We talked about water, salt, the seasons and the glitter of tartaric acid crystals sparkling like crushed starlight in his just-barreled 2012 Merlot. It was truly an elemental conversation with wine maker, Camilo Magoni, who has been crafting wine in Valle de Guadalupe since 1965.
After a few pleasantries I launched into my purpose for meeting with him. I asked him how to make Amarone, the dry, robust Italian raisin wine of my dreams. Who best to ask than an Italian winemaker? Naturally he knew the answers to my questions and in his blue-eyed, silver-haired, disarming manner demystified the process. Mr. Magoni, as his employees affectionately refer to him, hails from a little village north of Milan near the border of Switzerland. Sfursat di Valtellina is the local Amarone-styled version in Italy’s northernmost region and is made entirely from Nebbiolo grapes that have been dried to increase their sugar and alcohol content. The name Sfursat is derived from the traditional method of forzatura delle uve (forcing the grapes) to obtain higher concentration in the fruit. It was fascinating to listen as this esteemed winemaker rambled on about the old country and the wines made there. There seems to be no Italian wine or wine making method that he is unfamiliar with. Dear Readers, mark my word: I am bound and determined to try my hand at this aged, full-bodied raisin wine that has captured my imagination, so stay tuned.
We talked about grapes and which varietals best express the terroir (or terruño) of Mexico. Every winemaking area has its poster child that represents the region. Argentina has Malbec, Chile has Carménère, Uruguay has Tannat, Australia has Shiraz, etc, etc. There is a great deal of discussion among winemakers here about which varietal should represent Mexico. Some say Tempranillo (a grape I intend to work with next year). Some say Nebbiolo. Others point to the dry-farmed old vines planted by missionaries that produce highly concentrated fruit, such as Carignan and Grenache Noir. Others say that Mexico does not need a single varietal to epitomize the wines produced here, claiming that innovation is our strong suit and the wines speak for themselves.
Camilo has an experimental vineyard with 106 different varietals. What excites him after so many years of winemaking is working with these new varietals. He stressed how it takes many years to understand a new vine and that it’s impossible to predict how it will adapt to the region, hence it is too early yet to claim that any one grape can represent the valley. It also takes time and a lot of trial and error to learn how to vinify a new varietal in order to get the best expression of the grape. As an example he introduced Sangiovese in 1989 and said that it took him fifteen years to understand the vine and its expression here.
It was a balmy December afternoon and I was comfortable in short sleeves and a skirt. We sat outdoors in one of Cetto’s many shady arbors where a light breeze wafted in over the still leafy vineyards and persistently flowering rosebushes and Mr. Magoni greeted guests warmly and delegated to his employees with ease. Every time I expressed regret for taking his time, he dismissed my apologies with a wave of his hand and resumed our delightful conversation.
Later we went indoors and he requested a bottle of their 2006 commemorative wine “1928” so named for the 80th anniversary of L.A. Cetto which will be next year. 1928 is an Italian blend of Aglianico, Sangiovese, and Barbera, with a touch of Nebbiolo. We commented on the savoriness of dried fruit on the palate which Camilo believes is more characteristic of Mexican wine that the overly touted “saltiness.” (However, he has not yet tried my Barbera. We agreed to take up the conversation of salt and Mexican wine another time).
By the way, I tasted from my barrels today and (with the exception of the Barbera) am fascinated and pleased with the evolution of the wines. The Syrah now displays distinctive black pepper and structured tannins which will become more supple with time. The combination of savory meatiness with lush fruit and minerality is very promising. I think it will be a complex and interesting wine. The Mourvédre (still my favorite) has the black fruit and lovely mid-palate that I’m looking for with floral notes and a touch of anise that really excites me. However, I was most surprised with the Grenache. Until today I had not noticed any remarkable evolution of this wine so the aroma of fresh raspberries on my first whiff completely knocked me off my socks! The fresh fruit had been there before but now it is becoming more pronounced. The experimental blend I made today of Mourvédre and Grenache with a splash of the Syrah was pretty sensational. Iker and I visited the Cabernet today too. We both agree that blending the barreled wine with the wine from the glass carboys showcases the best characteristics of this wine.
I must confess that I become quite easily captivated with any experienced winemaker who is willing to take the time to mentor me and I am under the spell of Mr. Magoni’s casual Italian style. His confidence, warmth, and easy elegance have won me over. I look forward to our next visit.