Produttori-Care: The Public Option
After 4 days of intensive Barbera tasting, winery visits and Grissini belly stuffings the Barbera 7 experiences a nebbiolo fairytale visiting the ancient villages of Barbaresco and Neive, tasting at the Gaja, Produttori del Barbaresco and Bruno Giacosa wineries.
For yours yours truly the highlight of the day was our visit to Produttori Del Barbaresco lying underneath the great Barbaresco tower. We were greeted by Aldo Vacca, President and winemaker.
Produttori Del Barbaresco is a cooperative winemaking company founded by in 1958 by the Barbaresco village priest in an effort to help his flock still struggling in the wake of WWII. 19 growers pooled their grapes and began making wine in the church basement, located across the street from the current facility. The focus was and is exclusively on the Nebbiolo grape. It was and still is difficult for the small farmer to reach out to the greater world and make an impact in the market. This cooperative, one of the greatest in the world, solved this problem. Growers then, as they do today, bring their grapes to the winery where they sell the grapes and share in the profit from the growing fame and resources of the venture. Aldo, perhaps the greatest wine educator I have encountered, explained to us in detail how the cooperative works and maintains such a high level of quality.
A grower within the cooperative brings his grape to market at the point of peak ripeness in September/early october taking into account potentially damaging inclimate weather. The grapes are weighed and computer tested for several elements that determine the grape’s value, including sugar level and polyphenols. Unlike a place like Napa where high sugar levels are a problem, the opposite is the case in Barbaresco’s slower ripening climate, You want proof of climate change, just talk to a grower of Nebbiolo that has seen alcohol degrees rise steadily over the past 20 years. The value of the grape is determined by these measured levels and the monetary range is quite wide, from 3-5 Euros per pound. This reward system gives growers a great incentive to do right in the vineyards and produce the best fruit possible, which for a traditionally made wine is most of the battle.
The grapes are weighed and valued in the town square just 100 feet from the tower, then destemmed, crushed and pumped down into the basement of the facility where fermentation and aging takes place. The facility is a no-nonsense operation and technology is kept to an absolute minimum. No small oak barrels or “barrique” just stainless steel, huge cement vats and large Slovenian oak casks known as Botti. The trademarks of Produttori is their traditional winemaking technique that brilliantly display the differences between growing sites and vintage.
There is a saying that goes to the effect: Angelo Gaja that made the world know Barbaresco but it was Produttori that made the world drink it. Barbaresco is not typically a very affordable bottle, but Produttori’s prices have always been astonishingly reasonable. Aldo’s answer to why this is the case was very clear and I should note was told with great respect to his industry peers, especially his former employer of 5 years, Mr. Gaja. Some winemakers can choose to hold back wines if they don’t sell during bad economic conditions. The lean running, profit sharing cooperative doesn’t have this luxury and needs steady funds to pay growers for the next harvest.
Great use of the Fast nickel, Slow dime concept.
Aldo along with his right hand man Luca led us to a modest tasting room with walls lined with arial photographs of all of the growing sites. What really caught my eye was the lineup of all 9 PDB Barbaresco crus from 2005 waiting to be tasted! I’ve had the crus before but never all at once.
Aldo tasted us through all nine while circling the room showing us how different exposures to sun, soil type and the adjacent Tanaro River create vastly different bottlings. My personal favorite was thePaje that was drinking beautifully already.
David Rosoff told me the other night at Mozza that Aldo Vacca taught him more about Barbaresco in 20 minutes than he had learned in his entire life. For David, thats probably a bit of an exaggeration but in my case is was too true.