Decanter's John Stimpfig interviews Pio Boffa of esteemed Piedmont estate Pio Cesare, and tastes wines from the latest vintage to be released...
Pio Boffa is the owner of Pio Cesare, a producer best known for their single vineyard Barolos and Barbarescos, but who also make other Piedmontese specialities such as Moscato d’Asti and Dolcetto d’Alba.
They have even recently revived old family recipes for Barolo Chinato & Vermouth, due to increasing demand.
I recently attended a lunchtime tasting hosted by Boffa, where I had the opportunity to taste the latest 2013 releases of Barbaresco, Barolo, and the single vineyard Barolo Ornato.
Scroll down to read John’s Q&A with Pio Boffa
Pio Cesare 2013
Q&A with Pio Boffa
Where do you sit in the stylistic spectrum? Are you a traditionalist or a modernist?
I would day that I am neither a modernist nor a traditionalist. What’s curious to me is that when the modernists reigned, I was seen as a traditionalist, now that traditionalists have made a comeback, I’m regarded as a modernist. It’s why the best way to describe our wines is ‘Piedmontese classics from a modern traditionalist’.
Briefly, tell me about your role and involvement in the family business. What are your plans for the next generation?
I am the fourth generation of the family to run the business since it was founded in 1881. I began back in 1973 when I joined my father Giuseppe Boffa, who had run it since 1944. In 2000, my nephew Cesare Benvenuto became the fifth generation working in the business. Most recently, my daughter Federica joined the family firm in 2016 to guarantee the family future.
Tell me about the winery in Alba?
Today, Pio Cesare is the only remaining major winery to be based in the centre of Alba. The cellars date back to the 1700s, but the building is much older. In fact, the house is medieval and was built on fortified Roman walls first constructed in 50BC. Since Pio Cesare bought it in 1881, the winery has been significantly modernised a number of times, most recently from 2001 to 2006. It’s on four different levels, one of which is lower than the river Tanaro, while the cellars original vaulted tunnels extend several kilometres under Alba.
You were also one of the first wineries to buy your own vineyards?
In the old days, there were the growers who owned and farmed the vineyards, and the producers who bought the grapes and vinified and sold the wine. So when Pio Cesare’s son, Giuseppe Pio, bought prestigious vineyards in Barolo and Barbaresco in the 1920s, it was a bold move. Of course, we still continued to buy fruit from growers who owned some of the top Barolo vineyards such as Serralunga, La Morra, Castiglione and Monforte. Then we blended them together for our classic Barolo because blending Nebbiolo from the different villages creates naturally balanced wines.
Why did you break with tradition and begin to make single vineyard wines such as Ornato and Il Bricco?
Ornato in Barolo came first in 1985, and Il Bricco in Barbaresco in 1990. They were really a response to some of the single vineyard Barolos that began to appear from the 1960s, some of which were completely unknown. But Ornato and Il Bricco are both genuinely historic vineyards famed for their exceptional terroirs. We also produce our Barbera Fides and the Piodilei Chardonnay in the best vintages, to offer a more modern interpretation of some of the great individual sites in Piedmont. At the same time, these single vineyard bottlings aren’t necessarily superior to our blended Barolos and Barbarescos, they’re just a different expression.
What is so special about Ornato?
We’re privileged to have 6.6 hectares of the Ornato vineyard in Serralunga, which is one of the best vineyards in Barolo. We select three different plots at 380m elevation, combining south, south-east and south-west exposures. The soil is poor and compact, a mix of limestone and clay with a bit of sandstone, which results in a wine of great structure and ageing potential.
And Il Bricco?
It’s one of the highest and coolest vineyards in the village of Treiso in Barbaresco at 390m, with a superb south and south-west exposure. The soil is mostly limestone, with some parcels of clay and limestone combined. We source the Il Bricco from just three plots and make tiny quantities only in the best vintages.
Is it true that you bought yourself some Barolo vineyards for your 60th birthday?
Yes, absolutely! It was in 2014 when I bought the 9.7 hectare Mosconi estate in Monforte d’Alba. It means that today we own 70 hectares across the region.
So will you continue to buy in grapes?
Not any more. From the 2015 vintage, our total production will be entirely produced from family-owned vineyards.
How do you work your vineyards?
Very closely! We have fourteen people in the vineyard working full time. We’ve worked hard to lower yields and work as sustainably as possible. We don’t use chemicals or fertiliser and only use copper sulphate. During the harvest, we use a very strict selection in the vineyard and therefore don’t need to use sorting tables at the winery.
We continue to evolve as carefully and sensitively as possible. What we’ve been working on are a variety of things including shorter macerations, separating the different lots and parcels and being equally judicious about the provenance, size and newness of the casks we use. The key thing is to respect the individuality of the region. Above all, our wines are determined by vineyard and terroir rather than fashion.