Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. After a brief hiatus for the holiday season, this week, we are featuring Giorgio Pelissero, the winemaker of the eponymous Barbaresco estate Pelissero.
The Pelissero family has been farming vineyards in Barbaresco for three generations now. It was the second-generation Pelissero, Luigi Pelissero, who began bottling the estate grapes in 1960. Giorgio is Luigi’s son. Giorgio came back to his hometown after his oenological studies and now runs the family estate.
Enormous thanks to VinConnect — the U.S. company that enables U.S. consumers to order wines directly from Pelissero — for facilitating this interview with Giorgio. Check it out below the fold!
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Alba, in the hearth of Langhe area and among the hills in 1965. People say there are good vintages for wines and good one for the human beings. Vintage 1965 was not a good one for wine, but certainly was for me! My story is similar to that of many other families in our region: we were farmers, growing different products upon a small piece of land; just enough to feed us.
When and how did you get into wine?
When my oenological studies ended, still a teenager, I had to decide what to do and choices were limited to two: working in a factory or staying in the country and working the land. I decided to stay on our land, as my parents did. I remember, at the time, we had a small cellar at our family house: there I started with my oenological experiments, in a historical period during which the wine market was at the dawn of a long and successful run in Piedmont.
What has been your career path to where you are?
With a lot of faith and some unconsciousness, I built a new cellar, bought more vineyards and started to produce my own wines striving to reach excellence. But my first problem was another one: the marketing and sales approach! Not an easy job for someone who grew up in this “closed” and introverted countryside families. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm was bigger than my introversion and pushed me to travel extensively all around Italy, searching for clients. I still do not know exactly what happened, but I felt immediately at ease in my new role of salesman, in which I tried to mix the humility of my family roots and the aggressiveness required by the role.
In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
My family is a simple, peasant family, and we always fed our vines as if they were our little children, so my vineyards are special because probably my mother knows them better than she knows me.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
I always left my wines to speak for themselves. The message I want to transmit is already in there, inside my bottles.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
Interpreting the term “challenge” as stimulus, I would say to produce wine that can be enjoyed all over the world, a wine that becomes a symbol, a legend. I think the greatest challenge is to produce one of those bottles that makes up a part of oenological history, something for which people will always remember you and the sacrifices you have made.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
I always taste the wines independently from the producer. And there have been in my life wines that excited me in some particular vintages, and so maybe a producer that makes a wonderful, exciting wine in one vintage, the year before or after doesn’t make the same exciting wine for me. It’s for this reason that I prefer to talk about vintages that excited me instead of producers.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
What surely excites the most a new winemaker is the possibility to find his own bottles widespread around the world, after the work and the efforts made to produce them, into the vines and then into the cellar, efforts made by the whole family, from generation to generation. This is one of the best satisfactions, and it’s even better when you see that your work and efforts are not only recognized by yourself, but they’re even certified by an organism as the UNESCO, who inserted in fact our hills into the World Heritage List as one of the first vine territory of the whole world.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
Without a doubt, Burgundy. We are very similar as wine regions: small producers, close ties to the land and each individual vineyard, an almost maniacal search for the right clones for the right soil, and difficult work in the cellar with two varieties that have many likenesses, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
I tasted so many wines over the years that it’s difficult to recall one specific wine, but I suppose I could indicate three or four that were particularly memorable. In no specific order: 1989 Marengo Merenda Barolo (from La Morra), 1985 Philipponat Champagne Grand Blanc (in magnum), 1965 Château d’Yquem Sauternes (my birth year!), and 1979 Pelissero Barbaresco (produced by my father).
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
A bottle of the vintage 1960, the first one produced by my family, and I only have one more in my cellar – and so for this reason it’s even the most expensive, rather it has no price, and I would never sell it.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
One bottle of Champagne, one of Pinot Nero from Burgundy, one Nebbiolo, but I absolutely won’t tell you who are the producers – naturally among the three the best one is the Nebbiolo (independently from the native area).
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
Surely as white wine I would choose a Riesling (I always talk about variety or vintage, but not about a single producer), and a Nebbiolo as red wine (independently from the native area).
Is beer ever better than wine?
In case I’m completely drunk after having tasted many very good wines, maybe the beer is better than a glass of water, but it’s never better than wine.
How do you spend your days off?
I like riding my motorcycle through the hills and vineyards of the Langhe. I am also a huge fan of the Juve (Turin) soccer team and enjoy watching the games when I have a chance. In 2003, I was lucky enough to have almost the entire Juve team as guests at the winery, a huge satisfaction for a fan (and would-be player) like me!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I’m still single!
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I would surely have played number 10 for Juve. When I was young, I was actually pretty good; then they told me I had to go to work though.
How do you define success?
I am sure that many people during all these years understood and appreciated my wines and the efforts I make every day to preserve the best that every vintage give us. Today I am proud that the result of many relationships created into the years thanks to my wines became precious and long lasting friendships. This is a great success for me.