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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)