Spotlight on Valdicava

There are few estates more dear to our hearts than Valdicava. One of the Montalcino’s most revered growers, Robert Parker famously said "a strong argument can be made that Valdicava is among the top three or four Brunello di Montalcino producers",  and these Brunellos number among the very finest wines being produced in the world today. 

We were lucky enough to interview PierFilippo Abbruzzese, who runs the estate with this father Vincenze, and canvases his thoughts about the 2017 vintage, the 2016 Riservas and about Montalcino’s position more generally on the fine wine market! 

What are your general thoughts on the Brunello 2017 vintage?  Challenges and triumphs? 

Montalcino is a blessed place, where Sangiovese really found its best expression, allowing us to produce wines of great identity, great connection with the countryside but also incredible drinkability. In the last decade we have been lucky with many fantastic vintages: 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016. Then the countryside decided to be less generous, and the conditions for the 2017 vintage were very challenging.  

We had a terrible frost in Montalcino in April, that damaged the new production in all the vineyards. After the trauma of the frost, in the moment where they needed all the possible help, for all the following months rain just didn’t arrive, and we had also an incredibly hot spring and summer. Frost, drought, heat:  three things that one by one are difficult, combined were disastrous. At Valdicava we lost about 80% of the normal production. 

Many producers and critics have praised the surprising amount of freshness in the wines - do you think that is the vines slowly adapting to warmer conditions, changes in viticulture & winemaking, or a bit of both? 

We were happy to see that the vines were able to find balance, and even if the production was so little the quality is there. I think that when you try the 2017 Brunellos you can see that there is something “different” in the wines, but they are still fresh and elegant, wonderful to enjoy. 

It followed the most recent evolution in the Brunello character: wines of great power, minerality, longevity, structure but also elegance, freshness, a joy to drink even at a younger stage. I used the word “evolution” as I believe that there is still a lot of room to improve. 

Are you using any interesting new technologies or techniques in the vineyard and/or in the winery? 

Every year we gain more experience, we are able to respect more and more the vineyards, their identity, with small adjustments and improvements that all together create a big difference. But not “changes”, only “improvements”. As many other producers, we always try to do better: we are building a new part of the cellar to have more working space, we recently re-planted vineyards using a new approach after a 15 years long study, every vintage we are more careful about the little things, the little details. 

Is Montalcino increasingly being regarded as divided in to different sub-regions and cru levels like Burgundy? What are the differences in styles and quality if so? 

Brunello is a relatively young appellation: Biondi Santi first bottled a wine 100% Sangiovese in 1888, but until the creation of Consorzio in 1967 he was almost the only producer. Only 50 years ago, my great-grandfather and other 24 farmers founded the appellation and started producing Brunello.  For comparison, in Bordeaux one hundred fifty years ago they already had the five growths classification. 

What does the future hold for Brunello di Montalcino in terms of climate change?     

The next and imminent challenge will be the climate change. The temperatures are increasing, but we have seen situations in the past where the vines were able to adjust themselves to the new conditions, and with little adjustments they will be able to survive brilliantly. 

One thing that really changed in my opinion, at least in Montalcino, is the way it rains: if once we had long, soft rains, for even some days in a row,  now the same amount of water is poured all together. This changes the way it’s absorbed but the soil and therefore by the vines. 

The Brunello Riserva 2016s are widely viewed as being as good as the very best vintages ever produced in the region – what is so special about this vintage? 

The 2016 vintage is indeed remarkable. For me, it merges a unique character and complexity with an extraordinary elegance and smoothness.  It is a wine that will be able to age for a long time, and that is already a pleasure to enjoy. It will be a point of reference for all the Brunellos in the future. 

With Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo prices continuing to rise, and availability of the latter two becoming more scarce, why is now the opportunity for fine wine collectors to increase their Brunello holdings? 

Regarding the price, every estate has it’s own philosophy of course, but I think that Montalcino, more that other appellations, did not increased the prices exponentially. It’s undeniable that the quality is increasing and so even the value of the bottles will increase, but we continue to ask our customers to pay what we think our bottles are worth. There are few examples I think of Brunellos which price has gone incredibly up in the last years.  

But regarding this, I can only talk about my sensations as my job is to produce the wine as best as I can! Thankful we are lucky to find people so passionate about our work, that allow us to continue year after year.