Cascina degli Ulivi at the RAW fair, London May 17-18th 2015

Stefano Bellotti’s Cascina degli Ulivi in Piemonte’s Tassarolo hills (province of Alessandria) is one of Italy’s pioneering biodynamic estates.

The now 16ha vineyard converted to biodynamics in the mid-1980s.

Viticulturally, Bellotti’s style of biodynamics [“BD”] is quite an interventionist one, and I mean that in a good way.

He sees the practice of cover cropping or ‘green manuring’– sowing plants like legumes, crucifers, grasses and buckwheat between the rows to improve soil structure, to maintain healthy nutrient levels, to prevent erosion, and to provide biodiversity – as a better way of maintaining soil fertility than by using animal manure-based compost.

Cover cropping is a plant-based organic tool also used in but not specific to biodynamics.

Composting is another organic soil fertility tool which is also used in biodynamics where it has fundamental significance.

This is because biodynamic compost piles are also seeded with six “preparations” or “preps” made from the medicinal plants called yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian. Before they go into the pile they are “prepared in a special way”, BD shorthand for “aged in animal organ sheaths which are exposed to the elements for 6-12 months.”

Bellotti applies the compost preps in a different way – via soils sprays. he feels excess compost creates too much fertility for the vines.

Excess fertility turns vines into couch potatoes, which are then more easily prey to pests and diseases.

As Bellotti rarely has to trim his vines in spring-summer he seems to have created a vineyard which self-regulates. This is the kind of state to which all vineyards should aspire.

Bellotti, Stefano 2010_03_30545

Unlike some French and Italian growers who can show a less than fastidious approach with their BD sprays, Stefano Bellotti sprays the other main BD preparations horn manure ‘500’ and horn silica ‘501’ regularly.

These sprays help soil, vines and grapes tune in fully to natural and seasonal cycles to maintain the long-term health of vines, wines, and wine-grower (assuming s/he drinks his own wine).

The grapes are hand picked and fermented with minimal additions. At their best Bellotti’s wines show real wildness of fruit, savouriess, clarity, ripeness, lift and texture. They can also show some of the kind of funk and blur that his style of non-interventionist winemaking can invoke.

My favourite wines of his are


– the Gavi ‘Filagnotti di Tassarolo’ from old vine, 100% Cortese, fermented in acacia wood with some skin contact, no racking, and no added sulfites. An intriguing wine of fibrous, apricotty-funky depth.


– the Monferrato Bianco ‘A Demûa’ from  five local white wine grapes of unknown origin. Lively saline citrus flavour and with a very original texture


– the Montemarino Bianco from mainly Cortese grapes. Shows textural denseness from extended skin contact, then peachy flavours with some herb and funk


– the Mounbè Barbera, a bright, tidy, wild, direct red you’d take on a light picnic lunch then wished you’d saved for a generous main course at dinner


– the Dolcetto ‘Nibiô’, a red whose quite structured tannins can taste aggressive if the wine is too cool (cellar temperture or below). Nibiô = Dolcetto in local dialect.


Casa Raia at the RAW fair, London May 17-18th 2015

Casa Raia is a small Montalcino estate whose wines are well worth tasting at this year’s RAW fair. The 2 hectare vineyard (certified organic) and small winery are on a promontory just outside the town walls, on Montalcino’s south-western slopes. The current owners bought the land in 1997 (it used to belong to the Biondi-Santi family, Brunello di Montalcino’s founding fathers), planted a small vineyard and created a small, gravity-fed and partly underground winery. The Rosso di Montalcino 2010 would be my pick, partly because 2010 is a fantastic vintage in Montalcino (ripe fruit, textured tannins, plenty of potential freshness) and partly because this wine contains Brunello the owners declassified to help cash-flow (Rosso di Montalcino can be released for sale a year after the grapes were picked, but Brunellos may not be released until four years have elapsed from when the grapes were picked). Casa Raia made only 1,200 bottles of its Brunello di Montalcino 2008 and 3,800 of the 2009. The grapes are destemmed but not crushed and the wines age in 30hl French oak vats.


Pierre-Jean is French–half Corsican, half Rhône, while his wife Kalyna whose mother bought Casa Raia in 1997 is half Italian, and half Canadian. (Leica M9, 50mm Summicron f/2 (IV, V), 1/125th @ f/4.8. ISO 160. Photo © CEPHAS/Monty Waldin).

Pierre-Jean is French–half Corsican, half Rhône, while his wife Kalyna whose mother bought Casa Raia in 1997 is half Italian, and half Canadian. (Leica M9, 50mm Summicron f/2 (IV, V), 1/125th @ f/4.8. ISO 160. Photo © CEPHAS/Monty Waldin).

The other wine Casa Raia will show at RAW, the Bevilo Rosso, ferments in stainless steel and is made from Sangiovese (aka Brunello) with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Canaiolo Nero. The 2012 Bevilo is easily the most plumptious version of this wine the estate has made.

En Primeur 1997

I don’t go to Bordeaux en primeur week. Correction: I don’t get invited to Bordeaux en primeur week, although the Union des Grands Crus (a club of the most prestigious châteaux who show their wines en primeur) kindly sends me a Christmas card each year.

I am not on the radar of the CIVB (the Bordeaux wine producers’ lobby and PR body), let alone their mailing list (mind you, I do move house quite frequently).

I don’t write a column for a newspaper, or blog very often, and have relatively few followers on Twitter.

In fact I may be the only person who has had his own TV wine show but who has yet to launch his own range of wine accessories.

But I did spend several years working in Bordeaux vines and wineries in my youth, experience which, I think, allowed me to get behind this region’s robust veneer.

If I ever went back to Bordeaux for en primeur I’d go to the petits chateaux like the ones I used to work in.

I’d be tasting very young wines from vat – the good vats, the OK vats, and the really shitty vats too. You get clear idea of what the quality of the fruit might be like in both reds and whites, and what the potential quality and the clarity of the tannins might be like in the reds. It also gives you clues as to what went right and what might have gone wrong, either with the weather, the viticulture, the picking or the winemaking.

For whites, as well as the wine, I like to try to lees, the thick and vomit-coloured (and sometimes vomit-smelling) sediment of dead yeast at the bottom of the tanks (or barrels), much of which (under French law) gets flushed away to the local distillery. The lees can tell you how clean the ferment was and how balanced the juice was.

Also, if I can, for reds, I try the press wines too – these are often kept separate in two lots called ‘P1′ and ‘P2′, with ‘P2′ often tasting pretty raw as ‘P2′ is the last bit of wine that was squeezed from the hard-pressed grapes. If you see ‘P3′ press wine fractions it means the grower thought it was really good year, and s/he’ll try to use the P1 and even some of the P2 in the final blend. Another clue to the quality of the vintage.

But it would take too much time and money to visit individual petits châteaux – and few wine buyers worldwide seem overly interested in petits châteaux, except perhaps the pile-it-high discounters and Scandinavian booze monopolies; and the numbers they care about are the euros per hectolitre cost of the wine in bulk, not journalists’ points scores.

Pretty much the only people who get to taste Bordeaux from vat (meaning before the wines go to barrel from which en primeur samples are drawn) at the famous chateaux other than their staff are their consulting oenologists.

Journalists get to taste barrel samples of only several month old wines prepared by the château owners which, after the wines are scored by the media, can be re-blended before the wines are bottled.

Understandably the château owners want to sell as many bottles of their highest-priced wines, or grand vin, and as few as possible of their second, third or sous-marques wines which sell for far less.

Thus château owners will re-blend whatever it was they showed to the media to create wines that maximise their margins, whilst leaving them stuck holding as little stock as possible.

So the difference between an en primeur barrel sample and the final bottled wine can vary between being only slight to quite radical.

En primeur is thus a game of speculation played by cat (the château), mouse (the merchants or buyers) and a self-proclaimed umpire (the media).

The last time I tasted en primeur was in spring 1998, for the 1997 vintage but in a single Bordeaux appellation.

The 1997 vintage produced bi-polar wines because at ripening time (mid-August onwards) the vines were still sending sugars to their leaves rather than only to their grapes. This produced ripe wines but not rich wines at a time when the market wanted rich, ripe wines.

In the mid-1990s the “Parker” effect had become impossible to ignore, as Robert Parker Jnr had cemented his reputation as the pre-eminent wine critic of his (or any) generation.

This meant his scores had a major influence – amongst other things – on how a) a vintage was perceived by the trade and the rest of the media; and b) how individual wines were perceived and thus priced. Parker Points Win You Prizes.

The 1997 sweet wines were good, and the dry whites okay; but the 1997 reds were lacking and came after the okay-ish 1993, okay-plus 1994, very good 1995 and arguably even better 1996 red wine vintages. Yet 1997 looked likely to be a hit-the-buffers vintage.

Even so, 1997 had to fulfill market – and inter alia Parker’s – expectations.

This led to some châteaux dramatically re-styling their wines to please the Parker palate.

The 1997 en primeur campaign was for me a clear case of how the actual taste of a wine in any particular vintage did not depend solely on the weather (or terroir – there were very few truly terroir-driven wines in Bordeaux in the mid-1990s*), but on how the wines were blended, who blended them, and exactly what raw materials they were blended from.

I found it very easy to pick up on the nose the presence of wine from another French region in several Bordeaux 1997 reds from a small, renowned Bordeaux appellation.

The Bordeaux wines had been “corrected” (beefed up) by wines from warmer climes to hide the defects caused by Bordeaux’s 1997 growing season. They were appealing wines – but egregiously atypical for my taste. The producers in question had a history of making light wines from high-yielding vines. Their 1997s would have tasted even more stretched than usual without some help.


The Dordogne, Castillon-la-Bataille, Oct 1995. Leica M6 TTL, Summilux 35mm f1.4 pre-ASPH, Ilford HP5 Plus.

The Dordogne, Castillon-la-Bataille, Oct 1995. Leica M6 TTL, Summilux 35mm f1.4 pre-ASPH, Ilford HP5 Plus.

I asked a wine-grower of unimpeachable probity if I was barking up the wrong tree. He said I was spot on. Our conversation took place on 15th April 1998 with samples of about fifteen 1997s on the tasting table in front of us – half tasted 100% of Bordeaux, the rest tasted subtly of the Rhône garrigue, of Syrah. They had beenin wine-speak–Hermitagés.

C’est comme ça, ici, maintenant,’ he shrugged. Translation: “It is like that here, now.”

I then contacted an oenologist friend who had been contracted to another, much better known local oenologist who had blended the 1997 Hermitagés wines.

He said isotope analyses could easily show the presence of the Rhône Syrah in the Bordeauxs if anyone ever felt like checking. But Bordeaux was booming, and the mainstream wine media appeared so fawning, stuck so far up its own backside during this period it was perhaps no wonder it couldn’t or wouldn’t sniff out these atypical aromas.

Many  journalists have flown or been flown out to Bordeaux since 1998 but I cannot recall any questioning the core blend integrity – meaning the precise origins – of the en primeur wines they tasted.

Perhaps that means I was simply mistaken about my experience in 1998 with the 1997s, or my experience can have been nothing more than a desperately unfortunate, isolated one-off.


* In 1996 Richard Kershaw (now an MW) and I researched a book called “Bordeaux Unfiltered“, spending several months in Bordeaux visiting hundreds of wineries, in search of terroir-driven wines. We found so few such wines we never published it. The vineyard below, Château Climens, an 1855 classed growth in Barsac making Barsac-Sauternes, is now biodynamic. Back then (and under a different owner), it provided a fairly typical example of what conventional farming looked like.


Christian Brostaut, Château Climens 21st April 1995. Leica M6, 35mm Summilux f1.4 pre-ASPH, Agfachrome 400.

Christian Brostaut, Château Climens 21st April 1995. Leica M6, 35mm Summilux f1.4 pre-ASPH, Agfachrome 400.

The wine was a product of a monoculture – a single type of aggressive weed (the patches of rye grass you can see), yellowing from weedkiller residues, within another monoculture – the vines.

The soil was a compacted mix of bare earth – leaving the earth bare over winter is like forgetting to tuck your children in at night…If I had a vineyard in a wet climate like Bordeaux’s I’d leave the vineyard grassed over winter to prevent soil erosion and valuable nutrients being washed away.

With no food in the soil, vines get weak, and need a boost of fertilizer. This then makes the vines grow too vigorously, so you get pest and disease and weed problems. And so on, and so on.

Climens was of the most lifeless-looking vineyards I saw in Bordeaux during this period. I just had to take a photo, even though there was very little light that day.

Château Very Famous goes organic

Château Very Famous goes organic

In this exclusive interview Monty Waldin (M.W.) talks to the general manager of Bordeaux’s Château Very Famous (C.V.F.) regarding its recent announcement of having gone “fully organic”.


M.W. First of all, congratulations for going fully organic. You must be delighted.

C.V.F. Nous sommes très thrilled. Announcing we’d gone organic for part of our estate has generated headlines worldwide.

M.W. Er sorry, I might have misunderstood something. I thought when you said “fully organic” you meant the whole of the estate was organic and officially inspected as such by an independent third party certification body?

C.V.F. Well, we are fully partly organic, or partly fully organic. It all depends on how you view these things, but from our viewpoint the banner headlines we are getting online look 100% certified agréables

M.W. But isn’t what you are doing like claiming to be partly vegetarian or half-pregnant? Because the organic and non-organic parts may get mixed up, going organic for only part of the vineyard is not permitted and requires lots of extra paperwork…

C.V.F. Not for us. We dealt with the paperwork issue easily. Château Very Famous is part of a luxury goods group, and our bespoke notepaper division was able to create a press release using hand made, 100% certified letter-headed paper. We then asked our luxury printing division to stamp “fully organic” on the press release, right next to a photograph of our most famous vineyard plot. Très simple and très cost-effective, mon ami.

M.W. That’s it?

C.V.F. Non. There’s more. The picture also had a horse in it.

M.W. A horse?

Arnaud Dautas and his horse working in a certified organic vineyard in Roussillon.

Arnaud Dautas and his horse working in a certified organic vineyard in Roussillon.

C.V.F. Horses have two main advantages for organic farming…

M.W. Ah, well said, sir! I knew we’d soon get back on track – no pun intended! Horses cause less soil compaction than tractors and help vineyards become more terroir-driven by providing manure for lovely, worm-rich compost which can be recycled on the land to…

C.V.F. Er, non. Our thinking was more along the lines that if you are going to photograph your own horse it makes sense to have certified photo.

M.W. I am getting confused again. You mean you are certified, after all?

C.V.F. We are certified in the sense that we took the horse photo ourselves. In fact our 18-strong certified PR team took the photo for us. Having your own certified photo of your own certified horse gives you credibility.

M.W. Hear, hear! Horses and other animals are part of the green ideal of turning vineyards into self-sustaining living organisms, making one’s claims of organic, terroir-driven wine even more credible!

C.V.F. Er, pas vraiment in our case. You see our view was by having our own photo it means that whoever publishes our “organic” press release won’t have to pay even a single centime. Online news stories generate no income at all, so even the Best Wine Magazines in the World® try to avoid paying for photos or even content whilst still hoping to provide the click-bait they need to generate lots of comments from the public which please advertisers. A horse photo a day keeps the accountants away!

M.W. So does the horse in your photo actually work in your vineyard?

C.V.F. Oui bien sur, mon cher. That brings me to my second point about why horses are so vital for us. They are incredibly cost-effective.

M.W. We’re getting back into the saddle, again – giddy up! I am guessing you’re going to say horses are efficient because they don’t belong to a Trades Union, can work weekends and public holidays, and long-term can even be far cheaper to run than tractors or other heavy machinery.

C.V.F. Vraiment, we never thought about that…I meant cost-effective in the sense horses cause your en primeur price to rise.

M.W. I know horsey-smelling natural wines are in fashion right now…

C.V.F. Ah, Château Brett et tous les autres vins Legeronnés…

M.W. …but I didn’t know horses had started investing in fine wine…

C.V.F. They haven’t. Laissez-moi explain. During last year’s en primeur week our near-neighbour, Chateau-Shouldn’t-Really-Be-Very-Famous-At-All got far better prices and scores than anyone else in the village despite being on a somewhat lesser terroir and the vintage being terrible weather-wise…

M.W. …and against a back-drop of the impending retirement of Robert Parker, the global economy hitting the buffers, the unfolding Kurniawan scandal…

C.V.F. It was so bad we all had to lower our en primeur prices. But in contrast Chateau-Shouldn’t-Really-Be-Very-Famous-At-All managed to put the price up for its Cuvée Shire Horse Rouge 2013 and sold every drop by mid-day on Day One of the En Primeur campaign. Quel horreur!

M.W. Maybe Chateau-Shouldn’t-Really-Be-Very-Famous-At-All got such good prices was because its vineyard was more weather-resistant, and its wines reflected how well it had been farming in harmony with nature for around 7 years, the time most commentators say it takes for the vineyard terroir to be able to express itself after years of weedkillers, soluble fertilizers and pesticides?

C.V.F. We hadn’t thought of anything that complicated…We just looked at the success of other estates using horses – Domaine Zind-Horsebrecht in Alsace for example, WaterHoof in Stellenbosch – and realised the potential power of equine economics. Our next press release will be about our conversion to Biodynamics®.

Spot the horse in this organic vinyard

Horse and vine as one

M.W. You’re converting to Biodynamics®? Now there’s a story…

C.V.F. Oui, un story in the great tradition of alternative French literature, one with no real beginning, and perhaps no middle, or end either.

M.W. What do you mean?

C.V.F. Well, we haven’t actually even started officially converting the vineyards to organics or Biodynamics® yet. And have no, um, plans to. But from now on you can rest assured that every one of our press releases will be published according to the Biodynamic® lunar calendar. Never underestimate the power of the Moon!

M.W. You mean the Moon’s power as an enhancer of so-called etheric formative forces which Biodynamic® growers say guide vines and other plants to grow into their archetypal form to produce healthy, well-flavoured crops nourishing for both body and soul?

C.V.F. Mais, non. I mean the Moon has been recognised for thousands of years now, or for at least two or three years anyway – in particular by British supermarkets and wine experts on BBC daytime wine slots – as a great way to con…to convince people that all wines change according to where the Moon is.

M.W. Go on.

C.V.F. Well, a wine tasted under la lune Lidl will make your wallet feel only slightly lighter. A wine under la lune de Waitrose on the other hand will make your wallet feel empty, almost weightless. And avoid wines bottled under the M&S Moon when the Moon is in opposition to the planets Marks and Spencer. These wines can show a strong sense of terroir yet the label will give you little clue as to exactly who bottled the wine under licence, or when it was bottled.

M.W. But hang on. Most very few of the wines these retailers stock are organic, let alone Biodynamic®. And anyway ven some Biodynamic® growers won’t go as far as saying their wines show any lunar influence at all; and all agree that there will be no lunar influence at all on the wine if the vineyard is totally unreceptive to celestial forces because the soils have been deadened by heavy chemical use.

C.V.F. Je ne suis pas d’accord. In vineyards with dead soils the Moon’s presence can be especially strongly felt by your clients if you have a good PR department like our one in Paris. Vive la nature, vive la lune, mon ami! You can even buy a lunar calendar…

M.W. You mean like Mathias Thun’s Le Calendrier des Semis or ‘Seedling Calendar’ which explains how you might get stronger crop growth when sowing, planting or hoeing if the moon is in a certain position…?

C.V.F. Non, I mean the Calendrier des Profit Margins which shows much stronger growth in your en primeur price the more you talk about the Moon. C’est pas lunatique, c’est simplement good business…!

M.W. I think we might be getting slightly confused. Star-gazing is…

C.V.F. Perfect for Bordeaux which forces you to look far off into a dark, amorphous place called The Futures…In Bordeaux the whole point of en primeur is speculation. You have to hope the wine samples you taste will be exactly the same as what actually gets bottled but by the time you or the speculators get to drink the wines it’ll be so far into the future Uranus will have orbited the Sun at least twice and no one will remember…

M.W. Amazing. We can predict exactly where a planet will be decades hence but we can’t predict the contents several months hence of what any single bottle shown at en primeur will actually contain let alone taste like…

C.V.F. Also, as Madame Meg La Mystical One says dans le Daily Mail no one can predict whether when a famous chateau says it will be organic or Biodynamic® by such-and-such a time it really will be organic or Biodynamic® by then because farming, the weather, natural cycles, employees and the market are all so unpredictable.

M.W. Yes. I remember Chateau-Not-Very-Famous had a hiccup early on with its Biodynamic® conversion after they had to use a fungicide; but because they were converting to Biodynamics® via conviction, not for PR, the hiccup made them better farmers and their vines and wines more desirable commercially in the long-term.

C.V.F. Long-term? C’est quoi, ça?

M.W. Er, long-term. You know, in French you call it à long-term, so thinking long-term means planning something like an organic or Biodynamic® conversion well so you get lasting results, not quick-fixes.

C.V.F. Ah, le quick fixe, that one je comprends very well. J’adore les quick fixes!

M.W. So, in a nutshell, all this talk of sustainability is simply for the media?

C.V.F. Pas du tout. We are getting into recycling too. We can recycle our horse and moon stories for print, broadcast and on-line media for at least one more en primer campaign, maybe even for two. And if we do not manage to convert to organics because we are not actually very good at farming we can bury le bad news about the horse, or simply ask our leather goods division to shoot it – but not with the photo camera this time…. – and bury it whilst recycling the animal’s hide as a luxury handbag, wallet, credit card holder…

M.W. OK, thanks. I think we’d better wrap it up there, Monsieur le General Manager.

C.V.F. Merci, Monsieur le Journaliste. And don’t forget mes amis, next year will be the first for which we will be organic* Biodynamic®*, horse-powered*, solar-powered*, lunar-powered*, none of the above** (* & ** = we reserve the right to use either, all or none of these options). And remember investments made during en primeur week can go up as well as up. Except when they go down. Which is not very often. Perhaps a bit more frequent than it used to be. But not because of over-pricing by us. We do set our prices but we do not control the prices in the market. You payez your money and vous makez your choice. But if you don’t make your reservation from us as early as possible you may be subject to unspecified charges and your allocation may be at risk…we call it la loi RyanAir. Did you know Michael O’Leary also has horses…?

Horse a mixed organic farm, Pieve a Salti, near Montalcino, Tuscany being fed an organic apple

Horse on a mixed organic farm called Pieve a Salti near Montalcino, Tuscany (being fed an organic apple)



Images from the Maule Valley, Chile 2015


A pause during evening grazing

A pause during evening grazing


Me in my compost-making attire

Me in my compost-making attire


Harvest time

Harvest time


Rafael Tirado of Laberinto

Rafael Tirado of Laberinto


Cesar Opazo Vargas holding Cabernet Franc grapes

Cesar Opazo Vargas holding Cabernet Franc grapes


Renán Cancino, winemaker in Sauzal, Maule Valley, Chile

Renán Cancino, winemaker in Sauzal, Maule Valley, Chile


Cesar Opazo Vargas, vineyard manager for Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile

Cesar Opazo Vargas, vineyard manager for Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile


Nivaldo Morales, grape grower, Maule Valley, Chile

Nivaldo Morales, grape grower, Maule Valley, Chile


Huasos, Caliboro valley, Maule, Chile

Huasos, Caliboro valley, Maule, Chile


Derek Mosman, Garage Wine Co, Chile

Derek Mosman, Garage Wine Co, Chile


Cesar Opazo Vargas grape sampling by taste at Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile

Cesar Opazo Vargas grape sampling by taste at Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile


Moistening a mix of animal manures before making compost at Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile

Moistening a mix of animal manures before making compost at Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile


Augusto Reyes, winemaker for Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile

Augusto Reyes, winemaker for Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, Chile


Cesar Opazo Vargas in pensive mood as the 2015 harvest kicks off later than usual

Cesar Opazo Vargas in pensive mood as the 2015 harvest kicks off later than usual


Renán Cancino, winemaker in Sauzal, Maule Valley, Chile

Renán Cancino, winemaker in Sauzal, Maule Valley, Chile


Rafael Tirado, Laberinto vineyard, Colbun, Maule Valley, Chile

Rafael Tirado, Laberinto vineyard, Colbun, Maule Valley, Chile


The Perquilauquén River, a tributary of the Loncomilla river, Maule Valley, Chile

The Perquilauquén River, a tributary of the Loncomilla river, Maule Valley, Chile


Gladys Riquelme and Jaime Escobar of the Cava Don Hernando wine distribution company of Punta Arenas, Chile

Gladys Riquelme and Jaime Escobar of the Cava Don Hernando wine distribution company of Punta Arenas, Chile


Mother and foal on the  Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro estate, Maule Valley, Chile

Mother and foal on the Erasmo Viña La Reserva de Caliboro estate, Maule Valley, Chile

Key facts about the Montalcino drugs bust

It was reported recently that a number of arrests have been made relating to alleged cocaine dealing in Montalcino. However, those who have reported the “identity of the winery general manager arrested having been given by police using the initials S.M. (with the last name first), born in 1968. It is believed that the winery he works for is American-owned, purchased by a New York business man in the year 2000, but this has not yet been confirmed by police sources,” may ultimately pay a higher price than those who have been arrested.

For the avoidance of doubt the person named as “S.M.” has not been arrested.

He is not the general manager of a winery.

And the ONLY winery at the centre of this investigation is not owned by an American, has nothing to do with New York, and did not change hands in the year 2000.

I am told that lawyers connected with the one winery which did change hands in 2000 and which is American-owned are sharpening their gold-plated pencils.




Mulch ado about nothing


A certified organic Sangiovese vineyard called ‘Pascena’ belonging to Col d’Orcia, Montalcino, looking towards the village of Sant’Angelo in Colle. The wild grass and other plants in mid-row are about to be rolled to form a mulch or carpet using a roller which was specially made. The teeth on the roller just help puncture the wild plants so that they don’t spring back upwards into life.


The mulch or “carpet” slows the rate at which the vineyard soil dries out from the sun and lowers the average ambient temperature in the vineyard. Col d’Orcia is located in the lower, warmer and more Mediterraean part of Montalcino. The mulch allows rain to penetrate the soil more easily, slowing rain down so its drips slowly on to the soil rather than hitting it with a sudden splash. Splashing makes it easier for spores of pathogens like grey rot and the mildews to migrate from their natural habitat in the soil and up to the vines.


20140603-L1012264Mulching also helps stop erosion of soil (wind) and nutrients (rain). The mulch provides a habitat for beneficial fauna and a carpet for machinery in wet weather, especially in spring when the first treatments need to be made (wet springs have been a real problem in Montalcino in recent years, leaving growers to play “catch-up” on their spray schedules). The Sangiovese grape from which Brunello is made needs a very warm and sunny climate above ground but cool roots below ground if it is to ripen steadily to produce wines with interesting aromas and stable tannins. Mulching is a sensible, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of trying to achieve these aims.

Tim Atkin’s latest Brunello report published

Tim Atkin MW has recently published his latest report on Brunello di Montalcino, focusing on 2009 and 2008 Riservas. When Tim was editing a British trade magazine called Harpers Wine & Spirit Weekly in the early 2000s he asked me to write an opinionated monthly column on green issues called “Green Space”. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had. Tim just let me get on with it and really encouraged me to speak my mind – as long as I stayed within the law.

Tim Atkin MW

Tim Atkin MW

Like me, Tim has firm views on certain aspects of Brunello and we don’t always agree. But I’d much rather read someone with something to say and who is prepared to challenge received wisdom, especially in a place like Montalcino which is re-inventing itself – for the better – in a post-scandal, yet financially challenged world.