On my recent trip to Italy, I had the pleasure of visiting some of Piedmont’s famous wine growing sub-zones: Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Asti & Dogliani to name a few. I would love to highlight all of my winery visits here (stay-tuned) and all the delicious food & wine I consumed, but then I’m sure you have other things to do today, right? I decided to feature one of the most interesting visits I had and that was to Produttori del Barbaresco, located literally in Barbaresco the village.
Most of you are familiar with the wines of Barbaresco (lesser known than Barolo – but equal in quality & often cheaper) and the famous producers that put them on the map: Gaja, Giacosa & Produttori del Barbaresco. But did you know the latter is actually an old cooperative and helped establish Barbaresco as one of the most important wines of Italy? I have to be honest, I wasn’t really familiar with how a cooperative winery works. Often cooperatives don’t get the accolades & distinction that a family owned-operated winery may or that it lacks the quality that a traditional winery can produce.
Barbaresco is located in the beautiful Langhe hills overlooking the great River Tanaro. It sits half-way between Torino and the Ligurian coast at over 1200 feet above sea level. With its ancient medieval tower, and only about 700 inhabitants, it is both charming and worth a visit. To understand the beginnings of the cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco you have to go back to the history of the district itself. At that time, Nebbiolo (the grape used in Barbaresco wines) was only grown & sold to make Barolo wine since the district was controlled by nearby Barolo.
Any grapes not used for Barolo was simply labeled “Nebbiolo di Barbaresco”. In 1894 the first cooperative was formed by Domizio Cavazza, who was allowed to form the “ Cantine Sociali” with 9 Barbaresco vineyard owners to make wine in the local castle which he owned. Cavazza understood that the Nebbiolo grown in Barbaresco was characterly different than that of Barolo and he believed in the potential it had as a winemaking zone.
Entrance to the Produttori del Barbaresco winery
Gina in the Produttori del Barbaresco tasting room
The cooperative was forced to close in the 1920’S due to hard economic times, but was revived again in 1958 by the parish priest of Barbaresco. He realized in order for the small vineyard properties to survive, they would have to join forces. He gathered together nineteen small growers and founded the current Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative. The first three vintages were made in the church basement, then they built a winery in the square of the village where it presently resides. Today the cooperative operates 100 hectares between 53 growers. If you’ve done your math right, you’ll realize that each grower only has a small amount of property. The land is divided by hills and each hill has different growers. Many of the families are 4 or 5 generation growers who own their land.
What does it take to be a part of the cooperative? Our guide, Aldo Vacca (Director of Produttori del Barbaresco) explained there were 3 primary rules for the Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative:
1) 100% of the fruit from the growers goes into the cooperative
2) Members are not allowed to vinify on their own or make their own wine
Though the first two rules seem like strict guidelines, 3) – the cooperative pays top dollar for quality fruit, making it very attractive for its members (and thus a waiting list for membership). I asked Aldo who governed the cooperative and its growers? He explained that the cooperative has a board of 9 people made from the family of growers and selected by the family of growers. Every 3 years they elect a new president from the family of growers. Note the emphasis on family? I was really digging this cooperative idea. It is a well-organized system that allows local farmers to focus on what they do best, grow grapes and the potential to make a very good living at it. My eyes were wide-opened! What a fantastic example of a community helping their community by employing people, supporting the farmers and establishing a legacy for future generations.
After our tour of the cellar, we tasted a line-up up of delicious single-vineyard Barbarescos. Complex, full-bodied with tannic structure Barbarescos are approachable young but have the ability to age many years. Below is a list of Produttori del Barbaresco 2005 Cru wines available through special order at Portalis:
Barbaresco Riserva “Asili”
Barbaresco Riserva “Ovello”
Barbaresco Riserva “Paje”
Barbaresco Riserva “Rio Sordo”
Barbaresco Riserva “Pora”
Barbaresco Riserva “Moccagatta”
Barbaresco Riserva “Montefico”