We had to be in Alba at noon. Leaving the fluffy witness protection program of L’Albereta would be difficult, but not impossible.
A brief breakfast downstairs, the perfect cappuccino, and a short meeting with a colleague from a nearby winery. He counseled me to take the autostrada from Brescia towards Piacenza. It would be one of several misdirectional errors I would make that day. But we had three hours to get there, we could make it.
On the road, four hours later, Guido calls. “Where are you, close?” “Yes, Guido, but we will be there in 20 minutes.” An hour later we arrive in Alba and set about meeting up with the young lion, Guido Folonari.
Guido is a force of nature. Guido does not know the meaning of “I can’t”. Guido is irrepressible. Guido is turning 40 this year.
A brief lunch at the underground and very private Enoclub in Alba, where we sampled some of the Tenuta L’Illuminata red wines, Dolcetto, Barbera and Barolo. Plates arrive at the table; Carne crudo and a pasta with ragu, a dole of guanciale perched upon a mound of perfect polenta. We are no longer lost.
Ah, Alba, what a place. A small little city in an ancient corner of Italy, where some of the great wines and foods of the world are born. It reminds me a little of Beaune, a bit more urbanized, larger. But with any wine capital there is a concentration of energy that is focused of the pinnacle of perfection that we all seek to reach in the wine (and food) world. Alba, off the touristic path, is left for true believers. The wine gods are wise and generous.
After lunch Guido takes us in his SUV to his estate near La Morra. There he is in the process of restructuring an old, grand building, which houses his Piedmont winery. Along the way he has expanded the interior to accommodate a few guest rooms, a kitchen and a grand room. Guido has plans for the future.
I should really talk about the wines, but once in a while you come across a person who shines bright. He still has the energy of impetuous youth, but he also possesses an old soul aspect. It is as if the torch has passed to him and his generation and he is taking it to his mountain top. Guido is larger than his wines.
The winery is named after a chapel which was built to thank the Heavens for saving the area from the Plague. The chapel gives its name to the winery, L’Illuminata. Good thing it is still consecrated, or Guido might be thinking of installing a chef and a kitchen and looking for a nearby property (which there is) to locate a little country hotel.
One does not say no to this young man. I watched him at a table of strangers. Within minutes he had everybody under his spell. He is funny, he is engaging, he is a very smart young man. Women love him. Men admire him. Guido exudes untapped power.
Yes, Guido is his own power source; his energy is the hybrid-model of the new Italian entrepreneur. While much of Italy is struggling with their economic and personal funk, Guido is unphased. It doesn’t hurt that his father and his uncles sold their major brand, Ruffino, several years ago, for an ample supply of capital. Future projects were dreamt up and Guido set about collecting what he calls his killer B’s of the Italian wine world. Those are Barolo, Brunello and Bolgheri. One wife, four kids and three mistresses (those would be his killer B wine estates); this is Guido’s orbit. God knows what he is doing when the rest of us are sleeping. I am sure he sleeps four hours a day, maximum. Whether it is saving a homeless winery dog or choosing the right stone floor, planning a new vineyard or plotting the future of his triangulated empire, this is a man with a mission. And a time crunch. How does this come across?
Occasionally, as I said, you encounter a person with an energy that reflects a sense of urgency. Not that anything terrible is forecast. Not, it’s more like 100 years is not enough, but let’s try and do all that we can imagine and let’s not waste a moment.
That hour that we kept him waiting in Alba? I cannot return that time to him, though he could probably use it very effectively. But I am sure he will find a way to reclaim that lost time, by making it up on some autostrada in the direction of one of his big plans to change Italian wine on the 21st century.
Somewhere in the jungle the young lion is roaring.