a community of wine lovers


September 2012


After, what shall we say, a somewhat damp summer, autumn has now arrived. The mornings and evenings most definitely have a brisk nip to them while by day we have already enjoyed moments of glorious autumn sunshine, with a fresh, bright, crispness to the air and a light and colour that is different than any other time of year.

Autumn is my favourite season. Indeed, for wine lovers, it is a time of heady anticipation as throughout the northern hemisphere grapes are harvested, crushed, and, through the miracle of fermentation, transformed into wine. What will the new vintage bring this year, we wonder? Nature being capricious - and it has always been so, not simply due to 'climate change' - each year's efforts yield grapes in more or less quantity that can result in wines that vary considerably from one vintage to the next. This is the beauty of a natural, artisan-made product: each year is never quite the same. The vast bulk of the world's wines, sadly, are manufactured on an industrial or semi-industrial scale, the aim being to make as consistent a branded product as possible. Why? Because it's far easier to market dull and boring consistency than the glory of individuality and personality.

Small winemakers have a different outlook. Mario Fontana of Cascina Fontana says, "Each year's wines are different in their own ways; each reflects the weather conditions in winter, summer and autumn, as well as the unique circumstances and decisions I have had to make as I have cared for the grapes in the vineyard and raised the wines in the cellar. I don't consider that there are necessarily bad years or good years. One year might produce wines that are somewhat lighter and more immediately approachable, due to cooler weather or rain through the summer (as in 2002); another year might be dry in winter and hot in summer, yielding wines that have high alcohol and a big structure but lower acidity and thus are better to enjoy young rather than to keep (as in 2003). Each wine is an expression of nature allied with my efforts to capture a particular moment in time."

So then, what can we expect from 2012? The wretchedly wet and cold summer in Devon has made life particularly tough for Geoff at Pebblebed. "The weather was so uncertain during the lengthy flowering period that that grape bunches have set unevenly. Unfortunately our Pinot Noir - which is probably the most difficult grape to grow in the world - has suffered the most. However, we are looking forward to harvesting the Rondo grapes in the coming week or so. Then fingers crossed that we have some warm autumn weather so that our main crop of Seyval will ripen. Harvest will be late this year, probably lasting almost until the end of October. It's an exciting time and I'm looking forward to making our first vintage in the new winery at Clyst St George!"

In Italy, meanwhile, the Unione Italiana Vini reports that across the country, the harvest will be lower than in recent previous years. In this case, however, the smaller quantity of grapes is the result of conditions almost completely opposite to those in Devon: excessive heat and drought have caused yields to suffer. However, provided it stays dry through the coming weeks, the lower quantities of grapes may still result in wines of high quality. This may depend on decisions made by individual winemakers as to the precise moment to harvest.

From Cascina Fontana in the Barolo wine hills, Mario's report confirms the above findings: "Over summer, we had hot sunny weather with the temperature reaching 30-38 degrees C by day and 20-24 C by night. At the end of August and in early September, however, we had some rain and fresher temperatures and this reinvigorated the vines and is helping with the optimum maturation of the grapes. We are now doing some final tasks in the vineyard, cutting off leaves around the bunches so that the grapes can gain the maximum amount of sunshine in these final days before the harvest."

Mario will begin to harvest the earliest ripening Dolcetto grapes in the next days - I look forward eagerly to tasting the new wine - with bagna cauda of course - on my visit to Mario with Martin Randall Travel (see below) in just a few weeks time. The harvest of Barbera will soon follow and then, last of all, the majestic Nebbiolo, source of Mario's greatest wines, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barolo.

The harvest of new grapes in the cantina means the release of the previous vintages too - so we are eagerly awaiting the arrival here of Dolcetto 2011, Barbera 2010, Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 and Barolo 2008. Needless to say, we will let you know the minute these wines arrive in the Topsham cellar!

Vino Kitchen "Italian Table" dates

Autumn, the season of harvest, is a great time of year for food, too.We are looking forward to preparing some warming, regional Italian foods for our autumn Vino Kitchen Italian Table dinners in the Pebblebed Cellar. Dates are:

Wednesday October 17th
Wednesday November 21st

If you haven't been to our evenings before, you can find out more here: www.vino.co.uk/vinokitchen.html

The cost is £18.50 for a set three course meal or £15 to current Club Vino members. The evenings start at 7 for 7.30pm and are by reservation only. Please email me to reserve your places marc@vino.co.uk

Our annual Vino Kitchen Festival Italian Table will take place this year on Wednesday December 12th. This special evening costs £25 or £20 for Club Vino members.


Viaggi in Italia

Simply Tuscany - discovering Val Tiberina and surrounding areas Oct 8-15
Valentina Todino, who teaches Italian both privately and for groups, has put together an exciting tour of Tuscany, based in a beautiful farmhouse near Arezzo. The trip will focus on Italian art, culture, food and language. It's Valentina's first tour and she hopes to repeat the tour again in the future. Please contact Valentina if you would like further information email valentinatodino@gmail.com

Gastronomy of Piedmont Oct 6-12, 2012 and Oct 5-11, 2013
I am delighted to be working with a company called Martin Randall Travel which specialises in 'expert-led award-winning cultural tours'. Early next month I will be leading a tour that explores the Gastronomy of Piedmont. As many of you know, this is an area that is very dear to my heart. One of the highlights will be taking our group to meet Mario and Luisa at Cascina Fontana, both to taste Mario's wonderful wines, as well as to sit down in Mario's wine cellar to enjoy a special family-style meal of local foods cooked by Mario and Luisa's mothers. We will also be going on a real hunt for white truffles, a trek into the high mountains to the alpeggio where cows graze on alpine meadows for the production of Castelmagno cheese, visits to taste wines in Barbaresco and Asti as well as Barolo, and we'll dine in rustic trattorie and exalted Michelin star restaurants alike. There may still be a few places left on this year's tour and I will be hosting it again in 2013. I think it is going to be an amazing trip and I'd love to have friends join me. You can find out more here:


Learning Italian in Topsham
Valentina not only offers private and group Italian lessons in the Pebblebed Cellar, she also runs courses for the WEA. Starting next week, she is offering a 10-week course in Upper Intermediate Italian from Topsham's St Margaret's Church Rooms. Says Valentina, "Come and improve your Italian in a relaxed atmosphere. Learn more about the Italian way of life, food and history. Conversation and a look at Italian literature and film history will be prioritised during this course." It sounds great and I am looking forward to it myself. You can enrol here:


Autumn: a time to reap the harvest of labours through the year; a time to look ahead to new challenges that lie ahead. And a time to savour good wine and food shared with friends and family.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

Un saluto e a presto,

Marc and Kim




Copyright Marc Millon 2005-2011 All rights reserved

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