There is not much new information one can write about Theobaldo Cappellano, a sometimes divisive winemaker with whom I was once fortunate to spend the better part of the afternoon discussing winemaking, viticulture, land use, morality and invention. To say that my visit was unusual is perhaps an understatement, though I’m guessing it was only unusual for me in the context of my visits with winemakers, as I can’t see that there was anything unusual about it for Theobaldo. I think one learned fairly quickly that Theobaldo, or Baldo as he was known, was not one for facades as his direct and precise answers made clear.
Why did you plant nebbiolo on its own root stock? ‘Because I wanted to and I could’.
Why have you asked journalists to not assign point scores to your wine? ‘ You can’t reduce the experience of a bottle of wine to a number’.
Why are you rebuilding your old lawn mower to cut on the slope instead of buying something purpose made? ‘I’m taking advantage of grey energy. Yes this machine may not be as efficient as something new but by reusing it I’m saving what is there and preventing the use of resources to try and replicate something that works’.
I’m paraphrasing as best as my memory allows me here, but I bet I’ve gotten quite close to what Theobaldo said back in the day, which is surprising. I usually have difficulty remembering what someone told me yesterday, but the earnest approach and blunt answers left a bit of a mark on me. Baldo’s unexpected passing in 2009 cemented those recollections. I had hoped to spend more time with this anomaly of a man, someone who seemed at once lifted out of the past and yet visionary in his modernity.
Since his passing, Baldo’s son Augusto has taken over the helm at Cappellano, and while it is probably too early to tell for sure whether or not there have been a few bumps during the transition, the wines tasted this past May at the estate were exceptional examples from the difficult 2007 vintage.
Cappellano, possibly better known for their Barolo Chinato over the years, had flown under the radar in the US market for decades, really only capturing the attention of the market when he chose to bottle his ungrafted nebbiolo vines as a separate bottling known as the Pie Franco. The goal in planting some vines on their own rootstock was to see what happened. It was a very simple, visceral motivation, with the ultimate prize being a better wine.
Baldo readily admitted that the experiment was not without it’s issues. Vines died and suffered, but in the end the fruit that these vines managed to produce, in turn managed to produce something uniquely different than the fruit from American rootstock vines that lay just feet away on the hillside vineyard known as Gabutti. In truth, we tasted very little of these wines that day, in fact only two of the Pie Franco wines found their way into this tasting but this brings up the point of trying to make a better wine for a reason.