The Barolo wine war was an argument of traditional versus modern methods of winemaking, One of many such Traditionalist arguments. Barolo was a type of red wine produced in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. It comes from the Nebbiolo grape and has long been considered one of Italy’s best.
The controversy arose around the 1980’s when a new method of winemaking was introduced to produce wines in the area. A younger generation of producers had fresh ideas and a desire to reinvigorate their vineyards with new technologies which would enable them to speed up the winemaking process.
The original Barolo underwent a maceration time of 15 to 30 days, and was then aged in neutral oak barrels. Before it was mature enough for drinking, it needed to age for many years. The modern day Barolo had a shortened maceration of only 7 to 10 days, followed by an aging in smaller, French barrels which meant the wine could be consumed much sooner. As with many arguments about the aging of wine, the supporters of the traditional method believed that the oak interfered with the Barolo characteristics and largely took away that which made it so famous.
In spite of its criticism, the modern day sciences that were brought upon the region allowed for experimentation, and also much improvement on the old winemaking techniques. The problem was that there was so much pride and heart in the old fashioned methods, that many of the traditionalists took great offence at the way their regions wine making processes were so ruthlessly changed by the up and comers.
The argument was that the traditional methods should have been respected and remained untouched. There was a belief that Barolo wine produced using the new methods was not a true Barolo. The modernists believed that as our world moves on and our technologies grow, the methods of producing wine should also. They thought that if their machinery allowed them to make a better tasting product that could be consumed without years of aging, the wine world would be all the better for it!
With canopy management, the grapes could be harvested riper and earlier than before. Previous to this, grapes were picked before they were fully ripe and this left the wine with bitter, green tannins. In turn, this meant that the maceration period had to be extended, followed by years in the cask to soften the product. As viticuluture grew more advanced, hygiene and temperature controls gave the winemakers more power over their product.
In the present day, the two methods seem to have adopted somewhat of a compromise. It’s hard to deny the benefits of modern day technologies, so many of the traditionalists now own contemporary machinery. However, it’s fair to say that tradition should be respected and these days, both approaches are often combined. The Barolo wine is famous, so it makes sense to create a product using elements of the traditional method. In a close knit community, the main objective seems to be creating a product to be proud of, that will continue to give their region a good name in the world of wine.