Rutherford and Beaulieu Vineyards: “Beautiful Place”

Andre Tchelistcheff

André Tchelistcheff

Shortly after joining Beaulieu Vineyard in 1938, Russian-born/French-trained head winemaker André Tchelistcheff was heard to say that no wine from this prime slice of Napa Valley could be considered great unless it had a touch of “Rutherford dust.” Tchelistcheff went on to make wine at BV for 35 years, trained and influenced multiple generations of Napa winemakers, and earned the titles “Dean of American Wine” and “Maestro” from his disciples and peers. But few things he did or said have provoked as much discussion or confusion as Rutherford dust.

Start with the basics. Brothers Georges and Fernande de Latour arrived in Napa Valley in 1903 in search of a vineyard. When they reached the prune and apple orchards around the tiny village of Rutherford, Fernande exclaimed “beau lieu!” – beautiful place. They purchased a small ranch, adopted Beaulieu as the name for their new vineyard, and set about assembling what would reach 500 acres of land on and around what came to be called the Rutherford bench.

Rutherford lies in the middle of the Valley as it runs south to north, far enough south to benefit from cool maritime air at night but far enough north to get plenty of heat and sunshine. It’s at the widest part of the Valley, so it gets more hours of sun each day than vineyards more shaded by the mountains to east and west.

Rutherford BenchAnd, importantly, its vineyards are planted on free-draining, alluvial soils – a deep blend of gravel, sand, silt and clay that rests on the rocky base of the old Napa River. Some argue that the best of these soils run on a slight rise from Oakville to St. Helena and call them the Rutherford Bench. Others say that the only Rutherford Bench is the one you can sit on in front of the Oakville General Store. In any event, these dry, loose, often wind-blown (and, thus, dusty) soils are a fantastic place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon

What Is Rutherford Dust? Ask most Napa winemakers to describe “Rutherford dust,” and many talk about things like minerality (a kind of stony/chalky note), or a ground spice character that many liken to just-grated allspice. And, even more will call out how Rutherford Cabernet – especially lower alcohol wines from times before the current emphasis on super-ripeness – leave behind tannins so firm and fine that they remind you of cocoa powder – or the finest of wind blown dust.

As it happens, you’ll find those cocoa powder tannins – fine, dusty, and so ripe they melt away easily – in both of today’s Beaulieu wines along with a dash of minerality and even a little grated allspice (in the Georges de Latour, anyway). But, dusty tannins weren’t actually what Tchelistcheff meant.

Having trained in France and drunk the greatest wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond, Tchelistcheff believed that the first duty of every great wine was to represent the place where it was grown. And, for Rutherford wines, that meant showing the tantalizing balance between warm, even hot, days and cool, foggy, nights. It meant showing fine ripeness of fruit and a touch of fresh herb, but neither the stewy, roasted flavors of hotter vineyards up-Valley or the colder regions to the south. And, because Tchelistcheff believed Rutherford was a great Cabernet vineyard, it meant that any wine wanting to claim “Rutherford” on the label had to be great, too.

In trying to say all of that, he drew on the most distinctive element of 1930s Rutherford: the fine, reddish, dust that blew up off the vineyards and got onto and into everything (hopefully not including the wine!).

Beaulieu VineyardBeaulieu is Back! After establishing Rutherford as a great Napa Cab site and joining Louis Martini, Inglenook and Charles Krug as a America’s foremost wineries from the end of Prohibition – the 1970s, BV’s quality sagged a bit in the 1980s and 1990s. Multiple changes in corporate ownership didn’t help, and having to replant virtually all of their Rutherford sites in the early 1990s due to phylloxera wasn’t an asset, either.

Things got a little better after André Tchelistcheff returned as a consultant in 1991 (he’d retired in 1973). He pushed for lower yields in the new vineyards and helped BV make the transition from redwood fermentation tanks and American oak to stainless steel and French oak. But the winery’s focus on its value, supermarket, wines after Tchelistcheff’s death in 1994 left the fine wine program a bit adrift.

Fortunately, a new focus on quality emerged in the mid-2000s with the hiring of Bordeaux consulting superstar to work on the Georges de Latour Private Reserve program. As Robert Parker noticed in his reviews of the 2005 releases, “Michel Rolland, the brilliant wine consultant, was brought in to help resurrect the Private Reserve program, and it appears his magic has spilled over onto the other wines as well.”

Tasting these 2012s, you’ll be immediately struck by how the new BV is marrying the restrained, traditional, style that made the winery great with an increased emphasis on ripe fruit and supple, velvety, structures. Yes, you’ll find a little of that “Rutherford dust” cocoa powder texture to the tannins and a hint of grated allspice, too. But mainly you’ll love how both wines are so pure, textured, and fun to drink right now.

And, at these prices, a little gold dust is sprinkled in with the Rutherford dust, too.

 

Virginia is For (Wine) Lovers!

Sorry, low hanging fruit there in the title. We don’t stock many Virginia wines here at the store for a variety of reasons (you can read a little more about why here). Even so, when you live so close to an emerging wine region, it seems almost criminal not to visit. So, last week I spent a couple of days visiting Virginia wineries to get to know the producers we work with a little better, and to visit a few wineries whose wines I am less familiar with. It was a wonderful mini-adventure, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more!

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On Thursday, I headed over to Barboursville and met up with Fernando, their vineyard manager. The staff was so apologetic that their general manager was busy, but this ended up being my favorite visit, because Fernando was *awesome.* We hopped in his truck right away, which was so filthy that it made me feel better about my own messy car. He drove me all over the property, and we checked out the Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and some of the reds – the Muscat is almost ripe!

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Much of it stays under netting to protect it from birds. Fernando has been managing vineyards in California and Virginia for almost 30 years, and his love for the land he takes care of is infectious. Being around someone so passionate about what they do is such a joy, and getting a personal tour of Barboursville’s vineyards was so educational and fun.

After a few sips of an already bottled Sauv Blanc (very refreshing, kind of like green melon and fresh flowers) and a walk through the barrel room, it was time to leave for Early Mountain.

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Early Mountain was a completely different, and much fancier experience. CEO Peter Hoehn gave me a tour of the whole, grand facility, from the wine library to the gorgeous, airy tasting room and even the airstream trailer they bought to take their wines on the road!

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Early Mountain is committed to featuring wines from all over Virginia in their tasting room. After I was finished tasting through their current offerings (the delicious Foothills Red was just as good as I remembered!) I had a glass of the vibrant, toasty Thibaut Janisson’s Blanc de Blancs. There are usually 8-10 wines from other Virginia wineries being featured at the tasting bar at any given time, and the selections rotate often. As I was leaving, Peter and the rest of the team were setting up for a tasting group that they hold with other Virginia winemakers so they can taste and discuss each others’ work. Super cool.

The next day was rainy, foggy, and damp, and up in the Blue Ridge mountains at Glen Manor, the fog looked so beautiful and mysterious wrapped around the vineyards.

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Their Sauvignon Blanc is so good we often shelve it in our regular white wine area instead of keeping it with the other Virginia wines because we don’t want anyone to miss it! The 2014 is bursting with juicy grapefruit flavors and a mouthwateringly dry finish. The Petit Manseng I tried, with its electric sweet-tart balance, didn’t hurt either.

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Then it was on to Linden, another producer in Front Royal, known for its wines made with minimal intervention. Jim, the winemaker, showed me around his property, and I loved seeing how stripped-down and broken in all the equipment was, like this old German press from the 1950s. So cool!

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The wines were all beautiful, but the single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc had a wonderful weight and chalky texture, with bright lemon flavors. So refreshing and perfect for summer.

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I can’t recommend visiting our local wineries enough – whether you want a luxe experience at a place like Early Mountain (the charcuterie plate was to die for!) or something with a real small-production, lo-fi feel like at Linden, there’s something for almost every wine lover right here in our home state.

–Diane

Wander Over to Umbria!

Perticaia VineyardSo, we’re taking an Italian vacation this week. Sure, Tuscany’s famous, has all of Florence’s glorious art, and is chock-full of famous wine regions. But, this time of year, it’s crowded, expensive, and brown. Plus – we’ve already done it, haven’t we? Let’s try something cool and new – Umbria!

That was pretty much Guido Guardigli’s thinking when, after 20+ years of making wine for Tuscan estate owners, he decided to strike out on his own. He purchased a small vineyard and olive orchard not far from the town of Montefalco and gradually expanded it to 17 hectares of vines. As in Tuscany, Sangiovese thrives in Umbria’s rolling hills, and Chianti’s second grape – Colorino – works well also, so he planted some of each. But for his main planning, he chose Umbrian’s own unique grape: Sagrantino.

Like Nebbiolo in Piemonte and Aglianico in Campagna, Sagrantino is one of those grapes that takes a little getting used to and grows well only in one particular place: Montefalco. No one knows where it came from, although followers of Umbrian monk St. Francis of Assisi may have brought it to Umbria from Asia Minor in the 1200s. It yields well and gives plenty of color and fruit plus loads of exotic spice – think clove, nutmeg, cinnamon. But, like Nebbiolo and Aglianico – it can be fiercely acidic and tannic.

The monks’ solution to the grape’s powerful structure: make it sweet! And so this grape became Umbria’s go-to sweet red wine to be used in the Mass as sacramental wine, the probable source of the Sagrantino name.

Perticaia Guido Guardigli

Perticaia’s Guido Guardigli

Sangiovese to Sagrantino
Guido planted about half his total vineyard to Sagrantino (with seven hectares, he has almost three percent of all the Sagrantino currently cultivated in Umbria!) and then set out to figure out how to make it into a palatable wine.

Like most growers in Umbria, he started with a non-Sagrantino wine, an Umbrian IGT based on Sangiovese with dashes of Colorino and Merlot (his bankers insisted he plant some) that’s perfect for casual enjoyment with pizza, pasta, and cured meats. His 2013 edition is delicious, the kind of everyday Italian value you’ll love having on hand this summer as fresh tomatoes come in.

For his second red, Guido took up the Umbrian tradition of adding a kick of Sagrantino power and structure to a mainly Sangiovese red, giving us his Montefalco Rosso. His 2012 is simply superb, marrying Sangiovese’s black cherry, berry blossom, and bitter almond notes to Sagrantino’s unique spice. It’s “serious” in terms of weight, power, and complexity, but still festive and fun – kind of like Umbria itself.

And then there’s Guido’s pure Sagrantino, in 2010 a Tre Bicchieri winner and as impressive a version as we’ve ever tasted. The key to making great Sagrantino – go slow. This wine takes a full three years to make. First, the ripe fruit spends a full three-weeks in the fermentation vat as the yeast living in the vineyard and winery gradually converts sugar to alcohol and slow, gentle, pump-overs extract color and only the ripest, most sweet, tannin. Then, a full year in small French oak barrels of different sizes to allow color to stabilize and tannins to soften. Then, a second full year in tank for more softening without loss of fruit. Then, yet another year in bottle before release.

If you’re able to come in on Saturday, August 1, from noon-4pm, you should really try all three of these Umbrian classics. Or order a mixed dozen right now and beat the DC Dog Days of Summer with a virtual Umbrian vacation!

The ENV Adventure

Silvia Puig ENVSilvia Puig was pretty much born into the wine business – her father, Joseph Puig, is a longtime restaurateur, export manager for Spain’s Miguel Torres and founder of Torres’s operation in Chile. Silvia followed Joseph into the trade, learning winemaking at school and while working at properties in Bordeaux and Spain (including Vega Sicilia’s Alion winery). Eventually, she and Joseph founded their own estate in the Gratallops region of Priorat, in the province of Tarragona southwest of Barcelona.

Silvia and Joseph named their new venture Vinedos de Ithaca, a nod to the Greek settlers who first planted vines in this rugged corner of Spain, and carved an estate vineyard out of the steep hills around the winery. Fairly early on, Jonas met Silvia on a Spanish wine buying trip with importer Olivier Daubresse and began offering her wines here around 2005. Working with their own vines and grapes Silvia purchased from old-time farmers and families across the region, the wines quickly found success in both Spain and in the international wine press both for the traditional reds and, unusually, for Silvia’s striking whites (a rarity in Priorat).

Like so many successful winemakers, Silvia wanted to do something completely on her own, and in 2008 she began the project now called En Numeros Vermells. The name, “Numbers in the Red” and clever label design by local graffiti artist Adria Batet, evoked the rain of bad news showing down on Spain and the world during the late 2000’s financial meltdown.

True “Garage Wines.” In contrast to the larger production volumes of Vinedos de Ithaca, Silvia designed this project to let her intimately nurture small amounts of wine from grape to bottle on a barrel by barrel basis. The small scale let her largely ignore the normal time and financial pressures of winemaking – with a total production of a few hundred cases, she was free to let each wine find its own way to maturity and use only the barrels that actually fit in her final blends.

We through around the terms “garage wine” and “handcrafted” quite a bit, but that’s truly the best way to describe everything about these wines. The En Numerous Vermells “cellar” is the garage of Silvia’s house in the Priorat village of Poboleda, a building that also serves as Silvia’s home and her husband – Belgian chef Pieter Truyts – Brots Restaurant.

In this tiny space, Silvia is literally doing virtually everything by hand. She tends the 10 or so barrels stacked in the space carefully, tasting and re-tasting to learn how each is developing and gaining a deep understanding of each cask’s unique character, strengths, and weaknesses. Multiple blending trials allow Silvia to explore how her charges work together (or don’t), and create an ideal marriage that lets each site and varietal shine without fighting or overwhelming each other.

Even the packaging is by hand! Silvia dips each bottle in wax by hand and decorates each cardboard six-pack with a unique, often whimsical, drawing in pencil, pen, and marker. You won’t often hear us wax enthusiastic about the box a wine comes in, but this year’s artwork – each box unique – is the most charming yet, echoing some of the exuberance and down to earth elegance you’ll find in the wines.

ENV 2015 Release. Silvia doesn’t make much of any of her ENV wines, and has no trouble selling all she has at the restaurant in Priorat and to discerning European customers. We owe our generous – in terms of how much Silvia makes – allocations to the passion and persuasion of importer Jonas Gustafsson. Jonas has followed and supported the ENV project since its inception, often tasting and debating the wines with Silvia as she decides on her final blends.

Although the wines get better and better, Silvia and Jonas have agreed to hold prices steady again this year. No, they are not expensive. But I’d argue that they represent extraordinary value – especially at the mix/match case prices – for a region where even mediocre bottlings achieve $70+ price tags. Come on Saturday and taste; that’s really all the justification the wines need.

The Reds of Austria’s Burgenland

BurgenlandBurgenland was, for years and years, the poorest, most economically isolated region in all of Austria – electricity didn’t reach most homes until the last quarter of the 20th Century!

It’s also one of the flattest areas of Austria – a bump 80 feet high is called a “hill” here – and one of the warmest as hot breezes flow westward from the Pannonian Plain to the east. And, while daytime temperatures can soar, the long, shallow (just 3 feet deep!) glacial lake called Neusiedler See both cools the region at night and pumps out autumn fogs that cover vineyards near the lake.

Fine Wine Potential in Burgenland
Alois Kracher was the first to see Burgenland’s potential for fine wine, taking advantage of the alternating warm sunshine and chilly fog in lakeside vineyards to make sweet wines based on botrytis – aka “noble rot.” Kracher’s unique and exotic bottlings of Chardonnay, Scheurebe, Welschriesling, and, eventually, even red grapes like Zweigelt and Pinot Noir earned huge ratings in Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, etc. and helped spur investment and attention for Burgenland’s vineyards.

Ernst Steindorfer was part of the Kracher revolution, both as Alois Kracher’s friend and his winemaker for many years. But he also made wine for himself, starting first with his mother’s vineyards and selling wine in bulk before gradually expanding the estate to about 22 acres of vines and bottling roughly 5,000 cases per year.

Like his good friend Kracher, Ernst and his family make some brilliant sweet wines – from botrytized Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay – and a killer Pinot Gris we are still trying to get our hands on. The real pride and joy of the cellar are Ernst’s red wines.

Discovering Austria’s Reds 
Once vineyards move far enough from the lake to escape fog, the daytime warmth and nighttime cool makes this perfect red wine country. And growers like Ernst have risen to the opportunity, firmly establishing Burgenland as Austria’s best source of reds. So why haven’t you heard of these wines before?

One reason: Austrians drink them before they can escape the country! Austrian’s love their own wines, love to visit and buy directly from winemakers, and are proud to order Austrian wine in the countries top restaurants and bars. The country only makes about 1% of the world’s wine and drinks 70%+ of its production at home. So, not much makes it here.

A Primer on Austrian Red Varietals
Another reason: Austria’s unfamiliar grapes can intimidate American drinkers more accustomed to popular “international” varietals – grapes that find vineyard homes in many parts of the world. Austria’s best grapes, in contrast, have evolved (or were created) to suit the country’s unique Central European soils and climate. The three most important are:

Blaufränkisch: The “fräkisch” in this grape’s name comes from Medieval Austrian’s assumption that any grape making good wine must have come from Franconia in Germany. It’s probably native to the region, though, and migrated to Germany (where it’s called Lemberger) later. It gives dark colored, fruit filled, brightly juicy wines that are easygoing fun when made in tank and develop more complexity and sophistication when aged in oak. Austria’s second most planted red grape and arguably its best.

St. Laurent: Another old native Austrian grape whose name probably derives from St Laurentius, patron saint of chef’s, whose day is August 10, around the time this grape starts to ripen. It gives aromatic wines of velvety structure and sour cherry fruit. There’s a faint resemblance to Pinot Noir, if with more acidity and structure, but no genetic relationship.

Zweigelt: The most widely planted red grape in Austria is also the one most often seen in the USA. It’s a different kind of Austria native, created in 1922 by crossing Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It’s exuberantly fruity – almost like a cross between Gamay and Zinfandel – but can be a little simple on it’s own. When yields are kept low, though, and barrel carefully used, it can deliver delicious, if a bit exotic, wine.

Ernst Steindorfer grows and vinifies all three of these traditional Austrian red grapes and bottles each of them in two cuvees. One with limited/no oak offers up pure fruit, juicy textures, and easy-drinking value. The other version, the Reserve cuvees, gains extra structure and complexity from time in barrel. All are excellent – we especially loved the Blaufränkisch Reserve – but I’m not sure any are better than this ripe and supple cookout-friendly blend of all three!

Amarone: From Sweet to “Bitter”

amarone grapesFor those who don’t know Amarone, a bit of background. Valpolicella is an ancient wine region – the Greeks made wine here before even the Romans arrived – and the name itself is thought to be a mash up of Latin and Greek meaning “Valley of Cellars.” Situated between Verona to the west and Venice to the east, Valpolicella always enjoyed strong local demand for its light, aromatic, red wines made from native grapes Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella. And, today, the overwhelming bulk of wine made here is still in a light, easy-drinking, style for drinking casually and young.

A couple of thousand years ago, though, the Greeks and Romans liked their wines strong and sweet – in part because they are better able to withstand storage in porous containers like clay amphora – so they invented a style of winemaking today called appassimento. Ripe grapes were harvested in autumn and then laid out on straw mats (today more hygienic plastic mats or slatted wooden bins are used) under the roof of a shed. As the cool breezes blew over the grapes, they gradually lost water, leaving sweeter and sweeter juice behind. When the dried grapes were made into wine, they had more alcohol than regular wine and, usually, a big slug of residual sugar as well.

That’s “Amaro!” Winemakers in the Veneto continued making this strong, sweet, wine – called Recioto della Valpolicella in modern times – right through the mid-1950s. Then, something strange happened, although no one really knows how. We’ll go with the most popular legend: a winemaker left his fermenting batch of Recioto in the vat for several weeks longer than usual. The yeast in that vat somehow found the strength and muscle to keep working through the heavy sugar load past 12% alcohol, through 13% and all the way to 14% or so. At that point, there was no residual sugar remaining, and when the winemaker tasted it, he declared it “Amaro” – or “bitter” – compared to his normal sweet red Recioto.

This dryer style of wine – called Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone at first and today simply as Amarone della Valpolicella – found fans and soon became Valpolicella’s most famous and important wine. It’s one of the biggest, most intense, wines made in Europe, commonly coming in at 15% abv and often reaching 16% and beyond. Usually, it’s so jam-packed with the flavors of dried fruit, balsamic, earth, leather, crushed flowers and more, that it needs to be paired with big, rich, foods (Osso Bucco is a classic match). Or, as is often done in Italy, enjoyed after the main course with strong cheeses and dried fruit.

Back To The Future In The Vineyards. Begali is a small family estate located in the Valpolicella DOC in the Veneto region since the early 20th Century. The family farms about 10 hectares of vineyards on the rolling hills near the tiny town of Cengia. As with most of the better vineyards in Valpolicella, the better sites are quite rocky and poor, with richer patches of soil planted with cherry trees. The vineyards are planted mainly to Corvina and Rondinella, although some of their older vineyards include some more obscure local varieties.

In 1986, then young Lorenzo Begali and his wife, Adriana, decided to break with family tradition and keep some grapes to make their own wine. While over the years, Lorenzo has been joined by his children, Giordano and Tiliana, and gained a lot of experience, his basic winemaking approach remains unchanged. Ripe grapes are harvested in September/October and the best bunches pulled out for Amarone. These grapes go into slatted wooden bins that are stacked in an open-sided shed to allow the cool Autumn breezes to blow through every day. They rest there, giving up their water and gaining in concentration, from October – January, when they go into wooden fermenters and yeast is allowed to go to work.

Once the Amarone fermentation is almost done, the must is pressed and the wine placed in large, neutral, oak barrels to finish fermenting to dryness. It then ages for three to three-and-a-half years in barrel before blending, bottling, and aging a further year in bottle. A simple, straight-ahead Amarone winemaking process that turned out excellent results from the first vintage.

Amarone PergolaThe Pergola Secret? But Lorenzo wasn’t satisfied and began to look at his vineyards in search of still higher quality. Traditionally, Valpolicella vineyards were trained in a manner called Pergola Veronese. The vines run up 5-6’ poles in the vineyard and then leaves and grapes run flat across an overhead structure creating a canopy over the vineyard soil. This made it easy to graze livestock in the vineyard, kept the grapes well ventilated, and made vineyard work a bit easier – reaching up to pick grapes vs. bending over towards the ground.

In the 1970s and 1980s, most Valpolicella growers abandoned Pergola Veronese in favor of the horizontal training along wires commonly seen in France and California. Some argued that these international trellising systems allowed for higher vine density, decreased vigor, and improved ripening of fruit. Others admitted that the main attraction was that horizontal trellising allowed for the introduction of mechanical harvesting in flat, high-volume, vineyards.

The Begali family had retained some Pergola Veronese vineyards and noticed that they were better able to manage yields and achieve slow, steady, ripening of the grapes – especially in hot, sunning, years with the Pergola left grape bunches in mottled shade. Today, all of Begali’s Amarone grapes come from Pergola Veronese vines because, as Wine Advocate explains, “Begali will tell you that his secret is in overhead, pergola-trained grape vines. This traditional growing system has gone out of fashion only to return to fashion more recently. It is commonly thought that pergola allowed for too much vigor, but Begali argues that this system actually reduces yields when managed properly.”

A Gem From A Great VintageWhile the critics haven’t published reviews of 2011 Amarone wines yet, there’s already a strong consensus that this is one of Valpolicella’s best harvests in recent years. A warm Spring brought early flowering, then a cool early summer let the fruit mature slowly before an outright hot September brought the grapes to full, luscious, ripeness.

As Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner explains, “The 2011 vintage is exceptional and will give Amarone enthusiasts something special to look forward to when the bulk of these wines are released. Not only will 2011 be remembered for its top-notch quality, it has all the prerequisites for long cellar aging. The power, structure and soft tannins of these wines compare closely to the beautiful 2007 vintage.”

‘Barolo Girl’ is Born

Giulia Negri BarologirlGiulia Negri’s family have been growing Nebbiolo and making Barolo at their Serrandenari estate for about 150 years. Their La Morra vineyards are the highest up in all of Barolo, ranging from 380-500 meters in altitude. The cool climate and sandy La Morra soils give elegant, pure, wines here, and they’ve long been a favorite of Barolo fans who value sophistication and grace over pure power and weight.

Giulia grew up in the winery and vineyards and seemed destined to join Serrandenari herself. But, she as she watched many of her slightly older friends establish their own, small, projects, often working in tiny cellars or their own parents’ garages, she developed an itch to strike out on her own.

So, in here early 20s, and with her parents’ support, Giulia founded her own “Garage” winery. She set up shop in a modest shed with simple winemaking equipment. She knew she wanted to honor her family’s traditions, so she took charge of Nebbiolo vines growing on the lower portion of the Serrandenari estate and a small, east-facing sliver of the famous Brunate vineyard. And, to make her own mark, she planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on sites too cool for Nebbiolo.

From Barolo to Burgundy to Us. One of the most important trends in Barolo over the past 20 years is young winemakers exploring the world of wine beyond Piemonte – beyond Italy itself. And, having seen her friends do that, Giulia sought out experiences, expertise, and advice from the best non-Italian winemakers she could find. Searching for advice to make rich, powerful, but pure and site-specific Pinot Noir and how to meld this temperamental wine with wood, she called on one of the greatest Pinot Noir winemakers we know: Jean-Michel Guillon in Burgundy’s Gevrey Chambertin.

Jean-Michel was delighted to help this budding winemaker, and hosted Giulia at his Burgundy domaine for hours of tasting, talking, and training on Pinot Noir winemaking, especially on the selection of the best barrels that deliver all the benefits of fine French oak – softening, fixing color, adding complexity – without overwhelming fruit or sense of place. He was impressed by her talent and passion – and by the wines she brought along for him to taste. Recognizing the almost Burgundian style of her Barolo and learning of her very limited representation in the US, Jean-Michel introduced Giulia to his good friends and US importers, Jonas Gustafsson and Olivier Daubresse.

As Jonas and Olivier would be the first to say, the very last thing either was looking for was an Italian wine to add to their portfolios. Olivier specializes in French wines from the Rhone, Provence, and – especially, Burgundy. And Jonas is the master of rich, powerful, authentic wines from Spain and Portugal. Italy simply wasn’t in the cards.

But, after first tasted her wines and then meeting with Giulia, they simply could not resist bringing her beautiful wines to us here in the mid-Atlantic region. And, knowing our passion for fine Barolo, especially Barolo that tempers it’s power and depth with a sense of elegance and fine style, Jonas and Olivier were kind enough to bring Giulia’s wines to us.

Giula Negri the Future‘Barolo. The Future.’  I strongly encourage you to visit Giulia’s website to see pictures of her, the tiny winery, the beautiful Barolo scenery, and her dog (clearly important to Giulia, as he takes center stage on the wine label!). The wine is as charming and pretty and the pictures you’ll see there!

While Giulia is innovating with Piemonte Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (and we hope to have the chance to taste those sometime soon!), her Barolo is all about very precise and well-executed tradition. Her Nebbiolo is sustainably grown on legendary sites – the high-altitude La Mora vineyard of Serradenari and the famous Cru of Brunate. She and her team of 3 – only four people total at this project! – harvest the grapes at perfect ripeness and bring them cool to her tiny, garage-like cellar.

After careful destemming – a key part of making great Barolo! – the grapes are crushed and then allowed to ferment in large wood vats. The must spends a total of 45 days in vat, with the cap submerged for 30 days and allowed to float gently on top for an additional 15. The challenge in making Barolo is to get plenty of color and flavor complexity from Nebbiolo’s skins without extracting hard, bitter, tannins. The combination of gentle (if largely traditional) maceration and perfectly ripe grapes delivers perfect balance in Giulia’s wine.

After fermentation, the wine is aged for three years in equal parts 500 liter Tonneaux and 250 litter Barriques. Both are 100% French oak (and very high-end French oak at that!), but none of the barrels are new. The mixture of fairly small (for Barolo) casks and absence of new oak allows Giulia’s Barolo to retain color, soften, and gain wonderful complexity without overt wood aromas and flavors.

Like many of her friends’ wines, Giulia’s Barolo benefits from all that winemakers have learned about capturing all of Nebbiolo’s complex aromas, rich flavors, and deep power without the hard tannins that used to require 20 years to resolve. But, unlike most of the “garagiste” Barolo we’ve tried, the 2010 Barolo La Tartufaia avoids an overt sense of winemaking – no black-as-night color, no thickness to the texture, and no intense vanilla/chocolate flavors of wood.

As Giulia writes on the “Barolo Girl” portion of her website, “Now that the Barolo Boys have grown up, time may have come for us, the Barolo Girls.”