Margherita Otto Barolo is made as a traditional assemblaggio Barolo.
Vineyard sites were in Monforte d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba for the first three vintages (2015-2017). A partial parcel in the Vignane MGA of Barolo was added for the 2018 vintage; the whole parcel is under rental since 2019. A second parcel in Barolo township was added for 2020. The sites in the communes of Monforte, Castiglione and Barolo are estate-farmed, the Serralunga site provides purchased fruit from a grower family who are good friends.
Monforte, in Localita Ginestra
Castiglione Falletto, in the Pernanno MGA
Barolo, in the Vignane and Coste di Rose MGAs
Serralunga, at the edge of the Vingarionda MGA
2015: A year of contrasts between heat and cool.
The growing season started wet as the final months of rain that had begun in November of 2013 wound down (2014 was the wettest year on record in the Barolo area). It finally stopped raining in mid-March 2015 and the weather improved markedly in April. Flowering was under normal conditions in May. The last week of June heat arrived in force and continued unabated until August 14, when three days of thundershowers cooled the area considerably. During the seven weeks of heat, during which temperatures regularly climbed above 38C and went as high as 42C, the plants were able to benefit from the water reserves accumulated during the months of rain. Even during the hottest part of August, the soil retained sufficient moisture so that the plants never suffered from drought stress.
The second half of August into October were completely normal from a climatic standpoint, with warm, sunny days and briskly cool nights. The key to taking advantage of this excellent late-seasons weather was canopy and yield management during the hot weeks of July and August. Those who trimmed the tops of the vines and those who were aggressive in their green harvests saw very rapid sugar accumulation after the invaiatura (veraison). Some growers were picking Nebbiolo as early as September 12.
Harvest dates for Margherita Otto in 2015 were between October 1 and 10. Vinification and initial wood aging was at a cantina where I was able to rent tank and cask space. As grapes arrived, they were added to the fermenting mass (on native yeasts only, no selected) in a continuous ferment, i.e., the 3 vineyards were co-fermented. The wine was dry about 9 days after the last addition of fruit and was macerated for additional time with cappello sommerso. Total skin contact was about 45 days. Press wine was immediately mixed in with the free-run wine.
The wine was racked off the skins into a single Slavonian oak Garbellotto botte (cask) of 25hl and leftovers were put in glass damijane. A first rack off the rough lees was performed after a week. Malo began immediately and was complete after 18 days. A second racking was performed about a week after the malo was complete. The wine was racked again after a year.
After almost 2 years in botte at the rented cellar, the wine was transferred to the newly completed Azienda Agricola Margherita Otto cellar in Monforte d’Alba in August 2017 and spent an additional year in a single French oak Mittelberger botte of 25hl and a single old barrique. The wine was assembled in a single steel tank a week before bottling.
Bottling was 28 February 2019. A total of 2608 bottles, 490 magnums and 12 double-magnums were produced. The wine was released in late May 2019.
2016: A classic, cool year of excellent potential.
However, not a “Vintage of the Century,” no matter what the wine magazines say. The winter and spring were normal, with good precipitation to replenish the water tables after the dry and hot 2015 growing season. A burst of heat around the flowering and a week of warmth over the July-August cusp were the only sustained heat events of the year; this was a very excellent growing season marred only by a few oidium outbreaks. The critical ripening period were warm days and cool nights with excellent, stable weather that made for an easy harvest conducted under optimal conditions. As always, the field-sorting of fruit during the picking was critical to a good outcome in the cellar.
The critical difficulty in 2016 was overproduction – after several vintages of below-normal yields, the vines exploded in 2016. Careful management of the vegetation was absolutely necessary to a good result in 2016. Crop thinning was performed after the flowering, when may single new shoots had set 3-4 flower bunches; ideally, there should be one per shoot. A second pass through the vineyards after the invaiatura (veraison) was necessary to bring the yields under the legally mandated limits. Any imperfectly colored bunches were removed at this point.
Pernanno and Sotto-Rionda were harvested on October 12; Ginestra on October 16. This wine was also made in the rented cellar, the same as in 2015. As the ripening dates were so close together, they were fermented together (the Ginestra fruit was simply added on top of the already-fermenting Pernanno and Sotto-Rionda fruit in a single concrete tank). Total maceration time was about 38 days and the wine went through malolactic fermentation in steel as there was no wooden botte to be rented that year. The wine spent about 10 months in the steel tank with several rankings before being transferred to the Margherita Otto cantina as soon as the new facility was ready in late August 2017. The wine was put into a single 25hl Mittelberger botte, a single well-used tonneau of 500L and a single old barrique of 225 liters.
The wine was bottled on April 29, 2020 and released in June 2020. Production: 20 double-magnums, 535 magnums and 3200 bottles.
2017: The second-hottest vintage after 2003, and an incredibly difficult growing season.
The spring started warm, with the buds already moving and swelling at the beginning of March. March saw continued good weather and the shoots grew quickly. Easter on April 16 was 28°C in Monforte. The Wednesday morning after Easter – April 19 – the temperatures dropped to -2C in the valley bottoms, bringing huge frost damage to less favored sites, especially those facing west toward the Tanaro and Po plains. Thus began a month of wet and cold – with a second freeze a week after the first – which replenished the water tables somewhat after the dry, mild winter. The weather finally cleared around the middle of May and from May 16 to September 1 there was not a drop of rain in Monforte (Barolo, La Morra and Castiglione had a brief rain shower in July). The harvest began about month early but the high-altitude site in Monforte performed far better in a hot year like this one.
Pernanno and Sotto-Rionda were harvested on September 24 and 25; Ginestra on October 12. This was the year that I learned that the Ginestra site, in order to reach its best potential, needs to be harvested 10-16 days later than the lower-altitude Pernanno and Sotto-Rionda sites. From 2017 onwards I have left Monforte to ripen on its own time and fermented it separately, adding it to the mix just after the fermentation for the long maceration.
After the ferments finished, the wine was left to macerate on the skins for a total of 25 days and then racked to a single 35hl Mittelberger botte, along with a single old, used barrique.
2017 was the first vintage to be completely vinified and aged at the new Margherita Otto cellar in Monforte d’Alba. The wine was bottled on August 28, 2020 and will be released in March 2021. Production: 24 double-magnums, 575 magnums and 3534 bottles.
2018: A vintage that was never too hot, never too cold. A balanced vintage without being flashy. An even, mild growing season that saw few heat spikes and precipitation when needed. The vines never seemed particularly stressed and the vintage finished with real heat only in September for a beautiful harvest period. This was the first vintage to use fruit from the newest vineyard in the Barolo township, where I purchased about 1000 kgs of fruit from a grower family. This addition added the mid-palate lift, elegance and sense of lightness that I had been searching for.
Winter rains replenished the water tables somewhat after the brutally dry summer and autumn of 2017. February and March were wet (as was the historical norm), April was dry and in May the rains started again. Vineyard excavation work in April showed that the winter rains had only penetrated 2-2.5m deep, while the ground underneath was still dangerously dry. The steady May precipitations replenished the deep water tables and allowed the vines a strong, healthy start to the season. Bud break and flowering were in the normal time frame, with moderate weather during the critical flowering period at the beginning of June. The summer was mild, and the hillsides stayed vibrantly green throughout the summer – a rarity in northern Italy.
Heat finally came in September for the critical ripening period, but was too late to compress the vegetative cycle. The Nebbiolo enjoyed a long, slow final maturation, with cool nights in contrast to the hot days that allowed the development of good acid and ripe tannins. The harvest began in Pernanno on October 11 with Sotto-Rionda and Vignane following immediately after. Ginestra was finished on Oct 22. Fermentations started slowly and evenly in the big concrete tanks and finished up in about 10-12 days. Macerations went about 39 days total. The wine was racked off the skins to a 25hl and a 10hl Mittelberger botte, along with a single used old barrique.
The addition of the Vignane fruit in 2018 created a sort of bridge between the initial ethereal, delicate impressions in the nose (which I believe are characteristic of the Pernanno site) and the structured and tannic finish (which are more typical of the fruit from Monforte and Serralunga). This addition of Vignane fruit was the piece to the puzzle that I had been searching for several years – one that would make the wine more complete without making it heavy or concentrated.
The wine continues to develop positively in the Mittelberger botte and is showing unusual elegance and drinkability at such an early point in its development. It will be bottled at the end of August 2021.
2019: A very fine vintage of classic style, moderate power and potentially excellent balance.
This vintage I was able to rent the entire parcel of Vignane from which I had bought fruit in the previous year; a full hectare of Nebbiolo registered to Barolo production.
The vintage started wet and rainy through March, and the buds began to swell only in mid-late March, a welcome development and a return to a more normal time-frame. The end of April the weather cleared and May was mild and warm, with a heat wave that lasted almost two weeks across the end of May and the start of June. Weather patterns cooled off for the rest of June and July – the heatwaves of western and northern Europe did not hit the Barolo; we are well-protected by the alps. While France was experiencing record heatwaves, the weather here remained mild and temperate. A 10-day burst of heat across the invaiatura (veraison) period set the color well but temperatures returned to normal for the late-summer vineyard work.
On Thursday 5 September, a “water bomb” hit across a swath of the Langhe, bringing extraordinary amounts of rain and damaging hail in a very short period. Temperatures plummeted and whole vineyards were lost across southern Treiso in Barbaresco, Madonna di Como and San Cassiano in Alba, the vineyards around the castle of Grinzane Cavour, all of Fontanafredda in northern Serralunga, and parts of Verduno and La Morra. Luckily, no Margherita Otto vineyards were damaged, through the hail zone passed 500 meters from the Pernanno site. From this point the weather returned to normal and picking commenced in Vignane on October 13, followed by Pernanno and Sotto-Rionda on October 17. Monforte, as usual, ripened much later and had to wait out the rains of October 18-21. The Ginestra site was finally picked on October 27 in excellent conditions and yielded a small crop of excellent balance and fine acidity.
Fermentations proceeded easily and the wines were macerated on the skins for 35 days. After pressing, the wine was racked back to concrete for the malolactic; once the Malo was complete the wine was put in new Mittelberger botte of 52 and 25 hl, as well as a single old barrique. After its first year in cask, the wine shows elegance, with well-structured ripe tannins and an excellent core of dark fruit and licorice.
This was the first year I made a commercial quantity of Langhe Nebbiolo. The wine is fresh, fruity and has a moderate, balanced structure. After a brief maceration period (only as long as the alcoholic fermentation), the wine underwent malolactic in steel and then spends 15-16 months in a single 1000L Mittelberger cask. It should be ready to drink on potential release in late March 2021.
2020: A potentially excellent vintage of forward style, mid-weight structure and very nice balance.
A sad start to the year: my lease on the Pernanno Vineyard ran out after 8 years of working the hillside. But I was able to find a hectare on land in the Cosi di Rose MGA in the commune of Barolo to take its place. Like the Pernanno site, this new vineyard is steep, faces southeast for excellent morning sun and has a high percentage of sand. In Coste di Rose, there are 6000sm of Nebbiolo da Barolo, 2000sm of Langhe Nebbiolo and 2000sm of Chardonnay.
The year began with a milder winter and early spring. All of the Dolcetto vines in Vignane and a part of the Chardonnay were ripped out in late February as I had secured planting rights for Langhe Nebbiolo (in 2019 I had sold off the Chardonnay and Dolcetto fruit). I was all set to plant the new Nebbiolo plants the second week of March … and then came the lockdown. Many of the seasonal workers in the labor cooperatives were locked out of Italy as the borders closed. The important late winter work of pruning, cleaning the trellising and tying was completed with about 50% less workers than normal and the planting of the new Nebbiolo was delayed, and delayed, and delayed. Finally the new plants went in when the lockdown began to be lessened and workers were allowed to return in mid May.
After the early bud break, the weather cooled considerably, slowing the precocious start to the vegetative growth. The growing season was characterized by brief periods of rain between longer periods of sun. In effect, the whole seasons was 1 day rain, 5 days sun; 1 day rain, 5 days sun; 1 day rain, 5 days sun … et cetera ad nauseam. The plants never wanted for water; the groundwater reserves were built up completely thru the season. Real heat came only in late July ad continued intermittently until mid-September, but even during this period the rain-sun-rain-sun pattern continued. Due to the high humidity conditions, peronospera was a constant battle; those who waited too long to react were catching up for the rest of the season. Some volume growers had more yellow than green in their canopies even into September – not a good sign.
The maturation cycle began with the veraison in mid-August in the normal timeframe. Warmth in early September greatly contributed to excellent balance of sugars and fine-boned, ripe tannins. The nighttime temperatures began to cool considerably in mid-September leading to bright freshness and perfumes. While my vineyards usually see 2 weeks of variation from the first ripening to the last, in 2020 everything was picked in a 3-day period of October 8-9-10. The Nebbiolo was healthy and clean, with excellent color and acid.
As of this writing, the fermentations have finished and the 2020 Barolo is macerating on the skins. The condition of the skins in 2020 is exemplary: after the alcoholic fermentation they remained intact, not crumbling or pasty. This augurs a long maceration period.
The 2020 Langhe Nebbiolo was racked after 10 days of skin contact. I will produce about 2500L of the wine this year.
As in previous years, I took about 200 liters of bleed wine off the Barolo to make a bit of rosato for my wife Daniela.