Luciano Sandrone: born under Nebbiolo sign

In the most intense period of the year, during the harvest, Barbara Sandrone – daughter of Luciano – managed to dedicate some of her time to tell us the story of their cellar, which, even before being a beautiful business story, it is an intense affair of family and emotions. A story in which the love that binds the three generations today in the company finds a reflection and completion in the almost symbiotic relationship with the territory, from which six wines are born to interpret the tradition in a pure and passionate way.

Your father Luciano, the founder of the winery, has a beautiful personal story. I’d like to start from here, if you like.

Yes, of course, for us it is always a joy to tell how it all began because we do not come from a family tradition in wine. My grandfather was actually a carpenter and, at a certain point, he decided to move to Barolo to expand his business and – call it chance or fate – the new carpentry headquarters was next to the cellar of the great Giacomo Borgogno. My dad at the time was a young guy and was divided between these two worlds, with Mr. Giacomo who liked him and always repeated – in Piedmontese dialect of course – “Grow up quickly Luciano, because here is room for you”. In the end it really went like this: after joining, he started to work with him, absorbing all his teachings and observing all his gestures. A wonderful experience for my father that lasted until his military service, then on his return he became head cellarman for the Abbona and Scarzello families, owners of the Marchesi di Barolo winery in 1970. He was only twenty-four years old and remained there until to 1990.

At what point in this journey did Luciano decide that he wanted to make his own wine, starting from scratch?

It happened towards the end of the seventies: my father began to have the desire to deal also with what happens before the cellar, in the vineyard. The wine quality, you know, comes from the vineyard and he wanted to understand that part of the process better. In 1977 he decided to purchase of the Cannubi Boschis vineyard, from which our first Barolo was born.

My father didn’t have any spaces or own tools because – as I told you – he didn’t come from a family of winemakers, so he started from scratch, using our garage because it was the best place available. Our company has grown in this simple way and in small steps: first with a few machines, a few tanks and sometimes second-hand tools; then over time we rented other garages to be able to expand a little and, finally, the project of the new cellar, which only arrived in 1998. It is still here in Barolo, right at the foot of the Cannubi hill and here we have gradually succeeded, to bring everything inside: from the tractors to the rooms where we age the wine.

I would like to ask you a question about your character which is ultimately reflected in your wines. You are certainly one of the reference names for Barolo, yet it seems that you have managed to keep that essential and simple garage spirit of the beginnings, how did you do it?

I do not know. There was no strategy, we just believed a lot, with our hearts and minds, in what we did and we wanted to remain a family, even if this meant setting limits. But that’s okay because we want to manage things in a certain way – ours – and we want to exercise control over all phases in the vineyard and in the cellar.

Don’t be in a hurry: this is something that our vineyards tell us first of all. If there is one thing that the Nebbiolo grape teaches, it is the art of patience and knowing how to wait. I would tell you that we have transposed these learnings from the vineyard to all aspects of our work. This is also one of the reasons because, after all, our wines are not that many, because we have chosen to be guided by native vines and tradition, without being in a hurry. Just think that our latest born, Barolo Vite Talin, had more or less thirty years of gestation before seeing the light.

Do you take care of the commercial side, right?

Yes, although I admit I don’t like speaking that way. I work together with a group of very smart women only, I want to say it because I think that female relational skills make the difference. It is essential for us to make distributors understand the complexity of certain choices we make, sometimes apparently uneconomical but consistent with our philosophy.

My uncle Luca, on the other hand, follows the vineyard with his team of eight people. With the arrival of the Le Corse vineyard in Monforte, which will become part of the Barolo Le Vigne from the 2019 vintage, we reached thirty hectares of land. I’m talking to you about this acquisition because we really care of it: the owner of the plot has always been in a relationship of esteem and collaboration with my father, when he chose to retire he wanted to sell it to us because he knew he was leaving the vineyard to someone with a certain thought and a certain way of working. For us it was a great satisfaction and also an honor.

With the entry into the company of your sons, Alessia and Stefano, you are now at the third generation but it can be said that you are still today first a family and then a company. How much does this affect your way of making wine?

Being a family is an incredible strength. Obviously we never forget that we are a company but we are animated by a common feeling and also by a relationship that binds us and this I believe it allows to work with a very strong serenity and conviction.

On your site I noticed that you define wine by its very essence as “natural”, can you tell us more about how you work?

For us, our vineyards are like people, they are part of our family: we need to take care of them, be present, know how to listen to them, without bullying. I’ll give you the example of Nebbiolo grapes in Barolo and Valmaggiore: the variety is the same, but the soil, climate and water conditions are so different that we have to relate to them in equally different ways. It is on us the capacity to grasp the signs that the vine gives us and help it to complete its path. This requires care that resembles dedication, especially in the most delicate moments such as summer or those preceding the harvest. Luca at the end of August begins sampling by parcels because clearly, depending on the exposure, the times and methods of ripening change a lot and this determines a very complex harvest, in the sense that each plot, indeed each plot, is a story in itself. That’s why we have a lot of support people who need to be specialized but also passionate. Work in the vineyard is always hard and tiring and requires competence and sensitivity in equal parts.

You operate in all aspects in an organic fashion but you have no certification. Don’t you find it useful?

We do not define ourselves as organic, we have always worked our way but we do not need a label, because we know how we work. My family is rooted here, now there are my sons who work with us, we love these places, it would be absurd to violate this land that has given us so much by working badly, with disrespectful interventions.

You use indigenous yeasts and practice spontaneous fermentation, we can say that you have not chosen the easy way. The variables that come into play in doing so are much greater.

We’ve always worked this way, I can’t even tell you what it’s like to be different. Perhaps for this reason I feel less of the risks and complexities. It is also true that we are helped by the fact that we know our vineyards well and that the genetic heritage of our grapes is so unique that it must be preserved. Having said that, choosing to operate in this way requires obsessive, absolute attention. To give you an example, when we have to do the pumping over, during fermentation, people in the cellar stop their tasks for a few hours a day, because it takes a crazy cure and because these yeasts are alive and never behave in the same way. Also in this case, it takes competence but above all it is necessary to “feel” this work, to understand that we are dealing with something alive, pulsating.

You are natural and organic but it seems that you are very little interested in the debate about natural wines and the trends it has triggered.

Honestly, we have always followed our own path, without trying to look like someone else. We have also often gone against the tide, for example, when in the nineties there were barriques everywhere and it seemed that everything had to be barricaded, my father always stubbornly used the tonneaux, sometimes making an incredible effort to find the barrels because there was not much supply. But we have always thought that wine must have its own personality, with respect to which wood is only a complement and for this reason we have always gone on like this. Maybe, in this way you run the risk of not being liked by everyone, but the is fair in a certain sense, it is only good that there are more voices and more roads possible. All debates are also welcome, but then it is important that everyone choose their own path with independence and consistency.

A little while ago you were talking about the harvest, at this moment (ed. Beginning of October) this year’s is still in progress. I am not asking you for a final rating because it is too early but a first impression of its progress.

In fact, I don’t like to talk about the harvest before it’s finished. Also for reasons of superstition! But I can say that we are very happy with what we have collected so far. The climatic trend of this year has always kept us in suspense, with the frosts in April and then the hailstorms in the summer. They were all quite violent phenomena but I must say that it went well and the grapes are healthy and beautiful. The harvest is good in quality and quantity.

On our shop you can find both Le Vigne and Aleste, two Barolos with a particular allure. Can you tell us their story?

Le Vigne has always been a special wine for us. The first awards came with Cannubi Boschis, but my father always had in his heart the idea of ​​a Barolo according to the tradition of final assembly of grapes from different plots. I like to describe it as a symphony of musical instruments that together fully express the territory: each vineyard is treated, harvested and vinified alone, respecting its characteristics and then, with progressive tastings and tests, the final composition is decided, capable of expressing the characteristics of the year and of the territory. Our imprint is there but it is in the background, to harmonize the individual voices into a whole.

Aleste is actually the legendary Cannubi Boschis, that was renamed by your father at one point, dedicating it to your children (Ale and Ste). A generous passing of the generational baton that would have thrown any marketing consultant into panic. How did it go?

You let me talk about something that still emotions me because I remember very well when my father explained to us that he wanted to dedicate to the new generations – at the right time – the most precious thing he had: his first vineyard and his first wine. At first, Luca and I were a little confused because changing the name of the wine that everyone considers our symbol was a risk from a communicative point of view. The thing I thought it was right to do was to spend a lot of time around explaining this choice to our distributors in person: it was important for us that everyone understood that it was purely a choice of heart that did not involve the identity of the wine. Barolo has remained the same: a vigorous, direct, full wine, immediately ready, also due to the “more intense” ripening of the Cannubi Boschis vineyard, which is at a lower altitude than other vineyards, therefore in a slightly more warm climate.

Le Vigne, on the other hand, is more floral, softer, first it embraces you and then wins your attention. They are two complementary personalities.

Sibi et paucis what project is it and why did you not want to make a classic reserve?

It is a setting aside of our bottles that we have been making for about fifteen years. We started with a small amount and progressively increased it. The wines rest in a dedicated cellar for eight years, then for ten years in total (two in barrels and eight in the bottle) because it is a project created to enhance Nebbiolo’s ability to grow over time and designed for us and for those who want understand what a Barolo is after ten or twenty years. The reserve is already born in the vineyard, from plots that are dedicated to it without being “special” plots. Sibi et paucis is always our wine, simply kept aside, for us and for friends.

To conclude, how have you seen the Langa changes in recent decades.

This is a question, a question that is close to my heart: I have never liked the distinction between traditionalists and modernists, because I think we all have the same roots, without which we would not be here today. It is a distinction that I have always perceived as a communicative need, to explain in a simple, schematic way – sometimes too much – a complex territory like this.

More than two distinct poles, I would speak of evolution: in a story like ours it is normal that we go through different evolutionary moments, which however all arise from tradition. Today it seems to me that we have reached a point of balance between the different souls, between those who have experienced more and those who have not moved away from their origins. And this seems a great thing to me.

Editorial Board 4.01.2022

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