Below the hilltop town of La Morra and above Annunziata, lay the 5 hectares that make up the Altare Vineyard, which has been planted and maintained by the family since 1948. But the story is not all bucolic: the owner/winemaker, Elio Altare, now renowned for being a major innovator in the region, almost lost all claim to the winery for his rebellious winemaking views.
Elio was at the forefront of the period in Barolo when traditional, regional winemaking collided head-first with a new generation’s desire for modernity. After a trip to Burgundy in the 1970s, Elio returned with new visions of modernizing the family winery--which meant replacing the large aging barrels with smaller French barriques. His father did not share his vision, and the tension culminated when Elio took a chainsaw to his father’s old barrels. He was banned from the winery until his father’s death in 1985. Since he has regained control, he has implemented organic agriculture, the use rotary fermenters and short macerations and he has employed small barriques for aging.
Elio’s focus is on simple and natural wines without chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides. He bought two cows to create manure, which is all he uses for fertilization. He uses only indigenous yeasts and spontaneous malolactic fermentation, and the wines are not filtered or fined. He adds nothing that might change the color or texture, and he uses stainless steel tanks and clean barriques. Basically, these are unmitigated wines that express the nature of the grapes and place they came from.
Elio Altare is a family affair with Elio’s daughters, Silvia and Elena, representing the next generation. Elena studied enology, and Silvia studied Economics.
"A long-time lover of Burgundy, Elio Altare is one of many Barolo modernists who treats his Nebbiolo gently, almost as if it were Pinot Noir. He uses no commercial yeasts or enzymes, racks his wines a maximum of three times in all, and bottles without fining or filtration during the third summer after the harvest. Altare wasn't yet swallowing the hype about 2010, maintaining that "the wines could lack flesh and sweetness. What's a grand vin?" he asked rhetorically. "Is it a black color? Is it 15% alcohol? For me, the most important thing is to make wine without faults every year." - Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar 12/2013
"In my opinion, one of the benchmarks of a truly great estate is exceptionally high, uncompromising quality across the board. Altare is without question one of those properties where every wine is well worth the effort of seeking out." - Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate 10/2012
"Elio Altare is never a man to mince words. He tells the rags-to-riches story of Barolo with conviction, passion and firsthand knowledge. La Morra went from having a handful of farmers (five or six) back in the early 1970s to dozens of estates today. Back then, grape growers were considered so low in social rank, many could not find local women to marry. They imported wives from poorer regions of southern Italy, like Calabria and Basilicata, to live in the Langhe. “C’era la fame qui,” he says. (“We were starving.”) From his panoramic porch overlooking the Frazione Annunziata section of La Morra, he sighs, “Just look at us now.” He tells the story of his first trip to France: “It blew my mind that producers in Burgundy were buying Porsches and yachts with just a few hectares of vine while we were dirt poor.” Highly influenced by that trip (his use of French barrique for aging Nebbiolo is a prime example), Altare returned to Italy and vowed to shake things up. He most certainly did." - Monica Larmer, Wine Advocate 6/2013
Guildsomm: The Wines of Barolo and Barbaresco (features Silvia Altare)