Azienda Agricola Fratelli Brovia
The label for Brovia’s base Barolo. The text on the family’s logo, from Horace, reads “Don’t plant anything before the sacred vine.” Good advice, Horace.
Giacinto Brovia, The Jar, and yours truly
(All pictures courtesy of Whitney Adams over at Brunellos Have More Fun, because my camera ran out of batteries)
There are things my wife understands on a different level than i do and on a level i will never know. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of being married to find this simple fact out. i’m not simply talking about a differing point of view or a new take on things, or something as superficial as a different opinion. This isn’t the cheap internet argument of “it’s all like, your opinion, man.” i’m talking about realizing that my wife understands something in a completely different way that i never will, and i know her well enough to realize this. As much as i like Haruki Murakami for instance, my eyes will never light up when he is mentioned, nor will i ever enjoy riding horses as much as she does. So it is with the wines of Azienda Agricola Fratelli Brovia.
Most serious wine drinkers have what is known as an “epiphany” wine. A wine which divides your personal wine drinking history in twain. What came before was simply drinking, what comes after is love. A sort of wine version of the burning bush, or before and after diet pill photos.
For me that wine was a pineau d’aunis, for my wife it was a bottle of 2001 Brovia Ca’ Mia Barolo. When she first drank it, perhaps 3 years ago, she was smitten. So when she found out i was traveling to Piedmont, it was understood that i would make a stop at Brovia even if she couldn’t be there. Everything lined up, and despite a last second scheduling snafu, we were still able to make it to the house of Giacinto Brovia, which is also the site of their decidely old-school winery.
We were greeted by the elder Brovia, who can only be described as “80 years young.” He joked with us for a few minutes while his lazy dog barked from afar. He then begged off to go play with his grandkids (a much better way to spend your saturday than with a bunch of American bloggers) and left us with his son in law, Alex Sanchez, a recent addition to the family and the winery by way of marriage.
As Alex tells it, Brovia is a tradtional family operation through and through. The patriarch Giacinto, though technically retired, is still very much involved in the farming and winemaking at Brovia, still driving to the vineyards several times a week to check on the vines, and obsessing over the wine during the elevage. This is remarkable considering he started officially at the winery in 1953. Now the prinipal work of running the winery is done by his two daughters Elena (the enologist, who we met briefly while she was herding around the next generation of Brovia-Sanchez winemakers) and Christina (who manages the vineyards), and Alex, who handles the business side of things while learning as much as he can about being a vigneron. i have to tell you that Alex, for someone who was in finance in Spain, has taken to the old-school ethos of Brovia better than can be expected. While some would come in flush with new ideas and ways to improve the winery, schemes to grow the winery, or market to new “segments”, Alex talks about keeping things the way his grandfather-in-law has established them.
Brovia itself was founded in 1863 by Giacinto’s grandfather, Giacinto who then passed it on to his son, Antonio. Unfortunately, as these things happen, it was abandoned in 1932 during the period of extreme deprivation between the world wars and wasn’t used as a functional winery until 1953 when Giacinto decided to get back into the Barolo business. The winery is primarily a Barolo producer, but they also produce other indigenous varieties in dolcetto, barbera, and arneis, a rarer white variety that perhaps reaches its peak at Brovia. For all intents and purposes Brovia sits squarely in the traditionalist camp when it comes to their barolos, meaning large format wood, no tricks during fermentation like battonage. The red wine (with one exception) is fermented in concrete cuves for the barolos and barberas, and stainless steel for the dolcetto and then placed in aged large format botti for the elevage. The white wine, arneis, is fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel. There is one single vineyard cuvee of barbera, the Brea, that is partially aged in barrique. Every effort is employed to keep the yeast indigenous in the winery, but Alex tells us that occasionally the dolcetto (a grape that makes vignerons in this region cringe) has a stuck fermentation and has to be innoculated.
Of course when it comes to Barolo, as anyone who has ever been knows, terroir is king and Brovia has some of the best sites. We tasted the 2005 of each the Rocche (which Brovia considers their flagship wine in good vintages), the Villero, and the Ca’ Mia, as well as their base Barolo and Barbaresco. Tasting wines like these is a good “what does terroir mean?” introduction. The wines are farmed by the same hands, harvested by the same hands, made by the same hands right next to each other and yet they show so differently. there is no makeup whatsoever on these wines, it’s all vintage and land. i won’t get into any tasting notes, obviously, but i will say that these are all special wines. The basic dolcetto and barbera are both restrained, simple, high acid versions of their respective grape varieties. The arneis is something else entirely, a wonderfully pure wine from a grape that most people wouldn’t give the time of day, and the only good arneis i tasted the whole time i was in Piedmont. The barbera “Brea” from a single vineyard just below Ca’ Mia was a disappointment, showing too much wood on it. Lastly we drank a rare bottle of the dolcetto “Solatia” which is only produced in certain years. It is a late harvest dolcetto that is picked one to two weeks later than everything else in order to get more structure (the wine isn’t sweet, despite the late harvest moniker). i liked it, but it is definitely strange enough that it demands to be tasted at least once.
Durning the tasting we talked with Alex about many things from the traditional vs. modernist debate (they are traditionalists because they are, not because of the polemics that frame the debate), organics (they are for the most part), and the current trend for labels in wine (“organic” “bio” etc.). He said that Giacinto felt that the wines would sell themselves or not based on what was in the bottle, as soon as they started putting labels on things or joining groups they would be selling the wine based on something not done in the vineyard or the cave. They have loyal customers who have been buying the wine since the 1970’s and before because it was Brovia, because it was Ca’ Mia. The rest is just marketing. they are reserved folks in Alex’s words, the wines are the face of Brovia, nothing else. Amen.
When i left i asked Alex if i could buy a bottle to be my wife’s anniversary gift (we have been married officially for four years as of April 6th). He presented me with a bottle of 2005 Ca’ Mia for her, free of charge. Maybe we’ll drink on our 20th anniversary.