Weekly Interview: Roberto Cipresso

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 01-10-2014

cipressoEach week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring one of the world’s top winemakers, Roberto Cipresso. He’s the owner of La Fiorita, located in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, a small village in Montalcino.

Born in Bassano del Grappa, a city in northern Italy, Roberto studied agriculture in college and moved to Tuscany in 1987 to begin making wine. His work soon took him to legendary estates like Case Basse di Soldera, Poggio Antico, and Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, and he quickly gained acclaim for his work.

In 1992, he established La Fiorita. And in 1998, he began making work in the Southern Hemisphere with the launch of Achaval-Ferrer, one of Argentina’s most celebrated wineries.

Check out our interview with Roberto below the fold.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

My philosophy can be summed up with one word: Terroir.

Madame Leroy once said something along the lines of, “The greatest Pinot Noir doesn’t taste like Pinot Noir, rather it tastes of the terroir where it was grown.”

Just like an actor who is a chameleon, the grape must renounce its varietal expression and take on the characteristics of its terroir. Man must be able, through his work, to enable grapes to express the soil where they are grown, the particular light there, and the microclimate. The result will be a unique wine that can be made only in one place.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

I am a curious man, so I am always exploring. With winemaking, I’m always looking for difficult places to plant vines and ancient vines that have been forgotten. This helps bring me in a new direction.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

André Tchelistcheff is an exceptional man who was as curious as I am. So for me, he is an icon. He was able to work with total freedom in America, differentiating himself from his European colleagues who were rich with history but also slaves to that history. This enabled him to start the wine industry in America.

I keep his photograph in my studio in Montalcino and I dedicated a wine to him called La Quadratura del Cerchio, a blend of Sangiovese and Primitivo. It is the synthesis of terroir. In the 1990s, Tchelistcheff said that you couldn’t make a Super Tuscan in California because the terroir was so different than in Tuscany. The only blend you could make would use Zinfandel, or Crljenak as it’s called in Croatia.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I’m most excited about an Argentinian agronomist named Juan Pablo Calandria – he’s blessed with great vision. The new generation of winemakers seems to start from a position of knowledge and advanced technological skills. They are helping the older generation of winemakers who tend to focus more on their observations and intuition in order to produce wines with emotion.

How do you spend your days off?

My family is at the top of that list. When I am not working on wine, I spend my time with them. I love the wine world so much that the line between work and play is hard to define.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Many wines have given me great emotion, so making a list of the top ones certainly would not to justice to all of the other wonderful wines I have tasted.

Among the best wines that I have tried, the list would include a 1900 Château Léoville Poyferré, a 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild 1982, a 1993 Fattoria La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino, and a 2006 Achaval-Ferrer Finca Altamira. Certainly, one of the wines that grabbed my heart was a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, a 1985 DRC Romanée Conti.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

The oldest bottle in my cellar is a bottle of Madeira from 1860. The one that cost the most is a magnum of 1970 Château Cheval Blanc.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

I would choose two great wines from two great regions in France: Champagne and Burgundy.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

My biggest challenge is going on right now in Argentina, specifically in Mendoza, a land that is 300 million years old and at 1700 meters. The project is called Piedra Vieja. We want to produce a wine from this very extreme land. Malbec can survive with water from the Aconcagua glacier and can live in the desert with cactus and century old bushes. In that part of the world, vines have been planted without machines and are growing free to thrive.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?

France – everywhere.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Yes, it is fantastic after a wine tasting!

What would people be surprised to know about you?

When I was young, I wanted to be a mountaineer. I have great respect for the mountains and they have been among my greatest teachers. They taught me to be very observant of the world around me, the landscape. They taught me that nature is not just a starry sky or the smell of dew, but also hail, earthquakes, and Tsunamis.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I have asked myself the same question many times and without a doubt, I know I would have been an architect.

How do you define success?

I define success as having good ideas and picking which one among them to follow. Some time ago I read a book by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim called Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant that really spoke to me. They defined success as being able not to depend on fierce competition but instead have a brilliant strategic plan that helps you to navigate through the blue ocean.

Comments (1)

  1. This is such a great post. My boyfriend and I just booked a Tuscany villa rental for 2 weeks the summer. I have been doing a lot of research on Tuscany ever since we booked the trip, that is how I came across your post. I can’t wait to go wine tasting, that is the one must for me on this vacation. These are great questions, I would love to make my own wine. Thanks for the interesting read!