Poderi Colla Barolo: Coming Of Age
Nebbiolo is the king of Italian red grapes. Some may dispute this, but the arguments against are an uphill battle. The arguments for, generally lead to excessive name and vintage dropping, at the hands of ungodly old bottles of Barolo. And really, no one wants to hear that so better not to contest...
While were crowning kings, the Barolo region is the preferred throne for Nebbiolo, flanked to the east by its queen, Barbaresco. Styles in Barolo vary a fair bit, depending on what dirt you’re standing on. Softer expressions can be found in villages like Verduno and much of the north. But the Nebbiolo from places like Monforte d’Alba test the notion of delayed gratification.
Here, Nebbiolo has a challenging upbringing, battling nutrient-poor soil. In bottle, it doesn't get any easier early on. Decades may pass before certain vintages come into their own. But when the time is right, Barolo will soar. As for the history of Piedmontese wine and the Colla family, no word picture could be more apropos.
Tino Colla does the talking
Let me spare you the suspense. Barolo producers are doing well now. Really well. A solid Nebbiolo vineyard is worth 2 million euro per hectare (2.5 acres). Newfound fame and fortune has its own trappings, but you would tend to prefer those problems over the alternative.
For centuries Piedmont wine-growers have been no stranger to extreme hardship. Among them is our proprietor and gregarious host, Tino Colla, whose wild hand gestures alone, would convince you he's perpetually espresso-fueled. We got to know Tino’s arsenal of mimes over the course of the day (all of which are demonstrated in the 3 photos above):
1.) The Conductor – dramatic, sweeping arm circles for conveying big picture concepts
2.) Two-Handed Chest Fan – tighter circles to bang a point home
3.) The Finger-Point – when a mystery needed to be solved. There were no shortage of mysteries.
Beneath the one-liners, and there were many, is a loyal and protective man who connects both to current generations and past alike.
fog + rolling hills = happy Nebbiolo
TINO FINGER-POINT #1: How does a young winery have so rich a history?
Poderi Colla is a new winery (1994) by Barolo standards, but the family is as influential in shaping the history of the region as any. Tino’s oldest brother, Beppe, born in 1930 is 19 years Tino’s senior, and a Barolo legend. Hearing him speak so reverently about Beppe, it is clear that the latter is as much a father figure to Tino as a sibling:
“My brother helped to create laws of production in the Alba region. He was the first winemaker to bottle a cru (single vineyard) Barolo in 1961 at his winery Prunotto. At the time people thought he was crazy. Barolo, in this period, was for blending different vineyards. But then, little by little, people started to follow Prunotto...”
You may be like, 'Ok, the guy bottled some single-vineyards when it wasn’t popular to do so. Cool. (Golf clap).' It’s important to note we're dealing with a very poor, war-torn region, trying to rebuild itself. The wine scene was all but devoid of any commercial emphasis. As writer Jordan McKay explained to me on the car ride in, “There were Barolo producers as late as the 1980’s, like the Oddero family, who had to go to great lengths to route clean drinking water to their village.” Beppe had the unimaginable 'coraggio' to petition his neighbors to make quality-conscious wine - thin crops, reduce yields - at a time when people were hoping to stretch a loaf of bread the whole week. But visionaries see the long play and those ageless Prunotto bottles from the 60’s, some of the greatest Nebbiolo ever made (and still delicious), propelled the winery into relative superstardom.
Napoleon's ammo station next to Dardi Le Rose
TEACHABLE MOMENT #1: The Wide Lens
I realize I've been indiscriminately throwing out words like Piedmont, Alba, Barolo, Barbaresco, etc. To somms, these words are cause for salivation. For others, they're a foreign language. Let’s back it up.
Italy is made up of 20 districts. One of those districts, in the mountainous northwest, is Piedmont (translated foothills). It's a very important place, without whom Italy would not be a unified country. Within Piedmont, the major region for Nebbiolo is called the Langhe (LONG-ay). The major town in the Langhe is Alba (your truffle destination). In and around Alba are many smaller regions, one of which is Barolo. If you see Barolo on a label it must be 100% Nebbiolo grapes. Period.
TINO FINGER-POINT #2: How is Barolo just finally gaining the reputation it deserves?
As Tino would say repeatedly, ”Ah, that is the question…”
A FUNCTIONAL HISTORY OF BAROLO: When Nebbiolo was first known to be planted in the 13th century, Piedmont was under the rule of feudal lords from the House of Savoy – basically an extension of the Savoie region of France just over the mountains. They were ransacked at times by several fiefdoms including the Burgundians. Viticole Wine Club members may or may not like to know that Napoleon stored gunpowder in an estate adjacent to the vineyard of this month’s Barolo: Dardi Le Rose
To say Piedmont is riddled with francophilia is an understatement. Like Alsace, they have their own French-inspired dialect, Piemontese. Nearly everyone speaks some degree of French and identifies proudly with the culture, which was far from an advantage during World War II. Beppe himself was shaken down pretty hard by the Germans as a 13 year-old, accused of spying for France. From what Tino explained to me, it was a 50/50 situation that nearly went the wrong way.
Heading back to the mid 19th century, Piedmontese viticulture was hit with a series of plagues, leading out with the first of three major mildew outbreaks. Phylloxera struck in 1895. The region was just starting to get back on its feet at the turn of the century, before a couple of World Wars derailed those aspirations. Nebbiolo, the dry, still table wine we know today, was largely a post WWII movement. And in the wake of the Paris Treaties, rural Piedmont would struggle to find itself.
Cities like Turin, the Detroit of Italy, boomed almost overnight. Immigrants flocked by the thousands for job opportunities in the automotive industry. Meanwhile, grape farmers landed a string of horrendous frost vintages, capping off the last major chapter of mother nature’s wrath. And so, the rebuilding process was slow. Barolo was starting to make seriously high quality wine in the 60’s and 70’s, but surrounded on three sides by mountains (the Alps and Apennines), export logistics in a tech-deficient era became a bit of a three-ring circus. It wasn’t until 40 or 50 years later, when some of these great old bottles turned a corner, that the world would realize it was sleeping on Barolo.
Yours truly with Importer Ted Vance - Young Pietro Colla with Jordan MacKay
TEACHABLE MOMENT #2: Decoding the Label
Barolo has many communes as mentioned at the beginning of this blog: Verduno, Serralunga d’Alba, etc. Poderi Colla’s Barolo is from Monforte d’Alba. If you are looking at a bottle of 2013 Poderi Colla Barolo, you’ll see the words ‘Bussia’ and ‘Dardi Le Rose’. Let’s break that down while we’re zooming in.
Bussia is a cru, the largest in Barolo actually, dwarfing a space station at over 400 acres. The original borders were a lot smaller but people started complaining, and the squeaky wheels got the grease. There were a lot of wheels. Within the original boundaries of Bussia is a 50-acre sub-section called Dardi (fun fact: Dardo was a common family name in the area, Dardi being the plural form). Within Dardi is the Dardi Le Rose estate, a 15-acre property of prime Nebbiolo, naturally, beautified by rose bushes. How prime?
When Beppe Colla sold Prunotto in the early 90’s, he knew every square inch of Barolo and chose to keep the choicest parcels of the winery’s holdings for himself. What does all this mean? If Bussia is a piece of meat, Dardi Le Rose is the Wagyu.
Sunset over Dolcetto
TINO FINGER-POINT #3: How has Poderi Colla virtually gone unnoticed until now?
One of the most legendary figures...from one of the most legendary wineries...cashes out and keeps some insane parcels...passes the torch to his brother and nephew under an eponymous label, while remaining on as a consultant... 23 years later, how is Colla not a household name among American wine nerds? Well, 23 years may seem like a long-time for Pulp Fiction or the Lion King, but for a Barolo winery it’s the blink of an eye. The 90’s also marked a time when more modern styles of winemaking (smaller-format new oak, heavier extraction, quicker macerations) were on the rise. The modernist vs traditionalist movement could not have been more intense than in Barolo. Fathers would disown their offspring over the switch from large, neutral aging vats to vanilla-laden new barriques. Thankfully there would be no rifts among the Collas.
The Colla regime that is today is practically identical to the style Beppe shaped on a trip to Burgundy in 1953. I asked Tino about that trip. He said, “Well, I was 4, so I didn’t go.” But the emphasis on defining terroir in Burgundy was revolutionary and ultimately inspired Beppe’s move to cru bottlings and a more fervent attention to detail in both the vineyard and the cellar.
Nebbiolo, in its most elegant form, is incredibly Burgundian - Pinot with muscles. The ultra-finesse driven style was not in vogue through much of the last and current decade, leaving Poderi Colla in relative obscurity in the States.
Again, the long play would win out. Ted Vance of The Source Imports told me “The first time I tasted Colla at a Barolo party in LA, I couldn’t believe it had just slipped through the cracks...” Now, Ted is the man behind the Colla family’s coming out party, and what winery's success could be more deserving?
New digs for the Colla fam
One thing that resonated with me during our long walk in the hills was a comment Tino made, "Many things are important with Poderi Colla, but the most important is originality..."
That night at dinner, I dined with Pietro, Tino’s son and asked the current generation in what way he would classify the Colla winery as original. He replied, “It’s hard to know. We drink other Baroli and other wines but we don’t pay attention to what they do. We do what we do.” I guess individuality doesn't always need to be articulated. It can just be...
A special thanks to Lauren Hamilton for taking all these lovely photos...
- Brian McClintic
'Oh, and another thing...'
TRIBUTE TO SETH KUNIN
This blog is dedicated to our dear friend and winemaker, Seth Kunin. Ted and I were in Alba when we received the news Seth had passed away suddenly. At his memorial, a 500-capacity barn could not hold a sea of friends and family, spilling out into the vineyards. Seth was a dear friend to so many people and as one of our Santa Barbara crew, I can't express how painful a loss this is. Below is a tribute Ted wrote for the memorial. If you didn't know Seth, this is who he was:
'On October 29th, Santa Barbara lost a grand ambassador and dear friend. To know Seth Kunin was to experience his boundless hospitality, laughter and kindness. His generosity touched people not only in our town, but all over the world.
Seth always brought far more than his share to the table. If you invited him to dinner, you would find him at your stove. If you had a project, he’d be there helping you build it. With him no day was ordinary, no meal humdrum; everything was one for the books.
Seth knew how to live. He was a dreamer, but, more importantly, he was a doer who rolled up his sleeves and made things happen—a difficult harvest, an international wine event, and two hand-built tasting rooms that helped put our Funk Zone on the map.
His greatest loves were his wife and daughter, Magan and Phoebe, and his circle of friends, all of whom he graced with authenticity, character and class. In life’s most difficult moments, when you needed someone to answer, Seth always picked up. He was our rock.
Seth’s passing leaves an enormous void. His enthusiasm for life and the tragic unexpectedness of his passing are a reminder for all of us to love and live better during this short time we share.
Let’s soothe our sorrows by looking at his fifty years as one great vintage. For years to come, may we celebrate the gift of his life at dinner parties, in stories, and as an unflagging reminder of the way to treat each other.
To borrow a line from Seth himself, we say, “well done, Sir.”'
Tasting Notes: pure, bright cherry and roses on a seamless palate. 2013 is like a more open version of 2010. Incredible balance and integrated tannin for Barolo
Seasonal Pairing: How about seared lamb chops? You wanna add a bed risotto? Fine.
When to Drink: best between 2022 - 2045+
Geeky Things: Barolo and Barbaresco is perhaps the region most positively affected by climate change. Nebbiolo is traditionally the earliest grape to bud and the last to be picked before it reaches full maturity...
Area Eats: La Piola!
Vintage Report: 2013 is perhaps the finest vintage since 1961. Perhaps we will have more of these than normal...(see 'GEEKY THINGS')
Bigger Than Wine: As is customary each month, Viticole donates $5 per case on everything we sell. This month's featured charity is in honor of our dearly departed friend, winemaker Seth Kunin. The mission of The Moyer Foundation is to provide comfort, hope and healing to children and families affected by grief. You can check them out online.