Why Nebbiolo?

From John, November 1st, 2014
The venerable Alan Foster and his prize-winning nebbiolo cluster

The venerable Alan Foster and his prize-winning nebbiolo cluster

If you gaze across many a famous Barolo or Barbaresco vineyard in the Piedmont, the chances are quite good that tucked along it’s edge at some point you will find Pinot noir vines.  And if you gaze across the vineyard of Cameron Clos Electrique in Oregon, chances are good that you will also see Nebbiolo vines tucked along it’s edge!

These observations are not random events:  Nebbiolo and Pinot noir share many traits in common, both from an esthetic and geographic point of view. While anyone who has experienced both red Burgundy (Pinot noir) and Piemontese Nebbiolo can easily find the similarities in complex aromatics, it might be less obvious that the 2 regions share a common latitude and similar rainfall. And while parts of the Piedmont are generally considered somewhat warmer than Burgundy many of the famous Nebbiolo viticultural areas are in fact cooler (for example Val d’Aosta and Valtellina).

Many growers in the Piedmont understand this fact and, coupled with a natural curiosity, endeavor to try their hand at Pinot noir. I think that most (but not all) of these attempts have failed, though I fault the techniques more than the fruit. You cannot use the traditional techniques developed for making Nebbiolo to make Pinot noir. Nor can you use techniques developed for making Pinot noir in the production of Nebbiolo!

So I go to northern Italy to learn how to make Nebbiolo just like I went to Burgundy many years ago to learn how to make Pinot noir.  The differences in approach are both cultural and related to differences in the respective grapes. As a window on the Burgundian and Piemontese cultures, the 2 techniques are fascinating. Stay tuned!

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