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

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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...

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