Aldo Vacca: A true Barbaresco Icon

Aldo Vacca has been at the helm of Produttori del Barbaresco, arguably Europe’s most respected co-op, for the last 27 years. In this time the co-op has consistently produced some of the finest expressions of Barbaresco yet remains remarkably well-priced despite its benchmark reputation. With historic family ties (his great grandfather being one of the original founders of the Produttori), as well as cutting his teeth working under the guidance of Angelo Gaja, Aldo Vacca has to be one of the most experienced experts in Nebbiolo production in the world. We caught up with him to discuss the new single vineyard 2014 releases as well as recent developments in Barbaresco…

 

Q. You have a long history with Barbaresco going back to your great grandfather being one of the founding members of the co-op. Did you believe when you decided to work in wine you were going to end up working there?

Not really. I graduated in Viticulture at the Torino University and after 6 months at UC Davis I got a job at Gaja in 1986. I worked there for 4 years and I was not thinking about Produttori, but when they called me in 1991 I decided it would have been a better choice. In those days Gaja was very much into new oak, French varietals and fine wine imports and distribution, while I wanted a job more connected with my land.

Q. After 20 years working at the Produttori can you outline what have been the biggest changes in the winery and winemaking?

There is much more sensibility among the new generation of growers in regards to high quality wine coming from good vineyard management and also a willingness among the growers to invest a good chunk of their profits into updating the winery facilities and equipment.

Q. Can you identify what have been the most effective changes in your time there?

The first important changes made there were the replacement of all the old barrels with younger larger oak barrels (progressively from 1998 to 2014) in order to allow the Nebbiolo fruit to express itself in the wine in a brighter way. Secondly providing a more precise quality evaluation of the grapes was implemented in 1998, measuring sugar/colour/tannins and not just sugar for every load of grapes coming to the winery.

Q. Have you noticed many changes in the vineyards of Barbaresco over this time, what are the developments are you most excited about?

Better clones used in the new vineyard planting, selected for quality rather than quantity by the Univeristy of Torino in the late 80’s/early 90’s and now widely available to all. More awareness among the growers about sustainable agriculture minimising the use of fertiliser and pesticide

Q. What are your biggest concerns about the region?

Rising prices of land is making it difficult for farmers or even small/medium size wineries to afford buying land. Also more vineyard planting in marginal areas reduces the biodiversity of the region and that is of concern.

Q. After working with Angelo Gaja for 4 years what was his biggest influence on how you make wine?

I worked there long enough to learn the importance of being focused on your goals and to never compromise the quality in one’s approach to winemaking.

Q. How many members now work for Produttori? Has this changed much over the years?

There are currently 54 members. They do not work for us; we work for them. They are owners and shareholders of Produttori del Barbaresco.

Q. How do you collaborate with each of the growers and how much influence do you have?

We hold seminars and meetings in the winter to keep them updated on latest viticultural developments. We are always available for consulting, but we do not impose anything. They work their own vineyards the way they want.

Q. How does a grower become a member?

They make an application and the board (formed of 9 members elected by the 54 every three years) can say yes or no.

Q. How has Barbaresco been affected by climate change? Have you had to change methods in the vineyard and winery to cope with this?

Warmer and drier Septembers and Octobers have allowed for a much easier ripening of the grapes with higher sugar level and riper fruit. Consequently we talk now about a “balanced yield” rather than “low yield” (low yields resulting in high sugars levels, lacking balance). These days we do not get rid of leaves around the clusters at the end of the season and we leave grass among the rows to minimise water evaporation.

Q. Why was the decision made to produce single vineyard Riservas and how many times have they been released since their inception?

The first single vineyards were released with the 1967 vintage, the same year Angelo Gaja released for the first time his three Single Vineyards. I think Produttori did it because Gaja did it. SV releases: 1967 / 1970 / 1974 / 1978 / 1979 / 1982 / 1985 / 1988 / 1989 / 1990 / 1995 / 1996 / 1997 / 1999 / 2000 / 2001 / 2004 / 2005 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2011 / 2013 / 2014. Since 1978 we released the 9 single vineyards line up, before 1978 the release was random –  4 or 5 at a time, and not always the same ones.

Q. Do you feel Barbaresco has become more recognised in recent times in comparison to neighbouring Barolo – or less so? Why do you think this is?

Yes, more recognised… thanks to us of course!

Q. If people were visiting the region can you recommend some of your favourite places to eat and what local dishes work best with Nebbiolo?

Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco for a family style meal. Antinè in Barbaresco and La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso for fine dining.

Q. Your wines have incredible ageing potential but can also be relatively approachable after just a few years. What is your advice to customers in regards to when to drink the wines?

Because of the climate we have now, all vintages from the new millennium peak at 8-12 years of life and they should be good for 20 years from the vintage although showing their age. Some vintages can age longer (2004 / 2008 / 2013) but the mentioned figures are the safer bet for customers.

Q. Can you give your opinion on the 2014 vintage?

Excellent and unique, never had a vintage with such a fragrance of fruit and delicacy of tannins, although showing solid structure at the same time.

Q. Can you give a brief profile of each of the individual Riservas?

THE SINGLE VINEYARDS:

ASILI

Vineyard Size: 2.28 ha (5.7 acres)
Exposure: South West
Elevation: 230 – 290 meters (750 – 950 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Conti, Lembo, Viglino

 

This spectacular vineyard has created in the past some of the greatest Barbaresco

and it has a strong following all over the world. The main part of the Asili vineyard is

a protected bowl facing South/West, next to Pora, but farther away from the river

and the valley influence with warmer and less breezy microclimate during most of

the summer. To the East, Asili ends with a bricco, top of the hill, also facing

South/West and with a similar soil composition, bordering Rabajà. The wine is

intense, certainly not a full bodied Barbaresco, but nevertheless showing a very

imposing personality. Usually quite closed in its youth, it opens up slowly with

impeccable complexity and style… a classic Barbaresco, and also one of the most

distinctive vineyards of the region. First produced as a single vineyard in 1967.

 

MONTEFICO

Vineyard Size: 3,86 ha (9.5 acres)
Exposure: South – South East
Elevation: 230 – 260 meters (750 – 850 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Grasso, Rocca, Vacca

 

A not widely known vineyard, yet highly sought after by the Barbaresco aficionados.

It is often compared to the slightly larger and more famous Montestefano vineyard

because of the similar soil (high calcium) and close proximity between the two. It

lays half way between the Montestefano and the Ovello. Exposure is South / South-

East, therefore quite warm, but it is not unusual for Montefico to have brisk morning

hours during the growing season because of the cooler northern wind that

occasionally funnels in from narrow valley open to the North, between the villages

of Barbaresco and Neive. Austere when young and somehow less fleshy than

Montestefano, it shows a beautiful mineral finish. It produces wines with the breed

of any classic Barbaresco and with incredible complexity behind the tannins.

 

MONTESTEFANO

Vineyard Size: 4.5 ha (11 acres)
Exposure: South – South East
Elevation: 230 – 280 meters (750 – 920 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Gonella, Maffei, Marcarino, Rivella, Rocca, Vacca

 

It is one of the vineyards with higher concentration of calcium in the soil that gives

to the wine a powerful tannic structure. The extra heat of the South facing slope is

responsible for the Montestefano’s full body and almost meaty texture. It is deep

flavoured wines with massive tannins, but quite ripe and well integrated in the wine

because of the warm exposure. In a wet season its grapes can hold rain well and it

is usually the last one to be picked among the Barbaresco vineyards. For all these

reasons it is probably the Barbaresco that more reminds of Barolo where tar and

roses prevails on the refined violet flavours. Despite this massive attitude it remains a

true Barbaresco, never too heavy on the palate and with a classy finish that lingers

on the palate without overwhelming your senses. First produced by Produttori in

1974.

 

MUNCAGOTA

Vineyard Size: 4.5 ha (11 acres)
Exposure: South East
Elevation: 250 – 300 meters (820 – 980 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Bellora, Lignana, Viglino

 

This single vineyard looks South/East, facing the cooler morning sunshine instead

of the warmer afternoon sun. Because of that, the Muncagota vineyard shows

beautiful floral characteristics and often a specific mint character on the nose.

Calcareous soil and a low level of sand gives to the wines of Muncagota extremely

focused fruit and firm, stylish tannin. Muncagota is a perfect example of the elegant

and intense qualities that make Barbaresco one of the most interesting and unique

wines of the world. First produced by Produttori del Barbaresco, as Moccagatta, in

  1. Muncagota is the piedmontese dialect version of the word Moccagatta, same

vineyard, different spelling.

 

OVELLO

Vineyard size: 20.30 ha. (50 acres)
Exposure: South West and South East
Elevation: 250 – 320 meters (820 – 1050 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Audasso, Cavallo, Cravanzola, Gonella, Grasso, Maffei, Odore,
Rocca, Sarotto, Unio, Vacca, Varaldo

 

Ovello is the northernmost vineyard in the village of Barbaresco, starting high up then dropping down to the river in a 300 feet, abrupt bluff. It is a relatively large

area with a number of subzones with West and East exposure, all sharing a similar

calcareous soils rich in clay. The extra clay and the cooler microclimate give the

Ovello its exuberant and youthful quality in the fruit and its fuller body, which

defines its distinctive personality. Explosive fruit on the palate and firm, sometime

rough, tannins on the finish, these wines always bring a lot of joy to the palate and

deliver powerful structure, that needs some years of bottle ageing to balance out.

Domizio Cavazza had vineyards in Ovello (and Pora) when he started producing

Barbaresco in 1894. It was also among the first 5 vineyards produced as single

vineyard by Produttori in 1967.

 

PAJÈ

Vineyard Size: 1.8 ha (4.5 acres)
Exposure: South Weast
Elevation: 220 – 260 meters (720 – 850 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Basso, Giordano

 

This vineyard is a small bowl facing South/West and it lies between the village itself

and the famous Asili vineyard. However Pajè is slightly lower in altitude and the

vineyard is more open to the Tanaro River influence resulting in a cooler

microclimate. The soil is limestone with high calcium level. In result the wine

combines elegance and complexity with intense tannins and it is never shy in

acidity. The latter makes Pajè somehow sharper and brighter in its first years, with

lovely youthful fruit and flowery notes, almost minty in cooler vintages. Pajè is

particularly attractive after some ageing, when the wine still retains a fruitful and

fresh palate. First vintage produced in 1967 as a small commemorative label for

the “Cavalieri del Tartufo” association.

 

PORA

Vineyard Size: 10.7 ha (26.5 acres)
Exposure: South West
Elevation: 200 – 280 meters (500 – 920 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Dellaferrera, Manzone

 

Proximity to the Tanaro River creates a unique microclimate for the Pora, a

beautiful hill with West and South exposures, while the northern side of the hill is an

abrupt bluff that drops into the river and where the famous white truffles can be find

on season. Due to the proximity to the valley floor, Pora is relatively warm in the

early morning hours, but breezy with slightly higher humidity through most of the

day. Soil fertility is slightly higher here and this gives to the wine a smoother

character, tannins are soft and the aromas always tend to open up in the early

years of life. Pora is also one of the most historical vineyards in Barbaresco, as it

was part of the property of Domizio Cavazza, the father of Barbaresco, who in

1894, founded the first Cantina Sociale. Produced as a single vineyard by

Produttori del Barbaresco since 1967.

 

RABAJÀ

Vineyard Size: 3.7 ha (9.2 acres)
Exposure: South East
Elevation: 240 – 300 meters (790 – 990 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Antona, Arossa, Casetta, Lembo, Lignana, Manzone, Rocca,
Vacca, Vezza

 

Rabajà produces a quintessential Barbaresco, one of the most complete and

balanced of the single vineyards. The vineyard lays at the conjunction of the two

main ridges that form the Barbaresco village, one starting at Rabajà and

going West towards the Tanaro River (with progressively less calcium and higher

fertility in the soil) and the other one that goes from Rabajà to Ovello, South to North

(with higher calcium content in the soil). The meeting of these two different soils

give to Rabajà its incredible complexity. Bordering both Asili and Muncagota

it combines the personality of those two great vineyards with and extra richness

due to the South/West warm exposure. First produced as a single vineyard in 1970.

 

RIO SORDO

Vineyard Size: 4.5 ha (11 acres)
Exposure: South West
Elevation: 220 – 240 meters (720 – 810 feet)
Vineyard Owners: Alutto, Marengo

 

The vineyard is a long, South/West exposed hillside in the southern part of the

Barbaresco village, not far from the river. The light limestone soil with relatively low

calcium content compared to other areas of Barbaresco produces wines where

tannins are never dominant, instead they show a silky quality on the palate that

makes them extremely attractive and seductive, never imposing, always elegant.

Behind the smooth elegance however, lies a core of powerful structure and very

well balanced tannins that give to the Rio Sordo its complexity and longevity. First

produced as a single vineyard by Produttori del Barbaresco in 1978.