Inspiring Women: Giulia Negri from Barolo
Giulia Negri in her vineyard
The Giulia Negri wines are made in La Morra in the Langhe region of Piedmont. The famous Barolo cru in La Morra are on the south and south-east facing ridges with the highest sun exposure, traditionally identified by where the snow melts first in the spring. By contrast, Giulia Negri is on the westerly Serradenari slopes, surrounded by woods and at an altitude ranging from 450-536m / 1,476-1,758ft. These are the highest-altitude Barolo vineyards in the Langhe.
Once upon a time it would have been nearly impossible to achieve ripeness in this locale, but with global warming this disadvantage has become an advantage. Instead of hard and unforgiving tannins, Giulia’s wines display the vibrancy and freshness of the cooling influence of higher altitude.
Fast cars and truffles
Giulia descends from an illustrious family of Italian engineers and industrialists. The 18-hectare estate at Serradenari was bought in 1870 by Giulia’s great-great-grandfather, an engineer from Turin, who was a mentor of Maserati and who loved white truffles so much that he pulled out the vines to plant a tartufaia which, however, was not successful and, sadly, never produced any truffles.
Giulia’s family, who live in Rome, used the property as a country home, but when the estate was handed down to Giulia’s father her parents were divorcing, and the plan was to sell it. A consultant agronomist was hired to replant the vineyards to improve its value on the market. It was the consultant who made the decision to plant some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Nebbiolo and Barbera. “I would never have planted those ‘foreign’ varieties,” admits Giulia, “but since they are there, I make wine from them, and these wines are very successful, and more immediate than the classic varieties.”
Whilst over 12 ha/29.6 acres of the Serradenari estate is still forest and teeming with truffles, La Tartufaia itself is now a vineyard again. Giulia’s Langhe Pinot Noir La Tartufaia is floral, with roses, peonies, Maraschino cherry and a hint of pine resin. There is something about it that is more than a bit Barolo-like. As for the Barolo from this vineyard, Giulia considers it to be the wine that best expresses the specific character of La Morra, with softer and more supple tannins than other places in the Langhe, a brisk acidity and flavours of pomegranate, medlar and blood orange.
What the vineyard asks
Giulia did not grow up with the idea of making wine. “None of my family are really into wine,” she confesses. “I always wanted to do something useful to benefit mankind. I am ambitious, not modest.” Giulia attained a degree in Biotech. “Wine was not on my mind. I am scientific more than artistic.” It was on a visit to Burgundy that Giulia experienced her Damascene Conversion, inspired by a bottle of Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Aux Reignots. “I had this one bottle of wine and it blew my mind,” she says. From that time onwards, “I decided it was an ambition to make a great wine. I had no idea what making wine involved. I know I can do anything if I put my mind to it, but with wine I know this doesn’t apply. I know it is not made by you. I have a duty to make what the vineyard asks.”
Giulia’s vinification is minimalist, low-intervention reductive winemaking, with pumping over, minimal oxygen, indigenous yeasts for the fermentation and ageing for 24-30 months in 25 hectolitre Slovenian oak casks. Giulia started parcellating the vineyards in order to be able to better predict picking times, which logically led to single vineyard bottlings.
Barolo Serradenari is from sandy acidic soils and produces smaller berries with thicker skins. The wines have a stony, saline character, angular tannins and the aroma of the forest floor. Barolo Marassio is from the highest vineyard, 536m/1,758ft, with active limestone soils and this wine needs plenty of time in bottle and in the decanter to unfurl its classic “tar and roses” aromas. Barolo La Delizia is a special selection sourced from all the vineyards and is the wine that best captures the essence of the estate and its owner.
Strong and fragile
Giulia was given the estate by her family and, as the owner, has the freedom to explore, discover and create with an independence that most young winemakers can only dream of. It would certainly be easy in these circumstances to be spoiled and unserious, but Giulia is clearly not. In a world where there is so much choice, Giulia Negri, the wines and the woman, stand out for being both strong and fragile, exceptionally beautiful, with a wonderful personality.
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