A great article on WatchView Magazine, Taiwan!

vol 25_Pagina_1

vol 25_Pagina_2

Advertisements

Barolo Boys: The Power & Effects of International Wine Marketing

from UncorkedinItaly.com

“Barolo Boys” (2014) is a documentary about the Barolo “boom” in the nineties. The strength of the film is its success in chronicling how a group of family owned wineries (7 men + 1 woman)* changed the historical character of their wines for marketing purposes and what happened as a result. The story is important because versions of it occurred in many other parts of Italy. The echoes can still be heard today.

*Elio Altare, Chiara Boschs of E. Pira e Figli, Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta, Roberto Voerzio, Luciano Sandrone, Domenico Clerico, Giovanni Manzone, Enrico Scavino of Paolo Scavino, Renato Cigliuti and Roberto Damonte of Malvirà

What happened?
The Barolo Boys altered their methods in the vineyard and in the cellar to catch and ride a wave of stratospheric Parker/Wine Spectator point scores. Italo-American marketing expert, Marco De Grazia, took the group on tour in the United States and brought new wealth to them and to the area. But all of that had consequences in the community and provoked a counter movement toward “traditional” Barolo wine.

To Buy or Rent or on iTunes

As background to the film, it’s important to know that the United States was the fastest growing, largest and richest market for wine in the 80s and 90s. Robert Parker’s 100-point scale, which spread to the Wine Spectator and other publications, fueled sales based on Parker’s personal preference for fruit forward, robust, ready to drink reds. His palate aligned with that of most Americans.

So how do you get Nebbiolo wine, which has traditionally been highly tannic and austere with a need for long aging in the cellar, to score 100 points?

Answer:
– Prune bunches off the vines to concentrate their efforts on fewer grapes
(Create intensity of aroma and flavor)
– Allow the grapes to mature longer on the vine
(Add fruitiness, roundness and higher sugar content–higher alcohol)
– Shorten the period that fermenting wine remains with the skins
(Reduce tannins for less austerity)
– Use new barriques (small, French, wood barrels)
(Soften tannins and add aromas and flavors, like vanilla)
– Use additives, commercial yeasts, etc. to change the wine chemically in the cellar.
(All of the above)

The original group ranged from small to large producers (4,500-450,000 bottles annually). What they had in common was a feeling of frustration at working so hard to grow grapes but then, having to sell them in bulk at low prices or produce wines that were not recognized beyond the local area.

The film recounts both the rise of these “modernists” and the reaction that eventually rose up against them from the “traditionalists” like Giuseppe Rinaldi and Bartolo Mascarello, who made a label for his wine that revealed his thoughts on the matter. Whichever side people aligned with, it was clear that one effect of the Barolo Boys was a rift in the community.
No Barrique

The Barolo Boys’ boom also led to a gold rush where land prices skyrocketed and vines proliferated where once there had been woods, fruit trees, hazelnut trees, grain, grazing pastures and other crops. The monoculture that exists today has fundamentally changed the character of the area, reduced the health of the vines, and reduced the variety of aromas and flavors in the grapes.

monoculture

Many vines are grown with industrial methods (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers, etc.) and are heavily pruned to force the plant to concentrate efforts on the grapes. On a recent walk through vineyards above Barolo (castle in background), I took this photo.

conventional

Interestingly, some of the Barolo Boys wineries are following the market once again and leaving their “modern” methods in favor of a new marketing trend toward more authentic, terroir based, “natural” wines. The group no longer exists as such, and Marco De Grazia has moved to Mount Etna.

It is notable that some winegrowers in the area (and in other parts of Italy) never changed. They stayed with traditional, sustainable, “natural” mentors in the vineyard and in the cellar. (See winegrowers on this blog…and more stories coming soon from Piemonte!)

They plant only a small part of their acreage…
vines with woods

Allow all kinds of flora and fauna to grow in the vineyards…
eugenio

flowers

Allow their vines to find their own equilibrium by not pruning the tops or conducting heavy pruning of bunches.
happy vines

And intervene as little as possible in the cellar.

The fascination of Italy remains the natural diversity of land, climate, soil, altitude, exposition, grape variety and winegrower personality. Wine has been made here for over 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the culture, a fact that no point score or ranking can easily change.

Published: June 22, 2016

For more information on Barolo wineries or on planning a trip to the area,contact Eleanor.

Barolo Boys film review from Vineous

Barolo Boys – film review

Around 1980 I was on a budget holiday in Northern Italy, where most meals were bread, cheese and ham picnics.  However, one evening we pushed the boat out and went to a proper (albeit cheap) restaurant.  I remember we ordered a bottle of Barolo and, even though I had little interest in wine in those days, I can still conjure up a vivid image of how it tasted: brown, tannic, and totally devoid of fruit.  Today I would probably send it back, and I did consider it back then.  But of course we drank the bottle, even though it gave no pleasure.

That must have been an example of the wine that prompted the modernist revolution in Barolo.  It was the style of wine that sold for little money and kept the wine growers in poverty, as described in Barolo Boys, The Story of a Revolution.  But then how does it relate to the great traditional Barolo wines that, in the same documentary, David Berry Green said were so fantastic?  Ultimately I am still left a little confused about what the situation was before the revolution, and how it relates to the current state of affairs.  However, it seems that the quality of Barolo has been raised generally, irrespective of whether the traditionalist or modernist tag is applied. Are the Barolo Boys to thank for that?  Regardless, it must be seen as a good thing.

The Barolo Boys were a group of producers who introduced crop thinning, shorter maceration times and barrique aging, thus making the wines more appealing to consumers and critics alike, and allowing them to sell for a lot more money. The film tells this story through interviews with the people involved, and through archive clips.  However nice it was to meet the people, learn a bit about their culture and see the landscape, I am not convinced that is the best way to understand a story, but I cannot deny that I did learn quite a bit.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I used to think that the Barolo Boys was just the name of the winemakers’ football team.  Though it is that too, and the football team even featured in the film.  The other surprise was to see the documentary’s Langhe landscapes suddenly switch to the volcanic Mount Etna and Marco de Grazia.  I know about Marco – he is the guy that is currently busy raising the profile of Etna wines.  But what’s he got to do with Barolo? Ah, I see… before he arrived in Sicily he encouraged the Barolo revolution, introduced the Barolo Boys to America, and imported their wines.  In fact, it was on the American tour organised by him that their name was coined.

Interestingly, the booklet that accompanies the DVD mentions that in the early 19th century Nebbiolo was used to make a wine that was semi-sweet and slightly fizzy.  But the landowners wanted something better, so experts were called in to introduce the latest winemaking techniques.  Does that sound familiar? Terms like traditional and modern are, if they have any meaning at all, relative terms.  My only concern about change, particularly with modern communications, is that stylistic choice in the world of wine might get diminished. That might be a real danger in some cases, but I would say today’s Barolo remains distinctive. And if you want red wine in the early 19th century style, you can still get that from the region, in the form of Bracchetto d’Aqui. Has much really been lost?

If you are interested enough to read my blog, I think there is something in this documentary for you. DVDs of Barolo Boys, The Story of a Revolution are available here, along with further information. That is where I bought my copy. But be warned – the homepage is a badly-executed multimedia extravaganza, so you will probably want to turn your computer sound off.  If you want to see the trailer, you’d do better accessing it on Vimeo directly, by clicking on the above image for example.

Update 03/2016: I was recently talking to a Barolo expert (but not sure he would want to be quoted on this), who said that before the revolution the general standard was poor. But there were a few producers making good age-worthy wine that sold for more money than most, and that David Berry Green was probably mainly thinking of one in particular that he had an involvement with.