History recounts that the final push during the second half of the 1800s to unify the different states and form one Italy, the Risorgimento, was driven by 4 key characters – Garibaldi, Mazzini, Benso di Cavour and Vittorio Emanuele II. The last 3 all hailed from Piemonte. This unification ended centuries-long interloping efforts of the French, Austrians, Germans, British and the Spanish to claim dominion over people and territory in the country we recognize today as the high-heeled boot jutting out into the Mediterranean.
The parallelism is uncanny, and it’s there to call-out. Practically a century later, the Piemontesi seem to have done it again, this propensity to band together, rallying behind the philosophy that it makes sense to close ranks when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is how the story of Produttori del Barbaresco began.
Prologue to Produttori del Barbaresco
The unabridged version includes a prologue with Domizio Cavazza as headliner. He had vast landholdings and vineyards in the area, and a castle which was later converted into a communal wine press. But as he was at the same time Headmaster of the Regia Scuola Enologica di Alba and otherwise already had his hands full, he realized it best to bring the wine growers together and collectively make a name for the wine their plantings of Nebbiolo produced, Barbaresco. The consequently established Cantine Sociali di Barbaresco was in good hands – Cavazza, who eventually came to be regarded as the Father of Barbaresco, knew the difference between Nebbiolo grown in Barolo and in Barbaresco. But this story abruptly ends after he passed away, followed shortly after by 2 world wars and fascist rule.
The Pied Piper of Barbaresco
Then in 1958, the Piemontesi had another, different kind of Risorgimento in Barbaresco. Like a Ted Lasso come to pick up the spirits of a dejected and sullen football team at the fringes of the Premier League, a young new parish priest, Don Fiorino Marengo, made it his evangelical business to help breathe life and verve back into the community. He started with refurbishing the church, recommissioning the pipe organ, and forming a choir. He also took the initiative of repurposing abandoned structures to convert into a kindergarten and a community hall. The locals pitched in and took to the changes that sent their lives buzzing with new energy. Don Fiorino even had a hand in forming a town marching band. His most lasting legacy as veritable town Pied Piper, though, would be his role as catalyst and Chief Strategy Officer to this farming region. He convinced the growers to revive the spirit of the Cantine Sociali di Barbaresco, and not just grow any sort of grape or crop and sell to negociants for what really was just a pittance, but to in fact grow only Nebbiolo to make Barbaresco. Rounding up 19 wine producers, Barbaresco producers vinified their first cuvée in 1958 with just 1,000 bottles.
It must pay to have a priest around when the game plan requires a leap of faith. Foresight not being 20:20, many skeptics considered the decision to go monovarietal as livelihood suicide, and all this against the backdrop of Barolo quite dynamically and simultaneously evolving on its own and by that time already having made headway as the haughtier, more senior sibling of Barbaresco. But the strategy did pay off. Produttori would be well on its way to become a global branding success, and more significantly, Barbaresco had earned its place in the Premier League of wines.
But just as Tedd Lasso did a Mary Poppins, knowing that he had finally done his job and was due to fade out of scene to let his charges fulfill their own destinies with renewed fervor, Don Fiorino had to leave after a few years of Produttori’s first salvo, and was off to his next parochial engagement.
Producers of Barbaresco–The cantine sociali version 2
65 years later, Don Fiorino’s vinous flock is alive and thriving. Produttori poster boy and the 2nd generation in his family to be at the helm as Managing Director of Produttori since 1992, Aldo Vacca lets us in that are no secrets but only the grounding philosophy of working with a quality mindset. This has secured the enviable reputation that Produttori del Barbaresco has been enjoying for decades now. More telling is that other leading wine-producing cooperatives themselves — even those outside of Italy (Domäne Wachau is naming one), recognize the cantine sociali as the benchmark.
Production’s wine grower members are rewarded for quality, and not just quantity, of the grapes they produce. It is by consensus that the cooperative sets the criteria for measuring quality as well as the framework for remuneration. Total income is distributed according to the organizational profit-sharing plan. The weights attached to the different factors contributing to quality could change as seen necessary. In recent years for instance, with climate change bearing on sugar levels, driving them that much higher at each subsequent harvest, the coefficients for other variables such as tannins, acidity and color have been calibrated to maintain an ideal baseline for quality.
Managing Director of Produttori del Barbaresco
"It is a beautiful and active scene when, in October, queues of mini-trucks wind down from the hills to the village. Lines and lines of crates full of harvested grapes are brought in and take over the village square with the wine crushing machine at the center.”
The result is 3 general categories of Nebbiolo-based wines, the flagship being a Barbaresco DOCG which is a blend of harvests from the different vineyards and which has come to be known for its solid quality and great value. It is complex, never heavy nor overly tannic, with a light impact on the palate and an extremely long finish, revealing an elegant power. It is effusive with red cherry aromas, pinched violet petals, and nice spicy flavors like white pepper and anise. Its vibrant character doesn’t fill the palate completely but on the middle palate, a vertical retrogusto languidly persists. A very intriguing complexity ebbs and flows and evolves in waves with each swallow.
There is a simpler Langhe Nebbiolo harvested from the younger vineyards and is suited for earlier drinking. It is a great way to introduce the palate to the lures of the Nebbiolo grape and the beautiful Barbaresco terroir, delivering spicy cherry fruit in an uncomplicated, and youthfully vibrant way. Langhe Nebbiolo is perfect for restaurant house pours by the glass, for aperitifs to start a rich meal, particularly pairing well with local Piemontese cuisine such as cold appetizers carne cruda or vitello tonnato.
Then and only in great vintages will Produttori decide to release 9 single-vineyard Barbarescos under the Riserva program, each from the historic and premium sites of Asili, Rabajà, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajè, Montefico, Muncagota, and Rio Sordo. Every bottle carries the name of the single vineyard of origin, the name of the vineyard owner, as well as the total number of bottles produced. Aldo himself is still amazed no less than during the first time 9 Produttori Crus were vinified during their banner vintage year; how the same exact grape, picked on the exact same year, can express itself so differently from one modestly-sized plot to the next, all owing to differences in and influence of slope, distance from the Tanaro river or proximity to the Alps, soil composition, agricultural practices, and certainly on account of the vagaries of climate and micro-climates.
Asked what the future holds for Produttori, Aldo is firm in declaring ‘generational continuation’. Produttori is a way of life for all invested member-producers as well as everyone else in their fold. From an early age, the younger ones in the succession line are involved and contribute to progress driven by both innovation and preservation. This is buttressed and ensured by the organizational structure itself of Produttori. For a people who have historically proven themselves hardy yet resilient and adaptive to what both nature and circumstance have had to deal them over the centuries, it is easy to see how the spirt of the risorgimento continues to live on with every new bud of Nebbiolo that sprouts in Barbaresco. PWX
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