56 VINE EXPECTATIONS
Fiercely independent Swedish winemaker Helena Lindberg travelled the world to make wine, and finally found her home in Tuscany with Tenuta di Biserno. By June Lee
Helena Lindberg from Tenuta di Biserno
Helena Lindberg pauses as she takes first sip of the wines over lunch, her angular profile hovering over the glass of Il Pino di Biserno with a hint of worry. I soon discover that it is in Lindberg’s nature to worry, and even doubt herself, but that’s just the Swede psyche at work – despite having lived away from Sweden for over 20 years.
She’s also wary of media, giving well-measured answers to questions and wondering aloud why I’d want to know certain things, such as the name of her horse (M. Tinia) and her hobbies (horse riding, to clear her head). It all adds up to a fascinating peek behind the reserved countenance of the founding winemaker who has been with Tenuta di Biserno since 2004.
From Old to New World and back again
Lindberg, with a masters in chemical engineering from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, was working in food packaging research and development when she discovered an interest in wines. “From a technical, chemistry point of view, I saw a fascinating product – I wanted to explore and spend a lifetime in wine,” she explains. Wine articles and tastings soon led her on the road backpacking as a 25-year-old to Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond.
The turning point was a trip to Margaret River in 1992 where she met other young people who had quit their jobs to dabble in wine-making. Within a few months, she had sold her apartment, resigned from her job and was writing letters to wineries in Australia. Yalumba took her in as a grape crusher operator, and her wine career began in earnest in 1995 at 30 years old. “Clearing tanks, pulling hoses, all kinds of cellar work,” she recounts, but more was to come. Looking back, those five years in Australia and New Zealand gave her a “protected environment” that couldn’t be more different after she returned to Europe. She will only divulge that it was “messy” working
vintage jobs in Languedoc in the early 2000s before enrolling at the Faculte d’oenologie Bordeaux for her DUAD diploma in wine.
In 2004, Lindberg was recommended to Marchese Lodovico Antinori by the illustrious oenologist Thomas Duroux, who at that time had left Ornellaia and was soon to join Château Palmer. Antinori was seeking a winemaker for his new project, Tenuta di Biserno in partnership with his equally famed brother Piero, and Lindberg fitted right in.
A new start
Tenuta di Biserno was Antinori’s bid to start from scratch again (after selling Ornellaia), and in a sense, Lindberg’s too. Cabernet Franc thrived on free-draining hillside slopes, while high density, maritime sediments and clay on northwest slopes were naturally planted to Merlot. Working with Bordeaux varietals means that blending is allimportant. “With Cabernet Sauvignon, we’re looking for the backbone of good tannins and structure, while Merlot is all about fruit concentration and flesh. But it’s the Cabernet Franc that gives the elegance and aromatic lift, and it does so well on this terroir. Even in years when the other grapes suffer, and I tell the Merlot that it’s war – you will dry to ferment! – the Cabernet Franc is so happy,” she details, breaking into an inward smile.
Noting that her character is to be very precise, Lindberg tends to take it down to the decimal when it comes to rigour and quality. “It was tough in the sense that expectations were enormous,” she says of the beginning, to make the prodigious kind of Super Tuscans that Antinori was known for (he doesn’t like the term, by the way). There was also learning how to work with consultant Michel Rolland, who now still visits about four times a year. “I do my part so that he can do his, and by this I mean I have to get all the components to his level so that he can put the blend together. Other than that, I have a lot of freedom,” she says. She finally started to relax after 2010 (the most difficult vintage to date), and found it easier to make decisions with more mature and higher quality fruit, and better wine-making tools.
That brings us back to the 2010 Il Pino di Biserno, which started off being a bit muted, with an aroma that Lindberg couldn’t quite place. It was served with Chinese-style lobster, which brought out its elegant herbal qualities, though 2010 was a year that was “chaotic, with a volume of grapes that we couldn’t handle”, she recalls. Within 15 minutes though, the wine was beautifully opened up, and Lindberg was visibly relieved. She shares that the winery is expected to expand next year as they are running out of space, and that she’s looking forward to making wines with even more precision and more attentiveness – and maybe even experimenting with other varieties. “I’ve lived there for over 10 years now, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since leaving Sweden,” she muses. But with so much yet to do, she’s finally put down her roots.
Tenuta di Biserno wines are available from Corney & Barrow.
IL PINO DI BISERNO 2010 Grapes: 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot Taste: Refinement is the key house style of Il Pino, where charming layers of red fruit, mocha and herbal accents are brought together with...
BISERNO 2010 Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot Taste: A difficult vintage with late ripening grapes led to this 14.5% stunner, with a complex nose and muted palate at first. Decant or let it breathe to discover rich...