This is the story of four men. Farmers. Winemakers. Community builders. Umbrians.
This is the story of Roberto DiFilippo, Federico Bibi, Giampaolo Tabarrini and Albertino Pardi. Umbrian winemakers, colleagues and friends. But we could have just as easily told this story with different names – Roberto Dionigi, Duccio Pompili, Peter Heilbron or a host of others. The love of the land, of the region’s traditions, of the wine that Umbria’s winemakers make is universal amongst them. To them, it is simply what they do. To us it is unique. To us it is inspiring.
Over the course of this weeklong food and wine tour our winemaker friends have shared their passions, their stories, their love of what they do. Each one practices their craft differently but at the end of the day, they do it all the same because each in his own way has discovered the universality that connects what they do. Some are organic. Some are biodynamic. Others practice traditional farming methods. But regardless of the label we apply or the strictness of the practices they follow they all value sustainability. Above all they seek to sustain the patrimony that is their land. To nurture it, to make it healthier every day. So they can grow the best grapes. So they can pass on this patrimony to their children and their children’s children.
Each respects others’ differences, but they all share the same universal belief. Each looked us in the eye and said that good wine is made in the fields, not in the cantina. That in order to make good wine you must grow good grapes. Healthy grapes that reflect the soil in which they grow.
The proof is in the bottle.
One of them told us of an experience he had in Turkey, where a certain winemaker extolled his practice of adding this and that in the cantina to make up for grapes that spent days in the sun before fermenting. This, our friend opined, perhaps a bit too generously, is just a different approach. The wine, he told us, was “technically good.” It had been corrected in the winery.
Our winemakers prefer not to correct mistakes in the winery. Because you can make bad grapes “technically good.” But the excitement in wine is not in being technically correct, the excitement is in feeling something alive in your mouth. Something that vibrates with the rhythms of the fields and the sun from where it came. You can correct flaws and make something “technically good” but you can’t give it life. You can’t give it personality. Only the land and the sun can do that. And that is what these four men have spent their lives learning.
Their wines are simple in the very best sense of the word. They are made from healthy grapes grown in well-tended fields. They are transformed from juice to wine with knowledge and experience that does not rush, that does not cut corners. Because while technology can minimize risks and defects, only time can produce great wine.
This week we have enjoyed many wines at many good meals and have created many pleasant memories around the table. But the lessons of these humble, passionate, patient, giving and caring winemakers – farmers, community builders, Umbrians – will stay with us long after that glorious taste has faded away. And it will leave a taste as sweet and as satisfying as the wine itself.
Bill and Suzy