Giacomo Bologna was, arguably, the first revolutionary in the transformation of Barbera, an Italian red wine named for the grape from which it's made.
In Piedmont, in his cellars at Rocchetta Tanaro near Asti, Bologna massaged Barbera's rise from cheap plonk to fine wine in the early 1980s. He pioneered ageing Barbera in small French barrels to add spice and tannins, and harvested his grapes later than was common practice to reduce natural acidity. He produced stellar wines – Bricco dell' Uccellone and Bricco della Bigotta among them.
Bologna was also the subject of the first documentary that the Rome-based, trained sommelier Giulia Graglia made, in 2003. Until recently, however, “Il Re del Mosto” (“King of the Must”), described by Graglia as a "hymn to life and to the joy of wine," had been relegated to a drawer; it will get an outing on September 14, screening at the festival of rural film, Corto & Fieno, in Armeno, Piedmont.
Lacking the necessary funds to press DVDs for sale, Graglia has a deal for you: pre-order “Il Re del Mosto” for 20 euros ($25), and you will receive the film in the mail. It's the same, innovative tactic that proved highly successful when Graglia released “Senza Trucco” (without make-up), her 2011 documentary (with English subtitles) on natural wine. So far Graglia has sold more than one thousand DVDs through her blog and at wine events.
Graglia conceived a passion for natural wine while writing for “Porthos,” an Italian magazine that specializes almost exclusively in this sub-genre. During her year there, Graglia applied herself to “almost daily tastings."
The idea for “Senza Trucco” sprouted, like so many other ideas that never germinate, over a glass of wine. This bottle was shared with her partner, Marco Fiumara, who co-produced the documentary, and did the sound-mixing.
Graglia had already conducted a short interview with Dora Forsoni – a winemaker from Montepulciano. “She was so incredible, she managed to give a fantastic image of herself in front of the camera,” Graglia says. Initially, she and Fiumara had thought of devoting the documentary to Forsoni, before fixing on the idea of featuring four women winemakers scattered around the peninsula in order to give a panoramic view of natural wine in Italy.
Graglia encountered Elisabetta Foradori (based in Trentino) and Arianna Occhipinti (based in Sicily) at natural wine events. She tracked down the Piemontese winemaker Nicoletta Bocca on the recommendation of an enologist friend: “I tried her wine, I looked her in the eyes, and without even knowing her, I asked her to be the fourth protagonist," says Graglia.
That Bocca is something of a gripping character is evident in "Senza Trucco." In one scene she stands next to her kitchen stove, and rails against a society “obsessed with ratings. Who are the ten most important women winemakers? Or the ten best wines in the world? It’s a superficial approach. It’s an almost pornographic gaze,” Bocca concludes.
In contrast, the documentary begins quietly. Snow falls on a vineyard – Forsoni’s vineyard – and the viewer hears nothing but the dull rain-like patter of snow and the faint, honking gabble of geese. Serenity is evoked by the length of the shots, and the lack of movement. Finally, there is the crunch of feet on the snow-laden paths and Forsoni appears, tramping towards her vineyards, where she will resume pruning. Icicles, hands flushed pink with the cold, and billowing breath speak of her labor in the absence of dialogue.
Then Forsoni recounts how she became a vintner. Her brothers were not interested in winemaking – they preferred the more immediate economic return of cheese – and so Forsoni’s father decided to involve his daughter in the business: “It got under my skin, without me even realizing it. He understood who I was, before I did.”
"Senza Trucco" is rich in such personal revelations. After following Forsoni in winter, the films shifts to Bocca in spring, Foradori in summer, and Occhipinti in autumn. Graglia’s approach to documentary-making is non-interventionist, or as non-interventionist as any documentary can be: “It was fundamental that these four strong – and, at the same time, a little romantic – characters came out. When you have such people in front of you, you just let them express themselves.
“We tried to be very, very discrete. That is, we arrived, we didn’t ask for anything – to move anything, to do anything in particular – we simply said, ‘Work as though it were any other day of the year. Do like you always do’.”
The result is an intimate atmosphere, and an engaging insight into the way four women make wine. The one flat note of the film occurs late in the piece, when Graglia returns to each winery to record the hectic harvest. The action moves too quickly, failing to trace a narrative which Graglia manages to do elegantly elsewhere in the documentary.
Graglia talks of the excellent luck she and her team had on the shoot. Despite the weather in Italy in 2009 being disastrous, between the rainstorms and the snow, “We always managed to slip our filming into the only three days when there was good weather.” Ultimately, Graglia believes that “it really was a film that had to be made, and it went how it wanted to go.”
Fast facts from Wine-Searcher:
Elisabetta Foradori's Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti:
Dora Forsoni's Poderi Sanguineto I & II Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG:
Arianna Occhipinti's Il Frappato Sicilia IGT:
And from the producer's website:
Nicoletta Bocca's San Fereolo Dolcetto Superiore Dogliani DOCG: