Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Domina Cotarella, the winemaker at Falesco in Umbria, Italy.
Falesco was founded in 1979 by Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella, who had worked with the famed Antinori estate. First a weekend project, Falesco became the passion of the Cotarella family. They revitalized their vineyards saved the indigenous Roscetto white variety from extinction. Dominga, Riccardo’s daughter, leads Falesco now, along with Enrica and Marta, Renzo’s daughters.
Dominga joined the winery in 2007 as the marketing director for the Italian market and soon began working with the U.S. market, too. She earned a degree in Agricultural Sciences from Tuscia University in Viterbo so she could better understand the winegrowing and winemaking processes.
Falesco’s flagship wine is a varietal merlot called Montiano, from an 88-acre, single-vineyard in Montefiascone, Lazio. Dominga also created the Tellus range, a new line of international varietal wines.
Check out the interview below the fold!
Where were you born and raised?
Orvieto in the central Italian region of Umbria.
When and how did you get into wine?
I was born into wine, and it has always been the protagonist in my life. My earliest memory of wine was when I was maybe 4 or 5 and my grandfather gave me a mixture of water and wine. Then at 14, my father (who launched Falesco) asked me to go on stage at an event to talk about Falesco’s wines. I remember being excited to share our story and introduce Montiano—now celebrating its 20th vintage.
What has been your career path to where you are?
I went to Tuscia Unversity in Viterbo and graduated in 2000 with a degree in agricultural sciences. I knew I wanted to work in the wine industry, and while I did not want to be a winemaker necessarily, I wanted to have the knowledge to be credible when I spoke about wines. Following graduation, I began work in the public relations department at Marchesi Antinori’s Castello della Sala in Umbria. I remained at Antinori for approximately 10 years, and it was a time of great growth for me; I learned countless lessons and met many people who have helped (and continue to) shape my career.
In 2005, my father asked me to return to Falesco full-time to drive the sales and marketing of the company (until then, I had been assisting with the business during my free time). At that time, I took a great risk to invest in the domestic trade, as I wanted Falesco to have a stronger presence in Italy before going to the other markets. It was an exciting time, with large and small projects that focused on the community. Now a little over 10 years later, we have a solid foundation in the Italian market and are growing stronger around the world.
In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
The terroir and surrounding environment. Umbria and Lazio are not very well known, but the beauty and character of the region makes our vineyards special. We enjoy a lot of vegetation around the vineyards and also have Lake Bolsena neighboring our properties, which offers a vital breeze that keeps the grapes cool. And then we have different soils, from volcanic to clay, which allows us to have different styles across the brands.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
My philosophy is agronomy first. I believe great wine starts in the vineyards, I want to produce wines that mirror their terroir and environment. I want to manage and work within the environment, not overcomplicate or create something totally not congruous as a winemaker.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
To produce good wine and maintain the style throughout the environmental conditions.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
My father and uncle, Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella respectively, are models and motivators in my life. But one of my favorite winemakers is actually from France: Denis Dubourdieu, who recently passed away. He worked in Bordeaux and was one of the most respected in the field of wine research. I’m a very curious person and find research to be an integral part of winemaking, so I was thrilled to have had the chance to meet him. Plus his wines are fantastic.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
Falesco is very involved in the oenology programs at the Universities of Viterbo and Perugia, and I have had the pleasure to meet a lot of young, aspiring winemakers during their studies. They often come to the winery during harvest, and you can feel their passion. While I cannot say any one name, I think the next generation will produce great wines that translate this passion and enthusiasm.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
This is very hard for me to pick, but at this moment I would say Champagne and Côte-Rotie. Champagne is such a unique region, and their product is so specific to the place. I also have a genuine curiosity for Syrah and Viognier, and to me, the best expressions of these grapes come from Côte-Rotie. I look forward to visiting the region more to learn more.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
Two of the best wines I’ve ever tasted include a Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 and Krug Collection 1989. I find them so true to what they are. One of the most interesting, also happens to be one of the best, was a 2002 Domaine d’Auvenay Puligny-Montrachet en la Richarde 2002. It is incredible—an expression of elegance and power in balance. Also, I admire the female producer Lalou Bize-Leroy, who like me, is continuing a family tradition of winemaking.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest bottle in my cellar at the moment is a Château Cheval Blanc 1982. And the most expensive in my cellar is a Petrus 2005—the best vintage from Pomerol in last 30 years.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
I always have a bottle of Falesco open—whether it’s from our namesake line or Vitiano or Tellus brands.
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 actually choose a Champagne and Viognier. I find Champagne is a great pairing wine, with wide versatility, some of my favorite producers include Dom Pérignon, Jacquesson, and Salon. I am very interested in Vigonier and its different expressions, so I would love to taste all different producers and bottles of it over a month.
Is beer ever better than wine?
After a day-long wine tasting event, I always drink beer.
How do you spend your days off?
I travel a lot for work, so I spend time with with my children on my days off. They are both very interested in cooking, so during the weekend we spend time together in the kitchen, and these moments are very dear to me.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am very spontaneous and like to take chances. I like to push the business in ways we may not have previously thought of or may not be traditional.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I love cooking. My grandmother taught me everything I know about cooking traditions, techniques, and pairings. If not for wine, I could have envisioned myself working in a restaurant.
How do you define success?
I think success is a mix of a lot of different attributes. I think it can be defined by managing private life and work, getting results through experience but also in trusting in yourself to take a chance, and in having the opportunity to show the rest of the world what you are capable of.