Category Archives: Winery Visits

When I have visited wineries

Not what you think (Avellino, Italy)

One of the many things I’ve learnt on my journey has been to not make assumptions about things, wine or otherwise, the best thing is not listen to white noise or demons and angels on shoulders. This is one major reason I prefer to ignore a lot of wine critics and marketing hype as they can tend to cloud my judgement and enjoyment of things, in essence by not reading ‘professional’ assessment of wines or wineries, nor by reading much on wineries’ websites. What I have preferred to do is to visit a winery and establish my own impression and feel for the philosophy, approach and practices and then determine what I feel is important and good about the winery whilst avoiding the negative and generally unimportant things. A perfect example of an assumption I made was about the region of Campania, which I didn’t have the chance to visit when I was here previously, simply passing through from Puglia on the way to Sicilia when I stopped for a night in Napoli before boarding the ferry to Palermo. Not unlike every other region in Italy Campania has it’s own wine history, traditions, grape varieties and styles which it is deservedly proud of, but I was very wrong in my generalisation of this region as being warm and Mediterranean like much of southern-Europe. In fact it has a more continental climate thanks to the elevations and weather patterns provided by the mountains so close to the coast. On the only occasion that I had to visit wineries in Campania I chose to do so in Avellino which according to Jacopo Cossater is where some of the best white wines of the south come from, and I met with the two largest and most important representatives of the entire Campania region; Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino.
A model of the only thing to survive the 1980 earthquake in a nearby village, the abbey

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Polarising (Umbria, Italy – Day Three)

I have had the pleasure of meeting a great many people who work in wine over the course of my journey who have all imparted wisdom to me, and I hope that I have given some small amount in return as this is the essence of wine communication, that in travels in two directions. Most of the people have been hosts at wineries that I have visited, but a few of them I either met also visiting wineries or simply in unconnected situations, like a woman who consults business strategy and communication to small wineries in Italy whilst having lunch in Beaune, France. Someone I met whilst in Sicily was a wine journalist and blogger originally from Verona but now living with his recently married wife in Perugia. At the time he was making a much smaller version of my own journey in the south of Italy, including Campania, Calabria, Molise and Abruzzo. His name is Jacopo Cossater and he not only contributes to the most important wine magazine in Italy and the most visited wine website in Italy, but he also regularly writes on his own site enoicheillusioni. We met whilst visiting one of my favourite winemakers in Italy, Arianna Occhipinti, and shared some discussions over several meals whilst in Sicily. I was thrilled to catch up over dinner with Jacopo and his lovely wife Laura with my parents when we visited Perugia, and even more so when he invited me to visit a few of his favourite producers around Perugia in Montefalco and Spoleto. Regretfully I forgot to bring my camera so the images in this post have been taken with many thanks from the websites of the producers in question.
Vines are only outnumbered by olive trees here

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Continuing traditions (Soave, Italy)

Due to a few inconveniences both good and bad I lost at least seven days of potential visits whilst I was in Italy. Some of these interruptions were for holidays, including Easter which I spent with wonderful family friends in Milano, and who my parents and I also spent Christmas with last week. Other inconveniences were due either to the inability to find wineries thanks to inaccurate directions or addresses, or to wineries not replying to my emails. A final inconvenience was Vinitaly held in Verona, which was a fascinating insight into the world of trade shows but not a particularly good way to learn about wines and regions as not only are you simply tasting wines in a convention centre but the hosts are also extremely distracted with countless other things and therefore not able to give the best introduction to their winery. Whilst I was in Verona I did manage to visit a few producers in Valpolicella which is to the north of the city extending from the east to the west, but there are a number of other areas in Veneto that were left unexplored, including the highest volume DOCG, Prosecco. I had the chance to join a group from Australia for dinner in Verona at the invitation of their Soave producer, and being familiar with their quality I was thrilled to have the chance to take my parents there on my return.
The castle sits overlooking the village of Soave

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Recapturing the vibe (Montalcino, Italy – Day Two)

It’s such a relief to simply be in holiday mode after most of the past 14 months have been spent not only travelling but researching and arranging appointments and then writing as much as I can. I have joined my parents who have flown up from Melbourne for us to travel in Italy for my last six weeks in Europe. Not only is this a great experience for me not having seen them for over 14 months, but also my mother brought me as a baby to Italy for five months whilst she worked on her masters in a dialect from Campania. I may have mentioned in a post back in April that I was actually returning to Italy after almost 30 years, and now my mother and I are reunited in Italy as well. As I am travelling I won’t be doing much writing in the hope of making the most of the trip with my parents, but they are interested to visit a few wineries whilst we are here so I will write about them. I raved to them about how beautiful Montalcino was, and as we were staying a few nights in Siena to the north and we were passing through, I made an appointment to a winery that I didn’t visit when I was here before.

Poggio di Sotto

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Here endeth the lesson (Beaujolais, France)

Fourteen and some months after I left Australia I arrived at my last day visiting wineries, and it certainly has been quite a journey. As it turns out I am very glad to be finishing in Burgundy, partly because I generally love the wines and they are amongst my favourite in Europe, but also as Burgundy is such a diverse and often complicated region that I was glad to have had all the previous experience before visiting. Having already visited the Chablis and the Cote d’Or on my previous trip in 2010 there was very little that surprised me in these regions and it was more a question of familiarising myself further. South of the Cote de Beaune on the other hand was a different story, as not only did I know very little about these appelations but I had had almost no tasting experience with them. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to secure any appointments either in the Cote Challonaise or the Cote Maconnaise and had to be content with driving through parts of the area to see the type of landscape it is. One of the more famous appelations in the Cote Maconnaise is the village of Chardonnay, not because of the quality of the wines but because it is supposedly the birthplace of possibly my favourite white grape variety. Technically still part of Macon but a different appelation to the south is the famous Beaujolais which totally took me by surprise, and I was pretty happy to finish somewhere that did. The king of varieties here is gamay, and there are no other parts of the world that grow it in the quantity or quality they do here. There is a separate appelation for Beaujolais Blanc wines which are 100% chardonnay, but really it’s the gamay that makes this region what it is.

A cold day in Beaujolais

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So good they named it twice (Cote de Beaune, France – Day Two)

The famous village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wasn’t always named as such, it was renamed from just Chateauneuf after the Papal regime had all of their best vineyards here back in the 15th century. The association with this important period in history was strong enough to change the name of the village, thereby highlighting the importance of viticulture, and today it is the largest single appelation in France. This isn’t the only village in France that has changed its name to signify the importance of viticulture, some of the most famous are in Burgundy. Within the Cote d’Or, villages that neighboured the best grand cru vineyards began to take the name of the vineyard to lift their profile. Gevrey became Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle became Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne became Vosne-Romanee and Aloxe became Aloxe Corton. Arguably the most famous white wines in the world come from the Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards which are between the villages of Puligny and Chassagne, and thus they both took the name of the vineyard and became Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet respectively. In a way this is like a seal of approval or a sponsorship, but in the same way that a sponsorship from Pepsi doesn’t guarantee that The Spice Girls are good, just because the fruit comes from a classified vineyard it doesn’t mean it will be the same style or the same quality. This is one of the problems with the appelation classification system, is that it is merely for a place and not for the human influence, and two wines from the same vineyard but a different producer can be very different. As I always say, trust the producer first and the rest will follow.

Barrels and bottles

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A Beaune to pick (Cote de Beaune, France – Day One)

Something that amazed me when I first came to Burgundy back in 2010 was how small the region was compared to how important it was, particularly in comparison to Bordeaux which is as big as it is important. The Cote d’Or stretches for about 40 kilometres from North-East to South-West, and is as narrow as 500 metres wide in such places as Premeaux-Prissey. The amount of wine that is produced can’t be that much considering the yields of only a few tonnes per hectare, and yet you can find Burgundy all around the world. Despite the relatively small size of the region there are a lot of differences between each part, particularly between the Cote des Nuits and the Cote de Beaune. The Cote de Beaunes starts in Aloxe-Corton, stretches north of the town of Beaune (the heart of the Cote d’Or) and continues past it all the way to just past Chassagne-Montrachet. I was always confused by the claim that the red wines of the Cote des Nuits were more feminine than their counterparts further south, whereas I (and several of my fellow students at university) felt the opposite was true. Pinot noir from the Cote de Beaune is first and foremost lighter, more pure and fresh, shows the minerality better and most importantly is more approachable sooner. I much prefer the red wines of the Cote de Beaune for all of these reasons, but it is also the chardonnay wines that distinguish this part of Burgundy as supreme, with the Montrachet Grand Cru parcels producing arguably the best white wines in the world. I was thrilled to visit three producers today that all exemplify the style of the Cote des Beaune yet have their own unique expression of it.

Ma Cuisine, one of the best dining experiences of my trip

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What goes around (Cote des Nuits, France – Day Three)

Now that winter has arrived I feel like I’ve come full circle in Europe because I arrived mid January in Paris. Back in February when I was in Germany you may remember that the temperature dropped well below zero and there was quite a bit of snow in regions like the Mosel, Rheingau and Franken. The morning of my third day in the Cote d’Or I awoke to falling snow that continued all morning and covered the cars, houses and buildings quite beautifully. It also made driving a little more challenging both for visibility reasons but also as the road was a little slippery. Seeing this just reinforces the fact that these wine regions North of the Loire Valley really are very cool-climate, and you would very rarely see snow in any regions in Australia, even further south in Tasmania. These cold temperatures and snow or frost are of course the reason that grape vines go into dormancy by turning brown and into canes, to protect themselves. It’s a shame that humans can’t develop a hard exterior that perfectly protects them over the winter, we would save a fortune on heating expenses, warm clothes and car problems. My final day in the Cote des Nuits I visited three small producers all with a different approach and expression.

Nuits-St-George vineyards under snow

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Expressions of interest (Cote des Nuits, France – Day Two)

One of the true revelations of my journey has been to discover the four components of what makes a great wine which must all be present and in balance. The first is the vine (obviously), but more importantly the right variety for the place. The place is the second component; for lack of a better term the terroir or the environment, which includes the climate but not the weather. The weather is a part of the third component which is the vintage, and how the specifics of the entire year can influence the character. The final component is the influence that people have, which includes everything viticulturally, oenologically, philosophically, spiritually and financially. All four components have their own influence on the character of the wine and to be a great wine they must be all working together, however one or more of the four often stands out more than the others whether intentionally or not. The most common component to dominate is the human influence of winemaking and something I am beginning to realise is that this is true in every region, even here in Burgundy. Winemakers whether deliberately or not want to impart their signature on the wine through anything from skin contact, use of oak, fruit sorting, ripeness of fruit at harvest and even the type and amount of filtration. So even within a single vineyard you may have slightly (or very) different expressions of the other three components. My day consisted of three appointments, all north of the village of Nuits-St-George.
Water is an important resource for wine production

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Chalk and cheese (Cote des Nuits, France – Day One)

There is a very good reason that the part of Burgundy between Dijon and the beginning of the Cote Challonaise is referred to as the Cote d’Or or Golden Coast, and it’s not because of the colour of the leaves in Autumn. It’s because the greatest and most aught after wines in the world are from this mysterious and unattainable part of the world, crafted from only two varieties, either pinot noir or chardonnay. These are the benchmarks not only for wines made with these grapes but all wines, particularly cool-climate elegant wines. I visited here as part of my 2010 trip, only spending a total of three days which included one in Chablis. With so little time back then I ended up visiting three negociant style houses based in Beaune and only one small producer in Volnay, but none in the Cote des Nuits although I did taste wines from this area. When I drove back from Dijon to Beaune after my visits in Chablis I passed all the vineyards that have such mythical names, realising just how small the appelations are. Some domaines own many hectares of vineyards in a multitude of different appelations and buying fruit or wine to make up the difference, releasing 50 or more wines each year. Other domaines are pure proprietors who only make wines from their own meagre holdings less than 15 hectares, often within one village. The difference between these two types of burgundy houses can be profound as I discovered on my first day in the northern part of the Golden Coast.
They use these at Louis Jadot to indicate when they have tasted from a barrel and it needs topping up

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