Winemaker Of The Month - Giorgio Colutta Interview with Fionnuala

Winemaker Of The Month - Giorgio Colutta Interview with Fionnuala

You might be familiar with Fionnuala Harkin, a recently retired sales rep who worked with us for over 15 years! Never one to rest on her laurels, Fionnuala has actually taken up work with our winemaker of the month: Giorgio Colutta! Read here about Fionnualas experience in the vineyard, and why she chose Colutta.
How are you settling in?

One thing everyone from Wines Direct who has visited Colutta Wines knows is that you are well looked after! Even though I'm here as a worker now, Giorgio has made sure that I have everything I need to settle in easily and very comfortably. I'm staying at the winery in one of the lovely rooms in a converted barn. The winery is in the town of Manzano, so all amenities are within walking distance, and I have use of the company van and a bike, so there's no stopping me! There's a gorgeous restaurant up the hill behind the winery, Elliott, a 10 minute uphill bike ride and a 5 minute freewheel home! 



Fionnuala, after a successful career in wine sales, what motivated you to make the leap into vineyard work, especially with Giorgio Colutta?

As both a seller and teacher of wine (I teach WSET levels 1 and 2), I felt that while I had a good knowledge of the subject from tasting - most importantly - reading and visiting vineyards, I had never actually been part of the process of making wine. I wanted to learn from the very beginning, everything that goes into that magic glass.

It was very important to me to work with a wine company where I would really get to do everything. Here, I'm with Marco and Samuele in the cellar, bottling, labelling, wrapping pallets, filling orders (Sarah would be proud of me!), or with Tonino and Cristian in the vineyard, pruning and curving the branches along the wires. 



Can you describe the learning curve you've experienced moving from sales to hands-on vineyard work? Having been involved in selling wine and now being directly involved in its production, how do you compare the two experiences?

It's a very different life, and in a way, I'm doing it all backwards! A lot of people I would have met in my job as a sales rep, especially sommeliers, would have started their careers working in a vineyard. It's a very different job. My sales job involved a lot of talking and constant interaction with people. This work is much more physical. You're pruning vines out in the open, kind of lost in the sounds of nature, or you're at the end of the bottling line, frantically packing the bottles as they trundle out filled with wine. You can't stop, they will keep coming! On the road, I made my own schedule, whereas here, the work day is based on what needs to be done. The vineyard work is weather- and season-dependent, the cellar dictated by orders needing to be filled, and I have yet to experience harvest time which will be hectic in all areas. 


How would you describe the culture & atmosphere working with Colutta wines?

Everyone starts the day with coffee in the kitchen at 8. Everything stops at 12 for lunch, again together in the kitchen. The chat and banter are always lively, and while I can't understand it all, bit by bit I'm getting more of the jokes and have to ask less for explanations.  

I think the kitchen tells a lot about the culture here. There's a homeliness about it, and a great sense of equality. Having a relatively small team means that everyone knows everyone and everyone knows the importance of the others' jobs to the running of the business. 


Given your unique perspective, what do you think sets Giorgio Colutta’s Pinot Grigio apart from others in the Colli Orientali region?

Now that I'm a professional pruner and curver (ahem!) one thing I notice is the amount of branches - tralche, in Italian - left on the vines in other vineyards around us. At Colutta, it's one or two per plant, while many others have about 5. This makes a huge difference as the lower the yield, the more concentrated the flavour of the grapes. We have all had that watery Pinot Grigio - that's how it's made - big quantities of grapes with little or no flavour. Giorgio prefers to have less fruit and to produce a Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Gialla, Prosecco - whatever the grape - bursting with aromas and flavour. A mix of 3 different plots, some on the flat, some on the hills, allows him to blend from each of these to achieve a beautifully balanced wine.


Many say that great wine is made in the vineyard. Can you share a specific vineyard practice you follow that you believe significantly contributes to the quality of your wines?

I think I've answered that in the last answer! 

Though another very important element is the SNQPI certification, symbolised by the bee on the label, which focuses on sustainability. All vineyard practices are managed to protect biodiversity, and you only have to look at the colour in all the wild flowers to see that.  

Another important element is the soil in the Rosazzo vineyard, which is composed of a particular stone which has ground down over centuries and gives a depth and minerality to the wines from here.


What’s your favourite Colutta wine?

Ever since I tasted Colutta Schioppetino about 15 years ago, it's been one of my favourite wines. At the time, I suggested we bring it in, and Paddy Keogh thought no one would buy a wine with such a tricky name. Anyhow, he took a chance on it, and it has garnered a firm and loyal following. There are only 15 growers making Schioppetino in the region, and its so important to Giorgio to continue to plant these indigenous grapes, not just the big names like Pinot Grigio and Prosecco.


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