Renato Corino 2.0: La Vendemmia 2011

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“Micino del Cheshire,” cominciò a dire, esitando, … “mi diresti, per cortesia, quale strada devo prendere per andarmene da qui?”

“Tutto dipende da dove vuoi arrivare,” ripose il Gatto.

“Il dove non ha grande importanza …” disse Alice.

“E allora non ha grande importanza neanche la strada da prendere,” commentò il Gatto.

“… basta che arrivi da qualche parte,”  aggiunse Alice per spiegarsi meglio.

“Oh, da qualche parte ci arrivi di sicuro,” disse il Gatto, “basta che non ti stanchi di camminare.”

Alice capì che era impossibile smentirlo, così fece un’altra domanda. “Che specie di gente vive in questo posto?”

“In quella direzione,” disse il Gatto, indicando con una zampa, “vive un Cappellaio: e in quella,” e indicò con l’altra zampa, “vive una Lepre Marzolina. Fa’ visita a chi vuoi: tanto sono matti tutti e due.”

“Ma io non voglio andare in mezzo ai matti?” protestò Alice.

“Oh, non puoi evitarlo,” disse il Gatto, “qui sono tutti matti. Io sono matto. Tu sei matta.”

Come fai a sapere che sono matta?” domando Alice.

“Devi esserlo,” rispose il Gatto, “altramenti non saresti venuta qui.” *

 


..

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly, … “would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where —” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.”

— so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. “What sort of people live about here?”

“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw around, “lives the Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat, “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

There’s an ongoing joke around the Corino winery that I am a little matta. Then I joke that the crazies just like to be among the crazies — that’s why I come to the Langhe so often. Renato says it couldn’t be such a bad crazy if the craziness led me to La Morra. He has a point.

But good or bad, at times I really do feel as if I have gone stark-raving mad.

Why else would I have paid for two hotel rooms last year in exchange for the opportunity for a few hours of picking Nebbiolo?

Or why would I turn down the opportunity to be in a photo shoot for another Barolo producer’s marketing brochure — just for one morning of working in the harvest?

I ask myself, “For what would I lug around a 30kg basket, in the blazing-hot 35°C sun, risking sunburn and heat exhaustion, all day, day after day?” Or how could I not have realized the rash growing on my leg from kneeling in the cut grass in the rows of Vigna Rocche? No I was happy as a lark, going along, “Tak! Tak! Tak!”? Or what about how every day my allergies got worse, but I blew off the chance to see a doctor just so I wouldn’t miss one second of collecting grapes in Vigna Arborina? §

Why would I do these things? Surely I have gone off the deep end.

When I look back through time, I see the sickness taking hold, symptom by symptom. My first visit to Barolo in 2005 started all this insanity. I drove from Torino to La Morra with no map and no idea where to go and what to expect, except for what some German guy I’d never met before told me over the phone that morning … “… you certainly shouldn’t miss the opportunity to come to this winery … we can come back and meet you … he makes excellent wine … I don’t work here; I am only a client … I’m sure there will be an available room at the agriturismo where we are staying … the woman who runs it is amazing … the best breakfast in the Langhe …” and after a mere three days in La Morra I managed to acquire a case of wine — and I’d be damned if I wasn’t bringing it home! I carried 12 bottles onto the return flight (that was before they prohibited liquids) and sat with my eyes glued to the overhead compartment for 12 hours — watching for any Barolo thieves! Then I carried the 50lb package plus my other carry-on luggage through the Milwaukee airport after 40 hours with no sleep, to catch my connecting flight. **

And then I think about the time when I drove my meager little rental Panda into a blizzard in Valtellina —alone— all for the quest to get perspective on Nebbiolo, to discover how it is there, compared to the Langhe.

All this for Nebbiolo? Nuts.

In the Langhe, 2011 brought about a warm spring and a cool June and July. A big heat wave hit in August and stayed on until early October. Harvest of Dolcetto happened overall nearly three weeks early. I didn’t get in on that because most producers had finished by the time I arrived (September 2). There was very little rain during this time but I do remember a few days of rain in September (only every time Jeff and I would plan a hike up in the mountains) and after that, everything was dry until November. Depending on exact location and age of the vines, Nebbiolo harvest in this year occurred approximately one to three weeks early. In Renato Corino‘s Nebbiolo vineyards, harvest took place during the last two weeks of September and first week of October. It was an unseasonably hot period but I’m sure that the cool early summer months will be what save the vintage from being overly ripe like 2003.

I suspect the 2011 Baroli will be dramatic and muscular, maybe opulent, but certainly enticing. I’ll go out on a limb to say graceful but depending on the cru, I’m not sure whether it will be “football player” graceful or “ballerina” graceful. Either way I have never made a prediction before but I’m sticking to it, and hoping that in four years I’ll be linking back to this article saying, “Look, I was right!”

As I spent my days out in the vineyards, I realized what a group effort the harvest process is. You really can’t do it alone. There is a rhythm that has to be established. There are roles to be played and there has to be a leader. It’s a team sport and actually not so unlike American football.

Renato and his son, Stefano, take the tractor, fill it up with empty harvest baskets and head out to the vineyard. Stefano usually drives the tractor and Renato throws empty baskets down the rows. The rest of us, armed with clippers, get out onto the field, grab a basket, start cutting clusters, and fill up baskets as we move down the rows. We set the full baskets off to the side and start again with an empty one.

Renato and Stefano pick grapes and fill baskets too but are also in charge of driving back up the rows to pick up all of the full baskets and take them back to the winery. There each basket is manually dumped into the destemmer and the stems are separated out as the juice flows into the tank where it will macerate on its skins and begin the wondrous fermentation process.

The hours move on like this and we move up and down the rows, “Tak! Tak! Tak!”  They tell jokes and continue conversations as we go. As for me, la loro Americana, I try and absorb everything around me: the smell of the air, warmth of the sun on my skin, sound of the tractor coming along in the next row (or is it two rows away, or three?), color and size of the grapes, — and the taste too! — shapes of the clusters, sizes of the clusters, colors of the leaves, and the beautiful sounds of Piemontese dialetto dashing and dancing about. I try to learn as many words and phrases as I can but also appreciate the moment and my innocent observation of the melody of it all.

When I snap out of my fantasy world, I remember the goal. It is the same as it is in football: pass, catch, throw, catch, run, cover yardage, and get the ball into the goal. Start again: pass, catch, throw, catch, run — goal! Start again: pass, catch, throw, catch, run — goal! The rhythm continues until all of the Nebbiolo grapes have been hiked, passed, caught, thrown, conquered. The mission: get them into the winery and pass them all through the destemmer to the tank for the kick-off of fermentation. We are victorious and everyone wins!


… Wait! Team sports? I hate team sports. Who would have ever thought I’d find a team sport I liked?

Now it’s official. I have gone crazy.

You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven.
-Jimi Hendrix

When I’m in the vineyard, among the rows, I think about the year-long cycle of the vines: how every day makes a difference and what a valuable experience it is to be involved with the vines at harvest time. I think about the roots under my feet and wonder how far they go down into the earth, how deep they’ll grow in the next year, and all the minerals and trace elements they’ve picked up and passed in to the grapes I’m taking at this unique point in time that cannot be repeated.

I think about all the generations who have been growing grapes here on this land, and the resources (sometimes scarce, sometimes bountiful) the land has supplied, upon which they have survived. I think of all the men and women harvesting their familys’ grapes from their familys’ properties and I think, how do you separate these people from their land? You can’t; they are their land. They grew from this land and they live to grow what is on the land. Their livelihood and bond as a family depends upon it. Multiple generations work together at one time, solidifying their bond to each other, creating memories, generating ideas, and telling jokes. As one generation passes from principiante (beginner) to esperto (expert) and the older generation passes back, the vines continue on. As the vines continue on, so do the generations.

It is such a gorgeous, majestic place that I can’t help but be in love with it. The relationship between man and land is the most profound example of symbiosis that I have ever seen in nature. I begin to wish I was part of it and then I realize, “I am.” And then I think, “I am freaking nuts.”

It helps if the hitter thinks you’re a little crazy.
-Nolan Ryan

The last wines I tried before leaving Piemonte (on November 16) were the 2011’s right out of the barrel. I feel an attachment to these wines since I had my hand in the effort of capturing what the grapes will express for the 2011 vintage. I tried the Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata, the Barolo Vecchie Vigne, Barolo base, and the Barbera Vigna Pozzo. All of the wines, even though embryonic, were already starting to develop their own personalities. The Rocche was gorgeously concentrated, Vecchie Vigne was the only one of these that had finished malolactic fermentation and so didn’t give the prickly feel in the mouth; it was tranquillo. The base was the most delicate, whereas the Pozzo, I remember for sure, was a stand out — so expressive, and so full of life at every stage, even in infancy. At the time the Dolcetto and Nebbiolo d’Alba had also finished malolactic fermentation. The others wouldn’t take long. Non vedo l’ora di incontrarli di nuovo!

Below are other current and older Renato Corino releases, which I had the opportunity to try during my time there. (Trial dates follow descriptions in parentheses.)

Dolcetto d’Alba 2010. Dolcetto d’Alba DOC. Almost purple in color; transparent. Concentrated cherry but not heavy. Spicy and minty with an alliance of minerality and tannins. (Sept 10, Oct 31, + more) ☆

Barbera d’Alba 2010. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Bright magenta color. Fragrant with essences of cinnamon, cocoa powder, and raspberries. Easy to drink: clean, bright, and spicy with tons of red berries. (Sept 10, Sept 29, Oct 16, Nov 3, ++) ★☆

Nebbiolo d’Alba 2010. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. Pomegranate color. A bouquet of strawberries and mint with a hint of vanilla and perfume. A gorgeous wine. Very fresh with velvety tannins. I tried this from the tank in September, twice in October, and then while we were bottling it. Also had it right after bottling, from the bottle and there wasn’t any bottle shock to speak of (November 7). It was fabulous at every stage. (Sept 23, Oct 16, Nov 3, Nov 7) ★★★

Nebbiolo d’Alba 2009. Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. This one was virtually sold out when I arrived. I managed to get in a couple tastes, however. As usual, a concert of fragolina, menta, vaniglia, profumo, e tannini vellutati, which are only more synergistic after a year in the bottle. (Sept 5 & 10) ★★★

Vigna Pozzo 2009. Barbera d’Alba DOC. (Approximately nine months prior to release.) Dark purple. On the nose: cedar and blackberry syrup with a little earth and leather that has yet to be unleashed. In the mouth: clean with tons of plums plus cloves, espresso, allspice, and dusty roses. (Sept 27, Oct 16, +) A little early to know but probably also close to ★★★.

Vigna Pozzo 2008. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Exquisite and intense: plums, blackberries, autumnal spices, with a background of evergreen forest. A wine you have to keep going back to over the minutes, hours, years … (Sept 16) ★★★

Vigna Pozzo 2007. Barbera d’Alba DOC.  Ruby-magenta in color; opaque but reflective. Aromas of prune, clove, coffee, and rose. Light presence of ash with a mid-palate of red fruits and spices. Elegant tannins — a wine that always makes you think! (Oct 28) ★★★

Vigna Pozzo 1997. Barbera d’Alba DOC.  Ruby with orange reflections. Essence of citrus, cinnamon, leather, and cherries with a soft texture in the mouth. Tons of fruit, rose and a good acidity in the finish with a touch of sweet sun-dried tomatoes. (Oct 28) ★★★

I also review the 2007 and 1997 Vigna Pozzo Babera d’Alba in Italiano in my article called
Una degustazione dalle Barbera d’Alba e Barbera d’Asti.

Vigna Pozzo 1994. Barbera d’Alba DOC. Another one of Renato’s Barberas that tastes like Nebbiolo… (I promise!) I tried this blind next to a Crozes-Hermitage 1994 and said to Renato and his friend, Andrea, “Over a Pinot noir and a Nebbiolo, I always choose the Nebbiolo. You guys know!” And then Andrea pointed out that the Crozes-Hermitage is a Syrah.

Yah.

Look who’s talking now! Boy have I forgotten my French appellations! In my defense, the French one was full of brettanomyces and I couldn’t taste much anyhow. But then of course, the Pozzo IS a Barbera. But they told me that one of the signs of a good Barbera is that it begins to take on Nebbiolo characteristics when it gets older. I think they were just trying to make me feel better. (Nov 12) ★★

Barolo 2007. Barolo DOCG. I wish I could start every Nebbiolo neophyte with this wine. Actually wait. I take that back. Then everyone would fall in love with Piemonte and go trampling through there and ruin it. Never mind. I’ll keep it my secret. (Ha!) … The bouquet is amazing — everything a Barolo should be but with a feminine twist, and delicate but deep, attributes of the vintage — roses, wild strawberries, herbs, mint, and fancy perfume. On the palate it is refined. Flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg float around with fresh strawberries and mingle with dusty tannins. (Sept 10 & 20 & 25, Oct 16, Nov 15, ++) ★★ ☆

Arborina 2007. Barolo DOCG. Che ne diresti di una piscina di questo? (What would you say to a swimming pool full of this?) It renders me speechless. (Oct 16) ★ ★ ★!

Rocche dell’Annunziata 2007. Barolo DOCG. A massive bouquet: smoke, chocolate, berries, and spices. On the palate this wine is muscular, energetic, and forceful. When it’s young, in my opinion, the Rocche doesn’t quite know how to handle itself, but as an aged wine, it is just perfect. I did enjoy this one now, however, and found flavors of coffee, hot spices with velvety tannins, and maybe a bitterness but I think it’s just a concentration of characters that haven’t been let loose yet. (Oct 16) ★★☆—★★★

Rocche dell’Annunziata 1990. Barolo DOCG. This one followed Vecchie Vigne 1997 (below) — both blind — and I guessed it to be younger than the 1997! This always happens to me at Renato Corino! Either it means that the Corino’s make amazingly fresh wines, or I really do not know what I am talking about. I’ll choose the former. I did guess it was Rocche, however. Prune and hazelnut with vanilla, the usual spices, but also truly unbelievably fresh and bright fruit. (Sept 10) ★★★

Vecchie Vigne 2005. Barolo DOCG. Recently released. Renato has certainly given it ample time in the winery to integrate and become comfortable with itself. While immense, it is not cumbersome, too concentrated, nor too bitter (which can happen with a big wine aged for a long time). It’s like a person who is a type A personality who also has an astounding talent for grace. Essences of cologne, earth, maraschino cherry, dark chocolate, and smoke from burning fresh wood jump out of the glass. The acidity present in the middle keeps the cherry fruit elevated. Fragrant remnants of ripe cherries and cologne linger on the backbone of a crushed velvet texture. (Oct 16 & 31) ★★☆—★★★

Vecchie Vigne 2000. Barolo DOCG. Smoky, concentrated scents: imagine burning Nag Champa incense while you’ve got a cherry pie and cinnamon rolls in the oven. Meanwhile your uncle is smoking a high class Cuban cigar in the next room. Rich cherry syrup fruit on the palate with fresh tobacco leaves, still showing signs of youth. Classy and strong. (Oct 2) ★★☆—★★★

The next wine is obviously not a Renato Corino wine but I’m adding it here because I had the previous wine, Renato Corino Vecchie Vigne Barolo 2000 together with the Roberto Voerzio Cerequio Barolo 1998. The Nebbiolo for the Vecchie Vigne come (in this vintage) †† partly or mostly from the Giachini cru. The Giachini and Cerequio are both cru Barolo vineyards in La Morra, approximately 2 km apart. Both were made in a modern to semi-modern style. Following the Cerequio I review the Renato Corino Vecchie Vigne 1998 as well.

   Roberto Voerzio Cerequio 1998. Barolo DOCG. Scents of tomato and cherry together with smoke and pine. A soft mid-palate with thick and unctuous cherry jam but a harmoniously balanced acidity. Really concentrated finish with so much spice, it hints on bitterness. But the structural integrity keeps this wine interesting and lively, even after 13 years. (Oct 2) ★★

Vecchie Vigne 1998. Barolo DOCG. Fairly opaque brick red to ruby red. Fresh citrus peel, cinnamon sticks and tart cherries in the initial bouquet, reminding me of Arborina. Velvety tannins, fresh, and floral with cologne and rose. It makes you salivate and desire to keep drinking. My favorite experience with Vecchie Vigne. (Nov 3) ★★★ La mia favorita Vecchie Vigne!

Vecchie Vigne 1997. Barolo DOCG. An elegant bouquet of cranberry, strawberry, rose petals, delicate smoke, and fresh tobacco. In the mouth: fresh with a hint of herbs and spices. Refined structure and tannins have kept this wine harmonious throughout the years. (Sept 10) ★★☆

More to come! …

“… con, sopra un’etichetta ben chiara, la parola, ‘BeviMi,’ stampata in grosse lettere.

Si fa presto a dire, “Bevimi!” La piccola e saggia Alice non aveva alcuna intenzione di farlo senza riflettere.

“No, prima voglio guardare bene, per vedere se c’è scritto ‘veleno.'” …

Tuttavia, su questa bottiglia non c’era scritto ‘veleno,’ e così Alice provò ad assaggiarla, e scoprì che aveva un buon sapore (in effeti ricordava la torta di ciliege, la crema, l’ananas, il tacchino arrosto, il croccante, i panini caldi e imburrati). In un attimo la finì tutta.* 

.. “… and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words, ‘Drink Me’ beautifully printed in large letters.

It was all very well to say, “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry.

“No, I’ll look at it first,” she said, “and see whather it is marked ‘poison’ or not” …

“However, this bottle was not marked ‘poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toat,) she very soon finished it off.


Other Renato Corino articles:

Renato Corino Part 1.0, Mauro Veglio Part 3

Renato Corino Part 1.3

Renato Corino Part 1.7

Footnotes.

* Carroll, Lewis (2009). Alice nel paese delle meraviglie e Attraverso lo specchio. (Faini, Paola & Vinci, Simona ) (pp. 40-41, 73-74). Grandi Tascabili Economici Newton. (Original work published 1865.)

Carroll, Lewis (1997). Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. (pp. 6-7, 64-65). New York: Puffin Books. (Original work published 1865.)

One day in the middle of harvest my friend, Giorgio Conterno of Paolo Conterno called me to ask if I could come the next morning to be in some photos for their newest marketing brochure. “Me!?” I asked. “Yah, I thought you’d be perfect,” he replied. “I can’t. I’m working the harvest tomorrow.” Honestly I was a little nervous about being in photos but looking back, it would have been a good decision to do it. However, the reality is I can’t bring myself to trade anything for the chance to work in the vineyards.

§ Evidently I am allergic to something in Piemonte during the month of September. I felt the same in 2010 as I did in 2011. My friend, Renato Vacca, helped me out by getting me a hookup with a doctor this year but I literally blew off all opportunities to go see him during the harvest. At the very last opportunity, when we finally finished picking in Arborina, I rushed (late!) to the place where he was supposed to be, let him prescribe me a bunch of anti-histamines (even though I thought I had a sinus infection), picked them up, popped, swallowed, and inhaled them, and drove right back to continue harvesting for the afternoon. Miraculously in October, my allergies disappeared.

** I missed my return flight to the states in 2005 after driving all night back from Switzerland. My friend had told me it was a two hour drive from where I was up to him so I started the drive on my last day in Italy. But it turned into a six hour drive so by the time I got up there, I had to turn around and come back. I sat in the Milan airport for about 8 hours before getting on another flight so that by the time I actually got back to California I had been awake for over 48 hours.

†† Since the separation of the two Corino brothers in 2006, Renato continues to make Vecchie Vigne from old vines in the Rocche dell’Annunziata cru, whereas in the past he and his brother made the Vecchie Vigne label mostly from Nebbiolo grapes from the Giachini cru.

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