Malcolm Jolley meets a new breed of Montefalco producer.
Peter Heilbron was a top executive in the drinks business in Europe before he changed careers to found a boutique Montefalco winery in Umbria. He was in Toronto this week for the big Italian Trade Commission tasting where I met him and tried his red wine, the Collenottolo 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. This wine made enough of an impression that I asked Peter if I could record a quick interview with him. Our conversation is transcribed below.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and style.
Good Food Revolution: How come you only make two wines?
Peter Heilbron: The reason we only make two wines is that there are so many wines around, and I think it’s interesting to make wine with a personality, so we only choose varietals that are unique to the territory. They have particular characteristics, in terms of their taste. And we treat those varieties in our own way, compared to the other [Montefalco] producers.
GFR: What year am I tasting right now?
PH: 2011 Sangrantino. 2011 was a very good vintage, in terms of climate. It was the right climate balance, with a hot summer but with cool nights. The wine has been very well recognized by Tre Bicchieri and other prizes. We just started in 2008, so those first four vintages were important for us to establish our winery on the right side of quality.
GFR: I have to admit I get frightened sometimes by Montefalco because it can be really tannic, and doesn’t mellow for a lot of years. This wine, which is till young for a Sangrantino, isn’t like that. It’s quite elegant and silky.
PH: Thank you very much. This was exactly the challenge. I do not belong from the region, or form Umbria. I just grow there because I love the region and I love Sangrantino. But I didn’t like very much this extreme intensity and muscularity in Sangrantino. So, we treat our wines as soft as possible, with a lot of attention not to over strengthen the tannins. For example, we ferment entire berries; we don’t crush them. So, we avoid the strength from he skin and the seeds. And we use only very large barrels: 50 hectolitres. We don’t add the wood taste to the wine. So we keep it not he elegant side, and very perfumed.
GFR: It’s beautiful. Today, you don’t have your white wine, Arnèto, which made from Trebbiano Spoletino. That’s not a grape I know. Tell me about it.
PH: Arnèto in the local dialect means “reborn”. The Trebbiano Spoletino varietal was nearly disappeared, but 10 or 12 years ago was rediscovered by a few producers. It’s a fantastic varietal, described two or three hundred years age, as very elegant and long ageing. Those are the two words to describe it. So, I made some trials with it some years ago, and I was very enthusiastic about the results. The process is cold maceration on the skin for about a week. Then, we ferment always by natural yeast (as we do for the red). We use a big barrel, like with the Sangrantino, and we let malolactic fermentation go through, because we don’t use a filter. The result is very interesting because it’s a full mouth wine but not heavy. There is still an element of freshness and fruit with a fantastic nose.
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