Winemaking: high-quality artisanal production

High-quality artisanal wine production is possible only after high-quality work in the vineyard and in crop selection, starting with grapes that are balanced, healthy, and optimally ripe. Only by starting with great grapes is it possible to create a wine that will eloquently express the characteristics of its terroir, avoiding any chemical-physical interventions that could alter its nature.
The grapes are vinified in small lots grown in vineyard micro-zones displaying homogeneous characterisics. Every lot is treated and monitored in the manner most apprropriate to it; we do not follow any pre-determined vinification “recipe.” The beauty and the challenge of our work is understanding why and how our work must change with every vintage and from lot to lot, each followed with painstaking attention. Over the years, Michele has also gained an increasingly deeper understanding of each parcel of grapes, studying over a significant period of time the intriguing synergies that are the fruit of co-fermentations of different grape varieties that grow in identical vineyard conditons. This ceaseless commitment to research allows us to produce each year terroir-expressive wines that are extremely personal and in no way similar to other wines.
The red wines of Bolgheri are characterised by maturation in oak. We carefully calibrate this contact so that we obtain great, age-worthy wines with bouquets that are rich and complex, but not oaky. We use only mimimal amounts of SO2. Through laboratory analysis we verify that the finished wine is free of any non-desired residue, e.g. anti-pest treatments, natural pollutants such as ocratoxins, etc.

Fermentation
The quality-selected clusters are de-stemmed and very gently pressed, then the must goes into the tanks, where yeasts transform it into wine. Our job is to facilitate this process, making sure that it takes place under the best possible conditions. We start the fermentation process using just a small part of the must, so that the yeast can multiply in it, then we use that to inoculate the entire batch of must in the tank. We continuously monitor the fermentation and, as needed, perform aerating pumpovers, which stimulate the yeast’s metabolic activity, through a light oxygenisation of the must-wine. The fermentation process and its conclusion are monitored by simple analyses (the sugars decrease and the alcohol increases). In general, the fermentation lasts about a week.
Maceration
In producing red wines, maceration takes place simultaneously with the fermentation and often extends afterwards as well. The grape skins, immersed in the must, gradually yield certain elements classic to red wines: colour, aromas and tannins. These skins, though, tend to form a compact mass, called the cap, which floats on top of the fermenting wine and hinders the desired extraction process. In smaller vats, punchdowns are performed: the fermenting mass is periodically stirred, or the cap pushed down, by long poles manipulated from above. In larger vats and tanks, pumpovers are practiced: the wine is pumped out of the bottom of the vat and then back in over the cap, thus wetting it and delicately re-mixing it into the mass.
Vats and tanks
In ancient times, vinification was performed in terracotta containers; from the Middle Ages to the 1800s, in wooden vats; beginning in the 1900s, in concrete vats, and from the1970s, in stainless steel. Which is better? For us, the best container is the one that alters the wine the least, so that the determining factor is the growing area and not technology. For that reason, all our containers are of stainless steel, which is absolutely neutral and ensures absolute cleanliness.
Drawing off
Drawing off the wine, consisting in separating the wine from the pomace, is practiced once the maceration has concluded. The selection of the appropriate moment is not standard, nor is it easy when making a high-quality artisanal wine, since the decision is made by taking into account the sensory evaluation of the tannins. It depends a lot on the kind of wine one wishes to make, and on the type of ageing that will follow, and therefore on the experience and skills that Michele has honed over the years. The operation itself is performed by letting the cap become dense and slowly drawing off the wine from the bottom of the tank. The pomace is then very delicately pressed to recover just the high-quality wine that it still contains, and what remains, still very wet, is sent to the distillery for producing grappa.
Malolactic fermentation
In a climate like ours, and with our grape varieties, the malolactic fermentation is not so crucial, inasmuch as the malic acid is usally quite low. It does take place, however, through the action of lactic bacteria, micro-organisms present in nature, which transform malic acid into lactic acid, rendering less “aggressive” the acidity in the wine and effecting some changes in the wine’s aromatics.
Maturation in oak
The use of wood has predominated from the Middle Ages on in the production, storage, and transportation of wine. Winemakers observed that wood, usually oak, modified the wine and made it more ageworthy; the wine was different and more complex, and also able to stand up to many years of life and to improve with the years. This does not automatically happen with all wines: they should have the right terroir characteristics and grape varieties, and also the vinification must be appropriate. The Bolgheri DOC production code establishes minimum maturation periods. There are many different types of casks, in different sizes and with different characteristics. The size of the cask, or the ratio of surface and volume in contact with the wine, affects the pace of ageing, as it does its cleanliness and manageability. With the exception of some local traditions, use of the 225-litre barrel (also called a barrique) is general today.
Oak aromas
In addition to the ageing process, the period in oak can also result in the absorption by the wine of aromatic compounds classic to oak, such as oak vanilla, which will be at their most noticeable in the case of barrels that are new or heavily toasted. Since our objective is to produce terroir-expressive wines that therefore display an elegant, complex bouquet, we prefer that the oak influence not be invasive. For this reason, we prefer to use 225-litre barrels and some 500-litre tonneaux that are not new; each year we introduce a maximum of 10% new barrels.
Topping up
Oak is a porous material, and with time, some of the wine tends to evaporate, lowering the level of wine in the container. This situation can then create a surface contact with air, subjecting the wine to irreversible alterations, such as oxidation. In order to limit evaporation, the casks are kept in cool, very humid areas, but since the maturation period is so long, some evaporation will nevertheless occur, so the wine is continuously monitored and the same wine is added to the barrel if necessary.
Fine lees
The wine that goes into the barrels is not clear, but contains minute particles that derive mainly from the yeasts that carried out the fermentation, called the fine lees. Leaving the wine to rest “on the lees” is a very ancient practice, and it has a positive influence on the body and stability of the wine. In addition, some of the compounds released by the lees are able to link with aromatic coumpounds in the wine and serve as a kind of a reserve of fragrances that will be released gradually as the wine ages. But this process requires labor-intensive monitoring and work by the winemaker. Since the lees tend to precipitate out to the bottom of the barrel, at least once a week for 5-6 months the contents of every single barrel must be stirred with a special tool. The wine must also be tasted periodically, and the wine racked and aerated, in order to prevent reductive phenomena.
Racking
After its stay on the fine lees, the wine must be clarified. We perform this operation in an artisanal manner, by starting with the top part of the wine and slowly transferring it in into another barrel, leaving the lees on the bottom of the old barrel. A wine will be racked 5-6 times, depending on its state. Red wines are not then filtered, so that they will not be stripped of important sensory elements. Racking is not an extremely efficient operation, and therefore there is always the possibility of leaving a small amount of sediment in the bottle, but that does represent an artisanal manner of making the wine.
Final blend
Following maturation, the wines will be spread out over many casks, each barrel with its own particular documentation of the wine’s evolution. These individual lots must be combined together to compose the final, definitive wine. The assemblage, or putting together of that blend, is an operation of both selection and of construction, which depends on the experience and sensitivity of the person who performs it. The final wine then rests some months in a tank, so that its constitutive lots can marry naturally together. It is like a birth: it requires time, so that the individual lots can give birth to something that is not simply the sum of them but the expression of a unique and unrepeatible synergy.
Sulpher
Sulphur has been used since antiquity for its “cleansing” properties. First, sulphites are produced naturally in wine, since a small part comes from the metabolic activity of the yeast; but the introduction of sulphites in wine is due to its properties as an antimicrobial, antioxidant, and preservation agent. The final amount that remains in the bottle is conditioned at bottling, but, since we use healthy, high-quality grapes and careful vinification practices, we manage to introduce the indispensable minimum, averaging 50mg/l for red wine s and 80mg/l for white wines.
Bottle-ageing
After bottling, we let the wine rest in the bottle, stored horizontally, for a period of three months to several years, depending on wine type. For the more straightforward wines, a brief stay in the bottle allows the wine to “recover” after the stress of bottling. During longer periods of ageing, transformative processes take place, with a softening of the tannins, tempering of the acidity, and evolution of the aromas, which complete the personality of the wine.
White wine
White wines, compared to reds, requite some different vinification practices. We very gently press the entire clusters, then we leave the must in the tank overnight, at a cool temperature, so that any particulate matter can precipitate by gravity to the bottom. Then the clear must is fermented. Our aged white wine matures a year in steel on the fine lees and then another year in the bottle.
Winemaking experimentation and research
The harvest here is a frantic period because, quite apart from the usual bustle among the production tanks, we are busy carrying out continuous experiments with our winemaking. On the one hand, we continue with our experimentation on small lots of wine, which allows us to continuously improve what we do; on the other, we perform micro-fermentations of individual varieties from our ampelography collection and other research, in collaboration with the University of Milan. We believe deeply in research and in development, and we actively support it, in order to continuously improve oenological research and thus the quality of our own production.