Sustainable wine making in Piedmont: “Enlightened traditionalism” at Bartolo Mascarello

What can one write about a visit to Bartolo Mascarello? If there was a wine dictionary and you could look up 'sustainable', this tiny five hectare producer should be the first mention.

I've visited a fair few vineyards since becoming a wine obsessive (bore to many) about five years ago. But Bartolo Mascarello is truly unique.

In this post there's a bit of background, some photos with captions and at the bottom a podcast with Alan Manley, who if he had a job title, might be general manager. He gave us a fascinating tour, answered our dumb questions with patience and wit and we all learned a huge amount.

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Alan Manley, Bartolo Mascarello

As blogger since 2006 on sustainable business in larger companies (My other blog can be found here) I always try to adopt a critical eye when writing a post.

But I struggle to see anything wrong with the approach adopted by Bartolo Mascarello, I really do.

Business-wise one might argue that they are "under-leveraging the brand" by restricting production. But that would be against their fundamental values of community, sustainability and humility, and no doubt it would change their wine, which is built on decades of experience.

The wikipedia entry on the outfit is worth a read, here.

This wine-searcher.com piece, though light, is also insightful.

Having spent just an hour or so with Alan Manley there last week, the one thing that stands out is how values driven the operation is. There's no compromise to fundamental values, steeped in a century of history. It's hard to argue with that.

The wines we tasted, the Barolo, the Nebbiolo, the Barbara D'Alba, were all young, but superb, and you could tell that in the 5-10-20-30 years they will mature into something special, particularly the 2011 Barolo.

Alongside refusing to adapt to perceptions of changing consumer tastes (which in my view leads to dark fruit forward simplistic, dull, cookie cutter type wines favoured by some influential critics) Bartolo Mascarello folk also refuse to contemplate the idea of a single vineyard wine.

Why? Well, if you can get hold of a bottle of their very traditional wines (really not easy, and some merchants mark them up by a multiple of six given the very limited production of around 30-32,000 bottles) you'll understand why. There's no good reason to mess with something that works so well.

The five who run Bartolo Mascarello refuse to use chemicals, herbicides, fertilisers or pesticides. "We work our land, we don't want to come home covered in pesticides" he says.

On sustainability in a more technical sense, Alan points out in the interview below that they are seeing some rather worrying changes.

For example temperate changes in the last 20 years are affecting marginal vintages (not quite in the way you might think, listen to the podcast to find out).

Less harsh winters are encouraging more insects, some predatory, some useful. Alcohol levels are also a concern. More vegetation in warm vintages is one of the ways Bartolo Mascarello is attempting to tackle the challenge. More below.

Here's the podcast: https://soundcloud.com/toby-webb-1/alan-manley-podcast?in=toby-webb-1/sets/sustainable-wine-podcasts

 

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Bartolo Mascarello's courtyard

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Fermentation is in concrete, with no temperature control. A traditional method eschewed by many today

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"No Berlusconi, no Barrique" declares one label drawn by Bartolo Mascarello. A reference to the trend to switching to smaller oak casks for maturation. This is something Bartolo Mascarello rejects in favour of tradition.

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Very hard to get, very tasty to drink

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Extremely rare.

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Bottles were labelled by hand until 2008.

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Politics and wine mixing. Slavonian oak rules the day at Bartolo Mascarello

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Piedmont. Stunning.

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Our tasting, superb young wines, with serious ageing potential, particularly in the Barolo's.

2 Responses

  1. Toby - thanks for this great blog post, and it was a pleasure to spend an hour with you at the winery last week. I just want to point out that the bottles are not hand-labeled any more as your caption states - this was the practice until MT bought the labeling machine in 2008. When I first saw the machine on a visit in early 2008 I asked: "Why?" Her astute reply: "I can accept this technology because it does not touch the wine." We still label the magnums and the "special label" bottles by hand, though (the special labels are the copies of her father's hand-drawn labels). Again, thank you for the visit and your excellent write-up. Warm regards, Alan.
    • Tobias Webb
      Thanks for the clarification Alan. I've corrected that caption now. Best wishes, Toby