Moccagatta winemaker Martina Minuto is all smiles when we sat down to chat last week at Tenzing, during the Italian’s second visit ever to Chicago. And why wouldn’t she be? She’s young, full of energy, and behind one of her region’s most beloved wineries, which produces just 5,000 cases per year of primarily nebbiolo-based bottlings — which are so coveted, they’re claimed pre-release. Though it was her high school and university studies that cemented her passion for the field, she has been a part of the family-run process for as long as she can recall. “I remember wanting to do this before I even knew what winemaking was really about,” she says, recounting the days when she’d follow her father around during his daily tasks. Between meetings and events at Formento’s and Osteria Langhe, we caught up with Minuto to learn more about her favorite wine regions, the ultimate food and drink pairing, and what she’ll be drinking on her 30th birthday — just three days away.
What are the benefits of learning from family versus learning in school?
"Experience is still the most important part, and I learn that every day, more and more from my family. These days, the theory part is also important for us — so we can stay updated and to better understand the process and analysis without always having to ask someone for an explanation."
What grapes do you focus on?
"We work with four types of grapes. Nebbiolo makes up half of our vineyard. The second most prominent grape is barbera, then dolcetto and chardonnay. The three red grapes are local, and the chardonnay is newer — it was planted in 1983. For the vineyard we have and the position we have, these are the four grapes that do well."
How has the demand for nebbiolo changed over the years?
"In the 70s, nebbiolo wasn’t working well — that was more the time for barbera. Now, nebbiolo is more important. It’s difficult because when you choose to plant a vineyard, you’re guessing what’ll happen 10 years from when you plant. It’s a long term investment before you’re actually on the market. But if the season is perfect, even a young vine could give a very good quality and good concentration. This year, for example, was about that."
"It was a very good summer — warm, with wet soil from spring’s rain. It was very good for maturation. We were suffering as people — especially the ones working in the vineyard — but the plants were fresh and green, and there were really healthy grapes. It was a much easier vintage than 2014, which was rainy and cold."
What’s your favorite vintage, personally?
"The 2005. It wasn’t the greatest vintage ever because it was a bit colder towards the end, but it was the first one in which I really became involved in the harvest and vinification process — not just helping out here and there. The 2004 was greater in concentration and fruit, and I like the 2012 very much, but I keep the 2005 in my memory. It was more difficult, but as a result, I have a very clear memory of being there for it."
What’s your favorite part of working with family?
"It’s something that can be fun and difficult at the same time. There’s friendly arguments, there’s lowering of voices sometimes. But it’s also very satisfying to sit at dinner and drink some wine that’s just in the process of being made, and discussing that wine. Everyone has their own opinions, which occasionally causes us to raise our voices — until we realize we’re both trying to share the same idea."
What other wine regions are you really enjoying right now?
Right now I’m really into Puglia, in the southeast of Italy. I have the chance to visit there quite a bit, and negroamaro is a great grape. The quality there is rising so much. The rosé there is wonderful, too. Italy is fun because if you drive just one hour, already the area has changed, the food has changed, the wine has changed. There’s about 2,000 grape varieties in Italy — it takes more than one life to try them all.
Favorite food and wine pairing?
"In my area, the plin —hand pinched ravioli — with butter. It’s very simple, but if the pasta and the inside is good, it doesn’t need much more than butter. It’s something I like very much. If the inside is more rich, the barbaresco will go well with it. If it’s more simple, I like barbera with it very much."
What’s the best time of year, in your opinion, of the winemaking process?
"I like the colors of fall in the vineyard, but bottling in July is the best time. It’s not actually at all fun to do — it’s very heavy work — but it’s the end of a process, and once we finish the bottling it’s ready to go. I like bottling much more than harvest. Harvest is the beginning, and bottling is putting the cork on it — it’s done."
When’s the last time you opened a particularly special bottle of wine?
"The 1985 vintages were nice, which we had last year for my birthday. We had a bottle of our own wine and a bottle of Massolino Barolo that my father bought at the time."
What bottle of wine do you want to add to your collection?
"I like to discover wines that aren’t the most popular ones — suggestions from friends of small producers, for example. There is a friend of mine who recently started production in Sardinia, and I haven’t had the chance yet to try his Cannonau. That’s the one I want to try as soon as possible."
What are you listening to while you work?
"There’s a group from Tuscany that I really enjoy right now that I saw at a small theatre nearby — they’re called Zen Circus."
What will you drink for your 30th birthday?
"I don’t know yet — but definitely a good bottle for a big number."
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2012 Moccagatta Barbaresco
2006 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin
2008 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin
2010 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin