Q&A with Franco Massolino from Vigna Rionda-Massolino
Franco Massolino whom I met in the city for a wonderful tasting and dinner was incredibly polite, respectful, and incredibly passionate about his family, and of course his wine. The winery speaks for itself as one of the legendary names in the wine world and for good reason – the Massolino family has been producing wine in Serralunga d’Alba since 1896!
The Massolino winery produces about 120,000 bottles each year, including Chardonnay, Barbera d’Alba, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Moscato d’Asti, and Barolo. The winemaking style is classic, as evidenced by the use of cement fermentation tanks and large Slavonian oak casks for aging, however more modern techniques and technologies are also resulting in incredibly clean, elegant wines, perfectly respecting the characteristics of the grape varieties and the terrior. Let’s catch up with Franco.
Please tell us how Vigna Rionda-Massolino started in 1896.
Set up in 1896 by our great grandfather Massolino Giovanni, our winery has been dedicating itself to the production of the great wines of the Langa area for four generations. Our Estate was in the beginning a farm with production of cereals, hazelnuts and animals. After the second world war it become to be specialized in producing wine.
Where is Vigna Rionda-Massolino located?
Today the wine cellar is still situated in the old town centre of Serralunga d’Alba, in the middle of the Barolo’s area. It is almost entirely underground and avails of vast areas of vinification, aging and storage.
How important is the terroir there and the differences?
Located among the Langhe hills, the Barolo zone is a collection of different mesoclimate, soils types, altitudes and expositions that can have a pronounced effect on the development of the Nebbiolo grape and the resulting Barolo wine. Within the Barolo zone there are two major soil types separated by the Alba-Barolo road. Within the communes of Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba is a compact, sandstone based soil dating from the Helvetian epoch. In the Barolo and La Morra zone, the soils are similar to those found in the Barbaresco zone, dating from the Tortonian period, being composed of calcareous marl that is more compact and fertile.
Throughout the Barolo zone there is clay deposits and soil with enough alkalinity to tame Nebbiolo’s naturally high acidity. Nebbiolo is a variety so sensitive that even the smallest variation in terms of soil composition gives us to the big changes on the expression of the wine produced. Adding that the age of the vineyard and agronomic techniques adopted for the production of the grapes give different characteristics to them too, we can say that each vineyard has a unique potential. For example, the small percentage of sand in Margheria gives us elegance, the limestone of Parafada gives us strength and complexity, iron oxides and sea sediments of the Vigna Rionda offer depth and longevity. The Parussi is a Castione Falletto’s expression so extremely powerful and tannic. Our family, with his work, tries to emphasize the natural differences of each vineyard in a very traditional and respectful way.
How big is the vineyard?
The first vineyard (still owned by the estate) was purchased at the end of the Nineteenth century. The terrible recession between the two world wars also had an affect upon the Massolino family estate, which was lucky enough to flourish once more towards the end of the Fifties, buying most of the vineyards that make up the property today. The land purchased way back then comprises the most important crus: Margheria, Parafada and Vigna Rionda. Today we own 23 hectares of vineyards which we cultivate directly.
How many different wines produced?
We are producing Nebbiolo variety for Barolo (Classico, Parafada, Margheria, Parussi e Vigna Rionda Riserva), Dolcetto, Barbera (classica e Gisep), Chardonnay and Moscato.
Would you say Massolino is more traditional or new age?
Making wine with passion, in our land of origin, preserving the typical characteristics of the autochthonous grape varieties, being convinced that there is a deep and tangible link between the vines, hills and winegrowers, made up of affinities cemented, by habit, to the land. Since 1896, our family have been making wine this way, loyal to this philosophy and to the capacity for innovation in the name of tradition. In short, loyal to ourself.
Please tell us about the Langhe Chardonnay (which I thought was incredible..so fresh and exciting)
The Langhe DOC Chardonnay born thanks to our desire to produce a great white wine in this area known to be fantastic for reds. We are following a vinification and ageing able to give us complexity, powerful, longevity but, in the same time, harmony and roundness. In one word incredible balance.
We were lucky enough to try the Riserva Dieci x Anni Saturday night what were your thoughts?
All our Barolos, especially in the great vintages, are bottles that give strong emotions after several years of aging. It’s why we started a fantastic project called TEN YEARS where we are offering to the market a Barolo Vigna Rionda RESERVA aged in our cellars for 10 long years!! This project began in 2006 when we sold around 2500 bottles of 1996 vintage! This is, in our opinion, really something great and unique!
The Cru Vigna Parafada was incredible w the veal cheek…what were your favorites over the evening?
All our wines are as our sons so I think that all of them were great, able to present especial emotions with the fantastic food of yesterday.
Obviously being wine cellar builders, we are always trying to find age worthy wines…what are your feelings about the importance of proper cellar conditions and why should someone reading this choose Joseph and Curtis Custom Wine Cellars for the wine storage needs?
They are obviously very important, the right humidity and temperature represent essential conditions for a correct aging.
How would our clients be able to acquire some of your amazing wines?
They can contact Italian Wine Merchants or our importer in USA; Domaine Select Wine Estates, 555 8th Avenue Suite 2302 | New York, NY 10018, ph +1 212 279 0799 x17 | fx +1 212 279 0499, www.domaineselect.com or, directly our Estate.
Knowing that you attended one of the best schools in Italy, what are your opinions regarding winemaking (real world experience or learning in a classroom)?
Both are important; school and experience are fundamentals.
Why do you feel Piedmont is able to produce such amazing wines?
Piedmont region offers a soil and a climate real unique in the world. Piedmont in Italian language mean at the feet of the mountains. In effect all our area is close from the Alpes the highest European mountain chain. This geographic position explained also the micro climate of our area, the Alpes defense our hills from the cold and humid winds that arrive from west in particular in the fall season giving us days dry and clean days with a great excursions day and night, a perfect weather for a Nebbiolo grapes! Our soil, thanks to his balance between the limestone, marls and mineral microelements is really perfect for the Nebbiolo variety.
What do you feel is the most important characteristic that separates Massolino from all other producers?
We are doing our best as many Piedmontese producers! Our estate has been run as a family business for more than a hundred years and there is every intention of maintaining this tradition. This means devoting the utmost care to every stage of the winemaking process, from the vine to the bottle, and supervising each individual operation step by step. The four generations of the family that have run the estate have closely pursued the constant improvement of the processing system, from the vineyard to the cellar, without ever losing sight of the link with their roots, we will continue on this way!