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.
PAOLO CASALIS & TIZIANO GAIA (Directors)
The Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution
Documentary, Stuffilm Creativeye, Bra (Piedmont, Italy), 2014, Italian with English subtitles, NTSC (all regions), $19.99
Reviewer: Alessandro Corsi
Once upon a time there was an Italian king of wines, known also as the wine of Italian kings. It was called Barolo, and it survived in the same form for a century or more. Then, only three decades ago, there was a revolution. Unlike other revolu- tions, this one did not aim to dethrone the king. Instead, the revolutionaries wanted to promote the king but put him in modern dress.
The Barolo Boys tells the story of this group of wine revolutionaries. In the 1980s, a group of young winegrowers and winemakers started to introduce new techniques to the Barolo region that were drawn mainly from France. The story begins with a young winemaker, Elio Altare, who visited Burgundy and found himself comparing the financial wealth of French vignerons to the misery of the Barolo producers. He concluded that the reason for the misery was that Barolo wines did not satisfy modern palates and were poorly promoted. As a result, a small group of young wine- makers started to experiment. They aged their wines in barriques instead of the tra- ditional casks, and they changed their vineyard practices to emphasize ripe fruit.
The new wines were a huge success among critics and consumers, and they were pro- moted widely. But these new Barolos also inspired a passionate controversy, and a “Barolo war” started. The “traditionalists” defended the old ways of making wine and stressed the typicality of Barolo, refusing to make a wine in the new “inter- national” style. The “innovators” claimed that they had amended the flaws of the old way of making wine and that the new wines better matched modern consumers’ tastes.
The controversy was also a generational conflict. In one dramatic episode of the story, Elio Altare used a chainsaw to destroy the big old casks in his family’s cellar, which led his father to disinherit him, convinced that the young Elio had lost his sanity. Also linked to the generational divide was the collaborative spirit of the group of “revolutionaries,” who collectively shared the results of their experiments in the cellar and vineyard. This collaboration accelerated the progress for the revolu- tionaries, but it was something simply inconceivable among the old winemakers, who remained jealous of their techniques and suspicious of their competitors.
The film focuses on the human side of the revolution and on its economic and social consequences. The interviews with the protagonists (Elio Altare, Chiara Boschis, Marco de Grazia, Giorgio Rivetti, and Roberto Voerzio) and Carlo Petrini, founder and president of the Slow Food movement, are punctuated by clips filmed using Super 8 cameras and by scenes of a local brass band marching and playing in the lovely vineyard landscapes of Langhe. Though it leans on the side of the innovators, the film also presents the arguments of the traditionalists. The film does a good job of capturing the protagonists in revealing moments. And you meet some fascinating characters, such as an unforgettable old worker—a perfect example of the old mentality—grumbling because he is ordered to prune imperfect bunches, which he clearly considers an inexcusable waste of grapes. The film provides a vivid picture of the rise of the movement, the controversy, and the passion of the protagonists. But it also becomes apparent that the cohesion of the group today is not what it once was and that the “revolutionaries” experience some nostalgia as they recall their “heroic times,” as in the film The Big Chill.
If you appreciate human interest stories, you will enjoy this film, as did I. And if you do not know anything about the story, you will find it a good starting point. If, instead, you are looking for more technical information, this film might leave you unsatisfied. One unanswered question is: of what did the “revolution” actually consist? Though the use of barriques was at the core of the controversy, the “revolu- tion” comprised many other technical changes that are not discussed in the film. These changes in the vineyard and in winemaking technology included everything from thinning the grape clusters to reducing the time of fermentation. The innova- tors were looking for wines that required a shorter aging period (which provided an obvious economic advantage), had more color, and had a taste more in line with the international standards promoted by Robert Parker. Some innovations, like dropping grape clusters, were also widely adopted by traditionalists, and, in general, the movement led to a greater focus on technical progress and on quality throughout the Barolo region. In the end, the traditionalists settled into a sort of peaceful coexistence with the revolutionaries, and both benefited from the increased media attention and tourism. Though there are some hints about these issues in the film, they are not fully developed.
From an economist’s perspective, this film raises some interesting questions. First, why did only some of the winemakers follow the new movement? Negro et al. (2007) have documented how the shift to modernism paid off in terms of both ratings from the critics and wine prices. The second and related question is: why was there such a passionate fight between traditionalists and modernists? After all, they could each make and sell their wines the way they liked and still find consumers. I have two hypotheses to offer. The first is that both parties believed that the existence of the other producers acted as a negative externality, threatening the reputation of their business. This was probably truer for the traditionalists, who considered the typical- ity and the link to traditions and to the terroir as important assets. The second expla- nation concerns the nonpecuniary benefits from wine production. It is evident from the film that winemakers (from both groups) were interested in more than just the income from their activity. Much more was at stake: prestige, acceptance, and recog- nition, all of which had a social dimension. Nonpecuniary issues are often disre- garded in economic analyses, and, I suspect, they are particularly relevant in the wine industry, especially for the highest-quality segment, in which creativity is crucial. Perhaps these considerations lead winemakers to disregard the motto of modern management schools: “be market oriented, not product-oriented.”
Finally, as a personal note, I was delighted by a tale told by Elio Altare at a showing of the film that I attended. Altare related that the much-admired Bartolo Mascarello,1 who was a leader of the traditionalists, had told him: “Look, you use barriques and you must go on doing so. You know that I’ll never use barriques. But eventually, the result will be that those who buy six bottles from you will also buy six bottles from me, and vice versa.” What a fine statement of the rationality of exploiting the segmentation of consumers’ tastes and their search for variety!
1 Mascarello passed away about ten years ago. He was a famed anti-Nazi partisan during World War II, a friend of philosophers and writers, a leader of the traditionalists, and a great personality. He drew his own labels, two of which exclaimed: “Barricades, not barriques,”and “No barriques, no Berlusconi.”
Negro, G., Hannan, M.T., Rao, H., and Leung, M.D. (2007). No barrique, no Berlusconi: Collective identity, contention, and authenticity in the making of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 1972, available at http://papers.ssrn.com
University of Turin (Italian Università degli Studi di Torino), Italy
E con i primi caldi non spuntano certo i funghi, ma le recensioni di Barolo Boys / the movie quelle sì. Eccone una pubblicata da MiVini, che contiene un’interessante citazione di Angelo Gaja: “”Non è che i produttori del Piemonte siano chiusi all’innovazione, assai più che in altre regioni molti di loro avvertono la forte necessità di integrarla con la tradizione procedendo per prove, passo dopo passo, senza strappo, con prudenza; mentre altri che non sentono questa necessità continuano a produrre i vini che amano di più”. “
dal sito MiVini
Barolo Boys: storia di una rivoluzione
Nel bel mezzo dei primi veri giorni d’estate ci siamo imbattuti in un interessante documentario del 2014 diretto da Paolo Casalis e Tiziano Gaia, che racconta la fantastica storia di un gruppo di giovani produttori che a cavallo fra gli anni ’80 e ’90, attraverso scelte ritenute rivoluzionarie e tanta voglia di emergere, contribuirono a fare grande il Barolo e le Langhe rendendo vino e territorio attraenti agli occhi del mondo intero.
È la storia di Elio Altare e altri amici produttori che intrapresero nuove strade per cercare una sorta di ribalta dopo le frustrazioni derivanti dalle condizioni economiche e dalle incomprensioni con i padri padroni.
La “revolution” dei Barolo Boys passa senza alcun dubbio da importanti innovazioni tecniche ed enologiche, ma anche da nuove strategie in campo di marketing e nel settore commerciale, queste ultime guidate con abilità e astuzia da Marco de Grazia, importatore americano che permise ai giovani produttori di affermarsi in maniera decisiva negli Stati Uniti, ottenendo grande considerazione e smisurato affetto.
Per questi giovani pionieri la barrique divenne quasi una religione, cosa che non tutti digerirono, soprattutto alcuni storici produttori fedeli da sempre alle antiche tradizione della Langa.
Da una parte Elio Altare con le posizioni dei Barolo Boys, dall’altra la fermezza di Bartolo Mascarello, icona del Barolo e fermo contestatore della barrique. Il primo importatore di metodologie studiate e recepite nel viaggio in Borgogna del 1976, il secondo legato ai valori della tradizione in chiave futura.
Ancora oggi la crescita delle Langhe in particolare del Barolo è una contesa ideologica tra modernisti e tradizionalisti che scalda gli animi di produttori, critica, importatori, wine lovers, ecc…
Uno sguardo attento su questo intricato scenario ci piace ritrovarlo nelle parole di Angelo Gaja riportate nel volume “Storie di vino e cucina” edito da Mondadori, nel quale parla così dei suoi corregionali: “Non è che i produttori del Piemonte siano chiusi all’innovazione, assai più che in altre regioni molti di loro avvertono la forte necessità di integrarla con la tradizione procedendo per prove, passo dopo passo, senza strappo, con prudenza; mentre altri che non sentono questa necessità continuano a produrre i vini che amano di più”.
Insomma un documentario consigliato a tutti i curiosi del mondo del vino, agli innamorati degli straordinari panorami delle Langhe e dei suoi principali prodotti.
Al termine della proiezione sarebbe stato il caso di bere un buona annata di Barolo firmato dai tradizionalisti ed una dai modernisti, anzi magari due per tipo. Ci sarà tempo e modo di farlo, sapremo rendervene conto, intanto auguriamo buon visione a chi sceglierà di gustarsi questa pellicola.
Info: è possibile vedere il film in streaming (http://www.baroloboysthemovie.com) o scaricarlo direttamnte da Itunes, come abbiamo fatto noi.
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.
I don’t wont to take part in this struggle because, you’ve to know, it’s a struggle between two sides. When I was a child, I was with the cow boys against Sioux, I was with Mickey Mouse against the Beagle Boys. Now that I’m older, just a little bit, probably I’ll have a chance to understand that borders are often smooth and made to be broken.
I don’t wont to take part in this struggle, I don’t really know if barolo history has been made by the “olds” with the big barrel or by the “youngs” with the barrique, by the fathers of the “big quantity” or by the “sons” who cut the grapes and leave them fall on the ground. Probably history, as history itself would be able to explain, take origin from a synthesis…and a synhtesis is always full of pain.
Neverthless I can’t stop to be fascinated, I can say this without any kind of fear, by Elio Altare’s words. I can’t stop to be fascinated by that age, that strain, that “affronto” as he defined it in the movie. And I don’t absolutely care if his barolo is better than his father’s one, or not. What is important for me is wine, that once more tells us about life, about times, about evolution. Our evolution.
So Barolo Boys simply were what we all were one time ago. What we were in that wonderful and painful moment when we had to decide to leave our house our nest and to fly, to live. When we had do decide what to do and what to be.
Because, as I often said to myself, to leave and to change, doesn’t not mean to abandon or to repudiate. And I think there are only two ways to die: not moving or moving without having inside what others before us teached to us.
So, probably, before “Barolo Boys” they were, simply, boys.
La cinquena edició el Most. Penedès Festival Internacional de Cinema del Vi i el Cava, organitzat pel Vinseum (Museu de les Cultures del Vi de Catalunya) i el Cine Club Vilafranca, s’acomiadava aquest diumenge. Com cada any, el festival ha mostrat una acurada selecció de les millors peces audiovisuals relacionades amb el món de la vinya, el vi i el cava a Vilafranca, Sant Sadurní i a d’altres indrets del Penedès.
La preestrena de Barcelona, nit d’hivern, de Dani de la Orden, el darrer 5 de novembre, donava el tret de sortida al certamen, que avui ha clausurat La novia, una adaptació al cinema de Bodas de sangre de García Lorca. El palmarès de la secció Collita està encapçalat pel documental italià Barolo Boys. Storia di una Rivoluzione, de Paolo Casalis, reconegut amb el Gran Premi del Jurat, dotat amb 1.000 euros, i amb el Premi Projecció Internacional.
El film és un relat engrescador sobre la revolució col·lectiva d’un grup de joves vinaters de la regió italiana de Langhe que, amb orgull i passió, passen de l’autoproducció a consolidar els vins de Barolo, una denominació d’origen admirada arreu del món. La secció oficial del certamen, centrada en la producció audiovisual sobre la vinya i el vi, ha projectat enguany 21 treballs de països com Itàlia, Suïssa, França, Xile i Estats Units.
Un palmarès repartit
El jurat, integrat per Xavi Ayala (sommelier), Anna Espelt (elaboradora), Carlos R. Ríos (director del festival D’A), Gemma Ferraté (directora de cinema) i Maria Antònia Rovira (agent d’actors) també ha reconegut amb una Menció especial en la categoria de Millor projecció internacional la producció Chasselas forever, dirigida per Florian Burion.
El Premi al millor treball documental ha estat per Beudon – La terre, l’homme et la vigne, dirigit per Christian Laubacher i Delphine Schacher, i el Premi al millor treball de ficció ha reconegut Vinodentro, de Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani. El Premi Arrels al millor treball lligat al territori se l’ha endut À la source du vin, de Philippe Gasnier, i Premi al millor treball promocional L’Olivera Únic: no beuràs mai res igual, dirigit per Marc Saludes.
El palmarès de la secció Brot, la mostra de curtmetratges, està encapçalat per Ser e voltar, de Xacio Baño, Premi del Jurat al Millor Curtmetratge. El jurat, integrat per Anna Petrus (crítica de cinema), Roger Casamajor (actor) i Maria Olivella (exhibidora), ha volgut fer també una menció especial a Caradecaballo, de Marc Martínez. El públic ha premiat Playback, de Nico Aguerre, i el Jurat jove, Walls, dirigit per Miguel López Beraza.
Palmarès de la Secció Collita 2015
Gran Premi del Jurat
Barolo Boys. Storia di una Rivoluzione, Paolo Casalis
Premi millor treball de Ficció
Vinodentro, dirigit per Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani
Premi al Millor Treball Documental
Beudon – La terre, l’homme et la vigne, dirigit per Christian Laubacher i Delphine Schacher
À la source du vin, dirigit per Philippe Gasnier
Premi a la Millor Projecció Internacional
Barolo Boys. Storia di una Rivoluzione, dirigit per Paolo Casalis
Menció d’Honor a Projecció Internacional
Chasselas forever, dirigit per Florian Burion
Premi al Millor Treball Promocional
L’Olivera Únic: no beuràs mai res igual, dirigit per Marc Saludes
Palmarès de la secció Brot 2015
Premi al Millor curtmetratge
Ser e voltar, dirigit per Xacio Baño
Menció Especial al Curtmetratge
Caradecaballo, dirigit per Marc Martínez
Premi del Públic al Millor Curtmetratge
Playback, dirigit per Nico Aguerre
Premi del Jurat al Millor Curtmetratge
Walls, dirigit per Miguel López Beraza