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.
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.
I take the liberty to use it Andras Lengyel put out on facebook, the Barolo Boys website.
Here are some pictures from the fantastic test with Barolo Boys, which followed the interesting movie of the same name.
Hope all of you who were there to share her thoughts about the film and about the test.
Thank you for visiting Munskänkarna here in Gothenburg! Interesting movie and good wines! It Seems That The Number of people attending this event broke a record with us, 152 people in total including us “working” at the event. Here are some pictures from the event:
All the people at the event.
Silvia with Bjorn kept at the front desk.
Preparing the plate with Italian specialties.
Below is even more pictures from Andras
Mingle wine Telemaco, made of grapes Bosco and Albarola.
Food in current lines … It takes some work to prepare for a test.
Not to speak about the preparation to pour all the wines to 152 people!
I was given the opportunity to watch and review Barolo Boys before its release. I decided to let Antiqua Tours intern Anna review it. She is a newcomer to Italian wine and I thought it would be interesting to see the film through her eyes, as someone with no preconceived ideas or exceptions. I really enjoyed what she wrote and hope you will too.
Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution
Review by Anna Aguillard, Intern
Wine, as ancient as its roots, unsurprisingly has a complex and dynamic history that is not easily traced, let alone clearly explained. However, Paolo Casalis and Tiziano Gaia’s upcoming documentary Barolo Boys attempts to do just that, as it traces the revolutionary story that lies behind the international phenomenon of Barolo. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the film.
As a newcomer to the Italian wine scene, I am still learning about the basics of the industry and its rich history. The documentary does an excellent job of explaining a very intricate topic; and gives enough background information to clearly explain Barolo wine’s peculiar history without getting lost in technicalities.
Barolo Wine, made from the Nebbiolo grape in Northwestern Italy, is known today as one of the world’s greatest wines. However, it didn’t always have such international acclaim. The documentary invites its audience to “take a journey” to discover the story behind Barolo’s rise to fame, which it promises to be “full of surprises.”
Beautiful shots of the Northern Italian country side are captivating, as close-up shots of red grapes dripping with dew, scenic view of misty rolling vineyards, and picturesque ancient buildings set the scene of Langhe, where the Barolo Boys’ story begins (and makes me really want to plan a trip). The film begins by explaining what the wine business was like in Langhe for producers before the Barolo “revolution” in the 1980s. Through interviews with major wine producers such as Elio Altare, Chiara Boschis, Marco de Grazia, Giorgio Rivetti, and Roberto Voerzio, the documentary depicts the “pre-revolutionary” wine industry as being about survival – there was no profit, no investment, and no innovation. By using the voices of many different experts with so many unique stories, the filmmakers do an excellent job of capturing daily life for Barolo winemakers up until the revolution.
The film then addresses the factors that lead to Barolo’s popularity explosion, focusing on the particular historical context of the boom. It does a good job in attributing the innovation to the particularly positive international sentiment during the 1980s – consumerism was on the rise, the stock market was flourishing, Italy had just won the world cup – changes were welcomed, and the Barolo Boys were the ones to bring them.
After seeing how French wines were sold for more than twenty times the price of Italian wines, a small group of producers in Langhe got together (for the first time in history) and decided to “make the best wine in the world.” This group, called the Barolo Boys, changed numerous things about the way Barolo wine had been made for centuries.
As a new wine lover, I must admit that I found the film’s explanation of Barolo wine’s traditional production to be a little bit unclear – thankfully, all I had to do was Google it. For those who, like me, are unsure: In the past, Barolo wine took up to 50 years to become drinkable, and it aged in large, wooden casks.
The film does an excellent job of capturing just how revolutionary the Barolo Boys’ changes were. They began thinning the grape vines, cutting fermentation times to just days, and aging the wine in barriques (small barrels) instead of large crates, creating a fruitier wine that appealed internationally. These changes, however popular in the market, angered the traditional Barolo producers, to the point that Altare’s father, “never stepped foot into the vineyard again.”
Despite the opposition, the film depicts the wine revolution as a very happy time for the producers in Langhe. I really enjoyed the original footage of the Barolo Boys’ meetings, during which they ran countless experiments and tastings in their pursuit of the best wine. Their hard work paid off – due to the help of Marco de Grazia, who marketed the wine in the American market- the Barolo boys rose to fame. The film humorously emphasizes their popularity with shots of the “Barolo Boys” soccer team doing drills through the vineyards, and barriques being rolled through the Italian streets. More money came into Langhe in ten years than it had in the entire last century, and in America, the wine grew to symbolize fashion, glamour, and luxury.
The film suggests, however, that Barolo’s golden age may be coming to an end. Pitting the innovators versus the traditionalists, the film delves into both sides of the Barolo Wars that typify the archetypical clash between old and new. Although the Barolo Boys are no longer working together, the film depicts a story of the courage to make drastic changes, and the backlash that all significant changes unavoidably receive. By leaving open the question, “who is the winner” in the war between traditionalism and innovation, the film suggests that the solution lies in some combination of old traditions and new techniques.
I recommend this film for all those interested in wine, in history, or in the Italian culture’s influence on the world. With interviews from Oscar Farinetti, the president of Eataly, and Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, the film offers a holistic view of a very interesting cultural phenomenon. Let’s face it – some of Italy’s most influential contributions to mankind have been through the wine it produces, and this film succeeds in giving the industry the attention it deserves.
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