An Interview with Bongiovanni Winery
The Bongiovanni Vineyards
What is the history of the land you are on? What was it used for before your winery owned it or did someone else owned it previously?
Some background: The Bongiovanni farm was founded in 1950 by Giovanni Bongiovanni, Davide Mozzone’s (Davide is third generation) grandfather.
The Cascina was bought later, along with vineyards and wooded areas.
What clones and selections are used?
Our most important vineyard today, Pernanno, is in Castiglione Falletto. It was planted 70 years ago when no one spoke of clones.
Where does the water sources for the vineyard(s) come from?
Irrigation is not allowed for Langhe DOCG wines.
What trellising systems does the winery use? Why do you prefer that system?
Low Guyot with a density of 4,000 plants per hectare is the best and most well-known training system for Nebbiolo in terms of quality. My vineyard, which was planted when things were mostly done by hand, is actually more compact so we have almost 5,000 plants her hectare. This density is not conducive to the use of machinery.
What are the different soil types from each of the vineyard sites? What do these soils do for your wines?
The soil is densely compact clay, with extremely fine weaving. This is an excellent characteristic for holding water.
Wines that come from grapes grown in Miocene soils, like those of Castiglione Falletto, can be rugged, powerful and austere.
Do any of your vineyards have names? If so, is there a story behind those names?
Our main vineyard’s name is Pernanno. The name doesn’t have any particular meaning, except to distinguish a certified zone fifty years ago in a study by Renato Ratti. This agricultural census included land dedicated to Nebbiolo for Barolo, amounting to 6 million bottles. (Fewer than half the current amount). Pernanno is known as a historic vineyard.
If you have large vineyards, do you only use a portion of the vineyard to produce specific wines? How did you choose what portions to use?
In the Pernanno zone, we own over 2 hectares. The scrupulous selection during harvest elevates the high quality of Barolo Pernanno.
The Bongiovanni Winery & Winemaking Process
What makes your winery different from others in the region? In Italy?
Humbly, I believe it’s due to the fact that we are family-sized and everything is done by one “manager” and carried about by the same people. This is a true testament to the love and care that motivates us.
Thirty years ago, I made the decision to convert concrete and large oak casks that were used many times over into what we have now: Stainless steel vinification tanks and containers and small barrels that we often change. This choice was motivated by the fact that stainless steel is light, versatile, temperature-controlled, and easy to clean, providing perfect results. The small oak barrels we use guarantee better breathing, but because they are not “cleanable,” we can turn them over after 3-4 fills, without having to deal with bad bacteria or yeast. Today, in this respect, we haven’t changed and I don’t intend to make any changes until I’m not truly convinced of an innovation.
My winemaking approach took shape when barriques started to become more popular in the Langhe area. It was a new tool, one that we didn’t know very well and documented experiences were mainly about wines that are very different from ours. It took some time to really understand how to use them correctly. I hope my work is understood. I’m not looking to eliminate the complexity they add, but it is important the wine maintains its inherent characteristics.
All things being equal, two vineyards in the same place will find distinction due to their respective ages. I prefer vineyards that produce perhaps a little bit fewer grapes, but that leads to more balance. This is the added value you can find in old vineyards.
What is the winery’s long term plans regarding production levels, vineyard replanting, style of winemaking, consumer targets, etc..
If I look back over the last 35 years of Piedmont winemaking, I feel like I’ve come up to the line of extremes, but I’ve never gone crossed over it, whether in the vineyard (yield per hectare) or in the cellar (macerations that are too short), opting for a more “balanced” approach, essentially shaking off descriptions, such as too modernist, and definitely not too traditionalist. So, our aging is based on small containers with oak with very little toast, used only a few times
What vintage had the most challenges and what were those challenges? How did you overcome them?
It’s probable that over the course of the years, one becomes less a warrior and extremist, and more tempered and tethered. This consideration shouldn’t be looked at as giving up but should mean that knowledge makes you more focused and able to best align your work with nature and society.
If we are talking about 2010-2020, I would say: 2014 was very wet and there were fewer organic producers. This allowed many to save the quality of production through sustainable anti-parasite interventions. I was able to produce a respectable Nebbiolo, like many, as you can see from the wines on the market. And in some ways, the 2018 vintage, spring and summer, resembled 2014. Many producers lulled into a false sense of security by easier vintages, such as 2015, 2016, 2017, preferred very mild initial pest control, but lost quality in the long run, and even the health of leaves and bunches, which were already irreversibly compromised by June. Those who were perceptive were able to save production, with almost perfect grapes and leaf system. I was one of those people. We were happily surprised that at the end of September, the grapes were very, very good in terms of quality and that the certification system that I follow “the Green Experience” gave me the opportunity to research all the active ingredients used in pest control, and to guarantee there would be no residuals left.
What cooperage does the winery use? Is there a philosophy around cooperage?
We use 225-L barrels, some with a light toast, and others not toasted at all. This concept comes from the French, though not all my barrels necessarily come from France. Just the right amount of softening for the tannins, in harmony with the aromatic and color components. This is guaranteed by micro-oxygenation that takes place silently and for many months in our barrels, which are located in a place we control the humidity, temperature and light.
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