February, the new barrels enter the winery and become the cribs for the future Brunello. Here explained the reasons for certain choices
February is the month where traditionally the future Brunello begins its barrel ageing. There are those who begin sooner, as suggested by the late Professor Yves Glories, the winemaker who taught the whole world how to interpret the polyphenolic ripening of the grapes. We were at the Bordeaux 2University, where he used to teach, at the end of January 2001, and I gave him a tasting of my most recent harvest, and was thorough told off because I had not yet but it into barrel.
The Montalcino tradition is that of putting wine into the wooden casks when it has finished the malolactic fermentation and the first decanting. For this reason consultant wine makers like our Valerie Lavigne, visit their wineries and taste the entire new production together with the internal wine technician, in our case Barbara Magnani.
It is a very careful and slow examination of every vat. Chemical analysis, vineyard maps, grape harvest diaries…but most of all the actual tasting, all of this conducts to the final decision regarding the destiny of every mass of wine.
Up until 50 years ago, Barbara’s office was the Fattoria del Colle office. It is a small room
at the entrance of the 16th century villa, and from which the wine aroma reaches the offices above. Barbara and Valerie sit one in front of the other each with their laptop in front of them. Both love technology, so no written sheets with tasting notes, all is digital.
There is though a background story: Barbara and I knew we had a good quantity of exceptional wine produced in 2016. For this reason we had booked more barrels than usual, about 30%of our total. Valerie Lavigne was able to decide knowing that there were a great number of 5 and 7 Hl new barrels ready for their entrance into the cellar. Tonneaux are the smaller sized barrels. Barriques are even smaller but we do not use these, although we did try them several years back.
We found that they were not apt for the character of the Sangiovese from our vines and for the style of wines focused on harmony and elegance. I want my wines to have a clear imprint of the grapes from which they are born and that do not present astringent and hard characteristics caused by the abundant use of wood, or worse still the bitter taste because of the use of old barrels.
The choice of the barrels is
something that my cellar master and I do with the same attention as a starred chef choosing his pans. The come from 5 French artisan tonnelleries who guarantee that they age the wooden staves at least 36 months under the rain to create the barrels. The oak is from French woods that are hundreds of years old that Barbara went personally to see. They are cut according to the wood nerves and then bended with the aid of live fire or vapour. The successive charring is more intense and shorter in Bordeaux and slower and longer in Burgundy. To use 5 different types of tonneaux ( Adour, Meyrieux, Atelier Centre France, Vicard and Cadus) gives complexity to the wine but also complicates the racking, the assembly work, and all other operation in the cellar because Brunello like the Cenerentola DOC Orcia does not stay in the same oak cask for the entire ageing. During the autumn or spring racking it is usually moved and consequently each time it has a sort of Identity card that says what Vineyard it comes from, where it was vinified and where aged… Generally it stays in the new tonneaux from the beginning and then moved into the traditional Tuscan 15-40 hl casks.
To simplify the cellar staff’s work there are some red porcelain hearts on the barrels that contain the best wine and that seem to say “here is what is made with the heart”. This is the wine from the Ardita Vineyard at Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino and that from Poggione at Fattoria del Colle.
As you know my wineries are the first in Italy with an all female staff. They can do everything alone, even though they are not very strong but this winter phase is what puts them to the test most.
Often we are asked what we do with the old barrels, well around the fourth or fifth year we send them to Mastro Bottaio who opens them and cleans them and send them back to us to put other wines in. When they have really finished their use in the cellar we sell them to small grape growers in the neighbourhood for their family wine, or to carpenters for renovating furniture and to make parquet. Others become garden furniture, and can be used as tables for parties by the pool or in the parks.