I am writing this as an outsider; one who loves the wines of the Langhe. And as an outsider I am blinded by distance but clarified by the perspective that distance gives. As well, there are many on site and around the world that are infinitely more qualified to give the definitive argument. As with my character I will not sing into that microphone, but will point myself more towards an existential viewpoint. But first, some basic information.
According to an account in Decanter on June 22, 2012, “Italian wine producers are claiming victory after a tribunal ruled to return the Cannubi vineyard area in Barolo to its previous size. A tribunal in Rome annulled an earlier decree that had expanded the area to 34ha from 15ha.The decision follows an appeal from 11 out of 19 Cannubi producers, concerned that the prestigious wine name was being diluted.”
19 producers who use the name Cannubi on their label, 15 hectares total? So far I have come up with 14 producers and 13.61 hectares.
Damilano 2 owned and 8 hectares rented from once partner of Marchesi di Barolo, the Scarzello family
Einaudi 2 hectares
Giacomo Brezza 1.4 hectares
Michele Chiarlo 1.2 hectares
Paolo Scavino .51 hectare
Marchesi di Barolo .3 hectare
E. Pira – website “2 hectares in Cannubi and Cannubi San Lorenzo” but doesn’t distinguish clearly enough
Cascina Adelaide di Barolo
Francesco Rinaldi makes a wine they label “Cannubbio” of which their importer site (Polaner) says comes from the Cannubi cru.
The account further reported, “Following a 2010 ruling, a Barolo DOCG wine formerly labeled as Cannubi Boschis, Cannubi San Lorenzo, Cannubi Muscatel or Cannubi Valletta could, from the 2010 vintage, be relabeled as purely ‘Cannubi’. Now the tribunal has ruled grapes from these four subzones must no longer be allowed to produce straight Cannubi.”
David Berry Green, who lives in Piedmont and works and blogs for Berry Bros reported on Dec 3, 2010, “In 1995, at the behest of the Consorzio, the Comune of (the village of) Barolo identified vineyard limits, including that of Cannubi. It also conceded that the name of this historic single vineyard Cannubi could be affixed to smaller adjacent vineyards of Muscatel (Cannubi Muscatel), Valletta (Cannubi Valletta), San Lorenzo (Cannubi San Lorenzo) and Boschis/Monghisolfo (Cannubi Boschis); as per Burgundy’s Mazis Chambertin, Charmes Chambertin etc. Yet one man, Signor (Ernesto) Abbona, has now ‘convinced’ the Roman authorities (the Comitato Nazionale Vini) into allowing the word ‘Cannubi’ to be written on a wine’s label without revealing the fruit’s true origins; albeit it should come from the above vineyards, in theory. So this act, passed in September 2010, effectively increases the size of Cannubi from the original 15ha single site to 34ha spread across five different vineyards.”
Somewhere between Dec of 2010 and June of 2012 folks in Piedmont took sides. To go from 15 hectares to 34 of a very historic vineyard, many say it is the birthplace of Barolo, one can well imagine the emotions involved. And of course, money. The perception is when one puts the name Cannubi on a label of Barolo raises the value of the wine. I remember talking to Anna Abbona, wife of Ernesto, about Cannubi and the Muscatel vineyard. While it is not “connected” to Cannubi it appears to have been producing wine for a very long time and by the family that is credited with starting Barolo on its long ascent as a great wine in the world. And yes, it seems Moscato was grown from a time when sweet wines were as popular as they seem to be now.
But I also see the purist point of view, in that Cannubi is a place that is special. Not the only special place that makes Barolo, by the way. But it is historic. Several accounts place wine from Cannubi in the mid 1700’s. On the Pira site it is claimed “The oldest known bottle of the Langa, in fact, has a label that says “Cannubi 1732″. The oldest I have seen was in the Marchesi di Barolo cellar, an 1859.
In the Slow Food book, “A Wine Atlas of the Langhe”, there appears to be several ideas of what (and where) Cannubi is. “Although there can be no debate over the quality of Cannubi, there is plenty of argument about where it ends and begins. The prestige of the name Cannubi and the outstanding nature of the vineyard have, over the years, encouraged a very elastic definition of the area. According to older growers, today’s Cannubi no longer corresponds to the original vineyard. “For me, the Cannubi hill goes from the Viganò holding to the former Canonica vineyard above the cemetery” (Donato Camerano). This detailed description was shared by all of our interviewees and our map reflects the definition. It is, however, equally true that for many years most people have had a wider interpretation of the territory indicated in the phrase “go to Cannubi.” In this way the original Monghisolfo area has over time acquired the name Cannubi Boshis, as may be seen from the priceless ‘Monografia sulla Viticultura ed Enologia nella Provincia di Cuneo’, or ‘Monograph on Viticulture and Oenology on the Province of Cuneo’, written by Lorenzo Fantini towards the end of the nineteenth century. In more recent years, in 1972 to be precise, Renato Ratti prefixed the term ‘Cannubi’ to the traditional Muscatel subzone. Ratti, too, in his first map of Barolo, lumped together under the single name Barolo, the entire band of hillside that runs from Muscatel to Monghisolfo, classifying it as an ‘historic viticultural subzone with a traditional vocation”. Obviously, we have a number of distinct interpretations of ‘Cannubi’ that over the years have come into conflict, with one or other prevailing for a certain period. We acknowledge this situation but will take our cue from a statement on which all sources agree. We think it is the most crucial and significant element in the entire debate: the unquestioned prestige enjoyed by grapes from all these subzones. The quality of the fruit harvested at Muscatel, Valletta, San Lorenzo, Cannubi and Monghisolfo is almost indistinguishable, even though within each vineyard there are plots whose location is more or less felicitous.”
I’m not convinced this is a Machiavellian conspiracy by the Abbona family. Would the Biondi-Santi family be subject to similar harsh criticisms if there were in-kind situation in Montalcino? I am merely saying this is an historical property and I don’t believe it is all about greed or short term profit or the degradation of the Cannubi name. Likewise those folks producing wine in Muscatel, Valletta, San Lorenzo and Boschis/Monghisolfo, what does that say about their wines? Are they inferior, with or without the Cannubi name attached to them? Maybe harder to market, but we’re on the head of a pin counting the dancing elephants with this exercise, in any case. Very tightly wrapped Italian wine geekiness – the kind of stuff folks say this is why Italian wines are so complicated. But we muddle on through the fog.
Two other folks chime in, in Italian. Marta Rinaldi, whose family does own vines in the “San Lorenzo” tract and who seems perfectly fine with that, in that they don’t appear to want or need the name Cannubi attached to their wines. I say bravo to her and all the other producers who toil in the vineyards of Muscatel, Valletta, San Lorenzo and Boschis/Monghisolfo. After all they are in a very dear area for Nebbiolo. How much “lesser” are they really?
Another commenter on the subject, Giovanni Bietti, who also authored a book on natural wine in Italy, Vini Naturali d’Italia, weighs in as well. Just throwing these into the pot as they came across my radar when researching this post and they seem to be sane, composed people who don’t just shoot from the hips.
And as for my existential bent? Before the curtain closes I look to Piedmont for greatness, but the hand of man is imperfect. The sense and the motives cannot always be seen so clearly in the present moment. If I were a winemaker in these disputed areas, I would get down on my knees and thank the wine gods for letting me be alive and working the incredible soil I have landed on. This week I saw an eagle fly and a cougar die. The world is not fair. Nature is as opportunistic as Machiavelli. Without emotion, the vines from Nebbiolo in this zone are there much in the same way the great redwood forestss are on the Pacific coast – they are unique and wonderful. A 500 year old tree that is 300 foot – is it really diminished by a 2,000 year tree that is 500 feet tall? Is that how we measure things? Both are beyond our imaginings, beyond any greatness we have ever seen in men, now or then. We are so very lucky to be here if only for a moment in time and space.
The conflict is not over, there is talk of an appeal and a further drag-out of the dog-fight. But in the light of other things rumbling in the universe it does seem pretty doggone minute. Now where did I put that bottle of Nebbiolo I was standing up for this moment?