We went out into the misty Langhe hills the other weekend. The land lay sleeping so we trod carefully not wanting to disturb. We pulled up cautiously to the farmhouse door. This did not seem like a winery; it was too much like someone’s home. In the Langhe, many wineries are people’s homes and many houses are people’s wineries. Wine is personal here.
I did not dare knock at the door, not wanting to wake the house. We had been heard and the door opened–out came a rumpled man, hair flying in all directions, the stump of a cigar in one hand. I began by apologizing but he was not bothered. We fell in behind and slid down into the musty cellar.
Beppe Rinaldi let us into his world: this is the place where he develops his philosophy, the place where he escapes his female-dominated home. There are no barriques here and there are no right-wing politics either. Rinaldi’s Barolo does not need to be propped up by wood and this is a better place where Berlusconi need not interfere in daily life.
Beppe wants to know how wine is made elsewhere; this does not mean he would ever change what he is doing. Wine makes itself and any fool knows that, according to Rinaldi. The hard work is in the fruit. “I don’t want to make more wine. I am a small producer and that is that,” he exclaims. When does quantity have an impact on quality?
The wine maker climbs up the rickety ladder and extracts the wine from the massive wooden cask: “It’s too cold but I will let you taste the 2004 Barolo, if you must!” He hands me back my glass and the brick-red liquid dances in the dim cantina light. My nose is enticed by violets and leather and the wine slowly opens to me as we walk around the cellar.
Rinaldi’s been digging and jokingly tells us that the new cellar scratched out of the tuffo under his house will be perfect for his coffin and a few special magnums. We breath in the organic smell of the earth and are not afraid of the weight above us. As we sip our wine, Rinaldi talks about farming and how the Langhe hills have changed. He hangs the salame from the pig he slaughtered at Christmas and tells us about what it used to be like in the town of Barolo. There used to be fields of wheat, hazelnuts, forests, cattle and sheep. The town was able to feed itself. Now there are only vines. A new economy has reshaped the land.
We leave Rinaldi’s with a better sense of what Barolo was and what it has become. Beppe is not a wine maker who wants to return to the past, he is a man who holds tight to his values. His wine speaks volumes about who he is. I wonder if I could have understood this wine without meeting the man?
The road from Barolo winds on towards Monforte. The light is quickly leaving the sky and we are content just to breath the crisp winter air. We have already connected with the place. There are no expectations or plans and we certainly don’t think our day could get any better. And then it does…