Barolo: Three Men from Berri
The hilltop La Morra under MonViso and the Alps at sunset, seen from Monforte d'Alba
It was back in 2007 that three men from the hamlet of Berri, located up the La Morra slopes in Barolo, came together to form a new winery: Trediberri. Vladimiro provides the financial acumen, and the Oberto’s father and son team Federico and Nicola, the winemaking. Their first wine appeared only a decade ago, and yet they now adorn wine magazines and critics ‘must have lists’ as one of the hot new wineries of the whole Barolo region.
I first came across them through my favourite Enoteca du Midi in Paris. Grumbling about the fact that all my favourite wines (Rinaldi, Burlotto, the 2 Mascarello’s, the 2 Conterno’s etc) were now priced for millionaires only and had literally doubled or quadrupled in the last 5 vintages, I asked if there was anything affordable that I was missing.
He handed me a Langhe Nebbiolo for 15 euros.
Not very exciting I thought, I mean, plonk? But at least it was cheap, so why wait? I think it was 2019 which made me a bit worried about those habitual, rasping Nebbiolo tannins in such a youngster, but there weren’t any. It was gentle, floral, red fruited and as elegant as Burgundy. Though I don’t like to drag all the world’s wines back to a Burgundian yardstick, if I were to do so, it’d be Chambolle or Volnay. Feminine (can one say that anymore?) and lovely. And for 15 euros, ridiculously good value, which is not a comment you hear often from Barololand.
You might be surprised, but guess what, I was back at the enoteca in a jiffy, begging for something a bit further up the scale, a Barolo and maybe one precious bottle of their top vineyard, the Rocche dell Annunziata. That is all he had to sell me.
At which moment I noticed the labels. Interesting artwork from the vineyards. It looked familiar and then I realised that we had been in La Morra a few years ago and wandered aimlessly into an exhibition of paintings. They were all from the region, truffle hunters, vineyards, hilltop villages and – everywhere – rolling contours and vines, from lush spring greens to Fauvist autumnal reds and golds. Pierflavio Gallina was the artist. We’d bought 3 of them and ended up eating fresh Langhe hazlenuts (the third wonder up here after the wine and truffles) and drinking Barolo whilst he told us stories of meeting Robert Mondavi in Napa.
Well, Gallina is behind all the labels, and fun they are, as well as a more artistic take on the region, and clever differentiator. My interest was well and truly piqued. Nebbiolo meets pinot, joyous art labels and a new, affordable Barolo estate? How can that be possible in this day and age?
I whizzed off an email, why not? We’d be in the region in 6 months’ time, so any chance of a visit? Given that I now saw on the internet that this was very much a discovered rising star on everyone’s to have list, I presumed the answer would indeed be Burgundian, by which I mean I expected no answer at all. Not even a polite ‘sorry we’re to busy too receive visitors’. Just silence.
But no, unlike my friends from the Gold Coast in France, here was a reply in perfect English from Nicola himself. What time would suit us..?
As welcomes go, they don’t come any better. We were early and everyone else was late, (of which more later), so we strolled down the road and stood in the middle of the famed vineyard, Rocche dell Annunziata. Behind us were the vines of none other than Bartolo (Maria-Teresa) Mascarello, which of course are blended into her incomparable and only Barolo (one of the wines that cost me 70 euros and is now 300+ if you can beg or steal a bottle). In front were the Trediberri plots and to the left those of Robert Voerzio, which will cost an awful lot more (you can see the netting on the Voerzio vines, covering the mid-height of the vine as protection against hail, an unaffordable luxury for Trediberri due to the considerable manhours needed, but a more frequent sight now in the defence against climate change).
Looking down Rocche. Voerzio vines and hail protection to the left.
Nicola discussed the old days, when his father had been forced to lease the vines to Renato Ratti, but insisted on being the cellar master himself, a short time ago in historical terms but an eon in financial ones – a time when polyculture was needed to survive, the chickpeas grown between he vines making more money than the fabled Nebbiolo which nowadays from a prime site like this is gold dust. Back then, just a generation, it was a subsistence economy, a struggle to survive, always precarious. What is so unusual, and so heroic, is that Nicola has this mantra firmly in his mind, a legacy that he carries with him everywhere, including when it comes to pricing. He has not raised his prices because of exactly this. As he put it, if the likes of Conterno, Rinaldi and Mascarello still sell ex-cellars at such affordable prices, then a newbie like me has to sell for less. He should be beatified for his decency and attitude, feet so firmly on the ground.
The 'Ceretto' Chapel looking up to La Morra
He would not be drawn on the so called ‘Barolo Wars’ when people like Elio Altare took a chainsaw to his father’s dirty old casks and chemically suffocated vines; when the ‘modernists’ brought in French barriques, rotary fermenters and heavier extraction; when the US wine critics all swooned before inky wines that looked and tasted more of southern Syrah than pale skinned, fragrant Nebbiolo. Because, as he said, all that is now in the past and without them, we’d not be where we are now. It’s a remarkably modest, honest and rational viewpoint.
In the distance he gave us a masterclass in the hideously complex geography of the Barolo region. Here we were in La Morra, a bit more sand, a bit less clay, supposedly, with Verduno, the more elegant village of the Barolo region, where red fruited florality nods across MonViso and the Alps towards Burgundy. Nicola loves to liken Rocche to Les Amoureuses in Chambolle. One day I’d be very happy to compare the two, except that any Amoureuses will cost three times as much…
On the other side of the valley, (the big difference from Burgundy, which tends to be a north-south slope facing east, or south-east/south, here you have multiple hills and valleys leaving vineyards facing in every direction of the compass), he pointed out the village of Castiglione Falletto, and the wonderful Monprivato (‘grand cru’) vineyard of G. Mascarello. Heading south, under the forest, were the best parts of Bussia, where Aldo Conterno reigned, but there we were in Monforte, and behind that, a valley over to the east, was mighty Serralunga (crowned by his brother), home to the most sturdy, tannic and renowned wines of the whole region.
His passion was palpable, his knowledge fascinating, but at this stage the rest of the tasting troupe arrived. By now we were discussing Mme Bize-Leroy and biodynamics, which he had tried but failed with, the mildew being just too destructive here. These days, biodynamics are so trendy and so hallowed that nobody dares criticise, let alone admit failure. Refreshing. Again.
So, forgive me for an aside, and a bit of a soap box diatribe. Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to be yelled at. It seems that some people forget that highly respected, well-known winemakers are busy people, and that they have better things to do than spend a couple of hours pouring wine down your and my throat and that for this very reason, we should be grateful, arrive on time, show true interest and hopefully some knowledge, and not be a nuisance. Arriving late is plain rude. Expecting to buy cheap wine ditto (& stupid as none of the top wineries nowadays will sell you a drop, they simply don’t have any). And, finally, if you do arrive on time and behave like any normal, decent person, please don’t monopolise the star and creep around after him like a limpet glued to his side. It’s tedious, selfish and very annoying, and I’ve seen it happen to often. The Alpha male (yes, always seems to be an idiot man), appears, shows himself to be the self-appointed expert, totally takes over the poor winemaker’s attention (and patience!) and follows him around like a puppy. From then on, nobody else gets a word in.
Ok, I feel better with that off my chest. Anyway, where were we? In the chai I guess, surrounded by stainless steel and tradition. And, again, the most humble and remarkable honesty. Nicola was not proud of his 2018 Rocche as there’d been a problem with one tank, so rather than make it, he decided to blend it in with the Berri and Torriglione vineyards into the basic Barolo. So, you will get a third of the top vineyard in with your normal blend in 2018 (he did seem stressed about this and said he might have to break principle and add a couple of euros to the price tag!).
We tasted it, that red fruited, floral fruit, perhaps, yes, a slight lack of depth somewhere in the aftertaste, but a very nice wine nevertheless. And as a new Barolo del Comune di La Morra, it will have a new label, a hilltop view of La Morra that we just happen to have on the wall. Fantastic.
Nothing is fixed in stone here, there are no ‘principles of winemaking’, the aim is to make a wine for pleasure, and that is exactly what they do. As Nicola says, he does not want to be a rockstar winemaker, or a millionaire, he just wants to enjoy making wine that people like to drink and to be able to afford to go and play golf.
The 2019 Rocche though is truly lovely and, though I know I keep doing it and shouldn’t, definitely backs up the desire to make La Morra Barolo with some of the characteristic rose bed aromatic elegance of Chambolle-Musigny.
Friend Roger discssing with Nicola
Very rarely I have enjoyed a winery visit so much, gained so much respect for the winemaker and learned a bunch. Oh, and been able to head up to the hilltop and find his wines for a price that belies their renown and their undoubted quality, across the range.
Long may it last.