Margherita Otto was officially founded in 2015.
The winery’s first release – in May 2019 – was the 2015 vintage Barolo.
About Alan & the beginnings of Margherita Otto
I come from a wine-loving family. Both my father and grandfather were collectors; my grandfather loved Burgundy, my father loved Bordeaux and California. My parents opened a bottle of wine with dinner almost every evening. To my young eyes, this was normal. I began taking itty-bitty sips from my father’s glass when I was about 4 years old.
Once I finished my degree in 1986, I began buying wine for myself; the first bottles of Barolo entered my small cellar in the mid-late 1980s. Thus began a lifelong fascination. Many good friends opened doors for me to understand the Langhe area and its wines better.
Before moving permanently to Italy, I had worked in and with wine for over 15 years. In 1997 I founded Primitivo, a wine bar/restaurant in Colorado Springs, CO, which had a 6-year run. There were 45 wines by the glass, an excellent kitchen and a 2200 selection wine list. In 2003 I launched VintageSpec, a company to build, fill and manage the private cellars of individual collectors. VintageSpec comprised of 1) a construction and woodworking division, which built custom cellars with temperature and humidity controls in private homes, 2) a wine store, both physical and online, to help our collectors source their favorite wines, and 3) a cellar management consultancy that helped collectors achieve maximum satisfaction from their wine investments. I sold all the various businesses between 2003 and 2008, except that I retained VintageSpec as a stand-alone consulting service for a few private collectors.
I came to the Barolo for the first time in February 1995 and fell in love with the area – un coup de foudre. From then on I made at least one visit annually (except 1997, I got busy opening a restaurant … ), to learn about the subtle differences in winemaking, vineyard management and terroir that make these wines so fascinating. I began spending each harvest with a different winemaker beginning in 2008; in this way I was able to significantly deepen my understanding of the subtleties that emerge from the small differences in location of the vines, viticultural practices and winemaking techniques. I spent 6-12 weeks in the Barolo each fall for the next few years, learning winemaking at the side of Luciano Sandrone (my first teacher; Luciano taught me how to make wine), then in subsequent years gaining experience in the cellars of Elio Altare, Maria Teresa Mascarello (at Bartolo Mascarello), Alfio and Giuseppe Cavallotto and Marco Marengo.
In 2011, I moved to Italy permanently. In 2012, I was able to rent about 1000 square meters (0.1ha) of old Nebbiolo vines in the Pernanno MGA of Castiglione Falletto and began to work the vineyard. I made one single tonneau (500l) each year for the 2012-2013-2014 vintages (Italy allows up to 1000 liters of production per year for personal consumption). These experiments were made in the converted stable under my little rented apartment on the main piazza in Monforte and the wine aged in their tonnneaux in the very damp old basement of the building. In these vintages, I learned to apply at a practical, artisanal level all I had been learning in the various cantina for years: viticulture, treatments, pruning, harvests, organizing the work, vinifications, pressing, ageing and racking. Everything was done by hand: I did not have a tractor, nor a pump, nor an electric destemmer. Treatments were done with a sprayer tank carried on my back. Destemming was performed with a hand-cranked machine of ancient design and dubious effectiveness. Pump-overs … with buckets. You get the idea. Though these experiments could not legally be labeled “Barolo,” they were made according to the rules and protocols of the DOCG and are Barolo in everything but name.
In late 2014, after the harvest, a confluence of events expanded potential production and I incorporated as an “Azienda Agricola” with the Camera di Commercio of Alba the following year. With a friend, I was able to purchase a half-hectare of Nebbiolo vines at the edge of the Ginestra MGA in the town of Monforte d’Alba (we split the grapes). The 0.1ha of land I was renting in Pernanno increased to 0.25ha when the family that owns the plot allowed me to take over the rest of the parcel. A grower family I had known for years allowed me to purchase the fruit from a 0.2ha site at the base of the Rionda MGA in Serralunga (I call this plot “Sotto-Rionda”).
Together, this increase in farmed land and purchased fruit made it necessary to become a legal winemaking entity. The first 2 vintages were vinified at a winery where I worked and was able to rent tank and barrel space, as my wife Daniela and I renovated a house we had bought in 2015. In 2017, I moved operations into a newly renovated cellar under our home in Monforte d’Alba. The first vintage vinified here was the 2017. I moved the 2015 and 2016 wines here for their aging in wood casks in August of 2017, and since this time all winemaking activity has been conducted here.
In 2018 I purchased a small amount of fruit from a coveted vineyard site in the commune of Barolo; the following year I was able to rent the plot in its entirety: 1.6ha in the Vignane MGA. There is 1ha of Nebbiolo, and 0.6ha of other grapes that were replanted mostly with Langhe Nebbiolo in 2020. Vignane is known for the elegance of its fruit and the smoothness of tannins. Geologically, it is very similar to the Cannubi which is just across the little valley that separates them. Unlike the Cannubi, it faces southwest instead of southeast and requires different canopy management.
Sadly, my lease on the Pernanno vineyard ran out after the 2019 harvest. It was hard to let go of the piece of land where I had first made wine, but I certainly don’t miss having to haul everything in or out by hand. Let’s just say that my heart was sad, but my back was overjoyed. Luckily, in the early spring of 2020, I was able to find a hectare to rent in the Coste di Rose MGA of Barolo, which has similar exposure, altitude and soil. It was planted to 5500sm of Nebbiolo for Barolo, 2000sm of Nebbiolo Langhe and 2500sm of Chardonnay. I decided to graft the Chardonnay over to Nebbiolo to make a bit more Nebbiolo Langhe. The Coste di Rose site is very reminiscent of the Pernanno – very sandy soil, very steep east-southeast exposure, cool in the late afternoons. The plants here range between 30 and 45 years old.