Written by Kerin O'Keefe

Don Fiorino 2016 Barbaresco Riserva (free access)

An ode to Barbaresco’s late parish priest Don Fiorino Marengo who in 1958 united 19 growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative cellar, the wine is a blend of grapes from the best vineyard sites.

© Kerin O’Keefe | Produttori del Barbaresco Don Fiorino Riserva 2016

It’s not every day – every year or even every decade – that Produttori del Barbaresco adds a new wine to their already impressive lineup of single vineyard Riservas and their classic Barbaresco. So when Produttori’s Managing Director Aldo Vacca poured the just-released 2016 Don Fiorino Barbaresco Riserva during a recent visit to the winery, I was more than a little intrigued.

And I wasn’t disappointed: This is one of the most exciting wines I tried from Barbaresco this year.

An ode to Barbaresco’s late parish priest Don Fiorino Marengo who in 1958 united 19 growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative cellar, the wine is a blend of grapes from the best vineyard sites. 50% of the grapes come from Produttori’s nine famous crus of single-vineyard Riserva fame (Asili, Montefico, Montestefano, Muncagota, Ovello, Pajè, Pora, Rabajà, Rio Sordo) while 50% hail from other important, if behind-the scenes vineyards that normally go into the firm’s classic Barbaresco Annata (Basarin, Cottà, Cole, Fasèt, San Cristoforo).

One of the greatest of the Modern Day vintages in Langa, 2016 produced wines with finesse, balance and energy, and it’s an ideal vintage to dedicate to Don Fiorino. After fermentation and 30 days of skin maceration, it aged for thirty months in 25hl French casks. It’s gorgeous, with serious aging potential (subscription required to see full review, click on Italian Wine Reviews).

Produttori del Barbaresco

Located in the center of Barbaresco, this is one of the best cooperative cellars in Italy. From the very beginning, unlike other cooperative cellars, Produttori paid its growers based first and foremost on the quality of the grapes as opposed to quantity. Today the winery uses a spectrophotometer to quickly judge the quality of the grapes as growers deliver their harvest to the winery.

Also since the beginning, Produttori makes wines exclusively with Nebbiolo. While this may seem like a no-brainer these days, foregoing Barbera and Dolcetto in the mid-20th century was a risky move. And as in 1958, today’s 54 cooperative members have to deliver all their Nebbiolo to Produttori, thus making sure farmers don’t keep the best grapes for themselves.

Besides their archetypical straight Barbaresco made from various vineyard sites, the firm’s iconic single-vineyard Riservas are among the best quality-to-price ratio offerings in Italian wine.

Domizio Cavazza and Don Fiorino

Produttori del Barbaresco rose from the ashes of the first Barbaresco cooperative, the Cantina Sociale del Barbaresco, founded by Domizio Cavazza. Cavazza, considered the Father of Barbaresco, was the first headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba and was among the first to believe in the great vocation of the Barbaresco hills to make outstanding wines from Nebbiolo. Cavazza bought the Barbaresco castle, outfitted its cellar and united nine growers to make the first wine labeled as Barbaresco in 1894. After a successful start, Cavazza’s premature death in 1913 followed by the First World War and ensuing poverty greatly compromised production. The final blow came with Fascism, and its mandate that farmers focus on essential food staples including wheat, orchard fruit and cattle breeding. The Cantina Sociale closed its doors in 1925.

© Kerin O’Keefe | Aldo Vacca with the statue of Don Fiorino Marengo, Produttori del Barbaresco

Don Fiorino Marengo arrived in Barbaresco in 1948. He realized that his parish would cease to exist if local families continued to leave the countryside to work in the factories in Alba and Turin. To entice farmers to stay, the parish priest united nineteen growers and founded the Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative in 1958.

According to a touching account on Don Fiorino written by Celestino Vacca, who helped Don Fiorino create Produttori and was its director from 1958 until 1984, the cooperative cellar changed the course of history for Barbaresco but Don Fiorino was never able to enjoy its success. In 1960, during the construction of the new, and much needed modern cellar, tragedy struck when a young worker was electrocuted by a live wire.

According to the article, written in 2005, Don Fiorino, never forgave himself for the accident, feeling that even though he had no direct role in the accident, he had wanted to build the new cellar and therefore was responsible in the young worker’s death.

Not long after the incident, Don Fiorino was transferred to another parish. The growers visited him once a year every year until his death in 1995 and implored him to visit Barbaresco and see first-hand the success of the cooperative cellar he created. He never visited the village again.

Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista in Barbaresco

But his memory lives large, along with Cavazza, in the minds of all the growers and winemakers in Barbaresco, who credit him with the success of their denomination.

If Cavazza is the father of Barbaresco, then Don Fiorino is the god-father of the denomination and the Produttori del Barbaresco Don Fiorino 2016 Riserva is a fitting tribute.

The next Don Fiorino Riserva is slotted for the 2021 vintage.

Kerin O’Keefe May 2023 ©kerinokeefe.com

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