Some of the protagonists of “Barolo Boys” (L to R): Elio Altare, Domenico Clerico, Chiara Boschis, Marco de Grazia.
In 1983, a chainsaw echoed across the hills of the Barolo region. No humans were harmed in this Barolo massacre: Elio Altare took a chainsaw into the cellar of his family’s winery and cut up the large botti, or large wooden casks, often leaky and fetid, that his father used. He brought in barriques, the small wooden barrels more frequently seen at that time in Burgundy or Bordeaux. His father subsequently disinherited him.
This dramatic rupture with the past is captured in the pages of Barolo and Barbaresco, the essential and timely new book by Kerin O’Keefe. The chainsaw-wielding is also depicted on-screen in the new Italian documentary about the region, Barolo Boys.
The movie, screened for the first time in New York City on Monday, portrays the events of Altare and others as they ushered in a “revolution” to Barolo’s winemaking. A “war” broke out between the “modernists” and the “traditionalists.” This young Turks threw out the old casks, brought in barriques, but also started green harvesting in the vineyard, the process of dropping bunches of grapes to concentrate flavor in the remaining ones. The resulting wines were darker and denser but also flashier, fruitier with more obvious polish and immediate appeal than pure charm of nebbiolo, which is notorious for needing decades in the cellar to coax out.
If wanting to make wines more hygienically was a big push–Altare’s daughter talks in the film about how farm animals and a leaky oil-furnace shared the cellars with the wines–these wines also needed the pull of a commercial outlet. And the film makes clear this was the United States, where critics and consumers lavished praise on the new style and opened their pocketbooks for the wines imported by Marco de Grazia, among others.
While the stylistic clash was heated for a while, it has largely been relegated to the compost pile of history: many of the “modernists” now use larger formats than just barriques, incorporating both new and used barrels, while some of the “traditionalists” do things such as green harvesting, even if they remain steadfast in their use of botti or other larger format vessels for aging. In a discussion after the screening, the protagonists present agreed that the conflict was good for getting increasing interest in the area’s wines.
Elio Altare cast the rift in a different way in comments after the screening, “There are two types of wine: good and bad.” There was an outburst of applause in the room. He continued, “It’s personal taste. I must find the people in the world who drink wine with my taste. I don’t make wine for everybody: I make wine for my taste!” This slightly defiant tone paled in comparison to Joe Bastianich, the film’s narrator, whose last words are “the fight goes on.” The director said he took some liberties with that line and was intended to reprise the “journey” that he invited viewers on in the film’s opening segment.
You don’t understand it? it’s Polish!
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Langhe, piękny region w północno-zachodnich Włoszech. To właśnie stąd pochodzi jedno z najbardziej rozpoznawalnych włoskich win – Barolo. Poznaj historię tego unikalnego trunku!
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BAROLO BOYS: THE STORY OF A REVOLUTION
Documentary, not rated, 64 minutes, in English and Italian with subtitles, 2 p.m. Saturday, June 4, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles
What is identity? asks this 2014 film about one of the great wine success stories of the last century. Barolo wine took the international wine stage by storm in the 1980s and ’90s. This affectionately told story from directors Paolo Casalis and Tiziano Gaia focuses on the “Barolo boys,” a handful of Nebbiolo grape-growers who set off a wave of technical innovations in winemaking techniques starting in the 1970s. Filmed in the lush Langhe region, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and featuring intermittent visits by a brass band, which marches up and down the vineyards trumpeting the enormous pride of these winemakers, the film is irreverent and breezy in classic Italian fashion, with a somewhat meandering narrative that sometimes falters. Still, passion and dedication shine through in interviews with vintners like Elio Altare, an iconoclast who had the vision to deviate from established methods and thus kicked off a revolution in winemaking. As one subject in the film puts it, “We had the power to change things, which is the best thing you can have in life.” — M.B.
Barolo is delightful little medieval hamlet in Piedmont’s beautiful Langhe wine region in the North West of Italy. It’s also the site of one of the most remarkable food revolutions of the 21st Century.
In the 1980s, Barolo wines weren’t recognized internationally. The wines were known to age beautifully, but couldn’t be enjoyed in their youth as the tannins were so strong. Wine makers lacked capital to buy tractors and other critical tools, and winemaking techniques weren’t up to modern standards of cleanliness as a result.
A group of local wine makers decided a revolution was needed.
This group became known as the ‘Barolo boys’, completely transforming the world of Barolo wine and winemaking more broadly. Their story is a story of the clash between tradition and modern innovation.
Revolutions start when bellies are empty- Elio Altare (Wine and Revolution Maker)
Barolo Boys the documentary explores this revolution, the positives and the negatives. It also tells the personal story behind the scenes – a tale of friendship and spirit of the people behind the transformation and the resulting success.
dal blog di Ivano Antonini
Bellissimo evento quello che si è svolto nel tardo pomeriggio di ieri al cine-teatro Santamanzio di Travedona.
Alle ore 17:00 c’è stata la proiezione del film Barolo Boys-Storia di una rivoluzione, dove il regista Paolo Casalis è riuscito a concentrare in 64 minuti più di trent’anni di storia del Barolo, dando voce ai protagonisti “attivi” ma anche “passivi” di questa rivoluzione, con una chiave di lettura attenta, dinamica, incisiva e mai sopra le righe.
In seguito ci siamo divertiti con l’assaggio di tre Barolo frutto di stili e di annate diverse. Abbiamo cominciato con il calore e l’avvolgenza del San Lorenzo di Verduno 2011 dei Fratelli Alessandria, abbiamo continuato con la forza e la potenza della 2006 di Elio Altare e chiuso con la grazia e la suadente della 2002 di Chiara Boschis. Grinta e tenacia con tantissima eleganza in un vino frutto di un’annata non facile.