Sunday, October 28, 2012

What’s Old is New Again @LaScolcaWines

Giorgio Soldati is a very lucky man. Famous for a white wine in red wine country, dancing to the beat of his own drum, making memorable wine against the tide of fashion, and staying true to a vision that he has cast aside in favor of an easier way. And though the years are catching up with him as they do with all of us, he has an energetic daughter, Chiara, who not only has the past emblazoned in her veins, she sees the future and is very much heading towards it with no fear or reluctance. Chiara is one of a burgeoning cadre of women in Piedmont who are a force of nature unto themselves and will not relent to a kitchen and an apron and a basket of laundry. The tale of Gavi is ongoing, and as a white wine lover, I am very much in favor of this continuing crusade.

How many times have a driven through Alessandria and Gavi, on my way to another place? In the past five years though, this has begun to nag on me. “Why aren’t you stopping at Gavi? How is it you’ve been selling and serving the wines of La Scolca for over 30 years and you’ve never made the time to visit the Villa?” No one needed to guilt me about this; my childhood Catholic sense of guilt did the job well enough. Finally, I got off my high horse and made the appointment.

Driving to the winery, it all seemed so familiar, not as in “I’ve been here before” but more as in “I’ve dreamt about this place so many times” that it didn’t seem recondite.

My fascination with this wine had to do with two people, Gerald Asher, the San Francisco wine writer and importer (at the time) and Franco Bertolasi, a wonderful Italian restaurateur in Dallas who had a world view and an expansive and open palate. These two men schooled me in the wonders of not just white wine (after all there was much good Chablis and Montrachet to be had in those days) but in the importance of great Italian wine. In those days, white wine more resembled “orange” wines and in no way were they as desirable. But Soldati was working inside his fortified villa to craft and hone and perfect not just the wine but the perception of the wine. White Italian wine? Hah, who cared? Soldati did, as did Asher and Bertolasi. And so, they mentored me and prepared me for the future just as Giorgio prepared Chiara for their future.

It’s very much a family business and a small business. But in no way is it small minded or looking in. On this visit I met a young man who had recently been hired to work in their financial side. He was born and raised in San Angelo Texas. His brother works for a distributor in Austin. And he was there to help develop an international monetary and trade strategy. After all, America is still growing along with China, India, and Kazakhstan (yes, they sell well there too).

I met Chiara in Texas, doing one of our many wine dinners in the back room at Jimmy’s. She was ill that day with a sinus infection, but she “soldiered” on. I made a note to get to the winery while her father was still working there.

Giorgio is a legend. His advances in wine-making in the region have lent to the other winemakers a platform for the world. He is a true servant leader. His winery, the inner working of it, resembles a finely tuned watch. I stood on the dais of the main wine-making building (they’re soon expanding) and looked out over the tanks. The harvest had recently been brought in. The place was literally humming. And it was perfect. Functional, beautiful, as it had been planned to be. The wine gods were smiling.

Inside the tasting room and offices, Giorgio was working with his assistant on the 2012 wines that were in various stages of fruit juice to wine. Like a very happy scientist, they had samples from any number of tanks. Giorgio was excited; there was something of the young boy behind his eyes, full of life and anticipation. Waiting for the wine never gets old, there’s always something new to be learned, always something around the corner. He poured us a taste of one of the wines, “It’s not yet wine,” he said, “but it’s going to be soon.” No hype. Steady.

Chiara meanwhile was pouring us on the lineup, from the rose to the various whites to the sparkling and with a Pinot Noir they also make. All from their estate.

One surprise they showed was a bottling of their famous Gavi Black Label. Marketed as their “Gavi dei Gavi” D’Antan the wine in this bottle only arrives after ageing in the cellars for up to ten years. This wine, resulting from “strictly traditional, using ancient methods, manuals and handicrafts,” is deep yellow (“orange” wine fans note). It reminds me of those wines that harken back to an era before so much noise and technology. It’s Giorgio’s legacy Gavi dei Gavi and one that my friend Franco Bertolasi would have loved had he stayed with us here on earth. And surely Mr. Asher, I’d love to know his thoughts on this new, old wine.

After 30 years of procrastinating, it was wonderful to finally get there and see Villa Scolca in its well-preserved state. I sense the cranes will be arriving soon to ready the winery for the new world we have found ourselves in this 21st century. I’m sure Chiara and hopefully her young son, will be able to sustain and maybe even transcend the foundation and vision that Giorgio Soldati so ably established. Yes Giorgio is a lucky man, but a man whose luck came after many years of planning and diligence.
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1 comment:

Bob Siddoway said...

You have to admire his oldschool authentic approach to winemaking. I seriously wish I could have tasted alongside you all...

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