Here’s what I haven’t told you so far, what compelled me to seek a visit to the estate. One thing, the 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva.
Coming off the heals of the heralded (still!) 2010 vintage, one that most of the mainstream media went bananas over, was 2011. And when it did come out, the media, the pundits, if you will, were talking about 2012. Or maybe even how great 2013 looked already! Hogwash. 2011 is important for the very reason that it wasn’t some miracle of nature, a once-in-a-generation vintage, blah, blah, blah.
It doesn’t take much to be able to grow a decent wine in a vintage like 2010 in Chianti Classico. The same goes for wines coming from places like Tasmania, or Sonoma – nature steps up her game, gives you all she’s got, and all you’ve got to do is some basic work in the vineyard, get the juice out of the grape and let it rest as needed -bacteria free, of course.
(photo below is NOT Casa Emma -see spoiler at the end of this post -it’s a vineyard, impeccably farmed, about 35km way from there, in Tuscany)
But growing wines when it’s terribly dry, and hot, and more, well, that’s not so easy. Because it’s about the phenolic ripeness, it’s about the balance of that ripeness – and getting there is easier said than done.
It’s about taking the big pot in a game of poker with a less than perfect hand – it can be done, it requires lots of planning, some extra work, and yes, a little luck. 2010 was a gift, it was four aces with a king kicker. 2011 was not. And despite that gift, many 2010s from Chianti Classico were just average, a few, as with most vintages, in just about all growing regions, were exasperating.
If you don’t care for the poker playing analogy, think of it as a sailing competition, America’s cup or something. The weather, for the entire course is ideal. Everyone’s joyous, at first. Still, it’ll come down to strategy, and probably, some luck, but not that much (extra) work. This was 2010 vintage in CC.
However, in 2011, the seas were rough, so to speak, and extra (vineyard) work, extra strategy (canopy management, green harvest, pick dates, etc.), and again, some luck (e.g. a cooling off period, or a spot of rain a few weeks prior to harvest, etc.) were absolutely required. I think what gives the less than perfect vintages the bad rap is the last word in the sentence before this – required. Not everyone’s will to do what’s required. There are lazy growers, just like there are lazy software coders, or house painters. That said, some, those in it for the very long term, the stewards, know what to do, and they get out there and do it.
And when I first arrived at Casa Emma, I saw was that someone was getting out there, someone had done it. I’m talking about more work, every bit of it by hand, than I’d ever seen. Later, I walked the vineyards, for an hour, and everywhere I walked, expecting to find someone had slacked off here or there, was perfect. The word, the feeling I had, was superhuman. This crew was superhuman.
Lots of growers think they’re the best, their people work the hardest, etc. But there’s almost always a disconnect between what we think (i.e. about ourselves and our work product) and what’s a fact. Don’t believe me, just ask your boss (nyuck, nyuck, nyuck).
Similarly, saying that your vineyard crew is the best doesn’t make it so. Charging twice what your peers sell their wines for is no guarantee of how hard (or smart) the vineyard crew worked. Hard work is a hard fact, and I think lots of people have lots of different definitions.
So I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it, what I saw that day, floored me. When I asked Alessandro just how many people it took to accomplish this, his answer knocked the breath out of me, as I recall, he said five people. From what I was staring at, those five people never slept, they only worked.
Now I’ll take you back to my friend Valerio who tagged along with me that day. He had no idea why I was in such a state, why I kept (and kept!) blathering on about how different this was, how superhuman(ly) thorough the work here was. To him, it was a few hectares of vines, lots of freshly turned earth, and that was it. What’s all my ranting about? To be sure, he was more interested in tasting wines, and lunch, and that’s just fine. But, on some level Valerio had to trust that I knew what I was talking about, and I suppose you may have to as well. It was a first, and likely something I’d see just a few more times, if I was lucky.
Why is all of this important? Because wine is made in the vineyard. It’s a well worn expression, and many take issue with it, but it’s the truth, it’s a fact. If all you come away with here is that this is my opinion, and far from fact, I understand, it’s not for everyone. Horse, meet water. Water, meet horse. 😉
If this comes across as a sermon, or some didactic lesson, I apologize, but as I said before, I got emotional. This is what my emotional looks like.
I like to think I’m a fairly decent photographer, if nothing else, I’m pretty committed. I travel with a lot of gear, and I take a lot of time; usually 50-100 captures per visit. I think I’ve taken over 100,000 pictures (most aren’t keepers, OK, MOST aren’t keepers), altogether. Why is that important? Because at Casa Emma I think I took 6 or 7 pictures – I was just too busy trying to wrap my head around how they farmed, photography really didn’t even come to mind – until maybe a week later, or something. Thus, I apologize there’s not more to gaze at in this post(s).
(below, Alessandro Bucalossi, current family steward of Casa Emma, and Casa Emma’s oenologist, Marco Salvadori)
When I return, my last installment on this visit (and less fiery sermon) and more tasting notes, and also some commentary from Alessandro and Marco about just what it is they’re doing, and what the vision is that’s guiding them into the future. And more tasting notes.
(header photo: Tuscany, 2016. A vineyard that is worked entirely by one man (I came to find out), and I have to say it was better kept than the same sized vineyard employing an average team of three skilled workers. True story, I saw how this grower kept his vineyards, I pulled my car over, and knocked on his door and asked to buy wine. I’m really not sure I could ever find the place again. The wine was fabulous, it was 9€. I was so thrilled that I bought more than one. OK, rant really over.)