The following excerpt comes from a 2012 lecture (lectio magistralis) delivered by Bruno Giacosa on the occasion of his honoris causa from the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Piedmont (translation mine).
- I was born in 1929 and one of my earliest memories is smelling the wine made by grandfather Carlo. That was also the year that my grandfather died and my father Mario took over his business. My grandfather Carlo had begun making and bottling wine at the end of the 1800s…
- He made classic Piedmontese wines, the same ones we know today: Mostly Dolcetto, then Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Freisa, and Brachetto. Asti Spumante was the only white.
- Obviously, 1929 was also the year of the [stock market] crash. My father decided to stop bottling wine that year. Instead, he would buy grapes, which he would re-sell or vinify and sell as bulk wine. Back then, only a few wineries bottled wine under their own label. Most of them didn’t own there own vineyards. They would buy grapes from the so-called mediatori, brokers who served as intermediaries between grape growers and the businesses that made wine.
- I started working with my father when I was 16 years old, not long after World War II had come to an end. I would travel around the Langhe Hills with him, watching how he would buy and re-sell grapes; how he would distinguish the good fruit from the less favorable fruit; how he would remember which vineyards delivered the best results.
- At the time, there was also a grape market in Alba. My memory of the market isn’t a pretty one — a memory I share with the many farmers who would sell their grapes there. The brokers would wait until the very last moment to buy, forcing the grape growers to sell at whatever price the brokers wanted and sending them home with empty crates. It was a bit of a sad affair, especially when there wasn’t a great demand for grapes from the bottlers.
- We preferred instead to go directly to the farms, in part because we could choose which grapes to buy directly at the source. After we would buy our grapes, I would also help the growers make a little bit of wine. They would either sell it as bulk wine or they would sell to the very same bottlers who bought their fruit. You could make a little extra money by making your own wine. But it had to be really good. Otherwise, you might not be able to sell it…
- I was just a boy then. And so I didn’t drink wine. But I quickly developed a good nose. I figured out that you had to pay attention to the aromas that would emerge from the grapes when you bit into them during the harvest. Then you would taste the must during fermentation. And then you would taste the wine. This was all you needed to know. I learned to use my nose as a means for gauging whether the wine was clean or dirty. And you could also tell whether or not the wine would age well; whether or not it was nuanced enough; whether or not it would ever open up; or whether it was better to blend it with other parcels; whether or not I should keep it for another couple of years in my cellar before bottling it; or whether it was better to sell it right away to someone else.
- Obviously, I have tasted thousands of wines. But I can guarantee you that my nose has rarely been wrong. And this is the thing that I keep repeating to young people: Learn to use your olfactory. Many people today think that your sense of smell isn’t useful. But it’s with your nose that you understand the most important things about a wine.
Today, the Slow Wine blog called Giacosa “Nebbiolo whisperer.” And that he was.
There’s not an Italian wine professional among our contemporaries who wouldn’t point to his wines as some of the most compelling she or he has ever tasted.
My wife Tracie and I had the great fortune to taste with Bruno at the winery in 2010 not long after we were married. He was a gentle, soft-spoken man whose work and career shaped a generation of winemakers and grape growers. And with his extraordinary wines, he also shaped a generation of wine lovers. He will surely be remembered as one of the last great champions of traditional-style Nebbiolo and one of the indisputable architects of Langa’s viticultural revolution and prosperity.
Brune sit tibi terra levis.
Thank you for all the incredible wines that you shared with us over the course of your lifetime.
Image via the Slow Wine Guide blog.