At the tender age of 6, Giorgio Rivetti dipped his finger into a glass of wine and brought it up to his lips for a taste. As one would expect, he cringed.
“The acidity was so high,” recalls Rivetti, expressing his displeasure by pinching his face into a grimace.
The winemaker and “farmer” of La Spinetta gazes out of a Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant window on this cloudy January day, a rarity in Las Vegas. He wears a navy tweed blazer over a crisp, white shirt, which contrasts his salt-and-pepper-colored hair.
Rivetti is a captivating conversationalist. Animated by his smiling eyes and expressive brows, it is evident that his passion runs deep, like the roots in his vineyards.
“Everything around me was about wine and the vineyard; more vineyard than wine,” says Rivetti, the son of grape farmers Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti from Piedmont, Italy.
“I was so happy to go into the vineyard. We learned everything from there. This is why my credo is, ‘If you have great wine in front of you, think about the great farmer.’
“Ninety percent of the job is in the vineyard, and 10 percent is in the cellar. There is no other way to make great wine unless you are a great farmer.”
It clearly was not difficult to understand this ideology while growing up in Piedmont. It was — and remains — the culture. Wine producers are hands-on and meticulously prudent about their vines. This was confirmed by a single shake of his hand; heavy and strong from having spent serious time among the vine rows on the steep, cool slopes of Piedmont.
Perfectly situated in a remote white amphitheater created by the Alps, Piedmont — meaning foot of the mountains — is Italy’s pre-eminent region from which two of the country’s most legendary reds, Barolo and Barbaresco, were born. Rivetti’s family has been making wine since 1977, and the business is now comprises four wineries. The most recent acquisition is Contratto, the oldest metodo classico (classically made) producer of sparkling wine in Italy.
“This is our culture. We drink wine with food,” says Rivetti, who recommends Barolo and Barbaresco lovers to consider Barbera as a go-to wine for every day. “Barbera can be rustic, but it can also be elegant. The aroma, the power, the structure … and think about the price. You can spend less to try something different.”
Barbera has a deep history in the region, which lays claim to being the grape’s birthplace. Records indicate the grape has been cultivated in Piedmont since at least the 13th century. Today, the hills and towns around Alba and Asti, among others, prove capable of producing the finest Barbera.
Rivetti’s acclaimed “Ca di Pian” Barbera d’Asti comes from younger vines grown on a steep, south-facing site with white, calcareous soils to which he attributes the elegance of his wines. The “Bionzo” vineyard, located in Castigliole d’Asti, boasts vines ranging from 45 to 55 years old. All his wines are free of chemicals, never filtered or clarified, and he stresses green harvest, or crop thinning to decrease yield, as the key to the success of his traditionalist farming style.
So what makes a good wine?
“A farmer who has respect for the vineyard, the varietal, the environment …. It’s the only way I know,” says Rivetti. “And, a farmer who can find a balance in the grapes before he harvests. A winemaker who tries to find the balance in the cellar? It’s too late. Too late.”
Like other Piedmontese growers, he is obsessed with individual characteristics of the vineyard and of the native varietals that have been growing there since the beginning.
“That is why integrity is important, too,” he says. “Otherwise, you’re just another person just making wine. The wine should be able to take you to the place where it came from. Drink Barbera. Close your eyes. You’re in Piedmont.”