Dr. Aldo Vaccha is a good friend even though I see him only every five or six years and don’t communicate with him any more often. He is a good friend because I only need to call or write, and he is immediately responsive to my requests and a splendid host when I do visit. He is also a good friend because he oversees the production of very good wine.
Aldo is director of a remarkable enterprise, the Wine Cooperative of the tiny town of Barbaresco in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The true name of the cooperative is Produttori del Barbaresco, and it is consistently named as one of best wine cooperatives in Europe and one of the very few that produces grand cru wines.
The wine of the locale — made totally from Nebbiolo grapes — takes its name from the village of about 1,000 residents, nearly all of whom live along a single street that is home to at least twelve fine restaurants, a few independent wine producers, and, of course, the Produttori.
Memories of the place and my visits over the years came fast and furious as I celebrated the Peyton Manning Super Bowl victory with a bottle of the 2010 vintage Barbaresco. Like its neighbor and friendly (mostly) competitor across the Tanaro River — Barolo — also a noble Nobbiolo home, Barbaresco lays claim to some of the most prestigious wines in Italy.
The Produttori in its present iteration was established in 1958 at the urging of the parish priest who convinced half a dozen producers to join forces to promote Barbaresco out from under the Barolo umbrella. Today it is managed by some 50 wine families as voting members. For its first three or four years it operated out of the parish church directly across from its present building — with no objections from the diocese.
The only wine, of course, is Barbaresco, the only grape Nebbiolo. There are Barbaresco strata based on the quality of the grapes in a specific vintage, and there are some Nebbiolos labeled simply Langhe, for the surrounding hills, because some of the grapes are not quite ready for the big time but which are nonetheless worthy of attention.
I was last in Barbaresco in 2011, and, like Peyton and another season, I wonder if I will ever venture back. Fortunately, this is one cooperative that ships its wines to America, and so, when I want a splurge and can come up with $30 – $35, I can re-play my 15 or 20 visits to the Piedmont over the years. I also have a hunch that Aldo knew about the Super Bowl.
The world has begun the observance of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and as copies of his First Folio begin circulating the country, it seems appropriate to call attention to some of the Bard’s comments regarding our beloved beverage and its relationship to emperors and kings, especially now that we have reached something of a climax in the Presidential debates of 2016.
It could very well be instructive to start with what one famous character said of one of those kings: Falstaff about Henry IV. “A man cannot make him laugh; but that’s no marvel, he drinks no wine.”
Henry IV, however could very well have been speaking for a line-up of candidates on-stage just last night: “And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, Seem frosty?”
To apply a comment to all the candidates, we should reach back to our high school readings of Julius Caesar and recall the Emperor’s request to “Give me a bowl of wine; In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius.”
Having now endured almost six weeks of close to two dozen aspiring Presidents in verbal combat, I am inclined to invoke Mark Antony: “Let’s all take hands, Till that the conquering wine hath steep’d our sense In soft and delicate Lethe.”
How relevant indeed is our Bard!
Every once in a while I am reminded of the less romantic aspects of wine consumption and production, aspects such as working the fields, tending the vines, cleaning the vats, and maintaining the cellars. One of those reminders came a couple days ago as an announcement of the availability of the “2016 Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide.” Its 72 pages are not the stuff of wine reviews nor a ranking of vintage years. I have not read it, but I know its value to those who grow fruit.
It is compiled by researchers and professors at universities in 13 states considered subject to common Midwestern insect plagues. Hoosiers will be pleased to know that Bruce Bordelon and the staff at Purdue are prime movers in the production of this guide.
I enjoy writing about the many pleasant wine experiences I have enjoyed for a great many years, the tastes, the circumstances, and the personalities making them possible. I do not write enough — nor do most other wine writers — about what goes into making wine experiences possible.
I have walked with Bill Oliver and his vineyard manager on hot, muggy summer days in the Creekbend vineyards in Monroe County while they checked for bugs and blight and rot and swatted at gnats and mosquitos. I have sunk my feet into slush with Leonhard and Olivier Humbrecht while they checked on vines hit by a gusty snowstorm the night before. I have stumbled up and down the Mosel River banks trying to get a good photo of strong men and women patiently and painstakingly carrying by hand the heavy stones that had washed down from above in the rains of a few days earlier.
Experiences such as these are rewarding for me, but I did this sort of thing only once or twice a year; those who produce our beloved beverage do these things every day.
In short, even though we all understand that farming — grape growing — is hard work, very hard work, we seldom pause to honor that work. And it requires lots of knowledge, some from guides like the one referenced above, most from dealing with crops up close and personal. It is hard work in the winery, and wine production requires almost a daily presence in the vineyards and in the cellars.
Yes, the harvest is a joyous time but only a brief interlude in a process that must repeat itself again and again. In spite of the rigors and toil, most wine producers love their work and derive both pride and pleasure from knowing their work is appreciated.
I try when gazing at shelves of wines to remember the work and dedication of New Zealanders, Germans, Chileans, Italian, French, Greek, Spanish, others from around the world and, yes, including Hoosiers who make these wines possible. They are all champions of our dinner tables.OLDER POSTS »