Roberto Voerzio – A modernist in the vineyard a traditionalist in the cellar

 

Does Voerzio epitomise ‘Fusionist’ winemaking gripping Barolo?

Famed for his unique style, miniscule yields and fanatical attention to detail, Roberto Voerzio is a must-have producer for any serious fine wine collector. With only 22 hectares under vine and extremely limited production on these plants (restricted down to 5 bunches per vine), these wines are some of the rarest in the region. They combine remarkable pedigree, huge potential longevity and consistently high scores from the critics.

Robert Parker describes Roberto Voerzio as “one of the most fanatical producers he has ever met. A man ‘completely obsessed with quality’.” Antonio Galloni from Vinous goes on to say “Voerzio’s passion, his ability to make fabulous, age-worthy wines even in the smallest of vintages, and his total commitment to quality…  place him at the pinnacle of achievement among the world’s most gifted winemakers.

In the vineyards – Fanatical attention to detail

Convinced that an improvement in quality can only come from low production, Roberto was determined to experiment. Unable to persuade his brother and father of this more ‘modernist’ approach he split from the family business in 1986 and founded his own winery. He started with just 2 hectares, planting these at very high density (circa 8000 vines per hectare) in order to increase the competition between the vines and naturally reduce the yields of fruit per vine.

This ‘modernist’ approach in the vineyard means Roberto produces the lowest yields in the entire region and quickly built a reputation for himself. Roberto spends the entire growing season tending to each of his vines, individually nurturing every cluster. Voerzio’s fanatical approach is commendable, making 3 separate crop thinning passes in the ripening season. First he prunes down to 5-8 clusters per vine. In July he returns to the vine and removes all but the 5 best clusters. In August he returns again and removes the bottom half of each cluster, believing it is the grapes in the top of the cluster that produce the most rich and focused wine. This attention to detail is almost unheard of anywhere in the world and such ruthlessness in the vineyard produces some of the healthiest and most concentrated grapes on the planet.

These days it is not hard to spot where Roberto’s vineyards are on the La Morra slopes as he has invested in distinctly coloured hail nets in order to safeguard his already very small production. For the Barolos up to 80% of the grapes are removed, for Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo up to 50% in order to achieve the optimum fruit concentration per vine.

In the winery – A ‘Modernist’ in the vineyard and ‘Traditionalist’ in the cellar

Roberto’s philosophy is to produce the purest expression of the varietal. He doesn’t want any actions in the winery to change the fundamental characters of the wine. In this respect his winemaking remains fairly traditional relying on natural fermentation with wild yeasts, eschewing roto-fermenters or other high extraction processes. Voerzio is somewhat of a ‘fusionist’ in regards to elevage as he ages both in small French barriques and traditional large botti (large Slovenain oak casks). The maturation process always focuses on finding the perfect balance between old (1-6 years old) and new barrels as Roberto thinks that the oak can mask the aromas and flavours of the wine, if not carefully managed.

All the Barolos spend the first year in 50% used big barrels (botti grandi) and 50% barriques. In the second year 80% of the wine is refined in big barrels (botti grandi) and 30% in barrels. This is similar to the ‘fusionist style’ elevage techniques, such as those used by Vietti and Vaijra.

Voerzio’s wines other than Barolo

Roberto’s reputation and warm reception by critics, along with the tiny production volume, make his Barolos understandably some of the most expensive and collectable bottles on the planet. However his alternative cuvees made from Dolcetto, Barbera and young vine (declassified Barolo) Nebbiolo are a much more affordable insight into the prowess and talents of Voerzio.

Roberto’s philosophy, both in the vineyard and in the winery, are exactly the same for these varietals as they are for his Barolos – with the same attention to detail, and incredibly low production due to his unique crop-thinning techniques. He is able to produce some of the most concentrated and purest expressions of these varietals you are likely to find anywhere. The only difference between these and his top Barolos is when he cuts the bunches in August. With these wines he only removes 50% of the grapes whereas with the Barolos he removes a staggering 80% of the crop!