Alfio Cavallotto, the traditional Barolo winemaker

Alfio Cavallotto

Originally published in 16/02/2017.

We recently talked about the family-owned Barolo winery Tenuta Viniviticola Cavallotto. They produce really interesting wines that bring pleasure to those starting to discover Barolo wines such as us and those more deeply into them. Today we will talk to Alfio Cavallotto, the house winemaker.

Buongiorno, Alfio, and thank you so much for your collaboration. You employ many organic agricultural methods in your vineyards, such as the use of predatory insects and no pesticides. What was the reason for starting this?

We started organic cultivation in 1976 (in 1974 we introduced “inerbimento,” the use of native grass cover over the entire site). We introduced this innovation so as to grow our vines in a completely sustainable environment. In the 60’s and 70’s chemical products to spray on the plants and soil were very dangerous for both consumers and farmers.

The soil of the Bricco Boschis Cru is calcareous clay marl. How the soil is shown in the wines?

The Calcium in the clay gives a particular minerality to the wines and very complex bouquet. Normally there is a good or great structure with a high quantity of polyphenols.

Do all your vineyards have the same soil?

No, we have 2 very different cru/hills and also inside a single cru there are many different zones. In some areas there are different kinds of clay (white, gray, yellow, orange, blue clay) with or without sand. The sand characterizes the wines as well: normally more sand means elegant wines with light body but intense perfume.

Which vineyard offers the best fruit?

The single vineyard with the best fruit is the central part of the Bricco Boschis hill called VIGNA SAN GIUSEPPE. It is also our oldest vineyard. If the vintage is characterized by warm and dry weather, also our second cru Vignolo can be very fruity.

The Nebbiolo vineyards have different aspects or expositions. How does this reflect in the grapes?

We have planted our Nebbiolo vines exclusively to appropriate exposure for this delicate vine: Southeast, South and Southwest. It depends on the season but on average Southeast is the best exposition in warm vintages because there is a lot of sun just in the morning. Barolo there is fine and elegant. On Southwest exposures there is the maximum quantity of heat and light; Barolo there is richer in structure and perfect for a long age.

Are you experimenting in recent years the effects of the climate change?

Yes, a lot. From 1997 to 2015 we have had many warm vintages. These now come too frequently to ignore as isolated cases. We have learned to work in the vineyards in a different way: for example, now it is necessary to keep the leaves around the grapes so they stay in the shade and the sun can’t burn the skin of the grapes. In the past some or all of the leaves near the grapes were removed.

You employ different sizes of Slavonian botti for the ageing of your wines. Do you use regular-size oak barrels? How do you balance each size, ranging from 20 to 100 hectoliters?

It is necessary to have different size because in small botti the wine has a faster evolution; it is better if the vintage is classic, strong, rich in tannins and fruity. Conversely, in warm and elegant vintages it is better to use bigger botti that give slow evolution to preserve the freshness. We do not use the 225-liter barrique.

What does the use of concrete tanks bring into your wines?

We use concrete tanks for malolactic fermentation. Concrete tanks maintain a natural constant temperature and the wines can “breathe” a little bit. INOX (stainless steel) tanks are used in different way and there the wine is completely protected from air.

What’s the grape character you want to show in your wines?

In our Barolo we like to feel the complexity of many different typical aromas of Nebbiolo. In the mouth the best character should be the balance, power and elegance in the same moment.

What is your winemaking philosophy?

The philosophy is very classic and traditional even if, to do it today, sometimes it is necessary to use modern techniques: INOX machines for destemming, macerating, pumping, bottling etc.

In the vineyards it is the same traditional basis with much more experimentation to have the best quality possible in a complete organic production.

Which of the vineyards is more grateful to work with?

All our vineyards give us great satisfaction, sometimes even Dolcetto or Freisa can do so. But our most important single vineyard, VIGNA SAN GIUSEPPE, is particularly rich in good surprises; it is a very satisfying plot to work.

You have small plots of Freisa and Grignolino. How do these grapes translate into the wines?

They are very small plots but rich in my family’s history. They give a very traditional kind of grape and wine. Grignolino is fruity and made to drink young, similar to rosé wine. The vinification is short without any ageing in botti. Freisa is an early-drinking wine but it has structure and complexity. The maceration is only 5 days and the ageing is moderately long: 12 months in botti of 20-30 hl.

You elaborate a white wine using Pinot Noir. Will you produce a red Pinot Noir in the future?

We experimented red Pinot Noir in 1993, 2003, 2005. The wines were really interesting, in particular 1993 and 2005; very Burgundian wines with great elegance. Just the body was a little bit too rich. It is very expensive to produce an excellent Red Pinot Noir so for now we don’t have any plans to produce it in the future.

What kind of wines do you like to enjoy when you are not at work?

I enjoy wines of every part of the world but they must be classic in style: no evident vanilla taste, no artificial concentration, no factory wines, better from single vineyards, better organic.

Grazie mille, Alfio!

Photos © by Tenuta Cavallotto