An Interview with Conterno Fantino Winery
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?
Our family has been cultivating grapes for generations. It was almost natural (or rather cultural) to begin this journey. Before us, our parents and our grandparents sold grapes wholesale, and, in some cases, made and sold bulk wine. But in the 1980s, we added the transformation of grapes and selling bottled wine. We began to give great value and attention to the vineyards, reducing yields and promoting quality. That’s how Conterno Fantino was founded in 1982.
The original heart of the winery was Ginestra, the historic single vineyard in Monforte, where our grandparents farm and first vineyards were and still are. That’s where the first vintages were produced.
In 1989, we bought Bricco Bastia. We were looking for land for new vineyards and a place to build a more practical and functional cellar. There are photos that attest to the presence of vineyards on this hill (bricco in Piedmont means “hill”) since the early 1900s. It is the highest point in Barolo at 557 meters above sea level.
In addition, and for some years now, the new generation has joined the team. First it was Fabio and Elisa Fantino and then Matteo and Noemi Conterno.
What clones and selections are used?
We use Lampia and Michet.
Where do the water sources for the vineyard(s) come from?
According to regulations, irrigation is strictly prohibited. The only water we receive is that of rain.
What trellising systems does the winery use? Why do you prefer that system?
We use Guyot. It is traditional in Le Langhe because it works well with our varieties, our land and our geographical location (northern Italy.) At the moment, it is the method that best lends itself to excellent management of the vineyards, with the aim of producing quality grapes and not large quantities.
What are the different soil types from each of the vineyard sites? What do these soils do for your wines?
Le Langhe is located in southern Piedmont, below the Maritime Alps and the Ligurian Apennines.
The name, Celtic in origin, means “strips of land,” and refers to the long hills, often with steep slopes, situated in almost parallel positions forming many deep and narrow valleys.
The soils in Le Langhe have sedimentary and marine origins, deriving from an ancient tertiary basin.
Starting about 12 million years ago and lasting until 5 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch, the sediments that today make up the stratified rocks of the area were accumulating on the seabed.
The soils of Monforte are typically calcareous marl. According to their composition and the percentage of loam, clay and sand, you can find rich deep colors, intense and varied aromas, good structure in general, finesse, and longevity.
But the most important thing is being able to maintain the integrity and organic nature. Since 1996, we have been farming organically, and we produce compost using manure, grass cuttings, pomace, stalks, and prunings. We mix all these elements and attain organic material that is perfect for fertilizing our vineyards. For those of us who work in the vineyard, it is crucial to treat it as a sister.
Do any of your vineyards have names? If so, is there a story behind those names?
Almost all of our vineyards have names. But they often stem from their geographical indications.
For example, our winery indicates the names of the Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva or MGA (Ginestra, Mosconi, Castelletto) as well as the single vineyard (Vigna Sorì Ginestra, Vigna del Gris, Vigna Ped and Vigna Pressenda).
Sorì (which means south in the Piedmont dialect) of the Ginestra, Vigna Pressenda hill simply refers to the place. Vigna del Gris and Vigna Ped are name that were used by our grandparents and the previous owners.
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?
There are no “large vineyards” in Barolo. As you well know, our area is extremely fragmented, and broken down into smaller parcels. Almost all the producers in the area have small vineyards. To give you an idea, the Ginestra hill has ten owners. In our case, we have 25 hectares within the Monforte d’Alba municipality but they are divided into seven distinct zones.
Based on exposure and altitude, we plant different varieties. The best parcels go to the production of our more important wines, as is the case of our Barolos. We have four vineyards, which have excellent exposure and altitude, and the average age of the vines is older. The soils lend themselves well to the making of excellent wines.
What makes your winery different from others in the region? In Italy?
Our winery is no different than any other that focuses on making high quality and important wines. We mainly concentrate on the vineyard. That’s where we concentrate our efforts.
What is the winery’s long-term plans regarding production levels, vineyard replanting, style of winemaking, consumer targets, etc.
We intend to increase production. The idea is to maintain the quality and to improve, in the vineyard and in the cellar.
What vintage had the most challenges and what were those challenges? How did you overcome them?
2002 and 2003. These two vintages were very difficult, but for totally different reasons and they taught us a lot.
The 2002 growing season will surely be remembered for copious amounts of spring and summer rains that ended in horrible hailstorms, which compromised most of the production in a large area of Barolo. Fortunately, not ours. However, heavy rainfall and cold temperatures put a strain on all producers.
2003 was a very hot vintage, with very little water. Temperatures reached historic highs in the area and there was an almost total absence of precipitation.
These were two complicated years. But those who knew how to work well in the vineyard were able to bring great results.
What cooperage does the winery use?
We use both small and large barrels, almost all French.
Is there a philosophy around cooperage?
The idea is to accompany the wines during aging, keeping the characteristics of each single vintage in mind. In fact, each vintage has its story, so aging for each vintage might change. We decide how many small or large barrels and how much new or used oak based on the product we have in our hands at that time.
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