A tribute to Barbaresco grower-producer Renato Vacca

On March 14, Barbaresco lost one of its most passionate winemakers, Renato Vacca. Owner of the boutique winery Cantina del Pino, Vacca was one of the denomination’s most respected and liked producers. He was 51.

Renato Vacca made stunning wines that conveyed their unique growing zones. I visited him several times while writing my book Barolo and Barbaresco, and after following him around his vineyards, I learned a great deal about Nebbiolo cultivation and Barbaresco’s greatest growing areas. I will always be grateful.

© Paolo Tenti | Renato Vacca and Kerin O’Keefe

A graduate of Alba’s Scuola Enologica, Vacca worked for five years in the cellars of Barbaresco’s famed cooperative cellar, I Produttori del Barbaresco before taking over his family’s firm in 1997. Acquired by his great-grandfather, the small estate was once owned by Domizio Cavazza, who is hailed as the Father of Barbaresco and who was the first director of Alba’s Royal Enological School.

Named after the pine tree Cavazza planted after the birth of his son, Cantina del Pino is located on the famed Ovello hillside, one of the greatest vineyard areas in the denomination. Renato hailed from generations of grape growers, and his father and uncle were among the founding members of I Produttori. After he joined the firm in 1997, Cantina del Pino bottled its first wines.

One of the true believers in making terroir-driven wines with character and personality, Renato Vacca believed in guiding his wines, never forcing them. In the vineyards, which include old vines planted by his grand-father, he carefully tended to his vines, shunning harsh chemicals and chemical fertilizers. In the cellars, he was a scrupulous non-interventionist. He also believed that Nebbiolo should not be entirely destemmed, but allowed 10-15% of perfectly ripe stems in the fermentation-maceration process to impart noble tannins that gave his wines another dimension.

© Paolo Tenti | Renato Vacca at his Cantina del Pino estate

One of the most experienced growers in Barbaresco, Vacca had a profound knowledge of the denomination’s best vineyard areas, and over the years he acquired property in Neive. While Ovello is known for its elegance and fragrance, Vacca’s Albesani from Neive is more structured with richer fruit. Just a few years ago, Vacca also began making a Gallina Barbaresco that beautifully combines precision, body and finesse.

Despite his success, Renato Vacca was always modest and respectful, and as the Italians say, gentile. He will be missed by all knew him and by all who enjoyed his breathtaking wines.