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A drink with… Dave Fletcher

The Australian winemaker relocated to Piedmont 10 years ago, where he makes Barolo and Barbaresco for Ceretto winery. He talks to Natasha Hughes MW about Nebbiolo, making a new life in a new country and his philosophy for his own range of wines.

Australian Dave Fletcher grew up in Adelaide and was destined for a career in engineering before fate led him in a different direction. After stints working in Burgundy and various wine regions in Australia, he felt increasingly drawn to Piedmont. He moved to the region in 2012 to take up a job as winemaker at Piedmont’s Ceretto winery. Today he also makes wines under his own label, Fletcher Wines, from his home base in Barbaresco’s former train station, where he lives with his young family.

‘After I finished studying wine at university I wanted to go and do a harvest in Burgundy – all the students wanted to head there to do a stage – and I managed to land a job at Domaine Chevrot in Maranges. I had no idea what to expect, but the magic of harvesting in the morning with family and friends, having lunch together and then making wine into the evening blew my mind. It was an absolute game-changer that set my heart in motion and made me want to be a wine producer working in Europe.

‘Nebbiolo was the spark that lit the fire. I had no intention of living in Piedmont but Nebbiolo drew me to the region – and it’s so beautiful that it’s hard not to think about settling here. It’s surrounded by mountains, but it’s only an hour away from the sea – and the food is fantastic.

‘While there are definite differences between Barolo and Barbaresco, from a big picture perspective they’re very similar. The weather is often the same, the aspects are the same and you find the same kinds of soil. The impact of winemaker decisions about things like the use of barrique versus botte or concrete for ageing, long macerations or short ones, the influence of natural ferments and elements like that, are so strong that these tend to dominate terroir differences.

‘Although people think some grapes can’t be transplanted, I think Nebbiolo has the potential to make great wines outside Piedmont. It’s been successfully planted in Washington State, Napa Valley and Central California and all major wine regions in Australia. As well as in Valtellina, Tuscany and Sardinia, so it can definitely adapt to a range of environments.

‘The more Nebbiolo is planted in Australia, the more interest there is from Australian winemakers to come here and work stages, but few have settled here. Unless you have a European passport, it’s not easy to get a residency permit. We were fortunate to have Ceretto sponsor us, but the bureaucracy is too hard for most small producers to deal with.

‘After we moved here, people were welcoming but cautious about interacting with us on a business level. Coming to work with Ceretto helped, but it wasn’t until we invested in buying the station and building a winery here that people became convinced that we were here to stay and started to open up.

‘There’s always a certain wariness about new people with new ideas moving into an area like Piedmont and I initially found it difficult to buy grapes. But now people trust us and I get calls in the run-up to harvest from people who want to sell fruit to me. Our friendships in the region have blossomed over the years.

‘There’s a lot of pressure to achieve perfection at Ceretto every year and to maintain the family’s long-standing history in winemaking. My job when I came on as winemaker was to ensure that there was a continuity with what they had already achieved, but also to strengthen the link with their past. I helped to push them onto a path to decrease the use of oak a little further, to embrace what the terroir had to say.

‘When I’m making my own wines the pressure comes off, tradition takes a back seat and I focus on making the wines based on how I see them being best. It’s more about what I want the wines to say rather than blindly following the trends in the region. There’s a beauty in not having a legacy of the past behind me.

‘I’ve always dreamed of making Nebbiolo in several places: Australia is one, but I’m also looking at producing a wine in California. But I miss the sea, so I’d like to make an awesome salty Vermentino on the Ligurian coast – it would mean I could swim in the sea more often.’

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