Interview with Alessandro Fenino, Pievalta Winemaker and Tre Bicchieri Winner
By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist
It’s a little weird when the guy you consider to be like a little brother after being roommates for years wins one of Italy’s most important and prestigious wine awards. So I was amazed and delighted to congratulate my “little bro” Alessandro Fenino when he won the coveted Three Glasses (Tre Bicchieri) Award from Gambero Rosso with his Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi wine he produces at the Pievalta estate in the beautiful Castelli di Jesi wine appellation, in the Marche region.
So an interview with the guy you made fun of for the way he did the dishes, whose father saw you tipsy, whose wedding moved you almost to tears cannot be formal. We had this chat after a ginormous lunch of frog legs, paired with too much vino.
1. Alessandro, tell us about how you came to be a winemaker?
I am from Milan, which might be famous for its Duomo, panettone and fashion week, but not for sure for its wine production! I chose oenology at college, because I was interested in a job allowing me to live in beautiful, pleasant and quite location and … because I’ve always loved to drink wine! During college with an internship and after graduation, I’ve worked in some wineries, until I was offered to start a new project and to create a new winery in the Marche region. That’s how Pievalta was born and how I became winemaker, agronomist, vine-dresser, cellarman, tractor driver, general manager …
2. How do organic and natural wines taste compared to non organic wines?
In my opinion there are two big differences. First one is that wines made from organic grapes have a fuller and richer taste and you can taste in their texture the minerality of their terroir, compared to non organic wines of the same appellation. Secondly, they have less sulfites and this makes them more pleasant to drink and more digestible (no headache the next morning!). Both things let organic wines be drunk in an easier way and be paired better with food. They are not wines which try to be the main and leading character at the table, but rather to accompany and enhance the meal.
3. What kind of traditional winemaking methods do you use?
What do you mean by “traditional”? I think organic agriculture and winemaking consistent with it are more innovative than anything else in the modern wine making scene! I produce wine, using wild yeasts, but I also use select yeasts which don’t produce sulfites. We make harvest by hand and press grapes immediately, then we let the must decant for an entire night and the day after we take away lees and we move the must to vinification tanks. We use stainless steel tanks to guarantee max hygiene and not to ruin our work in the vineyards with faults given by a dirty cellar (who some call typical aromas!) I’ve been trying vinification in amphoras for many years, but I haven’t got satisfying results for my standards yet.
4. Do you find that organic wines have had a bad reputation, or not been seen as “serious wines” by critics in the past, and is this changing?
This is changing for sure, thanks to many big and well known wineries which turned to organic production, persuaded that organic is a synonymous with good wines expressing their terroir at their best. There are still people saying they don’t believe in organic wine production, but in my opinion this is due only to prejudices and ideology. Anyway I am convinced that the bad reputation organic wines had 10 years ago doesn’t exist anymore and it is credit of all winemakers who are committed to improving their wines .
5. What are the benefits of organic wines to our health and the environment?
Organic wines have many health benefits. As organic wines have less sulfites, they are more digestible and don’t cause headache. Furthermore, they don’t any pesticides residuals, not even those allowed by law, so organic wines don’t contribute to chemicals build-up in our bodies. It has been scientifically proved that organic fruits contain more anti-oxiders than non organic fruits and that is true also for grape and so for wine. From an environmental point of view, organic wines can be seen as a real revolution! Soil is no more poisoned with weed killers and chemical fertilizers, which pollute water bearing stratum and rivers and kill soil micro fauna. Soil is richer in humus, so it better holds back rainwater and this helps to prevent hydrological instability.
6. What is your favorite wine to sip slowly and enjoy on these chilly early spring nights?
Among the wines I produce I enjoy is San Paolo, a Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi Riserva. It has intense and complex aromas, it is mineral, fruity with hints of citron and candied fruit, you can smell spices and saffron. On the palate, it is very well balanced, soft but with very good acidity.
7. What made you choose the Marche wine region, what excited you?
I could spend hours talking about what struck me about Marche and still couldn’t exhaust the subject, as every day I find new reasons to love this region: the beauty of the landscape, the sea, the sudden changes of weather, the unique light, the infinite gentle hills, a place where Nature and Man’s work are still well balanced.
8. What is unique about the Marche, what can you find there in terms of terroir, winemaking techniques and methods that you can´t find in other places??
I think that the most interesting characteristic of Castelli di Jesi wine region is the ancient local grape, Verdicchio. It is perfectly acclimated to a terroir which is very different in terms of soils, altitudes and exposures. One grape for thousands different performances.
9. Which appellations, or general wine producing areas of Marche are your personal favorites and which of the local grape varietals do you enjoy most?
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is the most important appellation in the whole region and in my opinion also the most interesting one, producing one of the best white wines of Italy. Among red wines, I love Rosso Conero and Montepulciano grape.
10. What do you think the pros and cons of visiting Marche are and would you suggest it as a destination for wine lovers?
Marche is a great Italian wine region to discover, it is still authentic and not packed with tourists and you will find plenty of very hospitable people. It offers picturesque villages, medieval towns, evocative countryside, harmonious landscape, fabulous local cuisine (from sea and land, home made and rustic or high end and refined) not to mention wines and gourmet products you will fall in love with. Last but not least, it is far less expensive than other wine regions, like Tuscany. The cons are that there are very few luxury and big hotels with many facilities, rather than simple and cozy ones. And I gained 7 kilos since I live here, because the food is too good and too abundant