In January 2018 Bruno Giacosa passed away, one of the most important personalities in the Langhe winemaking of the past 50 years. Our homage to the Grand Maestro.
He was born in 1929 and began travelling to vineyards and estates with his father who traded grapes and wines: he learned how to recognize grapes and terroir. Bruno Giacosa always chose his grapes by tasting the berries. And he has always been a classicist in the cellar. His labels are an ode to his wine territory, which is among the noblest in the world. His wines are disputed between collectors and auctions, who hunt down the best vintages.
Brunostarted travelling through vineyards and farms very young, along with his father Mario who traded grapes and a small production of bulk wines. In that period his grandfather Carlo––who started bottling at the end of the 19th century in his small but already awarded winery––was about to die. So, at age 13, little Bruno learned about vinification techniques very young, under the guidance of his father (same path treaded by his daughter Bruna, who now runs the winery after following her father's steps for years). But above all Bruno learned early on to identify vineyards of the Langhe entering directly in contact with the winemakers from which he would then later select the best grapes for his labels.The turning point was the year 1956: when Bruno decided not to sell to other wineries and to keep some wine barrels for himself, in view of the launch of his own personal winery which he launched four years later, in 1960. The wines made by Bruno Giacosa therefore proposed with the 1957 year vintage; but the first truly important label was born in 1964: the Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva Speciale, followed in 1967 by the Barbaresco Asili Riserva and the Collina Rionda. For 23 years, Bruno Giacosa continued to purchase grapes based on three fundamental characteristics: appreciation for the vineyard, confidence in the winemaker producer and, not less important, the quality of the vintage.
The variability of his wines
This explains the variability––especially in the first decades––of his wines: often a certain cru may come out only once or twice, depending on the choices being made in the vineyard. It may sound incidental, but it is on the other hand an element of great importance: as Bruno Giacosa himself said, he was never a great drinker. «I trust my nose and my mouth blindly - he's say - At the time of the harvest I taste the grapes, I chew them...» And he was hardly ever wrong. It's important to know that in addition to working in his own winery Giacosa always worked as a grape broker on behalf of large companies in the Langhe, thus obliged to personally visit many growers and their vineyards. «To better understand the vices and virtues of "my" farmers, I often take long walks among the rows with my dog», he often told me. It was his system for evaluating the seriousness and professional skills of winemakers. So much so that once I asked him which was the cru that had escaped him and that he would have wanted to make personally: «There is one, Pianpolvere Soprano, which gives extraordinary grapes and is well employed by the Fenocchio family, but I can not convince them...»he confessed.
This is a vineyard currently owned by Rodolfo Migliorini of Rocche dei Manzoni. The growing difficulty in finding big grapes in the Langa then induced him to buy, in 1980, what came down as the first important plot of the Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa, and thus laying the foundations for what, from '96, became the new "Falletto Winery." Those were the years of great excitement around the nouvelle vague, with hundreds of new wineries being born. These were obviously no longer willing to sell their grapes to the social cellars, nor to Bruno Giacosa. With the hectares acquired in the Cru Falletto of Serralunga, a new chapter began, which continued in 1996 with the Asili crus and, in 1998, with plots in La Morra in Serradenari. This is where the white label of Barolo produced exclusively in 2004 comes from: the Vigna Croera of La Morra, but this parcel was then sold in 2012. The acquisition of the Rabajà was on the other hand more articulate: in 1996 he bought a first portion (later inserted by the modification of the production disciplinary concerning the additional geographical indications in the Asili cru); while the purchase of another parcel dates back to 2013, from which the grapes of the current Barbaresco Rabajà are derived.
Arneis and Extra Brut
Undoubtedly, Bruno Giacosa was born as a producer of red wines, but his foresight and his attention to the changing needs of consumers never went underestimated: in 1974 he produced the first bottle of Arneis (which then became Roero Arneis in 2004 with the establishment of the DOCG) and in 1983 the Extra Brut traditional method sparkling wine made from Oltrepò Pavese grapes. The sense of "classic" for Bruno Giacosa always started in the vineyard: all his labels express the utmost respect for the personality of the grape, the cru and the vintage. In the vineyard, Bruno Giacosa was never one known for particularly low yields, convinced as he was that a good winter pruning (leaving 8 or 9 buds) did not need drastic summer cuts. Therefore, when the vintage allowed it, he always had production close to 60-70 quintals of grapes per hectare, which is considered an optimal point of expression of the Nebbiolo grape.
The work in the cellar
In the cellar, Bruno was a classicist only in the sense of rejecting invasive practices (such as concentrators), but he was always very attentive to the needs of grapes. «When I was younger, I used to sleep on a deckchair in the room next to the cellar in order to constantly monitor the fermentation process,» he used to say. For Giacosa, reference to the years of the past went hand in hand with his manifest conviction that the quality decline of the grapes produced in the Langhe was because of the excessive use of chemicals, in particular from the end of the Sixties. It is for this very reason that––after the first period in which he made wine leaving the skins in the must, with the technique called "submerged cap", even for 40+ days––he then started cut this interval by about a half, roughly three weeks (obviously also based on the quality of the vintage). In regard to oak aging, he always avoided using small containers favouring larger barrels, mostly between 55 and 100 quintal-capacity ones, and preferring very soon those made of French wood compared to those made in Slovenian oak. Besides an expert grape selector, Bruno was always also a very skilled cellar master, making all the decisions on his own until 1992. That is the year in which he decided to seek the support of a technician. This person worked in the laboratory where Bruno used to bring his samples to be analysed for his wines. Convinced of Dante Scaglione's skills, he asked him to leave his job and become his full-time right-hand man.
This collaboration lasted uninterrupted until 2008, with a hiatus that lasted until 2011. One can certainly say that Dante Scaglione acquired and interpreted the teachings of his master as best he could, as proven by the wines produced after 2006, the year in which the health of Bruno Giacosa started to waver. His labels of the most prestigious vintages are collector gold, available only in very particular and specialized auction sessions, and definitely also beyond Italy. Having closely followed the work of Bruno over the years, we also had the opportunity to tell his life through his labels, which express his lifetime's philosophy and his deep bond with the rows and the vineyards, which he so loved and knew like the back of his hand. His wines are like poetic verses dedicated to the Langa, to its fogs, to the sweat on the brow of its peasants, to the joys and dilemmas in the cellar, to the adventures––which were sometimes misadventures––spent among those world famous rows.
The vintages that define the myth
In these years I have had the chance to drink the wines of Bruno Giacosa on several occasions, in important verticals in Italy and in Switzerland, at dinner with friends and colleagues, in blind tastings for the Vini d'Italia guide and, with great pleasure, sitting with Bruno in his private tasting room. I must say that I am a great admirer of this winery that has produced some of the most pleasant and interesting bottles of Barolo and Barbaresco I ever tasted in my life. Here are some of the most significant vintages of the wines that have made this Neive winery into a worldwide wine legend. Since these are particularly long-lived wines, we will only investigate reds with a few years of age, and that are the winery's best expression.
The property crus
After experimenting vinification in numerous crus of the Barolo and Barbaresco production areas, wishing to personally control the entire supply chain starting from the vines, Bruno Giacosa chose to acquire and permanently incorporate in the estate three plots of land that had been in his heart for some time: Asili, Rabajà and Falletto. The first purchase takes place in 1980 in the Falletto cru. This is a 9-hectare monopoly that belonged to Luigi Brigante, who had been a grape seller to Bruno Giacosa since 1964. The vineyard is located south of the town, towards the Alta Langa, in the southernmost part of the district, bordering with the Boscareto and Ornato crus, at an altitude between 320 and 420 meters above sea level. The most suitable part of the vineyard is vinified separately and used to produce Barolo Falletto Vigna Le Rocche, also in the Riserva version.
Half way past the following decade the estae acquires the Asili vineyard, 5 hectares in two separate plots already owned by the Odore family. In 2013 Giacosa purchases a small parcel of the Rabajà cru, less than one hectare, from the Alutto family.
by Gianni Fabrizio