I recently had the opportunity to pry Signore Rudy Buratti, Winemaker for Castello Banfi in Montalcino, away from his extensive harvest duties, so that he could share some insight with TuscanVines. Amico, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Prego Giovannni, grazie, grazie a lei!
Signore Rudi Buratti – Winemaker, Castello Banfi
Perhaps we could begin with a little background. You’ve been with Castello Banfi for almost 30 years, correct? Have you always been a winemaker? What other roles have you held at the estate?
I started at Castello Banfi in 1982, freshly graduated from enology school at San Michele sull’Adige. I heard there was an opportunity to work here, and figured I would try it for a season or two to get some experience. Thirty years later, the learning continues! My first job as part of the winemaking team was quality control, and that has always been a priority for me.
Quality control is a very broad term, it encompasses a lot. What aspect or aspects are most important?
I agree, Giovanni – but the entire process is important – each step. From clean conditions in the cellars, to barrel and toast selection. From vineyard managment all the way through harvest. At every turn there is an eye toward quality control.
I understand, absolutely. And that introduces the next question well. We hear so much about great wines being made in the vineyard and that in the cellar, the winemaker is only a “custodian”. That he should be a minimalist, not an interventionist. Do you think this is a fair statement?
When our vineyard manager brings me good fruit, he likes to remind me that it is my job not to screw it up! But in all seriousness, a well-made wine should be a reflection of the soil that it grows in, the microclimate of the region, and the unique conditions of that vintage. It is the role of the winemaker to usher the grapes through the winery, and yes, act as a minimalist, but take the measures necessary for them to accurately fulfill their potential.
Before continuing, we can see some of this quality control in action, as you describe Castello Banfi’s 2007 Brunello di Montalcino – with an introduction from Famly Proprietor, Cristina Mariani-May. 2007 Brunello di Montalcino
Rudi…. Enrico is the Vineyard Manager you speak of?
Precisely, and you can see us tasting grapes in the vineyard. We work closely together to ensure the ideal time for harvest – weather conditions cooperating of course!
Recently, there have been many exciting changes on the estate – among them, the completion of the new winery (called “Horizon”) and the change from filtering, to non-filtering of the reds. How does Horizon allow you to improve or enhance the final wines? Is the non-filtering of the wines part of that concept or does that stand alone as a separate improvement ?
The decision not to filter our estate wines was made fourteen years ago as part of our continual improvement process and implemented with the 2001 harvest. A subsequent step in that process was the development five years ago of our hybrid fermenters, combining the optimal aspects of stainless steel and oak. These tanks allow us to make wine with the hygiene and temperature control offered by stainless steel, but the character brought out by fermentation in wood. Even more significantly, they are small enough to allow us to vinify each of our single vineyards individually and thus highlight the unique character of our estate. These steps and others have helped us evolve and offer more expressive wines.
Along those lines, Castello Banfi has created three new wines: The Brunello Poggio Alle Mura, Cum Laude and most recently Belnero. What involvement did you have in their development?
Poggio alle Mura was the first direct result of our ongoing process of clonal selection for Sangiovese in Montalcino, which I have been fortunate to have been involved with since its inception in 1980. Belnero is also a result of that research, which allows us to apply some of the lessons learned about Sangiovese in a wine that is separate from the parameters of Brunello. Before each of them came Cum Laude, an early expression of a “Super Tuscan” cuvee that highlights the potential of other “international” grape varietals to express a truly Tuscan character reflective of our corner of the Montalcino area.
The debate rages from Piemonte to Toscana – Wine lovers argue constantly about the merits of new oak vs. used oak, larger botte, and small barrique. I prefer wines that speak of the fruit and the place; and that they be enhanced by oak. What is your stylistic trademark regarding oak influence in your wines? And do you think Sangiovese needs or benefits from extended oak aging?
The distinct character of Sangiovese grown in Montalcino demands that it be tamed by fermenting and aging in oak. Because the wine is in contact with the oak at such a crucial point in its development, and, in the case of Brunello, is with it for so long, choosing the right type of oak and container is as important as choosing the right spouse! This is why we closely control the sourcing, selection, aging and cooperage of our oak, from forest to barrel. Oak should be a complement to wine – much the way a frame around a painting should hold together a piece of art and highlight it, but never dominate what is the true artwork – the fruit itself.
I love how you describe that. We always hear about the “Vintners Art” and that’s really what winemaking is! Technology may allow for certain control over facets of winemaking – but to get the best expression from grapes, it is an art.
I completely agree Giovanni. A painter may have great tools, but ultimately, he must still create.
The Cypress lined road that leads to Castello Banfi
Let’s talk about Super Tuscans then for a moment. I believe that Sangiovese blends exceptionally well with Merlot. My wish is for Castello Banfi to create a Super Tuscan that marries only those varietals. Do you think my wish will become reality and do you agree with my supposition?
We find in our vineyards, on our estate, that Merlot grows into a wine not dissimilar in character and temperament to Sangiovese. When blended with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon has a taming effect and Syrah adds spice. We do blend Merlot and Sangiovese together in our Collepino. In Excelsus, Merlot softens Cabernet, and Sangiovese might seem redundant. In Summus, Sangiovese adds structure to the flesh of Cabernet and the personality of Syrah, and Merlot might seem redundant. But we are always experimenting and learning, so you never know if one day your wish might come true!
Recently there have been a string of outstanding vintages for Brunello: 2006, 2007, and now 2009. Do you have a preference?
Each one is great for different reasons and varied conditions of the vintage year. Right now they are all young wines, and with time it will be easier to distinguish the subtle differences between them. From a point of view of working conditions, though, I do have to say that 2009 brought us the pleasure of being able to harvest each of the vineyards when it was ready over a long period of maturation, without having to worry about a change in the weather during harvest.
So are you hinting that 2009 may the best of the three?
It is like asking which is your favorite child! They are all great, and they are all different. But the early tastings of 2009’s from barrel have been excellent.
Brunello at rest on the Castello Banfi Estate, Montalcino
The vagaries of vintages condtions not withstanding, what is consistently the most challenging wine you produce at the estate?
Certainly Brunello is the most daunting because of the complex nature of the grapes, the aging requirements of the wine, and what is expected of it; but it is also the wine that gives us some of the greatest satisfaction!
What is the wine you enjoy making the most and why?
I enjoy making our San Angelo Pinot Grigio particularly because I am originally from the Trentino, where Pinot Grigio is renowned. Here in Tuscany the expression of Pinot Grigio is dramatically different; we achieve a good part of the minerality and bright acidity that they do in the north, but are able to find more fruit and roundness.
I agree and I’ve long enjoyed the San Angelo Pinot Grigio for it’s minerality and spiciness – but you’re correct, the wine is fruitier, riper and rounder than northern Pinot Grigio. Is that simply due to the warmer climate of Tuscany?
Absolutely. The elevation of the vineyard allows for cooler temperatures at night. This is vital in developing that spicy personality in the grapes and the minerality comes also from the vineyard. But the roundness is an added virtue, since we benefit from warm Tuscan days….
I have been asking this final question of all my interviewees. When Rudy Buratti wants to pop a cork after a long day working on the estate, what wine does he reach for?
I love all of my wines equally as I love my children, but at that moment of the day when it is time to relax, I must confess to being revived and refreshed by a sparkling wine, particularly one that I do not make – our Cuvée Aurora Rose from Castello Banfi’s sister winery in Piemonte.
Amico, thank you for spending time with me. I look forward to the release of the 2009’s for sure!
Salute Giovanni, grazie tanto e ci vediamo!