Monday, August 29, 2011

Bringing 'Baby' Home a Week Early: Nino is in the House!!

The cellar, tanks, crates, tractors, pumps, hoses, de-stemmer, pruning shears, gloves, teams of pickers... all part of the preperation for harvest.  Then, there is the mental preparation that the 'big show' is about to start... and the next two months are the cumulation of a years work all concentrated in anywhere from 4-8 weeks.  This means cooking meals for teams of 12-20, little sleep, Fabrizio being somewhat 'out of his mind,' and basically 'back to bedlam,' as sexy James Blunt says.

This year she snuck up on us, we barely had time to get the cellar ready before this relentless dry heat and sunshine required us to bring the Pinot Nero in... let alone wrap our heads around the fact that it was already harvest time!  Fabrizio didn't even have time to do an chemical analysis on the grapes (not that he usually does anyway), he just took one taste and look and said, "in they go!"

Nino, planted in '99 on the north side of the estate, at about 300m, with the Alps in the background...killer real esate!!

Unfortunately we were hit with hail in July, and while our Barbera vineyards weren't affected, Nino did not fare as well.  So, in combination with the hot weather, low yield and being already our earliest maturing variety, 2011 will be a record setter on two fronts;

Date of Pinot harvest: 8/29/2011
Total picking time: 1 hectare, 11 pickers, 2.5 hours 

The march down... (it's steeper than it looks)

The Cast: 5 Moldavians, 2 Americans, 6 Italians
(I think the Americans and Moldavians helped with the record setting)!

The 'Babies'... "Nino" (for those of you that I haven't told yet) means baby in Piemontese dialect

This was a lot more painful than it looks... the little bastard skeeters don't photograph well!

We were so busy getting the cellar, and everything else ready this weekend, that we forgot the bug spray.  It got ugly out there, and the mosquitos definitely won this battle... but we'll be ready and armed for when we are knee deep in the Barbera trenches!

At 9:30AM we were back at the ranch sipping coffee, covered in battle wounds from the 'skeeters', but barely warmed up by the AM sun.

We'll have a little break, maybe 10 days to two weeks before the Barbera is ready... so even though we weren't necessarily mentally ready for the anticipated picking, we'll have some time to prepare before the next round!

However party people, it's on... finally, HARVEST TIME!!!

To be continued....

Safe at home...

Monday, August 22, 2011

'La Conserva'; Tomato Sauce and Nebbiolo allocations...

August in Montaldo means many things; the calm before the storm in the vineyards, getting the cellar ready for the 'big show' (borrowing Kevin Costners famous line from Bull Durham), a layer of mosquitos that are of a special malevolent Piemontese breed, the sound, sight and smell of 'heat' omnipresent every day in everything you do (no AC in Montaldo folks)... and last but not least, a bright spot in the horizon, the month Fabrizio's mother makes, "La Conserva," that will get us through the rest of the year.

The heat...

The day was chosen, Friday the 19th, the tomato's were ordered, 50 Kilos, and the human sized pot was dragged out and dusted off from last years batch.  We hand cleaned the 50 Kilos of tomatoes one by one, basically polishing them with a damp cloth. They are the variety we call 'Roma' tomatoes in the US, but here are called 'perette' or 'little pear' tomatoes.  Mariuccia (Fabrizio's mother) uses these because they have the least amount of water concentration.  I then understood better why we were hand polishing each tomato rather than dumping them in a sink... just like cleaning mushrooms; water is the enemy.
Once shined up, we quartered them and threw them into the cauldron.

  Mariuccia teaching the next generation
Amanda, our 'Intern,' approximately half way through the 50 kilos...
(Note: Amanda is interning at Iuli for wine making, not pasta sauce making)

The cauldron was then put on it's on special burner set up outside, attached to a propane tank.  From that moment on it is all about stirring stirring stirring, keeping the buggers from sticking to the bottom. Then, as the tomatoes reduce, it's time to add, in no particular order:

2 Kilos of Carrots
1.5 Kilos of Celery
7-8 Onions
1 Bunch of Parsley
3-4 Heads of Garlic, Peeled, Whole Cloves

Stir some more...

The adding of the parsley... a big moment!

The pot started cooking at around 10:30 in the AM, we pulled it off around 5:30.  Always stirring.

Once pulled off Mariuccia added sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.  After letting it cool about 1 hour, we started ladling the mixture into the 'passavedure' or food mills.  We then manually turned and turned, cranked and cranked, grinding the 'soup' together and leaving the skins, seeds and stems out, and leaving with us a velvety, scrumptious, tomato sauce. The final step was jarring.

I asked Mariuccia if she had altered the recipe at all in all of her years, and she said, 'nooohhh,' with a touch of 'why would you ask such a question' in her eyes and smile.  She then said, I've been doing this same sauce for 56 years, at least once every year, starting when I was a young girl and had to help my mom...

"It's good, simple, why would you change it?" 

There is so much wisdom in that response, I had to laugh at my own question, and tell her she was absolutely right, and that I wouldn't change it either :).

The entire project lasted a full day, we took a break around 11:00 for bread and salami (obviously) and a quick glass of fresh white wine to wash it down, then we all ate lunch together at 1:00, a little break after lunch, and finished up that evening.  The jarring was done after dinner.  With 50 Kilos of tomatoes we ended up with only 30 jars of 'la conserva' to last two families all year long.  This allocation of 15 jars made me nervous, and got me to thinking about 'allocations'.

In thinking about allocating out these 15 jars of la conserva for the rest of the year, I started thinking about allocations in wine.  We recently had to start allocating out the Bocchino's entry level Nebbiolo, 'Roccabella'.  We started with the 2008 vintage, and there were 500 cases.  They sold out in 8 months, and it was the first vintage ever produced of this label.  The wine took off this winter, and before we knew it there was 30 cases left, and all of our distributors and NY clients were writing emails and calling wanting 100+ cases more, as the wine in a matter of months had been placed in restaurants by the glass across the country.  We quickly shipped the 2009, of which there was a little more... 700 cases, and we are already half way through that in 2-3 months.

It is our number one selling wine, and the reason for that is easy; It's good, simple, and he is not trying to 'change' it (sound familiar).  It is pure Nebbiolo from a place, no bells or whistles, made by two people that know Nebbiolo almost as well as Mariuccia knows her 'conserva'.  It is priced fairly, so that everyone can enjoy it.

The tricky part is making enough that everyone get's some, and can have a good run with it, enjoy it, and then if they have to wait a month or two until the next vintage comes in ... well, we think that's ok, and will make it taste that much better when it does come back.  We eat seasonally, and why wouldn't we also drink seasonally!

We've allocated the 2009 out between our distributors across the county as well as in NY/NJ, and so just like we know we have only 30 jars of la conserva to get us through the winter, these guys know how much Roccabella they have to get them through the winter as well.

If there were endless supplies of Roccabella and La Conserva, they would be found on grocery store shelves, and discount stores, and not, instead, just in our own private cellars.