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Author: Natalia Burlachenko, Columnist for Drinks+, took an interview with Roberto Cipresso, unique wine consultant, who is a philosopher, oenologist, researcher and author of amazing wines.
Charismatic, brilliant and enthusiastic Roberto Cipresso, who has become a member of the grand international project Vinos de La Luz since 2014, was born in Bassano del Grappa, an ancient Italian town. Having gained an oenological education, he settled in Montalcino and commenced working in the winemaking field in 1987. Having started collaboration with iconic Italian manufacturers Case Basse, Poggio Antico and Ciacci Piccolo mini d’Aragona, he soon became famous. Roberto Cipresso is invited to advise both Italian producers and wineries around the world, including South America. In 1999, Roberto created the Winemaking project, forming a team of highly qualified consultants in the field of agronomy and oenology. Roberto also owns the Fattoria La Fiorita winery boutique in the heart of Montalcino. La Fiorita produces Brunello and La Fiorita wines and gained numerous prestigious awards, including Parker points of 99, 98 and 97. In addition, Roberto Cipresso is the creator of the innovative project Winecircus, an experimental laboratory cellar. There, assisted by a team of experts, he has been conducting researches, studying various aspects of viticulture and producing branded experimental wines. Among the achievements of Winecircus is a special cuvé created especially for Pope John Paul II in 2000. Roberto is the author of four books dedicated to wine: Il Romanzo del Vino, Vinosofia, Vineide and Vino, el romano secreto, and often gives lectures at wine schools and universities around the world.
Why did you become a “winemaker”?
When I was 20 years old, I had a great passion for the mountains. I planned that skiing and climbing would be my future, and that I would earn my living due to such activities. The mountains gave me a motivation for life. I was happy. I studied agriculture and received a master’s degree in viticulture and oenology in Northern Italy, near Trento, but that was a necessity rather than a vocation. I wanted to be near the mountains, and the area was perfect. Unfortunately, we had an accident and I left the mountains.
Trying to overcome the resulting sadness, I went to Tuscany, believing that after 3 months of living there I could return to the heights. However, I encountered an unusual world – the world of wine. I also realized that the mountains gave great lessons; they taught me how to survive, made me know my limits and taught me to respect nature, and to recognize its signs. It was there that I developed the ability to observe, capture odors, detect signals, and quickly analyze them. I applied all this invaluable knowledge in the vineyards of Tuscany in order to create wine. I fell completely in love with wine and was able to travel around the world, applying my observation skills, which, in turn, gave me more opportunities to collect information – first observe, then translate. My romance with wine is in fact a secret romance, which I share only when wine is poured into a glass.
Will you, please, share with us, what stages you can define in your professional life of an oenologist?
The first stage of my life as a winemaker began in Tuscany, in Montalcino, where I worked in vineyards and in a winery; I just studied everything, commencing from how to clean a barrel, and ending with how to drive a tractor. This period was a basic one, and I compare it with elementary school. If you do not know exactly how to do this or that job, it is very difficult to cooperate with producers, give them an advice, teach workers, how to work in the field, if you do not know how to do it yourself. Thus, the first step was the practical aspect of observation: with ears and eyes wide open, I absorbed everything about the wine, from the grape planting to how it was bottled.
The second step was travelling. Asking the same question in different places, I received different answers because the climate, culture, and people were different. It fascinated me. I researched, met (with various people), tasted wines, communicated with people and asked why.
Therefore, when we talk about terroir, we should not talk about the vine, because if we recognize the variety, it means that the terroir is weak, but when the terroir prevails, the variety fades into the background.
Traveling taught me to find a reason for many things that I saw. Having learned to do everything in Montalcino and having found many answers while travelling, I realized that I was ready to give advice, taking my responsibility to producers, who wanted to improve their wine, but not from an aesthetic perspective – rather from a deeper and more intellectual one. The wine identity – what I call “el mar azul” – is a unique aspect of the wine, which must be produced with great attention, and, at the end, the wine, which, thanks to its strength and personality, represents its own DNA.
The fourth step was to write books that were supposed to transform all my knowledge and experience into a text. I wanted to find a fairly easy, straightforward, and understandable language, I strived to talk about technical parameters, but in a common language so that all people understand and read like a novel, and so that everything I wrote could reach the widest possible audience. I wrote 4 books which incorporated my notes from all the trips and all the wines that I made for others. My notes were just messy notebooks, but when I put them in order, they turned into 4 books that are the story of my life. Until today, these have been 4 stages in my life, but there is still a lot to come, because ongoing research and discovery of new paths has always been my vocation.
How can the world be divided according to the concept of terroirs?
“Terroir” is a very complex word that cannot be translated into Spanish, English, Italian or any other language. It is a French word that identifies wine with many elements that have nothing to do with grapes. Terroir is an identity of place and soil, amount of sunlight and humidity, microclimate, spontaneous vegetation, temperature amplitude and many other components that make the grapes speak not of their family tree, but rather interpret, where they come from, where they are grown.
When we come to the point, when the wine defines the place, we have the wine of a certain terroir, and that is why we are talking about an absolutely unique wine.
In a distant and not so distant history, we saw that a person chose places without knowledge or research, but nowadays knowledge gives us a great opportunity to find terroir vineyards. Now, producers have turned their area into something solemn, such as Burgundy, Montalcino, Piedmont, Ribera del Duero and many others.
Then I met Ricardo Nunez, who seduced me with a very bold idea, consisting in uniting, according to the same philosophy and protocols, the wineries that he already had in Valle de Uco in Argentina and Ribera del Duero in Spain.
Before, a man planted a vineyard in easily accessible places, near a road or a river, near a railway or where the land was more fertile, but this is an old story; now, the time is completely different. I like the concept of Apelación de Origen, but at the same time I want to continue to research and move freely in any other direction, because now we have a lot of knowledge in the field of geology and a lot of research on grape plants that are adapted to different places. Today, we can choose the “terroir”, because science and human intelligence allow us to understand, when and how everything turns into this magic word. Today, we must think about the viticulture of the future, leaving a legacy for the next generation, opening our eyes to the most extreme viticulture, such as the one existing in a new world, for example, in Argentina, California and South Africa, where extreme vineyards are planted in the mountains. In the Cordillera, they are looking for compounds of elements that define the word that we are talking about, and other “terroirs”.
That is why I say that we must take into consideration the history, but should not be slaves of the history. We should be developing. It should be emphasized that in the world there will be as many terroirs as the occasions when we find the symbiosis of nature with grapes.
What is your favorite terroir?
For me, there is no such thing as a “favorite terroir,” but there is a “different terroir,” which has a continental or marine climate, with limestone or sand, with its height, at the foot of a mountain or near a lake. I am attracted to the terroir, where all of the above is well mixed and I am happy to think of grapes as a real chameleon that can adapt and turn into something else. Therefore, when we talk about terroir, we should not talk about the vine, because if we recognize the variety, it means that the terroir is weak, but when the terroir prevails, the variety fades into the background. So there is no better terroir, there are just different terroirs.
As an oenologist you belong to the world, but your permanent place is Montalcino. Can you tell us what characterizes Montalcino, the heart of Italian Tuscany?
Montalcino is a unique place, a little, because it is crossed by the 43rd parallel, which, in itself, carries magic. It touches Georgia in the east and reaches Oregon in the west. In the middle, it crosses the mystical region, to which Medjugorje, Assisi, Lourdes, and Santiago de Compostela belong, and it seems that it gives these places unique and mysterious energy within the same horizon.
Montalcino is also unique for its hills, which have a very rich geology. Here, you can find such a variety of soils as shale, sandstone, gravel, limestone, tuff, and red earth with limestone crusts. Montalcino is attractive because a different terroir prevails on each plot. There is no Brunello de Montalcino alone, there are different Brunello de Montalcino; the word “typical” does not exist anymore, because each terroir has its own individuality and its own typicality, and there is no Brunello de Montalcino, typical and the same, there is Brunello from different microzones, different heights, and different soils. This is incredible, when the mosaic of different plots allows you to make different Brunello in a fairly small area. This is a great miracle of Montalcino, which has a variety of soils and gives birth to unsurpassed wines. It is through the prism of this concept that we should think about the wine of the future.
Currently, there is an opinion and trend in the world of wine that claims that in order to grow the best wine, it is not necessary to be under the strict control and rules of “Denominaciones de Origen”. To the contrary, it is said that the Winemaker should have much more creative freedom and not be limited by the rules. What is your opinion on this?
Freedom is a great theme when the vineyard and winery are within the Apelacion de Origen. I return to the question that we discussed above, because there are some errors in the history of the evolution of wine; history itself has established some rules that we cannot even recognize at all times, and I affirm that it is not obligatory to recognize them as correct. Although these rules allowed us to write a history, at some point they imply slavery, they cut off our wings, which would allow us to see the wine from a different point of view, to observe the wine from different angles, which, as I mentioned, I learned in the mountains.
Having an Apelacion de Origen is very important, but we should consider it as a point of departure, not as a point of arrival, because the point of arrival is to find a suitable actor on the right stage in a drama written for an actor, and he – the vineyard – can even observe many situations that happened to him. So this is the element that expresses the whole scenario of history, deep and mixed with soil, climate, its own microclimate, its sun, its light, its moon, its water, this magical ensemble that makes wine express its place of origin.
The rules are important, but they cannot stop evolution, they must not stop research; to the contrary, they must allow them to continue changing their own rules. Apelacion de Origen should be dynamic, because otherwise, it makes the petrified wine, it becomes just a painted portrait that does not evolve with the evolution of people.
From the evolution of vineyards, let’s turn to the history of companies. The history of Vinos de La Luz suggests that you are one of its intellectual and philosophical founders. How did you meet Vinos de La Luz and what is the company bearing the name Vinos de La Luz?
To answer your question, I want to use the phrase of Ricardo F. Nunez, who always says that when the stars meet in the sky and we see them in harmony, something unusual happens in our life. It was the very moment in my life, when I left the project in Argentina, which was a world project called “Bodegas Achaval Ferrer”, and started another project – my own project called “Mater Vini” – then I met Ricardo Nunez, who seduced me with a very bold idea, consisting in uniting, according to the same philosophy and protocols, the wineries that he already had in Valle de Uco in Argentina and Ribera del Duero in Spain.
The idea attracted great attention because its aim was to look at different regions with the same philosophy and with different outcome, and it means the same as to ask alike questions and receive different answers. It was a new creative action, so we had to teach new teams to add them to the unique Cipresso philosophy, which Ricardo accepted with great respect. Ricardo added Montalcino to his production, which was my homeland.
We began to revise my own story, starting from the time when I discovered Altamira in Valle de Uco, Mendoza, in 1990, as one of the most valuable lands, which today, 30 years later, gives the best Malbec in the world. There, we found several old vineyards that produced extraordinary La Luz wines; from there we went to Ribera del Duero to search for vineyards or plant them in the most sacrificial regions, in “poor” areas, where it is more difficult for the grapes to bear fruit, with a small harvest, but with a unique character. Then, we returned to Tuscany, to the sites that we spoke about earlier, located in the very heart of Montalcino, with the same philosophy. These were the three ways that captivated me, it was impossible not to get carried away by the passion, which meant exploring new wines in the so-called “El Mar Azul”, where few try to make the best wines in the world. So we started making wines with a character and personality in the old vineyards of Altamira in Argentina, Gumiel de Isan in Burgos, in Ribera del Duero, and in Montalcino, Tuscany. We planned that in the future we will also get excellent wine from other vineyards, at a higher altitude, poorer and scarcer soil, and with younger vines.
We live in melting aromas, melting music, melting flowers, and melting cultures and it’s time to think about the wine that we will be created by uniting different continents and different zones; we can create wine which will be a common emotion of all continents – Pangea wine – wine originating from wines of five continents.
From the very beginning, we already had a project to create another Vino de La Luz in California, in Santa Barbara, where Syrah grapes have a chameleonic characteristic with the environment, and there we already produced small quantities of the 2018 and 2019 harvest, like other Vinos de La Luz. Next, we will go to Georgia in order to make wine on the most ancient land in the history of wine, where there are saperavi grapes, which excite me and awaken all the adrenaline to make wine of them.
We must remember that all that we have done so far is because the local winemaking teams from Argentina and Spain have worked together, following this philosophy, creating a great international team. It should be stated that the idea of producing Icon wine from each country in small quantities gave rise to another idea from Ricardo: all wines of all wineries should have been produced, resorting to the same production philosophy, even if they had their own traditional brands. That’s why today, we can see so many award-winning brands owned by Vinos de La Luz.
It was a strategic decision based on the premise of this person: if we make all the wines with the same protocols and the same philosophy, even if they have different qualities, we will have wines of a similar nature, which will necessarily be the Vinos de La Luz. I should admit – what has been done has incredible results.
In your latest book, Wine, A Secret Romance, you devote a chapter to the wine that you call Planetary. What kind of wine is this and how will it be created?
I wrote this chapter, which relates to a dream, desire, madness, a project created in order to translate it into non-punctual time, that is, nowadays. We live in melting aromas, melting music, melting flowers, and melting cultures and it’s time to think about the wine that we will be created by uniting different continents and different zones; we can create wine which will be a common emotion of all continents – Pangea wine – wine originating from wines of five continents. We will take Saperavi from Georgia, which will add spices and dynamics to the blend, Tempranillo, which will be flesh and blood, Sangiovese from Montalcino will be the basis for its structure and acidity; the unusual Argentinean Malbec will give it fruitiness and balsamic shades, and, finally, the Californian Syra, possessing incredible adaptability, will fasten all the aromas together.
We will create this wine in the United States, where barrels with four other wines will be stored to make this blend. Today, this is the only possible place that allows us to build a blend configuration with the correct proportions of wines from different countries and continents. Thereupon, all over the world, you will be able to drink this wine – we will make very few bottles – which will be a journey, how to say … a journey illuminated by every Apelacion de Origen. This is a dream, but we will make it come true.
You took part in the first International Wine & Spirits Expo in Kyiv in 2018, where you gave lecture on “Terroir” and said your parting words to the local winemakers, encouraging them to explore paths leading to excellence, which you repeated to us today (no doubt, we still remember those words). Shall we see you again at the next Wine & Spirits Expo in Kyiv?
I was shocked by this exhibition and by the impression that we are at the stage of a new history with professionals who know a lot about wine from other countries, but want to develop their own personality. This is the beginning of an exciting story that will take some time and which I would very much like to become a witness, as well as an actor and protagonist. There are many new people who want to know, need to know, but also want to create. I could see it, tasting their wine, in their eyes, in their concern, to know if my opinion coincided with theirs. And this fire, let’s say, this sacred fire in the eyes of the producers, represents the winemakers who decided to create their own history at the national and international level. I should say, that I do not want to miss this story, so if Ricardo plans, I will be with him, because Ukraine should step by step reach the level that will make it world famous.
Photos by Vinos de La Luz winegrowing group