A quick confabulation with Aldo Vacca, winemaker and president, Produttori del Barbaresco

Earlier this year, Produttori del Barbaresco’s president and winemaker Aldo Vacca (left) took time out from his importer’s grand portfolio tasting to talk to me about recent vintages and the cooperative’s approach to winemaking.

Produttori del Barbaresco has always stood apart for its steadfast traditionalist approach to winemaking. Where do you see Produttori in relation to the current trend of modern-style Nebbiolo?

You have to understand that the winemaking tradition in Langhe comes from an entirely agricultural mentality, a “farmer” culture. Early on, we were insecure, if you will. We didn’t have enough faith in our land. This insecurity led a number of winemakers to adopt a modern approach. There are also a lot of new producers who have only recently begun making wine in Langhe. Many of them don’t have the respect for our tradition of winemaking. This trend has developed over the last 20 years and has had a big impact. But I also see that many producers are returning to a more traditional approach.

Produttori del Barbaresco has never changed its style. From the beginning, Produttori has always made wine using traditional methods [extended maceration, natural fermentation, and aging in traditional botti, large oak casks]. The winery’s style is very distinct but the wines are always respectful of the terroir.

How are as-of-yet unreleased vintages showing?

Both 2007 and 2006 were very good vintages in Langhe. 2006 saw a warmer summer and it will be a more “fleshy”* wine, with softer tannins, while 2007 is comparable to long-lived vintages like 1996 and 2001.

The harvest came early in 2007, but this was not because of a hot summer. It was due to the fact that the mild, dry winter caused the growing cycle to begin early. As a result, we harvested early. 2007 has intense tannins and high acidity [good signs for long-lived Nebbiolo].

* Aldo and I conversed in Italian and it’s interesting to note that he used the English “fleshy” to describe his impression of the wine.

*****

Is it a sin? Many American Nebbiolophiles recoil in horror at the thought of opening vintages like 1996 or even 1999, arguing that they’re not nearly old enough. I’ve tasted Produttori back to the 1970s and when properly cellared, the wines reveal nuanced beauty and truly awesome power. But with a good decanter and some aeration (and some patience), even younger expressions of these wines will show beautifully. To be sure, the wine experience is enhanced by knowledge and respect for the wines themselves. But we must never lose sight of the fact that wine is part of the gastronomic experience and when it’s overly fetishized, we run the risk of negating the pleasure we may derive from them. Here are some bottles I’ve enjoyed recently.

My friend Greg (aka Harry Covert, forgive him for drinking Veuve Clicquot, Nous Non Plus’ drummer) recently surprised me with a bottle of 1996 Produttori del Barbaresco Pora. Some might remember my post entitled “The Day After”: Greg had inadvertently opened the last bottle of 96 Pora from my once (pre-mid-life crisis/disaster) modest collection, which I had been storing at his apartment.

He and I had opened the second-to-last bottle in December and to be honest, it seemed to have become even “tighter” in its evolution. But as it opened up, it revealed rich tar and seductive manure (yes, seductive manure) aromas that gave way to red berry fruit in the mouth. We paired with pepperoni pizza from one of our favorite pizzerias, a decadent but irresistible match.

My brother Tad grilled shell steaks for our family’s Super Bowl gathering in La Jolla. Grilled American beef and traditionally vinified Nebbiolo is a happy marriage of new and old worlds, with the rich tannin of the Nebbiolo drawing out the flavor of the grilled fat. This 1999 Asili will continue to evolve in bottle but it drank marvelously on Super Bowl Sunday. I didn’t have a decanter on hand so I opened the wine a few hours before we sat down to eat. Asili is arguably Produttori’s most prestigious cru (depending on your palate) and while 1999 was a very good vintage, it doesn’t have the power of the 96 or 01 (last year I drank 1979 Produttori Asili at a collectors dinner, one of the best bottles I’ve ever had in my life).

Someday, when my living situation returns to permanence, I’ll start my collection up again.

Produttori is so affordable (it makes you wonder why Nebbiolo is so expensive today): each of these bottles weighed in at less than $50. I can’t afford to drink them everyday, but they make for great special occasion wines. Greg, please feel free to surprise me anytime with 96 Pora!!!

One Response to A quick confabulation with Aldo Vacca, winemaker and president, Produttori del Barbaresco

  1. Nice. Real Barbaresco. A recent bottle of the 96 Pora jogged my memory of just how magical wine can be. After a long night of work I curled up on the couch with a great book and enjoyed the lengthy, layered transformation even more than the finished product. It is refreshing to see the coop retains its incredible value while most Piemonte producers have obviously shed their “insecurity” as their prices increase every year. Thanks for a great interview with one of my favorite winemakers.

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