My biodynamic Barolo is like my child.
Director of winemaking for the Ceretto Winery.
Alessandro, you are part of the third generation of Ceretto wine producers who have been making wine in the Langhe area of Piedmont since the 1930s…
Yes. My grandfather Riccardo was the trailblazer. He had to leave the countryside because he came from a very large family and they couldn’t guarantee him a future, so he moved to Alba where he began his adventure in the world of wine. Today we own 160 hectares of vineyards that are in the absolute best positions.
It is a winery producing all of the wines of the Langhe region of Piedmont – Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, and Barolo in terms of reds. When it comes to white wines, we made an investment in the Roero area – about 5 kilometres away on the other side of the Tanaro river – because its soil, which is mainly sandier, is better suited to producing white grapes like Arneis, which we call Blangé. In terms of numbers, today this wine represents about 50% of our turnover.
Do you make other wines?
Yes. In addition to these wines, we also make Moscato in the area of Santo Stefano Belbo (between Alba and Asti), which is where our family originally came from.
What is the Moscato like?
It has a lot of residual sugars, and it can be drunk both as an aperitif – because it is very aromatic – as well as an accompaniment to desserts.
And which are your top wines?
Our top wines are Barolo and Barbaresco, which are both based on the Nebbiolo grape. The difference is purely geographical. Barolo is also more well known because 12 or 13 million bottles are made per year, while only about half that number of Barbaresco are made. But they are equivalent wines and the Cru (the vineyard) and the vintage have much more of an influence on the quality of the wine.
Are these very expensive wines?
Today, a bottle of Barolo costs 40 to 50 euros on average, while Barbaresco costs about 20% less. Whereas Dolcetto or a Barbera costs between 5 to 10 euros maximum.
What about a Grand Cru?
The Barolos and Barbarescos are more expensive and can cost up to 150 to 200 euros a bottle.
Where do you sell the most?
In the United States, which is our main foreign market, then in Europe and Asia.
You are in charge of production, right? What makes your wines so unique?
It is my good fortune to boast proud ownership of a portfolio of first-rate vineyards. That is something that would not be economically sustainable today because land prices have become exorbitant. My challenge is to try to produce our wines organically.
What do you mean by that?
Without the use of chemical fertilizers, and not using agents against parasites or pesticides.
What are the results?
I started experimenting in 2009-2009, and six years later, I am now certain that I wouldn’t go back.
Are you the only one doing this?
No. Considering the level of marketing, it is becoming a communications/promotional tool and, fortunately, many are going in that direction. I do think I’m one of the few in the Langhe area to have tried the biodynamic method, which is much stricter and more costly.
Does this method of cultivation change the flavour of the wine?
They have more particular flavours, more tied to the “terroir” itself and the characteristics of the vintage. It’s almost as if it brings out the identity of the wine more. I started out thinking that if I could use this biodynamic method to make wines of the same consistent quality, that it would be a big accomplishment because the wines would no longer have chemical residues.
Is that better for the health of the wine drinker and for the conservation of the land?
I would say primarily for the conservation of the health of the land and then, certainly, for the health of the consumer too.
Is it more difficult?
It requires a lot more attention and preparation. And, in difficult years, a much greater financial commitment.
How did you personally arrive at this point? What kinds of studies and experiences did you have to undertake?
I studied traditional viticulture and oenology. I visited various winemaking countries to gain experience and see other businesses, and I returned with a great amount of knowledge. I started working at Ceretto in the early 2000s.
At the 2008 Salone del Gusto, the biennial Slow Food event in Turin, I was given a book by two famous researchers who study French soil – Lydia and Claude Bourguignon. In this book, they pointed out that modern man and modern agricultural techniques are promoting desertification. It is strange, but nobody ever taught me that at school. I went to meet them. Today I work with them, and I have realised that agriculture must start with respect for the soil.
Is this a return to old-fashioned methods?
No. It is a return to good sense. I think that technology is always pushing us to see what is new while forgetting about the past and the experience acquired over thousands of years by those who came before us.
Does this mean your wines will be even better in the future?
I think about wines the way I think about my children, as if they were human beings. Therefore, I wouldn’t know how to answer the question of whether man will be better in the future.
How many bottles do you produce?
Between 800,0000 and one million. We are a medium-sized winemaking operation.
Could it be said that Barolo is one of the great wines in the world today?
Yes, because it is absolutely unique. The combination of the Nebbiolo grape and the soil in the Barolo area means that you end up with a product that can’t be created in any other part of the world.
Are your profit margins high?
Naturally, high-end wines like Barolo and Barbaresco are able to better sustain the higher costs of the biodynamic method. However, I have also chosen to use organic farming on the entire range, including the vineyards that make wines that we sell at a lower cost.
Why this battle against pesticides?
I’m not fully convinced that they don’t leave some kind of residue that could be harmful to consumers’ health.
What does your family say about all of this?
One great quality about our family is that we put our trust in who takes over at all levels. For example, my cousin Federico is in charge of sales. My cousin Roberta is in charge of communications. My sister Lisa takes care of the finances. The way things are divided means that we avoid having problems when it comes to the company.
How many people are there working in the company?
There are more than one hundred if we also take into account that over and above the wineries, there are our restaurants and we have a company that sells sweets using hazelnuts – like our nougat for example.
What restaurants do you own?
“La Piola” and “Piazza Duomo”. In 2005, we opened both a trattoria and high-end restaurant in Piazza Duomo in Alba. In no time at all, “Piazza Duomo” had earned three Michelin stars. This is thanks to the genius of its chef Enrico Crippa.
Do these restaurants serve a certain type of cuisine?
The objective of the trattoria “La Piola” was to reappraise traditional dishes and update them. The “Piazza Duomo” restaurant had serving haute cuisine as its objective, and the success we’ve achieved has been beyond anything we’d hoped.
What kind of cuisine is it?
It is art. Enrico Crippa has established a type of cuisine that marries up with the organic argument because it is much more focused on vegetable products. We are among the first and the few to have a biodynamic garden (almost 3 hectares in size) for growing everything the chef uses in preparing his dishes – vegetables, legumes, roots, and even flowers, which are the trademark of his wonderful cuisine. Every morning he goes into the garden and the greenhouse to pick the ingredients he will use in his menu for the day.
What is the secret of Ceretto’s success?
It was most certainly the bravura in acquiring vineyards of the highest quality in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and constantly putting the focus on bettering quality.
Will Barolo last over time?
Yes, but only if we don’t destroy this fantastic “terroir.”
What kind of a wine is it?
It is a masculine wine, lively in its youth and mellower with age. Its uniqueness makes it one of the greatest wines in the world.
What about American, African, and Australia wines?
Those who have merely copied Italy or France won’t get anywhere. Those who realise that wine is tied to its “terroir” of origin will have a future. Wine is its “terroir.”
How long does a good wine last?
It can last 30, 40, or 50 years. At that point, the way it’s been cellared over the years counts more than the initial quality.
November 5th, 2015
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