THE UNIQUE WINE EXPERIENCE
From our magazine
How high can you go in Europe with the cultivation of vines? The question is more actual than ever, given the effects of climate change and the increasingly frequent attempts to find a decisive answer in the altitude. There are several vineyards that claim to be the highest in the Old World. The purpose here is not much to decide the winner from the orographic point of view, or compile an exhaustive list, but rather to quote some of these cases, and outline some distinctive features that characterize the vineyards in quota and the wines that derive from there.
Southern Spain, with La Contraviesa mountains, looks like it managed to reach the highest altitudes. We are close to the National Park of Sierra Nevada, southeast of Granada, at an impressive 1.368 meters above sea level altitude, mitigated by warm winds from the Alboran Sea. Here Barranco Oscuro winery cultivates 10 hectares of land, a non-trivial extension for
such extreme conditions. Among the cultivated vines there are both a number of autochthonous and some international including Pinot Noir and Merlot.
In Italy’s South Tyrol, precisely in the upper Val Venosta, there is another place that competes with the just mentioned Spanish case. Here Calvenschlössl winery cares for several vineyards, including a very special. It’s called Marienberg, and it was the namesake Benedictine monastery to grant the land so that it could be cultivated. The incredible altitude where the Solaris vine grows is 1.340 meters above sea level, truly a breath from the title of the highest vineyard in Europe. It’s a place of incredible charm, where the millenary history of the Benedictine monastery merges with steep sceneries of dazzling beauty, with Lake Resia standing out with its crystal clear waters.
Again in Italy, but at a completely different latitude, viticulture flies again up to 1.300 meters above sea level. We are in Calabria, in Cava di Melis, a small town in the heart of the
Sila National Park, in the municipality of Longobucco. The winery is managed by Immacolata Pedace and cultivates various international vines including Cabernet Sauvignon,
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. Viticulture at heights like this is often prohibitive: in this case, is made possible by a delicate intersection of factors, including the
presence of Lake Cecita, which with its influence acts as a mitigating element allowing to overcome the harsh and snowy winters during which temperatures reach even 20 degrees below zero.
Back to the north of the country, Valle D’Aosta is also known for the impressive altitudes of its viticulture. It’s at 1.210 meters, in the northwest part of the region, where the well-known Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle was born, produced with Prié Blanc grapes. One of the most representative wineries is the cooperative Cave Mont Blanc, today with about 80 members, each of them cultivating a small vineyard overlooking the Mont Blanc.
Back to Trentino now, and specifically to the Valle di Non, where we can find the very interesting Vin de la Neu, a winery led by Nicola Biasi, an internationally-known winemaker
famous for his ability to grow and lead different markets with several Italian wineries. More than ten years ago Nicola decided to plant over 800 meters of altitude the resistant variety Johanniter: 2013 is the year of the first harvest.
One of the most interesting traits of Vin de la Neu’s work is the experimentation that today, through science and knowledge, allows the production of wines at higher altitudes than the past. One of the fundamental building blocks that allows to achieve this goal is the study of resistant varieties, such as the Johanniter. The results they give from an agronomic point of view against fungal diseases (and not only) are truly extraordinary. This, of course, allows for a total absence of treatments in the vineyard, and therefore to carry on a viticulture that can be really defined as sustainable and respectful of the territory.
The result in the glass is tangible and unequivocal. Nicola’s wines are characterized by great purity and cleanliness, with an expressiveness that leaves its mark.
The 2017 vintage of Vin de la Neu, in particular, is characterized by rigor and freshness both coming from the mountain environment where it was born. Orange, pineapple and some pleasant herbaceous nuances join a range of scents typically belonging to the mineral range such as graphite. A mottling of tertiary perfumes is added on top, with nuances of hydrocarbons and iodine reverberations standing out clear. A tense sip, rich and perfectly centered contains the soul of an innovative project that makes harmony with the mountain environment its distinctive hallmark.
The oenologist of the Maremma estate Le Mortelle, property of Marchesi Antinori, takes us to the discovery of this splendid winery by talking about identity, terroir, architecture and sustainability, all perfectly integrated themes within one of the most important Italian wine families.
First of all, tell us a bit about ourselves, how you approached the world of wine and your indeed fascinating career path?
As fascinating as my path may seem today, I confess my approach to wine was almost accidental. I was studying agronomy in Athens, the city I come from, when I was struck by the magic of viticulture, as I call it: I was amazed by the fact that such a result could come out of a simple raw material such as grapes, complex and elegant as wine can be. The role of man in the center of this transformation intrigued me so much that I decided I wanted to absolutely do this job. So I left Greece to pursue this passion around the world. After my Masters in France I have worked in various wine regions such as Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Yarra Valley and Malborough before arriving in Tuscany exactly seven years ago.
Le Mortelle, like the other beautiful estates of Marchesi Antinori, presents an unique environmental context that, in addition to being of a special beauty, is also extremely peculiar with respect to the soil composition and exposure of the vineyards. Can describe it and explain to us the personality conferred to the wines of the estate?
The estate, surrounded by small hills that create a sort of amphitheater, is located in southern Tuscany, in Maremma, at a distance of about 7 km from the sea. It is precisely this proximity to the sea, together with the pedological characteristics, that makes Le Mortelle a unique place. Our soil, with an alluvial / marine origin, is rich in skeleton with high percentages of sand and some clay. The richness of skeleton on the surface tends to maintain heat and, together with the sand, allows for good drainage, limiting any water stress in summer. At the same time, the vines have an East-West exposure so to take the best out of the afternoon Mistral that helps mitigating the temperatures. These conditions favor a slow and optimal ripening especially for our late varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère, giving life to wines of great aromatic elegance and tannic finesse.
As Winefully we know Le Mortelle through the Poggio alle Nane and Ampio, two complex and structured reds that are ambassadors of the Estate: how can you describe them and what similarities (and differences) do we find in the two?
To these two wines we dedicate the best plots of the estate and the greatest care during all stages of their production, starting with the operations in the vineyard.Poggio alle Nane is a wine conceived on a very elegant expression of Cabernet Franc: the aromatic complexity obtained from our best grapes of this variety, with notes of white pepper, blueberry and mint, combined with the dense tannic texture conferred by the Cabernet Sauvignon and the spicy and velvety character of Carménère, create a complex wine with a great aging potential. A wine that can offer immediate satisfaction but which reveals its character even more to those who have the patience to wait for some time. On the other hand, Ampio is a fully particular expression of Carménère. A variety of the same family as the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with which it shares many similarities, especially at the aromatic level, with shades of black currant and liquorice, often predominant. The Carménère, a grape of Bordeaux origin and now reference for Chilean wines, it is often considered a less elegant variety which, however, as I like to say, found its grace in our territory. The blend of Ampio, result of a deep knowledge of our vineyards, it has an identity more pronounced and strongly characterized by the variety. With a long agingin 100% new French oak, it presents a complex bouquet of great finesse, silky tannins and an extraordinary tasting persistence.
Marchesi Antinori has accustomed us to challenge with extraordinary wines that represent today’s Italian oenology in the world and that have often gone very far beyond the local denominations: this is the case of Poggio alle Nane and Ampio delle Mortelle. As a winemaker, what’s your call on present disciplinaries?
Historically in Italy, as well as in other traditional wine countries, the disciplinaries have often contributed to the notoriety of the wines in the world and to the improvement of quality within wine-growing regions. Today, however, the strong competition from New World wines pushes even more to overcome the oenological frontiers and the case of the Supertuscans is more than ever current. In addition, Le Mortelle is part of a very young and at the same time very heterogeneous wine area made of 8,700 hectares of vineyards. The Maremma region presents undoubtedly a great enological potential but has yet to craft its identity. We as a winery do respect our territory by creating representative and identitarian wines of the highest level. This is our contribution to that goal. Having the flexibility to do this is just as important.
Le Mortelle, as well as being one of the most beautiful Italian estates from an aesthetic and architectural point of view, it is also at the forefront of cellar practices: underground structure, production process by gravity, maximum exploitation of environmental conditions are just some of the most interesting aspects. How is this complexity reflected in the wines of the estate?
The care of the grapes and the quality of each grape is a fundamental value for the production of wines such as Poggio alle Nane and Ampio. At the same time we are lucky for being in a wine growing area where the grapes ripen to a level as to make wines extremely delicate. Therefore, all operations in the winery have the objective of optimizing the precision and minimize the stress conditions for the raw material. There vinification by gravity, the use of truncated cone tanks, extractions through pneumatic pressing, a deep underground barrel cellar are just some of the tools that guarantee a less traumatic processing of the grapes, preserving the varietal aromas and facilitating the extraction of silky tannins. This is the only way we can express the character of our territory best.
Today people talk about sustainability in the supply chain of wine and we know that this philosophy is a pillar of Marchesi Antinori’s business model: how is the sustainability matter managed in Le Mortelle and what is the winery giving back to the surrounding environment?
The construction project of the Le Mortelle winery was conceived since the beginning as an eco-sustainable project with innovative systems like that the phytodepuration of waste water, but also with simple mechanisms that they exploit gravity, natural light and the thermoregulation of the rock. Thus Le Mortelle places respect for the environment and places energy saving at the center of its attention. The principle of sustainability is therefore reflected in every step, starting from the vineyard and at all stages of production. For example, in the past 10 years we have invested in integrated protection against insects, with the use of pheromones and the introduction of predatory insects, in such a way as to lead to the abandonment of insecticides without compromising the quality of our wines. Sustainability is a healthy and environmentally friendly approach for Le Mortelle, in the best agricultural tradition, combined with research and technology.
Marchesi Antinori is one of the main wine realities for the Italian wine, both for the long history it has and for the enological heritage represented by its estates. What does it mean to be part of a company where there is a strong and consistent entrepreneurial vision as a whole but at the same time each estate has a clear and indisputable identity? How do you conjugate the singularity of a project with the overall vision?
I imagine it is possible because the goal is common and at the center of the corporate model: to produce quality wine. As trivial as it may seem, it is a goal that it is sometimes overlooked by companies. Wine cannot be seen like any other food product: is comes from agriculture, dependent on nature and hardly influenced by her. Precisely for this reason quality wine cannot be standardized and man becomes the key factor. The Antinori family and our CEO and Chief Oenologist Renzo Cotarella were born in wine and know this principle very well. For this reason they considered essential for each estate to have its own identity and autonomy, each with its own team.
Getting closer to the end of this fantastic chat we would like to pay a look to the future: Georgia what to expect (or hope to wait) next from Le Mortelle?
I think the near future of Le Mortelle will be even greener. The Antinori family has always been convinced that respect for the environment must call for maximum attention and effort. For Le Mortelle the challenge is even more important because we are in an area of great natural beauty, where much of the Coastal Maremma is bordered as a Natural Reserve. Therefore, in the next few years we would like to further decrease our consumption of energy thus increasing the use of renewable energy. We would like to raise the awareness of all our employees in this direction, because only by changing our mindset we can really make things better. There’s one thing I am sure about, that the respect for the environment and its biodiversity is important for both ethical and technical reasons: the more we work in harmony with our territory, the more we will be able to produce wines of great expression.
Georgia Dimitriou, the host of Le Mortelle estate
Let’s imagine a well-stocked shelf of wines or, alternatively, the web page of an e-shop that provides clear and easy navigation functionalities as well as the correct observation perspective: this is certainly a classic situation that each of us has experienced (with no doubt as you are in the Magazine section of Winefully!) and which has seen a series of dynamics come on stage such as to govern the choice of the own wine to buy.
The reasons behind the selection are mixed and many of them are linked to the intrinsic motivation to purchase: an occasion to celebrate, a present to make, a bottle to collect, a long-desired wine finally available, a label chosen because of a direct or indirect advice from a friend, from social media or international critics, the availability of certain bottle formats and finally also the price, either because it is linked to a certain budget in hand or because it is able to generate savings if compared to other buying opportunities. Which is the fil rouge that links, more or less intensively, the reasons mentioned, certainly not exhaustive of all the buying opportunities that we can experience?
Aesthetics, meaning the mediated perception through the senses of the characteristics of a product that, at the time of purchase, is unknown or only partially known.
There is no doubt that the ancient saying according to which “even the eye wants its part” applies very well to such purchasing situations, hence the key role of Marketing in creating a certain appeal in the product, the bottle of wine, so to motivate the buyer to select it jointly or separately from other variables that are part of the decision-making process.
However, not all the five senses are stimulated during the study phase in which the details of interest are captured: a closed bottle will hardly be able to stimulate the sense of smell unless the storage conditions of the purchase site are below standard and motivate us to walk away as soon as possible (see also the article “Premium bottles: how to store them properly” nor the taste; however, the stimuli towards hearing may be greater, especially if combined with the touch in handling a bottle and storing a series of information from its profile, from any writings imprinted on the glass or from the quality and grain of the label and capsule, where available.
We leave sight inevitably for last, as this is the sense that most conditions the choice of a wine when buying in person sharing other details with touch and hearing, and it is the only sense conditioning the purchase in case you opt for online platforms. In the world of wine, the strategic nature of the packaging of a bottle has long been clear: a lot is invested so that the product transmits the values of the cellar, communicates clearly and immediately to the consumer, allows them to go beyond the information on front and back labels, provides details in line with current legislation, mentions the progressive number of the bottle in the case of limited editions or, last but not least, provides a message related to the positioning of the product at Marketing level.
Even the smallest detail counts and can really make a difference: objectively, has it ever happened to choose one or more wines being guided by our knowledge or references from third parties, but also by our instincts and visual preferences? How many times have we faced winking labels or creative packagings that generate curiosity and desire to learn more or simply elegant “dresses” perfectly in line with the reputation of a particular wine? And how many times have we dropped the purchase of wines unable to communicate or whose packaging wasn’t in line with that specific situation?
It has happened, it happens and it will keep happening as the consumer is more and more skilled and informed and there are many ways to provide information that in the past might not have been so relevant (or perhaps they were, but only for industry experts). The trend is common to all markets (not only for wine since also spirits or water or carbonated drinks are no less) but in our world the winery choices aimed at a greater focus on appearance and on the perception of the product from the customer (consumer or not) can be seen with greater clarity. This happens because the wine market is highly heterogeneous and characterized by a history often linked to single territories and wineries, often guardians of a tradition that many times comes from family and that market trends have no way of affecting (or at least they can’t afford at the moment).
Therefore, it will be always difficult and even limiting to compare wines which essence is contained within the glass and wines where the outer dress is essential to finalize the sale. Both have the need to meet the customer’s purchasing power but the ways they do so are radically different, activating in a diametrically opposite way the senses underlying the decision-making process as well as the emotions, sentiments and feelings that can characterize certain purchases. The selection of a wine is supported by internal and external decision-making elements. The former refer to the wine itself, its history, the winemaking and aging techniques, the vintage and the terroir. The latter, on the other hand, are attributable to the way in which the wine is presented, the label, the packaging, the price and other factors that contribute to wine presentation and description.
As it emerged in the study named “Neuromarketing meets the art of labeling” commissioned by UPM Raflatac to SenseCatch in 2018, it clearly emerges that, keeping out the price variable, it is the label with its design, the types of paper and finishes to influence the choice of a wine. As mentioned by the title, the subject was analyzed at scientific level using the research methodology of SenseCatch, which integrates neuroscience and consumer behavior to analyze the reasons behind the decision-making processes of the consumer in an objective and scientific way. The research work has been published in this book and in the scientific article “Neuromarketing Meets the Art of Labeling. How Papers and Finishing on Labels Affect Wine Buying Decisions” by the American Association of Wine Economics magazine.
Therefore, it is clear there are objective as well as subjective reasons behind certain purchasing choices that involve one or more senses in evaluating multiple alternatives that get gradually shortlisted to identify the product of highest interest.Aesthetics, understood as what pleases the eye so much as to create satisfaction for a purchase, then comes into play and leads us to lean towards certain options depending on whether the stimuli are more or less aligned with expectations.
The external appearance of a bottle of wine is key, with the label playing the most important role together with any external packaging that makes the product unique and immediately recognizable, as well as highly attractive. Even focusing only on the label, the real distinctive character of each wine, we would have a very broad spectrum of messages to be received and analyzed: hence the focus on the dynamics that push a buyer to select specific labels following specific stimuli linked to graphics, tactile perception or the mix of colors that distinguish the individual wines.
Depending on the specific needs underlying the purchasing process, each or all together can play a more or less decisive role, with highly heterogeneous results following a rational reasoning that is largely but, inevitably (and for us, luckily) also emotional.