Pro­ducer pro­file: Fo­radori

Chris­telle Guib­ert headed up into the Dolomites to visit Elis­a­betta Fo­radori, a key fig­ure in Ital­ian wine­mak­ing, who put Trentino and its na­tive grapes on the map

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Chris­telle Guib­ert is De­canter’s tast­ings direc­tor

Chris­telle Guib­ert meets Elis­a­betta Fo­radori at her Trentino es­tate, where the fo­cus is firmly on Terold­ego

NOW FIFTEEN MIN­UTES late and my blood pres­sure ris­ing, i’m driv­ing up and down this steep, ser­pen­tine road sliced through the Dolomites mountain range, try­ing to find Elis­a­betta fo­radori’s house. it was a chance en­counter with her wines five years ago that first sparked my cu­rios­ity. wines with such en­ergy and pu­rity, from un­heard-of grape va­ri­eties; a visit was a must.

meet­ing fo­radori, one is im­me­di­ately struck by her calm poise, her el­e­gance, charm and in­ten­sity. she comes across as friendly with a bo­hemian chic look, ooz­ing charisma as if straight out of a Jean-Luc Go­dard movie. To­day she is joined at the ta­ble by Emilio, her el­dest son. while fo­radori seems thor­oughly ital­ian, Emilio’s Ger­manic ac­cent be­trays some­thing of his ori­gins, and the re­gion of Trentino. Neigh­bour­ing Alto-Adige is the his­toric land of south Ty­rol, and an echo of the Aus­trian em­pire re­mains. Names of places are in both ital­ian and Ger­man, the Bay­ern munich flag is flown, and spae­zle (gnoc­chi­like dumplings) are reg­u­larly seen on menus.

Emilio is young but has been brought up think­ing about wine. it was a dif­fer­ent story for Elis­a­betta, thrown in at the deep end in sad cir­cum­stances. Aged 11 when her father passed away, she watched while her mother strug­gled on, in com­pe­ti­tion with the lo­cal co­op­er­a­tives. ‘she wasn’t so con­nected to the vines, more to the bank ac­count. A very prag­matic wo­man,’ fo­radori re­calls with an af­fec­tion­ate smile. Her grand­fa­ther, a lawyer also in­volved in lo­cal pol­i­tics, had first bought the 15ha (hectare) do­maine in the 1920s and sold wine in bulk. Bot­tling the wine un­der the fo­radori name would have to wait un­til 1960 when Elis­a­betta’s father Roberto learned oenol­ogy and in­jected more am­bi­tion into the win­ery. Through­out this time Trentino’s wines re­mained un­known to a wider pub­lic.

‘i didn’t de­cide to make wine. i had to do what my father had done,’ she notes with a non­cha­lant shrug. she en­rolled in the lo­cal oenol­ogy school aged 16 and be­fore long was in charge. A pas­sion­ate mountain climber, the great­est ap­peal of run­ning a wine es­tate was to be work­ing out­doors, and the space and free­dom it al­lowed her. ‘i was alone, but i was com­pletely free to do what i wanted, as my mother wasn’t in­volved,’ she says. ‘At 20 i had a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity, but also a lot of space.’

Her pas­sion for na­ture and the out­doors is clear. she looks wist­ful as she re­calls hunt­ing with her grand­fa­ther, and in the vine­yard she skips around like a con­tented child,

ad­mir­ing her com­post and point­ing out with pride the quan­tity of worms with which it hums.

Love and in­no­va­tion

The first ma­jor change, both in the vine­yard and in her life, came with the ar­rival of Rainer Zie­rock, a bio­chem­istry pro­fes­sor from Ger­many who was lec­tur­ing lo­cally. As well as love, marriage and three chil­dren, he brought a bound­less cre­ativ­ity which, if some­what way­ward, gave in­cen­tive to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and am­bi­tion in the wines.

As she re­calls: ‘The ac­cepted wis­dom at the time was that the lo­cal grape va­ri­eties weren’t ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing any­thing good. But Granato was born in 1986, thanks to Rainer.’ Made from old-vine Terold­ego grown on tra­di­tional per­go­las, Granato would go on to be­come Fo­radori’s flag­ship wine, help­ing to put the esate, the re­gion and the grape va­ri­ety firmly on the map.

Al­though they would ul­ti­mately di­vorce, and Zie­rock sadly pass away in 2009, his pres­ence is still keenly felt. A quote of his con­tin­ues to adorn the back la­bel of the wines, his art­work is on the walls of the fam­ily house, and many in­no­va­tions – such as mas­sal se­lec­tion and the fo­cus on indige­nous va­ri­eties – can be traced back to his time. ‘Emilio’s father was a crazy man but a spe­cial man, very clever and im­pul­sive,’ re­calls Fo­radori. ‘He was like an artist: very dif­fi­cult on the one hand but with a lot of love on the other.’

The 1990s was a pe­riod of mixed for­tunes. The busi­ness was flour­ish­ing, and Granato was gain­ing in­creased recog­ni­tion among con­nois­seurs. Pri­vately though, as well as the dif­fi­cul­ties of di­vorce in 1993, Fo­radori felt an

in­creas­ing sense of dis­con­nec­tion. ‘By the end of the 1990s, I was done,’ she says. ‘The money was good and the win­ery was very suc­cess­ful, but I was miss­ing the in­tu­ition, the con­nec­tion with the land.’

This ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis was only averted with the help of Al­sa­tian winemaker friend Marc Krey­den­weiss. On his rec­om­men­da­tion, Fo­radori adopted bio­dy­namic prac­tices in the vine­yard. This, a ‘life or death move’ by her own ad­mis­sion, al­lowed the re­con­nec­tion with the soil she had been crav­ing. She started with 2ha in 2000, and by 2002 the en­tire do­maine was be­ing run bio­dy­nam­i­cally, and was fully cer­ti­fied by Deme­ter in 2009.

The next im­por­tant chap­ter for the es­tate be­gan af­ter an ex­change with Giusto Oc­chip­inti, winemaker at COS in Si­cily. Im­pressed with the re­sults in his own wines, Oc­chip­inti urged the use of clay am­phorae or tina­jas. Fo­radori bought one 400-litre tinaja in 2008 and started ex­per­i­ment­ing with skin contact on the white wines. The ves­sels are left open and the grapes and juice fer­mented for 20 days, with the skins sub­merged by hand, then the tina­jas are closed for six to eight months. The big­gest dan­ger is fer­men­ta­tion stop­ping, and be­cause of this two or three tina­jas-worth of wine will be lost each vin­tage. ‘I re­mem­ber when I opened them for the first time I was so afraid ev­ery­thing would ox­i­dise,’ she re­calls.

But in fact the re­sults were so pos­i­tive that tina­jas were soon used for the red wines as well, and the win­ery now boasts 158 am­phorae. Fo­radori in­sists on only us­ing one crafts­man, from Vil­lar­rob­ledo in Spain, scep­ti­cal of the qual­ity to be found in oth­ers. As we leave the cellar, she pauses to scan the room and re­flects: ‘With this [the tina­jas], the last bit of tech­nol­ogy in my head died!’

The next gen­er­a­tion

To­day the work in the cellar has been passed on to Emilio, though his mother very much re­mains an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant. As he wryly ob­serves: ‘Now it is a col­lab­o­ra­tion. If there are any doubts – but there are never any doubts – mum de­cides!’ Hav­ing stud­ied phi­los­o­phy be­fore oenol­ogy, fol­lowed by work ex­pe­ri­ence as di­verse as Bordeaux’s Château Che­val Blanc and Bodega Chacra in Patag­o­nia, Emilio ex­presses con­ti­nu­ity from both par­ents.

The main change in the win­ery has been shorter mac­er­a­tions and gen­tler

‘With this [the tina­jas], the last bit of tech­nol­ogy in my head died!’ Elis­a­betta Fo­radori

ex­trac­tions, now with up to 30% whole bunches in their fer­men­ta­tions. As he ex­plains: ‘I make cakes and ham­burg­ers,’ in­sert­ing whole bunches be­tween berries (ham­burg­ers) or build­ing up layer upon layer of whole bunches with berries (cakes). Emilio is keen to stress this is far from the hippy im­age of hands-off, nat­u­ral wine- mak­ing. ‘You have to be present, you have to ob­serve, and if things are go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion you have to act. This means a lot of look­ing down a mi­cro­scope. You never know ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing in the tanks, but you use your judge­ment and guide it a bit. And some wines need to be guided.’

The ef­fect has been to re­tain the wines’ dis­tinc­tive fresh­ness and com­plex­ity, but also to em­pha­sise their softer side. ‘My mum says the wines are more flo­ral now; iron­i­cally the wines I make have be­come more fem­i­nine.’ See­ing the two of them to­gether, there is a clear mu­tual re­spect, even if both ad­mit mix­ing work and home life has its chal­lenges.

In her poise, charisma and en­ergy, Elis­a­betta Fo­radori brings to mind the late Anne-Claude Le­flaive of Bur­gundy, an­other wo­man whose wines reach the heights of in­di­vid­u­al­ity, pre­ci­sion and ex­cel­lence. As the evening meal draws to a close, a thun­der­storm de­scends on the Dolomite hill­side. Fo­radori perches on the win­dowsill, rolls a cig­a­rette and gazes out. Just a flicker of melan­choly crosses her face, il­lu­mi­nated by the dra­matic light show out­side. For a wo­man who so clearly puts her heart and soul into ev­ery­thing she does, step­ping back can­not be easy.

Right: Elis­a­betta Fo­radori (sec­ond from left) with her chil­dren, Theo, Myrtha and Emilio Zie­rock

Above: Elis­a­betta Fo­radori among the vines on her Trentino es­tate, in the shadow of the Dolomites

Above: the tina­jas Fo­radori uses for fer­ment­ing its wines are pro­duced in Vil­larob­ledo, Spain

Left: Emilio Zie­rock now leads the wine­mak­ing at Fo­radori, work­ing in con­junc­tion with his mother

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