Our Exhibition Barolo warrant-holder is an irrepressible talker but what he has to say is gripping. The Society's Paul Trelford tries to get a word in edgeways
‘If I sit down and do nothing,’ says Silvano Bolmida, the man behind The Society's Exhibition Barolo. ‘I produce traditionally, exactly like my father.’
Talking to him at his base in Monforte d’Alba you quickly realise that the option of doing nothing is not one that has ever crossed Silvano’s mind.
He oozes a burning passion for his craft and an infectious energy. My notes from our visit are something of a blur as Silvano raced us round his small somewhat cramped cellars bounding over barrels and tanks offering us various experimental samples. I readily confess that I didn’t follow everything he was doing or sometimes why he was trying to do it, but his passion and enthusiasm swept me right along.
If a part of me had in mind that ‘sustainable viticulture’ was in some way laid-back and non-interventionist in its approach then Silvano quickly disavowed me of this view. He seems to have made it his life’s work to push Mother Nature to the absolute max but, crucially, in a sustainable way: ‘Not like a hippy’.
Who knew, for instance, that something as prosaic as bicarbonate of soda kills mould and for a mere €1 a kilo rather than the few hundred charged for commercial fungicides? Or that essence of seaweed stimulates oidium, non-destructively tricking the vine into defending itself?
As for fixing nitrogen and boosting production there is nowt as keen as mustard, which he plants in his five hectares, along with alfalfa and spent grapes are returned, post vinification, to the vineyard to enrich the bacterial content of the soil. All this is delivered with a unique blend of impatience and burning, but matter-of-fact, passion.
Perhaps his most telling quote among the many I jotted down is that ‘The real cost of organic is what you don’t harvest’. Currently on the lab table are vinegar sprays, but esoteric as that sounds, its magic bullet properties are well documented. Silvano likes to keep abreast of what others are doing, through online forums and to experiment technically and scientifically.
His biggest win is to have been able to cut, through good husbandry, his total sulphur levels to the bone, at around a third of the EU red-wine maximum, and not much more than half of the permitted level for wines labelled as organic.
This may have been facilitated by another of his preoccupations, UV light, which he believes is a much worse enemy than heat and must be carefully managed with green harvesting and often cutting his bunches in half to facilitate quicker ripening without too much skin damage.
Apologies if the notes are rather shorthand in nature but Silvano is a man in a hurry!
Barolo Bussia 2015
Still on its skins. Bussia is a very large vineyard, on sandy soil. No added SO2. Juicy and fragrant. We also tried Barbera from tank. Pretty, intense and perfumed.
Barolo Bussia 2014
From barrique, with no added sulphur either. 75-day maceration (skins go back into vineyard). Beginning to gather momentum.
Barolo Bussia 2013
Still in barrel. 60-day maturation. First vintage with no SO2. Beginning to taste like Barolo.
Barolo Bussia Riserva 2011
Bottled 4th May. Intensely perfumed, rich, meaty nose, mouthfilling stuff. Lovely now.
Barolo Bussia Riserva 2010
Gorgeous aroma. Complete, beautiful wine. Huge finish. Young but approachable.
Barolo Bussia Riserva 2000
More closed, very tannic.
Barbera Concha del Grillo 2014 ex barrel
Glorious bouquet, juicy-fruity 80-day skin maceration. Still knitting on palate but great finish.
Barbera Concha del Grillo 2013 bottled May
Nicely settled, again very juicy but less exuberant and more elegant than 2014. One senses it will always be thus.
DOC Langhe Nebbiolo Frales 2013
Named for Silvano’s children, Francisco and Alessandra, this is a very stylish blend of 60% nebbiolo and 40% barbera, but tastes very much like a baby Barolo. It’s fermented 85% traditionally, 15% by carbonic maceration, through the addition of the unpressed grapes to the vat.
The Society’s Exhibition Barolo 2012
One of Silvano’s 2011 experimental vats had proved to be the perfect inaugural Exhibition and we were hoping for a repeat performance. Three 2012 Riservas were presented from his Bussia vineyards. We bought as much as we could of the second. A gloriously rich and balanced Barolo with the classic nebbiolo bouquet and rounded, smooth tannins. Already lovely, this will last perhaps another decade.
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