- Written by Gabriele Pieroni
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"The market is selective and wants the best: we've simply tried to give it what it wants." The philosophy of Pico Maccario's winery in Mombaruzzo is an experienced mix of courage, tenacity, knowledge of tradition and - why not? - a healthy dose of entrepreneurial madness. Vitaliano Maccario, 38 years old, and his brother Pico, 40 years old, manage one of the most important wineries of Barbera d'Asti in Piedmont, which boasts the biggest plot of land in the region: 70 hectares (173 acres) of vineyards, of which 55 (136 acres) are dedicated exclusively to the care of the so-called "Signora in Rosso," or the Lady in Red.
In the words of Vitaliano – measured, diplomatic, and convincing – under his pleasant demeanor is the fire of a forceful will that has never been tamed, projected towards entrepreneurial adventures in search of excellence with no fear of risk, and high risk at that.
"We're living in a period of good humor in the winery, because our wines are going ahead with lots of success and they receive prestigious, international appreciation. But the fruit of this success ripened over the course of years, through a decades-long project which we’ve never stopped investing in," says Vitaliano.
Starting from zero
The Maccario brothers could have lived, as they say, without change. When they took over their grandfather's winery in 1997, they could have managed the property of Mombaruzzo by following the typical reality of farm life and mixed cultivation - could have. But Pico and Vitaliano decided to do otherwise. "Pico Maccario was born when we chose to reconstruct the winery from zero, focusing on vine monoculture." In respect to the average age of acquaintances in the same field, their combined age of less than 50 was quite young. They also had the force of intuition. "At that time, Barbera was beginning its introduction to the great red wines. So we focused on native varieties, rooted in Asti tradition, with the objective of improving their quality and production."
The young Maccario brothers lacked experience, not courage. "To construct a wine estate of success, you need an entrepreneurial mindset to know how to consider the product’s quantity and quality. A mind that never stops innovating, in the face of tradition." In this way, with the turn of the century, Pico Maccario decided to invest in a radical automated system in fieldwork and in the cellars. They were one of the first wineries to obtain the automatic grape harvester and to proudly defend their choice. "Only a few minutes pass between the time of harvest and the pressing, permitting the grape to conserve its qualities and aromas." They are convinced of the necessity to use this system, because high grape yield goes hand in hand with high quality. "If we want to be truly competitive in an increasingly aggressive market, we can't do other than weigh the costs and benefits, with one eye always focused on the relationship between yield, quality, and price," continues Vitiliano.
If we want to be truly competitive in an increasingly aggressive market, we can't do other than weigh the costs and benefits, with one eye always focused on the relationship between yield, quality, and price.
To demonstrate that the relationship between excellence and production is feasible, the Maccario brothers have irrefutable proof. Their Barbera d'Asti Lavignone DOCG 2011, with 350 thousand bottles a year, is numerically the most important bottle of the winery. At the same time, Oscar Douja d'Or 2012 is a “smart buy” according to Wine Spectator, where it’s included in an evaluation of the top 100 wines for less than 18 dollars. Recognitions continue to be rained down in all respects on the wines: Antonio Galloni, the greatest critic of The Wine Advocate, awarded the Barbera d'Asti Tre Roveri DOCG 2012 (35 thousand bottles) 90 points; and Barbera d’Asti Docg Epico 2009 (5 thousand bottles), the diamond of Pico's Barberas, claimed another 90 points from the critic group Shanken. "Quality and technology have to keep an even footing in the vineyards as much as they need to in the cellar. I can't have a fantastic product and an outdated vinification," proclaims Vitaliano, noting as an example the efforts his winery has to go through in order to construct a cellar: the new cathedral of their Barbera d'Asti is to be completely underground with an eco-friendly cover, "which shows margins of improvement."
The legend of the Carnivorous Rose
Innovation at Mombaruzzo isn't just for the vineyards and cellars. As Barbera refines with age, communicating its excellence to the world becomes a prerogative. "A business in crisis is a business that didn't know how to market themselves, that didn't work on its brand," affirms Vitaliano, who studies the web as an instrument of promotion and contact with new clients. "Surfing around, I came upon some viral videos, shared by millions of people with the purpose to launch their idea or their brand in the world, quickly," he says, "And I had an idea." From this virtual encounter came the legend of the "Carnivorous Rose" of Mombaruzzo. With imagination and a good dose of recklessness, Vitaliano created a fake documentary about the roses that adorn the rows of vineyards: they undergo a dark mutation from elegant companions of the grapevines to cutthroat insect killers. "I haven't really invented anything. The roses are planted as a mark of the vines' health. If they get sick, the farmer has to intervene. We've constructed an idea that comes from tradition." As soon as the video was launched, with its Australian commentator and non-existent cast of Australian researchers, it was an instant success: over 200 thousand visualizations, 40 thousand contacts on the social network, 30 thousand visits to the Pico Maccario website, and millions of comments asking about the veracity or at least for more information about the Carnivorous Rose. "The results were surprising," confesses Vitaliano, "thanks to a simple video we came into contact with millions of people in a period of time that would have taken months, maybe years, with traditional means of communication. Our objective was to bring the Barbera d'Asti to the attention of consumers, to value its soils and magnificent vineyards."
He concludes, "Technology is not in competition with tradition, innovation doesn't compromise territory. On the contrary, the real problem with the wine world is the person who insists on not understanding the need to invest."
EPICO - Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG
The name recalls a time when nature was in balance with love and passion; this wine is taut with excellence. Hand-harvested grapes at the optimum point of maturity, a gentle pressing, aging for at least 12 months in small, oak, French barrels, the result is a wine with a complex aroma of ripe fruit and vanilla, and an intense flavor that is yet soft and balanced.
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