Wineries and winemakers amaze me. They work from late-fall pruning their vines to early-spring thinning leaves and from late-summer to mid- or late-October harvesting their crops. And this is just the work in the vineyard itself. The work inside the winery continues year-round.
Those aspects, while admirable, are not particularly unique. Most working people toil virtually the entire year, with a few weeks off.
In my other life, I’m an attorney. I keep track of the hours I work and send monthly bills to my clients, who generally pay me within 30 days of the invoice. So, perhaps a bit of delayed gratification, but nothing like what a winery goes through.
This is what amazes me about the wine business. A winery will pick its fruit one year (that is, the vintage date), ferment the juice, and then keep the now alcoholic beverage in some type of storage (oak barrels, stainless steel vats, or concrete vases, just to name a few) for several months to two or more years. That means that they won’t see a return on their investment of time and capital for a year or longer. And the really great wines are often aged for three or more years.
I can’t imagine, as an attorney, doing my work in 2023 and waiting until 2026 to get paid. Amazing!
This was brought home to me in our trip to Italy. I had the great pleasure of visiting Casanova di Neri, one of the top Brunello di Montalcino wineries. There, I was taught a real lesson in delayed gratification.
Brunello di Montalcino wines are made in a part of Tuscany (about an hour’s drive south of where I had my Vespa tour in Chianti), in a relatively tiny area of about 8,900 acres. In contrast, Napa Valley comprises approximately 45,000 acres, more than five times the size.
To add to the challenge of a minuscule production area, the winemakers who create Brunello must adhere to extremely strict rules in making Brunello (Italian for “little brown one”). According to “The Wine Bible” by Karen MacNeil (probably the finest reference source for wines worldwide), “By law, Brunello di Montalcino must be aged longer than any other Italian wine – four years (including two in oak) for regular Brunello di Montalcino; a riserva must be aged five years …”
If my law practice was to follow that same timeline, I would invoice my clients in 2023 and hope for payment in 2028. Nope, not going to happen.
We were in Tuscany for our youngest son’s wedding held in a charming agriturismo in San Galgano, which is about 45 minutes east of Siena. Since we were in Italy already, I decided to see if maybe I could score an in-person experience at a good Brunello winery.
Well, fortunately, one of the finest Brunello wineries, Casanova di Neri, warmly welcomed my visit (even though I came with nine additional family members).
I had tasted Casanova di Neri before, so I knew it to produce world-class wine. But what really excited me was that one of its Brunellos was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year!
Wine critic James Suckling, at that time writing for Wine Spectator, said this about Casanova di Neri’s 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova: “The 2001, however, is the best Tenuta Nuova ever. This 97-point wine shows a mind-blowing intensity of blackberry, chocolate and lightly toasted oak. But it’s the texture that really impresses, caressing the palate with ripe, flavorful fruit and velvety tannins.”
Naturally, I was thrilled to visit such an award-winning establishment. And the Neri family honored my family by asking one of the sons of its owner, Giacomo Neri, to be our guide to all things Casanova. Giacomo’s son, Gianlorenzo, spent about three hours showing us the ins and outs of his family’s operation. My next two columns will discuss our visit and our sampling of the excellent products coming from the Neri family.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.