.

In Europe wine has been sold as 'sfuso' or 'in bulk' for as long as wine has been produced.  The Romans even had two 'tiers' of wine.  As soon as the wine became 'limpido,' or 'clear,' it was sold directly from the 'dolia' or amphora buried in the ground, and then the higher quality wine was racked into another, above ground amphora container and sold directly in the amphora itself.  Then, before being sold in 750ml bottles, wine was sold in 'damigiana' or large glass and straw containers of varying sizes, from 5 to 54 liters.  Trattoria's, cafe's and bars have all been serving wine on tap out of 'fusti' or kegs, for 80+ years in Europe, and in fact, at one time it was the only way wine was served in most places, by the carafe.  The wine list as we know it today is a recent addition in Italy.

All quality estates have wine that does not 'make the cut.' Possibly it comes from young and new vineyards still not mature enough to produce bottle quality wine, 2, 3 or 4 years old (sadly, some estates do put this juice in bottle... and then call it quality, but that is another blog :). Some estates have wine produced intentionally to sell in bulk.  There are a number of factors that lead to certain 'tanks' being destined for  'sfuso' rather than bottling.  This will change vintage by vintage, and estate by estate, but finally being able to get our hands on some of these 'seconds' for the US market is a dream come true for me.

In 2005 I worked at Felsina in Tuscany.  On one of my first days I saw a building near the cellar with a line of locals outside, all holding different sized and shaped containers.  I was totally confused... some of the containers were so large I couldn't understand what they would be buying.  When it was explained that they were buying Felsina wine in 'bulk'; white or red and there was even 'sfuso' olive oil, I had a full on dropped jaw.  I couldn't believe it, was overcome by excitement at this discovery, which was followed immediately by a veil of disappointment that this was an opportunity only available in Europe.  Buying great wine in bulk for a few bucks a liter seemed too good to be true.  This is possibly when I really first fell in love with Europe... needless to say, while living at Felsina, I don't even want to know how many liters of that 'sfuso' I consumed, sorry liver.

The first person to start talking to me about 'wine on tap' in the US was my long time friend and maestro, Paulo Villela from the Bohlsen restaurants on Long Island.  He was one of the NY pioneers to get the system set up in their restaurant, 'Verace' on Long Island:, and he opened the concept and restaurant in 2009 with Barbera, yes - you guessed it, Iuli Barbera.  Fast forward to the summer of 2010, I meet Bobby Stucky and Lachlan Patterson of Frasca restaurant here at Iuli in Piedmont.  Lachlan was looking to do wine on tap at their new place in Boulder, Pizzeria Locale, and so we worked out getting them some of the Iuli Barbera and San Lorenzo Verdicchio:  Lachlan and Bobby introduced me to Jim Neal who was doing the kegging for them in California: .

Thanks to Jim Neal's innovation with the kegging of the wine from these bulk totes, to top quality stainless steel kegs, the tap system itself in the restaurants, and passion and dedication to the project, this little personal 'dream' of my own to bring quality Italian bulk wine to the market has finally come true!  Here is a great piece recently written on the subject, mentioning Jim Neal from Wine Spectator:

I have worked personally with a selected few of our estates to choose the 'sfuso' to send to the US.  In order to save costs (it costs money to register wine under an appellation, the DOC, DOCG, AOC, ect., every single bottle with those letters on it comes with a cost), and by most European wine laws, the wine being shipped in these 1,000L totes must be declassified as VdT, or table wine, which as we know cannot have a vintage or grape variety on the 'label'.  However, our Indie producers that are part of the project are all proud to attach their names to this wine in order to guarantee to you that the wine you are drinking is in fact exactly what we have listed it as - and the 'seconds' to their bottled products we all love and drink every day.

Before this project and collaboration with Jim Neal, a lot of this 'sfuso' from these producers was sadly just sold to the local cooperatives, to be blended in with other wine.  This 'sfuso,' when coming from the Indie producers, is almost always made from the very same certified organic vineyards that make the bottled goods you are all familiar with.  This opportunity for them to sell it instead to Jim for kegging in the US is exciting for us all, and we all hope that you will enjoy experiencing a little bit of the 'trattoria' feel in your own favorite local spots that have jumped on board with this old Italian tradition.

For more technical information, photos of places across the country that have 'tapped up' with Jim Neal and Indie juice, or a presentation on the N2 system, please just write to us!!

Cheers :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Natural Wine: Know Your Palate, Not the 'Fad'....

The problem with 'fads' is probably less than half of the 'fad followers' actually really believe in, like or understand the fad itself.  The majority of these 'fad followers' are just that, followers, and are the entire reason that whatever the subject or item is, is only a 'fad'.  The followers will loose interest, forget, move on to the next thing, ect., and so on.  This leaves the rest of us that were probably the ones that 'started' the fad in the first place, frustrated and scratching our heads.

What am I referring to?  Yes, Natural wine.  I know, I know, the internet is spilling over with blogs, articles, opinions, arguments, debates, celebrations and praises on the subject, but after the wine fairs this year in Verona I had for the first time an incredible urge to put my 2 cents in.  I heard just too much bull**** to not write.

The 'fad followers' I'm referring to in the first paragraph are hearing and reading about 'natural wine', 'organic wine', and 'biodynamic' wine.  They are seeing it more and more present in the market, they are hearing in their shops and restaurants more and more requests for this 'natural wine' stuff.  So, like good bloggers, buyers, sommeliers, and collectors, they are going out and tasting it, trying it, and talking and writing about it.

The truthnatural wine is not for everyone.  Some of these fad followers are trying natural wine and having their entire wine-geekdom-world shift, and that is what happened to me personally, becoming believers and not just followers.  Others want their worlds to have shifted... but they didn't, and so they 'fake it', or keep trying.  If you grew up drinking coca-cola, and you are still drinking and enjoying it, you are not going to all of a sudden start drinking wheat grass and loving that instead.  This is not an insult, just a fact, and a matter of what you and your palate is used to.

I am a full believer in the shift that has taken place in the wine world, the step backwards that many producers all over Europe are taking.  A return to traditional methods; cement, amphora, natural fermentation, following moon cycles, no pesticides or herbicides.  None of these things are new, and were never a category of wine making (which they fall into now), but instead, simply how wine was made, period.  I hope that all wine production (and food production... but that is another subject) moves in this same direction, whether 100, 100 thousand, or 1 million bottles are produced.  Hopefully this shift will also help the 'coca-cola' palates to evolve into wheat grass lovers as well.

Back to the reason I am writing this little piece in the first place.  I can't even count how many times I've had buyers tell me they are into natural wines/organic wines, just to start listing all the 'defects' they have found in the wines I've brought in my bag.  Not only are the so called defects they are finding not defects, but they are confusing brett for VA and VA for brett.  Oxidation for a wine being 'corked', and so on.  The buyers are insecure, they don't understand the wine, and possibly, they just don't like it.  This is fine, however I would like to just clear up a few simple points:

  • There is a small amount of brett in all natural wines... otherwise they would not be natural wines, the amount can reach levels where it becomes a defect, but in 9 cases out of 10 it is not a defect but a part of the wine's character, adds nuances and another level of complexity. By definition, brett is known, in small amounts, to improve red wine complexity. 
  • Reduction; again, not always a defect.  In fact, many producers want their wines to go into reduction while they are in barrel or tank before they are racked and oxygenated.  This adds (yes again) character, nuances and another level of complexity.  
  • Volatile acid is not a defect.  Once again, when reaching certain levels can take away and cover up some of the other aromas in the wine making it more of a defect than an attribute.  However, living at the Iuli estate - where we love acid, the slight VA Fabrizio has in all of his wines are what make them so unique and for me, one of a kind Barbera's.  Let's remember that tannin and acid are what give's wine longevity... and again VA adds character, nuances and another level of complexity.  
  • Oxidation is a tool that every single producer plays with... whether raising the wines in steel tank and bottling with synthetic corks not allowing any, to working in Amphora and oxidizing completely the wines.  I have my own level of oxidation on wines where it goes from pleasant and interesting, to over the top, rendering the wine no longer enjoyable for me to drink and instead purely academic.  This depends on the individual pallet.  Oxidation will also add: character, nuances and another level of complexity (are you noticing the theme yet)...
  • Sediment: NOT A PROBLEM!  As defined by Jancis Robinson, "Basically, filtration speeds the wine-making process and allows better control, thereby lowering production costs"and, "Filtration is a physical alternative to natural settling and requires more expensive equipment but much less patience."  These two quotes say it all for me, reiterating everything I personally believe in and preach in wine.  Slower is better, natural is better, traditional is better... keeping these particles and the sediment in the wine, for every single wine maker I've asked adds: character, nuances and another level of complexity.  
  • Vintage and bottle variance.  Really, I shouldn't even be dumbing down this list by taking the time to list something so obvious, but just incase; yes, in natural wine, there is an incredible vintage variance... because, yes, every vintage is different.  Moreover, not every vintage will be produced - if mother nature decides not to cooperate, there is no fighting against her.  This is also true for every bottle... again, a living breathing product, not a beverage, not stabilized, over filtered and fined, and so each bottle will be slightly different.
  • A science lab and sterilized cellar does not make natural wines.  The yeasts that live all around, on the grapes, in the cellar, and even on us are what make the magic happen and all part of what 'terror' is.  Terrior is not only defined by the actual soil that the vines grow in, but the energy and life all around the vine and wine.  This can not exist in a sterile environment.  Terrior driven wines can not exist in a sterile environment.  Using a lab to analyze and 'adjust' a wine does not make a 'wine' but instead a 'beverage'.  Natural wines are not 'made', but instead they are created and born from vines that are cared for by a vigneron.  Everything in the cellar happens naturally...with some care and direction.
Basically it comes down to whether you want a beverage, or wine.  It depends on if you want to taste where your wine has come from, who made it, and when and how it was raised.  

If you want a so called 'investment banker' wine; that perfectly tailored suit that will fit perfectly every day, with not a thread or seam out of place, then you do not want a natural wine.  If you instead want to be surprised, impressed, confused and thoughtful every time you open a bottle, then yes, natural wine is most likely for you.

If you take the time to buy organic foods, clothing, products, and free range meats, then natural wines are for you.  If responsibility for our land, our children and ourselves is important to you, then natural wines are for you.

So please, I beg all of you out there that are following to the fad, but do not really enjoy the natural wines, to just come to terms with that.  Do not continue to pick out all of characteristics of these wines that make them interesting and unique, that keep us talking and learning, and that maybe confuse you, calling them 'defect's.'  I ask you instead to take a minute to think about the word defect.  It's definition is, "a shortcoming, fault or imperfection."  Friends and fellow wine lovers and wine makers... let's let this idea of a 'perfect wine' go, and instead keep enjoying what nature gives us each and every year - and get excited to keep learning from the wisest of us all, Mother Nature.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Salami

I know I know, I still owe you 'The Harvest Part Deux,' but Thanksgiving in Montaldo this year was just too good to not share.  It really does not have much to do with wine other than the fact that I drank a lot of it.  Bare with me as I try to make this super long day short and sweet and 'blog-ish' for your reading pleasure...

I started Thanksgiving menu planning, preparations and shopping all the day of.  I headed down at 11:30 to our little village to hit the three stores, vegetable store, bread store and everything else store.  At the vegetable store we started off strong, parsley - check, celery - check, onions - check, carrots - check, sweet potatoes - not so much.  I eye a basket holding what looks like sweet potatoes, but as I glance down at the little sign I see that they are not labeled 'patate dolce (sweet potatoes)' but instead 'americane'.

No s***, they call sweet potatoes 'American's'.  I laugh out loud by myself (a common occurrence with me on my misadventures in this small little town).  As I walked over to pay, my trusted vegetable guy (whom I adore and who special orders me avocado's so I can get my fix) is looking worried and skeptical because he heard me laughing, alone, with his potatoes.  As he's tallying me up he grabs one of the little Americans and explains to me that they're sweet... but sometimes people do buy them, not him, but the foreigners.  Clearly.  I assured him I was not laughing at his Americans, but instead at the name as we call them something else.  Clearly.

Next stop is the bread store.  I walk in and start pointing to the loaves I want, and as the bread lady (who I like, but is not quite as friendly and flirtatious with me as the vegetable man) gives me a disappointed look.
"Why didn't you call to reserve the bread if you needed this much?"
This is a battle that I fight weekly on principal.  I have enough going on, and one of my jobs is not making bread, instead her only job is to make bread.  So make it, try not to run out, and don't make me add to my 'to do' list 'bread reservations,' it's hard enough to remember restaurant reservations, let alone BREAD reservations!
I say my usual "ooooh, so sorry, totally forgot."

Final stop, the everything else store to pick up the bird.  I had asked my favorite butcher in all the land, that works at the everything else store, the week before if they ever carried Turkey's.  He said, "of course not, but I can order you one, how big?"  He is one of the few Italians left that still loves America, and loves to talk about it, and hence was clearly informed that Thanksgiving was coming up and I didn't have to answer any questions about why one would buy a Turkey.

When I made my way back to the store he got a huge smile on his face when he saw me, and ran to the back leaving the poor little boring lady he was waiting on mid-sentence (she was probably explaining how her mom used to make pork chops, and how she doesn't do it like that, but she has a cousin that does, and her niece doesn't like it, but her cat's husband does... ect., ect.), the little old Italian ladies love to talk.

My trusted butcher came back with my bird in hand, and a proud smile on his face for the fact that he remembered to order the bird, handed it to me, and wished me a happy Thanksgiving.  Love that guy.  I inquired (despite little boring lady glaring at me) if anyone else had bought a Turkey that day... just out of curiosity.  No.  One guy had the day before, "some American guy, and he wanted the biggest one I could get him!"  Of course he did, being the good American, bigger is better right!

This was not my first Thanksgiving in Italy, but it was the first year I decided to celebrate it here.  Hence it was the first time I experienced what it feels like to be a foreigner and have an entire country ignore 'your' holiday.  Growing up an American in America we of course are taught that there are other holidays in other cultures that we need to recognize as we have lots of people from those cultures living amongst us.  However, as they always say, you just can't really understand the sensation until you've 'walked in another mans shoes'.  I got it, and it kinda sucks.  You just want to yell, "HEY, HAPPY THANKSGIVING A**H*****," at the top of your lungs, in a big crowd, to get some attention and recognition.  Good thing there are no big crowds where I live.

I get home at 12:30 and start chopping, and prepping.  Cooking is therapeutic for me, and pulls me out of the emailskypetextiphone frenzy that has become my work day.  I start off with the 'singer songwriter' category on my iTunes.  Relaxing, nice.  Water drinking for now.

By 3:00, when I finished making the homemade croutons and stuffing (no Peppridge Farms pre-bagged stuffing here, or even croutons for that matter) the 'singer songwriter' music wasn't doing it for me anymore and I switched over to some Citizen Cope (my go-to cooking jams), which leads me to my first glass of wine.  Here is the part where wine comes in.  Poggio Trevvalle Rosato.  Cold, pink, and delicious, perfectly hit the spot.  MMMMMM, I say out loud, alone with my croutons.

At 4:00 I unwrapped the bird.  I decided she was a 'female,' I have no evidence to prove this, but apparently according to google we generally only eat the females.  I plucked the few feathers she still had on her, cleaned her out, stuffed her, tied her up and smeared her with herbed butter.  Herbs from my garden, butter from the farm at the bottom of the hill. She was all dressed up and ready for her party.

At 6:40 I need more from iTunes, I change the genre to rock, and 'Fat Bottomed Girls' comes on.  Mind you at this point I have been cooking since 12:30, alone, and I'm starting to get a little delirious (or maybe I was just getting drunk). Thank you iTunes genie, and thank you Queen!  I shaved the Brussels sprouts, and peeled the Americans.  THEY WERE NOT ORANGE INSIDE!  I didn't have time for this mystery, I guessed they were yams or something.  Not even sure there is a difference... other than I think you only 'candy' yams.  Whatever.  More wine please.

I cook the Brussels sprouts in a pan I had just cooked pancetta in and then added caramelized shallots and finished them with toasted hazelnuts - the hazelnuts were the only 'touch of Piedmont' I added to the entire meal. Finally, I boiled the Americans.

At 8:00 Fabrizio's family and Valeria arrived along with two other close friends.  Fabrizio's mother came into the kitchen to give the scene a once over.  At this point I was opening a bottle of Iuli Nino, and switched the music to Reggae, needed to be in a peaceful place now that I was no longer rocking out alone with my bird and the Americans in the kitchen.

The bird was beautiful, she was absolutely perfect I thought, but I guess 'mothers' always think that!  I basted the hell out of her with her own juices as well as plenty of wine and vegetable broth during her stay in my oven.

I asked Fabrizio's mom to do the honor and handed her the knife and mini pitch fork thingy.

As I uncovered the stuffing I had in a pan she leaned over and asked if the stuffing was a soup!!  I am not sure what to say here.  There was no liquid.  It looked like lots of bread broken up into pieces with herbs with a crispy top.  It looked like STUFFING, not soup!

Now, Fabrizio's mom is a renowned (retired) chef in the area, and had a restaurant in the town for 50 years, but this was her first carving of a Turkey (and apparently the first time she had seen stuffing)!  As she went at my girl with the big knife she went to the neck and was about to cut her in the wrong direction, crosshatch if you will, when I yelled, "Noooooooooooo!!!!"

Sometimes when I'm panicked my Italian falls short, and that was all I could get out.  She jumped and looked confused.

She apologized and said she had never cooked a Turkey, let alone carve one.  I drank more Nino, laughed and showed her how to go at it, and concentrated on making my mom's famous gravy.  The most important piece of the meal.  Fabrizio's 6 year old nephew watched in wonderment as the 'soup' fell out of the big weird 'Chicken' that his Nonna was painstakingly carving.  I explained that it was called stuffing, and he was going to love it, and that it was a turkey and not a chicken.

Our Valeria had spent a few years in America, so she finished up the Americans for me mashing with butter and milk and adding S&P, she knew what was up, I can always count on Valeria!  I then went into my pantry, back row, and pulled out a can that had been resting in it's place for two years, dusted her off, and proudly showed my cranberry sauce to Valeria. Vale smiled devilishly, knowing I was at this point looking for shock factor.  No cranberry sauce in Italy.  A friend had sent this as a joke a few years ago when I told her about the things you couldn't get in Italy.  Now was finally the little can's moment to shine!!

I opened two bottles of Le Due Terre Merlot and we sat down.

Fabrizo's father, Renzo, doesn't believe there is any other food that is edible in the world other than Piemontese fare.  Renzo one time told his family he was 'risking death' by eating yogurt that a doctor ordered him to have for breakfast on a special diet.  He also eats chicken livers, pig feet, brain, intestine, and 'head', but mention 'Dannon yogurt' and he get's nauseous.

This was the moment I was most nervous and excited for all at once, Renzo at Thanksgiving.

I watched him closely as each dish was passed to him.  He looked disgustedly at each dish, passed it on to his wife without taking any, and then scowled at her as she served herself and then put some of each dish on his plate as well.  He was somewhat patiently waiting for the salami to arrive.  He took a few small bites of each thing, mumbled something angrily in dialect to Fabrizio's mother, and then put his fork down.  He reached for the Le Due Terre.  Even though it was not from Piedmont, it was red and Italian, and a relief and comforting to him in lieu of what was going on in front of him on his dinner plate.  Dinner was normally his favorite moment of the day.

I grabbed some salami from the fridge, and asked if he wanted me to make him some pasta.  He declined, drank wine, ate bread and salami and pouted.

The rest of the crowd, while somewhat confused and at the same time interested, was for the most part pleased with the meal.

Here is Fabrizio's sister trying to convince her son to just TRY the Turkey, Fabrizio's mother standing up still trying to figure out what the weird 'soup' was that we were calling stuffing, and best of all, Renzo in the back at the head of the table, pouting.

In the end I was happy and thankful.  It tasted like Thanksgiving, I finally got to use my aged cranberry sauce that was taking up valuable real estate in my pantry and I had successfully completed my first solo T-day flight.

Here is a quick reference list to sum up why Thanksgiving doesn't work in Italy... yes, I guess I could have just 'blogged' this at the beginning, but then you would never have read the long version!

  • They don't eat turkey here, "it doesn't taste like anything," and don't understand why anyone would eat turkey when you can eat the pig
  • There are no cranberries in Italy
  • There is no such thing as croutons to make stuffing 
  • There is no such thing as gravy
  • It is a meal without pasta
  • It is a meal without salami (well, in most cases)
  • They don't have orange 'Americans'
However, the most barbaric part to the Italians is that we put everything on our plate at once, and all the foods touch, and are mixed up.  I didn't even dare tell them about the day after thanksgiving sandwich tradition!!

Once again I pleaded guilty, I am just an American (or I guess you can say, 'just a Yam')!