Depositary of tradition
Giacomo Conterno is based in the Barolo Commune of Monforte d’Alba in Piedmont, north-west Italy, but he harvests his grapes from the neighbouring Commune of Serralunga.
Traveling to Barolo is like entering an old and traditional world. It is stunningly beautiful and picturesque, with soft rolling hills, neatly arranged vineyards and immaculately preserved medieval villages. Everywhere there is a sense of peace, order, beauty and prosperity.
The soils and terroir here are extremely complex. As a general rule, the mainly Serravalian soils have an older underground layer of sandstone that allows the grapes to dig deeper roots. This is the main reason for the broader, firmer and more full-bodied character of the Nebbiolo grape.
The altitude of between 300-400 metres above sea level and a slightly warmer climate than the rest of the Barolo Communes, along with good protection from hail, also contributes to the flamboyance of the wines.
The Conterno legend began in the 1920s when Giacomo Conterno decided to take over the family business after he returned from the First World War. Although his ancestors had produced wine for years, Giacomo was the first to see the huge potential of Nebbiolo. He continued to buy grapes and make wine, only now his selection became draconian – using only the very best grapes from the best sites and growers. He also introduced a much longer maceration period for the wine. Most important of all, the wine was bottled by their own label rather than being sold in barrels as was the custom at the time.
As a result, Giacomo created one of the earliest truly premium wines in Barolo with the first recorded vintage at 1924. It began a great tradition for the family and enhanced the reputation of Italy as a whole.
Giacomo had two sons – Giovanni and Aldo – who became involved in the winery in the late 1950s and inherited the estate in 1961. Aldo, who adopted a more modernist approach, separated from the family estate and established his own winery in 1969.
Meanwhile Giovanni continued the work of his father and grandfather, raising the quality and consistency of the wine.
As more and more growers began bottling their own wines, it became more difficult to source the best grapes. So Giovanni Conterno bought the vineyard of Cascina Francia in the Commune of Serralunga d’Alba in 1974, and the grapes for his wines have been sourced from this unique piece of land ever since.
In normal years he would make his Barolo, but in exceptional vintages he also made his premium wine, Monfortino.
Today, Giovanni’s son Roberto continues the work of his ancestors with the same meticulous precision, the same passion and the same utmost respect for tradition.
It is almost sacrilege to talk about innovation in an estate where tradition is paramount. But although Conterno’s wines are the incarnation of tradition, the estate is not stuck in the palaeolithic era.
More land was added to the estate with purchase of the Cru of Cerretta in 2008 and Arione in 2015, and for the first time grapes from the Arione were included in the Cascina Francia.
The estate may never change the use of the traditional botti (large Slavonian wine vessels) but that doesn’t mean it spurns technology. On the contrary, no expense is spared to buy the best possible equipment for every stage of vinification. The de-stemmer at Conterno’s is an ultra-precise, high-tech machine that completely removes the green parts of the stems with surgical precision, eliminating any bitter tannins.
Roberto Conterno is also determined to prevent any bottle becoming corked. Cooperating with cork manufacturers, he has developed a system of coding that identifies every single cork to check their efficacy over time. The same machine will detect even the slightest traces of cork taint and any tiny anomaly in the cork’s structure. A profound respect for tradition at Barolo does not preclude the most modern wine-making techniques in the pursuit of perfection.
Vision and Passion
The two categories of vision and passion at the Giacomo Conterno winery are one and the same. Their vision is their passion and vice versa.
For the past 100 years, the Conterno family has had a single focus – perfection. It has worked solely with indigenous grape varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto) and for the past 50 years has focused on specific plots of land that have a unique terroir.
Very few winemakers nowadays would choose to macerate their wine for between four and five weeks, or allow their premium wine to ferment without temperature control.
Even fewer would produce two cuvees every year, the so-called ‘basic’ Barolo and the premium Monfortino, and then wait for several years before deciding if the premium is premium enough. And if it is not, the two cuvees are blended and given their own label.
The quality of all the wines – premium or not – is unparalleled. Their integration, intensity and complexity develops over time and the more patient you are, the more rewarding they will be. The massive backbone of tannins and acids guarantees a long and secure life.
The Conterno family are driven by an absolute respect for their work and the inherited knowledge of the ancestors. They appreciate the specific terroir of each plot; they understand all the subtleties of each grape variety, and they apply a careful and detailed vinification process. Roberto is a shy but incredibly experienced and intelligent man whose life is driven by one overriding ambition – to create diamonds in liquid form.