Walter Massa could be the primary to confess that timorasso is a vexing troublemaker. “It’s a tough grape that produces badly,” he says in Italian. “I’m not saying little, I’m saying badly, which is completely different.”
This coming from the mouth of the person who single-handedly rescued the grape from oblivion and spent a lifetime selling it as Piedmont’s age-worthy white. Even so, he finds timorasso irritating: “Some vines are balanced, some produce an excessive amount of, some don’t produce.” Different growers curse its dense cover—extra hedge than vine. They lament how simply its ripe grapes detach, probably leaving half your harvest on the bottom.
So why stake his profession on timorasso? And why give it a severe shot within the first place? He replies with ardour: “As a result of I needed to provide a severe shot to my life!”
The best way issues have been
When Massa joined the household farm in 1978, he was an formidable 23-year-old enology graduate, a part of a technology of Italian revolutionaries bent on remodeling their conventional mixed-agriculture farms into severe winemaking enterprises.
In Massa’s case, dwelling was an obscure pocket of southeast Piedmont identified for its stone fruit and bulk wine, principally (purple) barbera. The Massa farm, based by Walter’s great-grandfather in 1879, grew peaches and vines in Monleale, a village of roughly 600 individuals within the Colli Tortonesi, a 30-mile stretch of hills flanking Tortona. On the time he returned from college, “we had 90 p.c barbera and 10 p.c croatina, moscato, cortese, and timorasso”—the world’s typical combine. Their barbera was bought in tanks to bottlers in northern Italy. Smaller quantities of croatina and blended white wine have been bought in demijohns to locals.
Walter Massa was the primary to bottle below the Vigneti Massa label. Whereas their money cow was barbera, “there have been individuals inquisitive about having white wine within the bottle. I, as an enologist this bottling image, invested decisively in cortese,” an area grape that shares territory with Gavi 20 miles to the south. He expanded their cortese plantings and spent a number of years pursuing this observe, solely to comprehend “I didn’t have a sense for cortese.”
Massa wanted another.
Friends inspired him to plant chardonnay, then all the craze, or to attempt arneis, as Ceretto and Bruno Giacosa had finished within the Langhe. “I stated, ‘No! We should always do it otherwise. Ceretto and Giacosa are identified worldwide for his or her Barolo and Barbaresco. You style these wines, then they give you their arneis. We’re identified for our peaches! So we have to rewrite the narrative.’ ”
In addition to, he elaborates, “I didn’t wish to be the one to reach final. For me, it was already late to enterprise into varieties like chardonnay, sauvignon, viognier, and riesling. It absolutely would have been a failure, as a result of Italy was already filled with these wines—and from prestigious zones just like the Collio, Südtirol, Tuscany, Umbria, the Langhe. What was I going to do? Have individuals style my chardonnay?”
He dove into the historical past books and located that half the world had been planted with timorasso till phylloxera decimated every thing within the late 1800s. What’s extra, the terrain’s suitability for white grapes had been famous centuries earlier. “In 1370 Pietro de’ Crescenzi wrote, ‘The jewel of viticulture within the Colli Tortonesi is the dry white wines. They’ve a splendid future,’” Massa recites with an ‘I instructed you so’ look.
Nonetheless, after phylloxera and two world wars, farmers needed much less troublesome, extra productive grapes. “The contadino is all the time the identical,” says Massa. “He needs the barn filled with hay. Timorasso doesn’t assure a full cellar, so our territory repudiated it. My father and uncles within the 1950s didn’t produce it. They instantly planted barbera, as a result of the market demanded it. Once I began, we most popular cortese [among white varietals], as a result of cortese ensures manufacturing.”
However Massa considers himself a vignaiolo—a vigneron—not a contadino. “The vignaiolo needs high quality bottles, and thus is disposed to sure renunciations, sure sacrifices, sure dangers.” So he took a threat with timorasso.
The origin story
Massa’s first timorasso was the 1987 classic, sourced from 400 vines scattered amongst the household’s vineyards. That vinification behaved like several regular white, prepared for bottling in April. However the next yr, fermentation took the gradual lane. When April rolled round, “it was nonetheless candy! I needed to wait till September to bottle,” he says. “That’s once I realized I needed to go gradual.”
Massa didn’t instantly grasp timorasso’s most distinctive function: It improves with time within the cellar and time within the bottle. However taking a touch from that gradual fermentation, he began holding the wine again a yr. “It took braveness,” he says, particularly when shoppers anticipate whites to be younger and contemporary. He satisfied his mates Paolo Poggio and Andrea Mutti—fellow early-adapters—to do the identical. He recollects telling them, “We should always not make battle over who comes out first. We should always work collectively, like artisans within the subject, and never compete in regards to the launch date.”
Some years needed to move earlier than vertical tastings have been potential. However as soon as Massa might evaluate vintages, it hit him: “I understood that the wine turned extra refined with age.” Its inherent minerality involves the fore, its stone-fruit flavors intensify, and beguiling honey-nut aromas emerge. At present Massa recommends ready a very good seven years for a bottle to peak.
By the second classic, Massa was able to broaden his timorasso holdings. However even the biggest nurseries had none—there being no demand—so a massal choice was so as. To collect cuttings, Massa went knocking in neighboring valleys. “I went to previous vineyards in Val Borbera and Val Grue,” he says. “That’s after they known as me mad: ‘What would you like with my timorasso?’ I needed to clarify I wasn’t after the grapes, however the buds. I’ve all the time made timorasso with my very own grapes,” he notes. “I took sufficient materials for five,000 vines and gave that to the nursery. This was within the winter of 1988. We planted them within the spring of 1990.”
When promoting timorasso in these early years, Massa needed to clarify what it was: an historic selection native to the Colli Tortonesi. “Many thought timorasso was a fantasy [proprietary] title. Within the years of Ornellaia and Sassicaia, they thought ‘What a pleasant title, Timorasso. The place did you get it?’” He laughs. “It got here from historical past.”
Timorasso as we speak
Thirty years on, Massa doesn’t have as a lot explaining to do, however he’s not glad but. “In Italy, timorasso is thought by solely 10 p.c of wine shoppers: i fighi, the cool individuals. In America, the tremendous cool. The remaining know pinot grigio.”
However different numbers communicate to a unprecedented success. Relating to Vigneti Massa, “We began with 560 bottles in 1987,” he says. “This yr we have now 15,000 bottles of single-vineyard timorasso and 60,000 bottles of Derthona,” the territorial title that timorasso producers have universally adopted for his or her fundamental, mixed-vineyard timorasso. “Final yr’s classic is bought out.”
At present 58 wineries make timorasso, with an annual manufacturing of 193,000 bottles. Fifty-seven growers and producers belong to the Colli Tortonesi Consortium with 127 hectares (314 acres) of timorasso planted. Vineyards are increasing by 10–15% every year, in response to the consortium. One would possibly even say there’s a land seize, with boldface names from the Langhe first in line. Borgogno and Roagna have been the vanguard, adopted by Vietti, La Spinetta, the younger Oddero siblings, and Broglia from Gavi. “La Spinetta’s Giorgio Rivetti says the land right here prices as little as a potato farm—and he’s proper,” says Massa. He welcomes the newcomers, subscribing to the idea that each one boats rise with the incoming tide. “Individuals will style this wine together with their Barolo. Good!” And after they google ‘Derthona,’ he provides, they’ll uncover native names as nicely: “Mutti, Mariotto, La Colombera, Luigi Boveri, Giacomo Boveri, Renato Boveri, Valli Unite, and so forth and so forth.”
Massa is now 64, however as tireless as ever. Throughout our interview, he fielded calls from the consortium, schmoozed with Vietti’s foreman overseeing a winery planting, and gave directions to his sister, Paola, who lives and works with him of their mom’s home above the cantina. At lunch, he met with a fashionista who needed his wine for an occasion, the following week he was off to Russia along with his importer, and the week after he was the star attraction at a brand new Tortona wine bar, Aroma.
Massa’s unremitting work has paid off. “Yesterday we elected a brand new president of the consortium, Giampaolo Repetto. Till three years in the past, he solely drank wine. He purchased a vineyard with 20 hectares, however no timorasso. At this second, he’s already planted four hectares of timorasso. So those that have a cantina within the Colli Tortonesi can’t not have timorasso of their catalog.”
Learn half II: ‘Derthona’ outlined, and experiments with timorasso’s type, from spumante to orange wine.
All images by Patricia Thomson