Domenico Clerico: The Winemaker with Dirty Shoes

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Our visits to wineries are invariably well-choreographed. Appointments are made well ahead of time and tightly scheduled to ensure that we do not unduly inconvenience our host who is usually the owner/winemaker. Our visit in October to Domenico Clerico was the exception. A visit to a winery had to be cancelled at the last minute because the winemaker was still harvesting. With the assistance of a thoughtful staff at the lovely locanda (inn) where we were staying, she squeezed us into an appointment for the afternoon.

Since it was not on our itinerary, I have not done my customary research. So apart from his reputation as one of the top winemakers of Barolo, I had scant knowledge of this estate. Armed with their address in Monforte d’Alba, we embarked on a meandering drive through undulating landscape of Langhe. The scenery is truly breathtaking and one can readily appreciate why parts of these roads which crisscross and switchback through the hills and valleys are called Strada Romantica (the Romantic Road). I was on the lookout for a sizable farmhouse and I passed many which fit the bill but did not bear the right house number. After making a couple of passes through the same roads, confusion started to set in… did I have the wrong address?

I somehow overcame my aversion to ask for directions (I understand it is a distinctively masculine, not to mention moronic, trait to refuse to ask for directions even when he is hopelessly lost) and stopped at a gate which we passed a number of times to seek help. One cannot discern from the front as to the nature and size of the building behind the gleaming metal gate. As it was built on the bluff of a hill, there are only glimpses of a modern building with a curving metal canopy camouflaged under a cover of grass. Much to my embarrassment, this was the place I was looking for all along. I could claim in my own defence that there was no house number or signs but the truth is that I was led astray by my preconceived image of the winery being housed in an aging and rustic farmhouse.

Barolo is one of the most well-known wines in the world and enjoys a rich history. There is a commune and town which bear the name Barolo and this wine is made there. However, Barolo is made in a much wider area which encompasses this commune. The Barolo zone is in the Piedmont hills with the town of Alba being its unofficial capital (less than 2 hours drive from Milan). To be labeled Barolo, the wine must be made wholly from the Nebbiolo grape grown in the designated Barolo zone.

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