Weekly Interview: Giorgio Pelissero

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 05-04-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Giorgio Pelissero, the owner of Pelissero in the heart of Barbaresco DOCG.

The Pelisseros have been making wine for three generations, but it was Giorgio’s father, Luigi, who first bottled and sold the family’s wine in 1960.

Giorgio joined the family’s winery in 1987, right after finishing school and military service. Ten years later, he took over the entire operation — and now manages the vineyards, makes the wine, and runs the marketing of his family’s label in more than 50 countries.

Today, the Pelissero labels can be found on about a dozen wines — from world-class Barbarescos to an affordable Moscato d’Asti. Check out our interview below the fold. For more on Giorgo Pelissero, watch him talk about his winery and Italian wine, discuss harvest, and explain the production of Barbaresco on YouTube.

If asked to define your general winemaking philosophy, what would you say?

We like to define our winemaking philosophy as aware. We consider ourselves natural producers; we grow grapes in the same way that my grandfather did, and probably his grandfather before that. We practice a viticulture that is reasoned and well thought out — that considers the environment as well as the history of the vineyards and the region.

We treat each vine as if it were a child. If it needs specific attention, it is cared for using the best technology possible. The same is true in the cellar, where we don’t do any sort of clarification or filtration, but use natural processes (for example, cold decantation) instead, always keeping in mind quality and the consumer.

What wine did you drink with dinner last night?

I am a huge Nebbiolo fanatic — and Nebbiolo drinker. Last night, at home with friends, we drank three bottles of my Barbaresco Nubiola 2009.

Is there a winemaker, or wine, that has particularly influenced you?

I guess I would have to respond that there is a grape variety that has very much influenced me. As I said, I love Nebbiolo, and I live Nebbiolo, just how it has always been for the inhabitants of these hills. Nebbiolo has made up our history and I believe that it will be ever more the protagonist in our future as producers and farmers.

Many years ago, my father, in addition to growing grapes, raised cattle. He used to give Nebbiolo as a natural remedy to the cows that had difficulty with digestion. It’s difficult to explain, but this history remains a part of you, and it affects you.

What new wines or winemaking styles interest you most, and why?

We’re continuously striving for improvement, both in the vineyards and in the cellar, so new ideas and techniques are extremely fascinating to me. We always endeavor to bring new energy into what we do. In fact, we have a project for a new wine underway, which, if all goes well, will be released in the market within a few years. I also have another project in mind, but it has not yet started. In any case, all these new developments will be revealed when the time is right so stay tuned!

When you have free time, how do you like to spend it?

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 is the most memorable wine you have ever tasted?

I’ve 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; a 1985 Philipponat Champagne Grand Blanc, in magnum; a 1965 Château d’Yquem, which is my birth year!; and a 1979 Pelissero Barbaresco, which was produced by my father.

Do you keep a personal cellar? What do you have in it?

I have a small personal cellar full of old vintages of Pelissero, though quantities are extremely limited. I also have bottles of Barbaresco and Barolo that I particularly enjoy from my fellow winemaker friends. The rest is filled with bottles from all over the world that I’ve received as gifts or that I purchase during my travels when I find something I really like.

What wine would you choose for your last meal on earth?

Obviously Nebbiolo. I suppose at that point, Barbaresco or Barolo wouldn’t make that much of a difference!

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Interpreting the word “challenge” as stimulus, I’d 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 enological history, something for which people will always remember you and the sacrifices you have made.

Other than your own, what other wine region in the world do you find particularly interesting?

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 is the most interesting vintage of your lifetime and why?

I remember two different vintages for two different reasons.

The first is 1994, the first vintage produced in the new cellar — with all the related difficulties. It was a particularly difficult year, rainy and humid, not highly regarded in general. Despite the difficulties, the 1994 vintage turned out to be one of the best Barbaresco Vanotu ever.

The second vintage is 1997, which for other reasons will always remain an important year in my life.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

That I’m still single!  So, if you know any ladies passionate about wine and the Langhe hills, I’m available…

If you hadn’t become a winemaker, what would you have done instead?

Without a doubt, I would have played number 10 for Juve. When I was young, I was actually pretty good, but then they told me I had to go to work…

What do you strive for as a winemaker?

We make every effort to leave the soil, the hills, and the landscape intact, just as we found it, perhaps better, for the generations to follow. Without these conditions, it wouldn’t have been possible to produce the same great wines that our fathers have made, and that continue to be produced today.

What is your favorite time of year as a winemaker?

The most charming season in these parts is the fall, the season of the harvest, a time that was once a celebration for all. It is the time of year in which the hillsides are painted with all the colors of the rainbow, and on clear days make you fall in love all over again with making wine.

What do you read? Is there a particular book that has influenced you?

I read whenever I can, but unfortunately free time is often quite limited and I tend to doze off after the first few pages. I enjoy, however, books about what I do – wine, enology, viticulture. I know, I am monotonous, but the life of a farmer, a wine producer, isn’t just a job, but it becomes a passion and a way of life.


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