Over the last few months, we’ve been looking at wine companies that have surprisingly complex origins, given their fairly new nature. Our look at Cantine Polavanera in mid-January is a good example. Though the winery has existed for less than twenty years, it has a history stretching back much further than that thanks to the people who run it and the lineage of the region it’s based in.
However, this week we’re going to take a different approach. Instead of shining a spotlight on a new company, we’ve decided to look at one that already has an established name. After all, it’s these long-tenured producers that have had such a massive role in the continued development of the Italian wine industry.
So, who is going to be the focus of our little history lesson today?
None other than Fontanafredda.
Some of you may already have a knowing smile on your face, as you know exactly what level of quality this company brings to the table. For the rest of you, we’re going to take a look at a brief history of the company, followed by a short review of one of its best wines.
You can chase the history of the Fontanafredda estate all the way back to the 19th century. In 1858, Vittoria Emanuele II got the estate off to a rather auspicious start, buying it as a gift for Rosa Vercellana, who was his mistress at the time.
The duo later had children, after which Rosa handed the estate to the youngsters. Emanuele Alberto went on to become the Count of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda, and he worked alongside his sister Maria Vittoria in the years that followed.
Just eight years later, the king made the decision to purchase the estates first Barolo vineyard. It should come as no surprise that Barolo was so important to the vineyard. After all, it is the king of wines and it has a connection to Italian royalty like few others. This purchase led to the creation of Tenimenti di Barolo e Fontanafredda, which was the earliest wine to emerge from the estate to gain recognition amongst wine lovers.
However, that was all still to come. Despite owning the vineyard since 1858, actual wine production didn’t begin until 1870. It has clearly taken the king time to cultivate the Barolo vineyard, with mentions of the grape dating back to at least 1867. However, it was in 1870 when the estate truly began transforming into the company that we now see today. Winemaking began in the cellars and Fontanafredda was no longer just a gift to a mistress. It was a wine company in its own right.
Eight years later, the estate was in possession of Emanuele II’s son, he undertook a period of expansion. All told, he purchased 300 hectares of land, planting vineyards on the majority. This period is also important because Count Emanuele hired salaried workers with expertise in the wine industry to help him along. This was actually a new concept at the time, as most wine professionals worked on their own vineyards. However, it’s a practice that became increasingly common and many of today’s vineyards employ experts to help them find the right recipe for success.
Unfortunately, Count Emanuele was only able to enjoy his success for another 16 years. In 1894, he passed away. However, he truly left a legacy behind him. His work had resulted in Fontanafredda’s Barolo becoming a legendary wine. Respected by all of the day’s critics, his wines put the small village on the map.
Control of the estate passed on to his second-born son Gastone, who faced an uphill battle in maintaining the reputation that his father had worked so hard to cultivate.
Gastone took on the challenge with gusto. Sticking to his father’s philosophy of bringing in outside experts to bolster his own expertise, Gastone hired Cav. Mollo to serve as the estate’s director. By 1918, Mollo had grown the business to the point where it employed 200 people, making it a key part of the local economy. Over 40 families were involved in the production of the estate’s wines at this point, giving Fontanafredda a deeper and more meaningful history than many other Italian wine companies.
Unfortunately, the good times couldn’t last. 1928 was a terrible year for Fontanafredda as the dreaded Phylloxera disease arrived at the estate. Unfortunately, the estate hadn’t been able to guard its vines against the affliction. Hundreds of acres of vines were destroyed, putting Fontanafredda right back at square one.
A year later, a second body blow floored the estate. Always a great exporter, Fontanafredda had relied on its international success to keep itself stable. Unfortunately, 1929 saw the arrival of America’s Great Depression. This took away a huge customer base for Fontanafredda and the business started limping along.
Two years later, it was sold to the bank for just over 1 million lire. Control of the brand passed to the Gancia family and it appeared that Fontanafredda was dead in the water.
Over 70 years passed, the Fontanafredda struggling along without really making the waves that it had done previously. Then, something remarkable happened. The estate ended up back in the hands of the Piedmont natives who had worked so hard to build it into what it was. Suddenly, there were signs of life and Fontanafredda began producing again in full force.
This hard work culminated in the awarding of the prestigious “European Winery of the Year” award from Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2017.
Today, Fontanafredda is back at full strength. Now, let’s take a look at one of the wines that made it happen.
Fontanafredda Alta Langa Gatinera Brut Nature 2008
The Fontanafredda Alta Langa Gatinera Brut Nature 2008 is a beautiful sparkling white that is as far removed from the Barolo that the company built its name on as it is possible to get.
With stunningly fine bubbles, the wine has a golden colouring with just the occasional hint of green swimming between the fizz.
Bring it to the nose and you’ll immediately spot some fresh, fruity flavours. White fruits, such as pear and peach, make up the strongest notes in the bouquet. However, you’ll also notice fresh bread and toasted fruits too.
It has a stunningly fresh flavour too, with its acidity giving anybody who drinks it a nice kick. The persistent aftertaste is a pleasure to experience, as it combines spiciness with a touch of sweetness.