Luretta Winery Goes Its Own Way In Tradition-Bound Emilia-Romagna

While the food of Emilia-Romagna, centered by Bologna, is considered some of the most sumptuous in Italy, its reputation as a wine region has lagged well behind others like Piedmont, Tuscany and Campania. Known primarily for its sparkling Lambruscos, which can be as cloyingly sweet as Hawaiian Punch, Emilia-Romagna’s only other familiar wine is Albana di Romagna. One winery, however, located in Piacenza, has been as forward-looking as any in Italy. Over dinner in New York I interviewed Lucio Salamini, owner of Luretta-Castello di Momeliano, which was only founded as of 1988, which now make a wide variety of non-traditional DOP wines.

Your estate is nearly half a century old, located in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, which has not had a reputation for fine wines. How have you worked to overcome the image that was set by cheap Lambrusco?

Piacenza is still an uncharted territory for many. It is part of Emilia Romagna but it is a very distinct province from the other ones. Traditionally, we at Luretta do not make Lambrusco; instead we craft the Gutturnio, a blend of two grapes combined to obtain a perfect red to match our local food. We have hillside vineyards like those of the major Italian wine regions, not the valley-floor viticulture that characterizes the area of Lambrusco di Parma, Modena and Reggio.

In terms of fine winemaking, nowadays we’re living our little renaissance, a moment of redemption from our past history.

In the past, the oenological research has always been scarce in our territory, and this has prevented the development of the territory itself. This is for two main reasons: starting from the beginning of 1900, Piacenza had always been a famous area for table grape production rather than wine grapes, which was also strongly supported by the Fascist government that selected Piacenza as the city to host the popular table grapes fair and helped the farmers of the area both in the production and in the export of this product. But within a few decades, in the 50s, the soils of Southern Italy proved to be more suited for wine grapes, so the vineyards of table grapes in Piacenza began to be ex-planted and were replaced by wine grapes that until then had been marginal. At the same time, just a few years after, the Italian economic boom of the 60s saw the rise of the city of Milan, which is only 30 miles from Piacenza. The number of workers who came to Milan from all over the country created a strong demand for low-priced table wine. At the time there was no meal without wine for these new workers who until then only knew the work in the fields. Piacenza had adapted to produce wine grapes very well: an economical wine with a medium-low quality. In fact, it was not necessary to do qualitative research at a time when for the most important thing was to contain costs to produce a product for the less affluent classes.

After the 1984’s methanol scandal, the so-called Italian “wine renaissance” also hit Piacenza, and little by little, even in our province, the search for quality began. Some companies including Luretta have believed in the potential of the territory since then and are incessantly working to enhance it by producing wine of international profile and height. The number of quality bottles crafted are unfortunately still low compared to the volume of wine produced in the area, but we’re very committed to communicate and reflect the incredible potential of the Piacenza hills.

Describe the terroir of your estate in the Colli Piacentini.

The native vines are planted in the vineyards closer to the valley, around 820 feet above sea level, characterized by the “Terre rosse antiche” soil old red soil) loaded with red clay. The International vines, on the other hand, are planted in vineyards ranging from an altitude of 800 feet to 1400 feet above sea level in the lower Apennines, characterized by a greater concentration of limestone. Most of the vineyards are located within the small Val Luretta that gives the name to our company. They are characterized by a temperate microclimate, protected from either spring frosts, summer heat waves and large concentrations of humidity thanks to the constant air flow that characterizes it.

You are an organic farm. Is it biodynamic and if so, in what way?

We produce organic wines, which means no use of pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, no irrigation, except in case of extreme drought and no synthetic curative products that enter the plant’s circulation, but only copper and sulfur-based defense products. In the cellar, I use only products allowed by the Eu organic wine regulation.

You say that your Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are smaller but with thicker skins. What does this produce in the wine?

The fruit produced by organic farming is usually “uglier” but tastier. And the tastier the fruit, the easier it is to make a good glass of wine.

Opposite to what is instinctive to think, the most important elements to produce good wine are in the skin of the grape, and not in its pulp, which is mostly made up of water. Therefore, the smaller the grape is, the higher the percentage of peel in the juice is, which results in a tastier juice.

Your Principessa in a 100% Chardonnay in the “classic method,” as in Champagne. How does it differ from Lambrusco in that respect?

Unlike the world of soft drinks, in wine you cannot add CO2, which must be naturally produced by the wine itself through the action of yeasts that transform sugar into alcohol and CO2. The two methods mainly used to obtain this result are the Charmat Method (where fermentation takes place in large containers) used for almost all the production of sparkling wines such as Gutturnio Lambrusco, Prosecco etc., and the Classic Method (or Méthode Champenoise) where the refermentation takes place in each bottle, which is then “cleaned” of yeast residuates through the rémuage and disgorgement phases. This is used for Champagne as well as for my sparkling wines, including the Princessa. I would like to say, though, that this distinction is only indicative; there are in fact excellent proseccos obtained with the Classic Method as well as excellent Lambrusco like that of my friends from the Cantina Della Volta in Bomporto.

Principessa ages on the yeast for 18 months, which is more than the minimum of basic Champagnes though not as long as for vintage cuvees at 36 months. How did you decide on your aging length?

With my wine Principessa, I work on an aging bottling that goes from 18 up to 24 months on the lees, in order to infuse complexity to the wine without making it too austere. We do not want to exceed the 24 months duration because the philosophy of Principessa is to be a fresh and fruity drink, not too complex, not too elitarian. This wine wants to pay homage to the tradition of the easy sparkling drinks of my area. Despite the greater complexity of the Classic Method, we want a sense of pleasantness to be the heart of this product.

Your dry Chardonnay, Selin dl’Armari, is aged for nine months in barriques. New oak? French oak? Since Chardonnay is a grape that is kind of a blank canvas, can you describe its bouquet and flavor

Selin is my favorite wine, my personal project and a labor of love. It is produced with the grapes of a single vineyard, which has the same name as the wine. The field where the vineyard is located has always been called “Armari” which means “closet” in English, and the vineyard is located on the hill of this field which is shaped like a saddle, “selin” in my dialect.I have a passion for white wines and for white wines made with the use of wood, in particular. For Selin, I use only new 60-gallon Burgundy French oak barriques (my favorite producer for barrel is François Frères), and I choose low toasting in order to reduce the smoky scents and enhance those of butter instead. The wine ferments the first two days in the stainless steel tank and then is transferred to the wood, where the fermentation ends, and then remains in refinement for a period ranging from 8 to 11 months, depending on the harvest. The lees are kept in suspension through weekly bâtonnages that confer body and roundness to the wine. In the August following the harvest, the wine is bottled and it rests for another 9 months. It goes on the market the following May, 20 months after the harvest. Selin dl’Armari’s taste is rich with hints of butter on the nose with a great sensation of sweet white flowers such as acacia. In the mouth, the wine enters opulently, rich with sweet tannins from the wood, and then it releases the flavor and minerality typical of our soil. It is a very “Italian” Chardonnay, with the fatness of the fruit ripened in the warm climates of our hills prevailing over the acidity and nervous tones of areas such as Burgundy. It is more yellow than green, and it has more power than finesse.

Only for this wine, we keep in the winery a magnum of each vintage, so customers can order the current vintage in the bottle and old vintages of their preference in magnum format, since 1999, the first year of production.

Malvasia is not a grape well known to most winelovers, and is probably best known as the sweet passito from Lipari. Yours, called Boccadirosa, is delightfully aromatic but there is only a faint hint of sweetness. How do you vinify? What does the name mean?

In Italy there are 18 different types of Malvasia. The one of Piacenza is the Aromatic Malvasia of Candia and it can only be produced in our province. It has notes very similar to Muscat. In particular, the hints of acacia and elderberry deceive the taster who expects a wine with a sugary residue which is instead a dry wine.The grapes are harvested completely ripe, when the grapes in the bunch are almost brown, cooled to 42° F, de-stemmed, then placed in the press. Here it is left in skin contact for 12 hours then softly pressed, separating the juice from the skins. This maceration brings color as well as a little tannin.

The fermentation takes place in steel, and, in the March following the harvest, it is bottled. At this point, it rests in the bottle for at least 6 months before going on the market, during which the primary aromas of fruit and flowers begin to slightly evolve into balsamic and dry grass scents. The name Boca di Rosa, in fact, which translated means “mouth of rose, or taste of rose”, recalls these scents.

Is Puck, your blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Barbera, named after Shakespeare’s elfish character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It is never aged in wood, only stainless steel. Why?

During the lockdown time, I thought of creating a simple, light-hearted and irreverent wine. Just like the Shakespearean elf, after whom the wine is named. A wine that makes fun of all my austere, wood-made red wines! A Light, fresh one. Only steel and concrete, without complexity but based on the fruit and the flower. And with screw caps, which in Italy is almost impossible to communicate to the market!

A fresh, simple and irreverent drink totally focused on pleasantness and immediacy, without many evolutions and complexities.

Most Italian wineries focus on a very few varietals, like Sangiovese in Tuscany and Nebbiolo in Piedmont, yet you have fifteen different wines in your portfolio. Why so much diversity?

As I said before, Piacenza is a rough gem to be discovered.

Anyone who has a vineyard in Barolo or Montalcino already knows what to do. We didn’t know, and so, instead, we experimented, we embraced different paths. Many experiments have been negative and we have abandoned those roads. In other cases, we decided to follow their evolution trying to understand together the true vocation of the territory.

What is the price range of your 15 wines?

In the US, they go from $23 to $50.

Are most of your wines sold in Italy or exported? How much goes to the US? Has the war in eastern Europe affected sales of Italian wines?

I sell 60% in Italy and the rest abroad, mainly to European markets. I also sell to China, Japan and Malaysia. In recent years, I have looked to the markets of North America because I find them very sophisticated and attentive to unique and different tastes’ profiles. The war had no effect on the European wine market itself though it hash ad an effect on the procurement of materials. Ukraine was a large producer of paper, capsules and metal for sparkling wine cages, which suddenly became difficult to find products and prices at least doubled.

How has climate change impacted Emilia-Romagna?

This is a very important topic. The climate has changed a lot here. The harvests happen one month earlier than 20 years ago. And, if this may not seem to be a negative variation, the dramatic facts are that the spring frosts, the much more frequent summer hails (in 2019, 10 hectares of vineyards were totally destroyed) and the great drought that is now constant in the months of July and August most certainly are.

My belief in producing little to make better starts to fail. Too much concentration seems to lead to a loss in balance. I realized that the newest vineyards I planted lately with the goal to produce a little more have more vigorous vines with greater leaf coverage that better resist drought and keep the bunch in the shade rather than sun baked. The climate changes and viticulture has to adapt to these changes.

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