One of Barolo’s most outspoken and respected producers, Giuseppe “Beppe” Rinaldi passed away on Sunday, September 2nd, at the age of 70. And Barolo will never be the same.
A passionate defender of traditionally crafted Barolo, Beppe, nicknamed ‘Citrico’ for his scathing, acidic frankness and sense of humor, made soulful, fragrant Barolos boasting floral, earthy, red berry and mineral sensations that only Nebbiolo planted in the best sites and not forced in the cellar can produce (here you find my reviews of his Barolos 2009-2013) .
Beppe was the lone survivor of the Barolo threesome nicknamed the Last of the Mohicans. The group, which included the late Bartolo Mascarello and Teobaldo Cappellano, were stalwart defenders of terroir-driven, classic Barolos that united back when the Barolo Wars raged between the Traditionalists and the so-called Modernists: the latter used rotary fermenters and aged the wines in all new barriques, while the Traditionalists favored long, post-fermentation macerations and aging in large Slavonian oak.
Beppe, Bartolo and Teobaldo eventually won that war: these days most producers have stepped away from aggressive winemaking practices and have adopted less intrusive cellar techniques that exalt Nebbiolo’s floral, red berry and balsamic characteristics. But Beppe found himself moving on to the next battle, that of defending Barolo’s hallowed vineyard sites. He, along with Maria Teresa Mascarello and Enzo Brezza, bravely took on the establishment to defend Barolo’s historic vineyards, namely the much-contested Cannubi vineyard. As he told me in 2013, during an interview for my Barolo and Barbaresco book, “Today, Barolo makers have planted vineyards in areas our grandfathers would never have imagined planting Nebbiolo.”
Named after his grandfather Giuseppe, who founded the firm in 1890, Beppe, a trained veterinarian learned the art of winemaking from his father Battista, who graduated with honors from Alba’s Enological School. In their country villa on the outskirts of Barolo, in cramped, cavernous cellars dominated by Slavonian oak casks, you’ll find all of Beppe’s passions: a primitive chair made of a used barrique, with a hand written sign: “The Best Use of Barrique”, and in another area removed from the vinification and aging cellars, two entire rooms filled with old Lambretta scooters in various stages of restoration and crates full of parts.
Above all, Beppe was committed to turning out Nebbiolos that best expressed their vineyard sites and the vintage. To this end he shunned most modern cellar technologies, including selected yeasts. “I don’t need selected yeasts. Before selected yeasts were invented, wine fermented spontaneously. I simply let nature take its course,” he told me in 2008. He also never used any chemicals in his vineyards, which are among the most coveted sites in the denomination: Cannubi San Lorenzo, Brunate, Ravera and Le Coste.
But above and beyond his earthy, soulful Barolos, Beppe had a charisma that could move armies, and he marched to the beat of a different drummer in every sense. On several occasions, I would come to his house, and walking through the elegant living room, find one of his motorcycles parked in front of the elegant settees, because, as he told his wife Annalisa , “It was raining last night”.
Beppe was one of those rare souls that said what he thought and fought hard for what he believed in and didn’t give a damn if you agreed or not. And when you met him, you never looked at Barolo in the same light.
Thankfully, his daughters, Marta, who graduated from the University of Turin in enology and Carlotta, who graduated from the same university in agronomy, have been working alongside their father for years.
I first found out that Beppe was ill back in early June, and while in Piedmont this past weekend, heard things weren’t looking too well. On Saturday we shared a bottle of Rinaldi’s 2009 Brunate – Le Coste with friends, and even in this difficult vintage for Barolo, Beppe pulled off what the Italians call ‘un capolavoro’.