Best young winemaker in Italy 2021 for Vinoway, awarded as Cult Oenologist for the Merano Wine Festival 2021 (the youngest ever to receive this award), in 2015 the Next in Wine award by Simonit & Sirch – in collaboration with the Italian Sommelier Foundation Bibenda – is a truly rich book of professional experiences, both as an oenologist within numerous companies, and as a consultant: this is the very (too) concise profile of Nicola Biasi, talented oenologist and winemaker who in this interview tells us how he was born his Vin de la Neu and what is the way, according to him, to achieve real sustainability.
Both as an in-house winemaker and as a consultant you have worked and still work in areas that are certainly suitable, one above all Montalcino. However, when it came to making your own wine, you chose a territory that was not noble and, apparently, also difficult (Ed. Coredo, Trentino). Why?
Because I think that the suitable areas are not only the “famous” ones and that we do not yet know all the potential of our territories. The most obvious example is precisely that of Montalcino: it is one of the historic Italian denominations but, in reality, it only started making wine seriously and focusing on Sangiovese only about forty years ago. The area is clearly suitable and evidently always has been, what has changed over time has been our gaze. This must be a lesson: we must continue to study because there are potentially territories capable of becoming the new Montalcino.
Of course, I’m not saying we can start raising vineyards all over the place. But we must put the territory at the center of our thoughts.
What do you mean? Isn’t that always the case, in your opinion?
Yes and no. For me the territory is more important than the grape variety, which must be a sort of medium to bring out the character of the place. It is an approach, I know, which overshadows the vine from the point of view of organoleptic expressiveness but which gives it a different kind of importance, because it makes it the tool capable of expressing a territory in the most complete way.
The Johanniter choice for your Vin de la Neu comes from these reflections, I guess.
Yes. I also took the risk of making a mistake but I was convinced that Johanniter was the best grape variety for Coredo. We are in Alta Val di Non, therefore a poor soil, which tends to produce very little and this already eliminated some choices because for some wines the “little” is not good, neither qualitatively nor quantitatively. At those altitudes, then, he had to be a white wine. And then, I wanted it to be able to last over time.
Putting all these factors together, I arrived at Johanniter, because it has the genes of Pinot Grigio and Riesling: on the one hand there is the former earliness, which I need in such a cold area, on the other there is the Riesling, important for the wine evolutionary potential.
Was the soil the family land?
It was the my grandparents home, once they returned to Italy from Australia and, for us, it has always been the place for holidays. We lived in Friuli at the time and the land has always been leased and obviously intended for apple cultivation. After five years working as an oenologist on the Allegrini estates in Tuscany, I wanted to make my own wine. I wanted to test myself and understand if and how good I was, doing everything by myself, without the structure of a large company behind me. It was quite natural to look at family land. I planted in 2012 and the first vintage was the following one. Returning to Johanniter, how much did the fact that it is a PIWI grape count in the choice?
A lot because in this way I have practically zeroed the treatments. It was the circle closing: making a wine of my own, in the garden of the house and moreover truly sustainable. Honestly, I was also very stimulated by the fact of trying to do something that no one had done there yet. Indeed, I chose the Johanniter when he still did not have the authorization, which only arrived in 2014.
Can we already venture an assessment of this first nine years? How is the vine doing?
First of all, I can deny many detractors of resistant grape varieties, who argue that after a few years PIWIs are no longer resistant to disease. For now my vines work perfectly agronomically and are resistant. Then I don’t know what will happen thirty years from now, but today it is.
Clearly, the vines with a few more years on their shoulders give different results, the wines are constantly improving, acquiring greater organoleptic depth over time. But immediately I had a very good response, because the vines, helped by the soil that makes them produce little, have always given high quality grapes.
Vin de la Neu is currently only one label. Would you like to experiment with other varieties?
I am really very satisfied with how the Johanniter behaves on that soil and, first of all, I would like to increase the production: from 1000 to 2000 bottles. In 2017 I planted again because the first vineyard was really small and in 2025 I will expand further, so I will reach about one hectare of vineyard and I will be able to grow the production. I do not exclude planting more to understand how another variety behaves, but at the same time I am sure that I will only make one label. Perhaps later, Vin de la Neu could become a blend: an evolution of this type might interest me.
But it is a project with such a strong and simple identity that I don’t want to distort it with other references. When we woke up on the morning of the first harvest – October 12, 2013 – and everything was covered in snow, I thought I had found my story. The wine is called Vin de la Neu for this reason.
With Vin de la Neu you wanted to make a white capable of aging, thanks also to the use of malolactic fermentation. In Italy for whites, after all, it is still not very widespread, why do you think?
There is mistrust of malolactic fermentation because it is always feared that it will weigh down the whites too much, deprive them of freshness. But it is a prejudice, if it is well done it gives stability to the wine and therefore, on the contrary, the aromas are preserved better. Maybe something is lost at the beginning but in perspective you have a white wine that can last a long time. In Italy, the aging whites are still too few and, since the evolutionary potential is fundamental to give value to a wine, I think we need to start making more of them.
Also to be able to really compare ourselves on a par with the French, going beyond the easy competition of the hectoliters produced or the total number of bottles sold.
The eternal rivalry between Italy and France …
Look, I don’t think the French are better than us at making wine, I think they are better at making wine in a way that is more suitable for making valuable wines. They have the mind peace and strength to work to make wines that last. They know how to wait. On this front, for me, we have to change, if we want it naturally.
Since sustainability is one of the keys to your project, I ask you what makes a sustainable farm?
Basically it is very simple: at the end of its cycle it has to pollute little. The paradox, at this moment, is that a company can be certified organic in all respects but still pollute too much.
Just looking at how many and which products are used does not say enough about a company’s good practices. I’ll give you a simple example: I can only use sulfur and copper but if I have to do more than 20 treatments and for each treatment I waste 200 or 300 liters of water, the environmental impact is enormous. Without considering the CO2 produced at each intervention. Sustainability must concern a company in its entirety: every production step, every single daily gesture.
And here we return to your interest in resistant varieties.
I am absolutely certain that resistant varieties today are the only concrete answer in viticulture. I say “today” because I do not exclude that in some time new things will be discovered but at present it is so.
This is why, at the end of July, a business network was born that brings together the companies that I follow as a consultant and that have chosen this path. The statute speaks of concrete sustainability, of resistant vines, but not only, because we must focus on sustainability and not on the means that are used to achieve this goal. Any initiative that tends to this end is welcome for us.
At this point it seems inevitable to me to ask you what you think about the definition of “natural wines”.
I don’t like the term because it divides the good from the bad in a somewhat manichean way: if you are natural, you are on the right side, otherwise you are a bandit. But things are a bit more complex than that.
Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the less you want to intervene, the more you have to know. And, instead, very often – obviously not always – those who are under the cap of the natural do not have these knowledge and resort to the somewhat romantic idea of wine once upon a time, of the farmer’s wine.
Wine is thought to be subjective, but this is not the case. Or rather, there is personal taste but before that, to make a good product – and this applies to wine and everything else – there are objective parameters that come from competence and know-how. If a wine has a volatile that exceeds the legal thresholds or in any case that deviates the aromas of the wine, whether natural or not, it cannot be defined as good.
Let’s say that, as in organic food, perhaps natural is a big hat under which you can find a bit of everything.
There must be ethics in all the choices that a company makes, but these choices must be aimed at obtaining a good wine. If I choose organic or biodynamic, I have to do it not because it is an ideological flag but because it is the way of operating that allows me to make the best possible wine, in the territorial and environmental context in which I operate. This is a perspective on which I also compare a lot with the companies that I follow and that use resistant vines.
For me it makes no sense to put the choice of PIWI in front of everything, instead, we must start from the quality of the wine, which is the only thing, together with an ethical approach, that gives meaning to our work.
I guess that’s the reason when you talk about Vin de la Neu you talk very little about PIWI.
Yes, because I strongly believe in the potential of PIWI but I also believe that the only way to reach their diffusion is to make really good wines. We must convince consumers starting from the quality of the wine, it is only in this way that a change can be triggered, otherwise they will remain a nice niche, animated by sustainable values but too small to make a difference.
At first I talked about your very rich curriculum. Do you want to tell us something about yourself?
I’m from Friuli and my father was an oenologist, so I grew up in the vineyard and in the cellar. After the oenology school, I decided to start working right away because I was in a hurry to start doing. After two harvests with Jermann, I started working with Patrizia Felluga, for Zuani, where only whites were made and I was the only employee. And there I was able to put my hand in all parts of the process, I needed it to understand, to really realize.
After five years from Zuani, I went to Australia, then once back I worked for a few months at the Castello di Fonterutoli and then I went to South Africa. Here Marilisa Allegrini called me to propose to run for Poggio San Polo. I could not refuse and, subsequently, I began to take care of Poggio al Tesoro as well.
I owe a lot to Marilisa but after a few years I needed to change again: first I planted the vineyard in Coredo and then in 2016 I decided to be a consultant, I liked the idea of working on different territories at the same time. In 2021, in full pandemic, I created Nicola Biasi Consulting, a consulting company for companies that make wine. The goal is to be able to follow them at 360 degrees, collaborating with professionals with specific training.
The last question: are you also part of the Wine Research Team project. What do you do?
It is a business network commissioned by Riccardo Cotarella in 2012 and made up of forty companies that carry out research and experimentation in viticulture and oenology. It is a sort of hub between the university and companies. Let’s say that we try to find practical applications, experimenting on the territory, technically, what has been studied by universities or scientific research bodies. And the solutions we find are made available to member companies. It is a very beautiful job for me, very stimulating and which is giving us great satisfaction.