In The Vineyards With: Alessandro Dettori (Tenute Dettori, Sardinia)

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As I boarded the ferry in Livorno, I was venturing into the unknown. I had heard much about the beauty of the island of Sardinia – from when Italian mainlanders recounted their fond memories of summers past, painted with a heavy tint of rosy nostalgia. I had read about the peculiarities of their viticulture methods  – but largely in wine books which are now at least twenty years out of date. In short, I had no idea what to expect.

Upon arriving at Golfo Aranci, and after a quick breakfast in Olbia, I hit the highway. Well, rather, I followed the satnav along some very long narrow roads averaging about 20 miles per hour. The scenery was, nevertheless, spectacular – craggy mountains appearing from nowhere, villages perched 450m above sea level, hair-pin bends offering breathtaking views if you dare take your eyes off the road for a second. Not a soul to be seen. Magical.

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It’s fortunate that I have a relatively high degree of self-reliance because the local dialect is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Even pronouncing place names is a challenge with so many vowels: ‘o’ and ‘u’  and ‘-eddu’. Badde Nigolosu, the name of the village in the Sennori province where the Tenute is located, sounds so fantastic that it could almost be fictional. Lord of the Rings, maybe?

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The vineyards at Tenute Dettori are situated between 300 and 350m above sea level. In climates as hot as this, potential vineyard sites are chosen not to face the sun, but upon the level of exposure to the wind. Even in early June, the white clay soil is so dry. Obviously, there is no irrigation here so I was quite amazed to stumble across this beautiful patchwork of wild flowers.

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The vineyards are planted in the traditional alberello style, typical for Sardinia. There is Cannonau, Monica, Pascale for the reds and Vermentino and Moscato for the whites. (More on these indigenous grape varieties in a future blog post.) The Cannonau grapes that make up the Tuderi wine are from vines which are 40 years old, the Tenores 80 years and the Dettori planted by Alessandro’s great-great-grandfather a whopping 130 years ago.

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Walking through the vineyards, I was struck by how these low-maintenance bush-vines (alberello means little tree) are so very sparsely planted in the field. There is no trellis. There is no vertical pole for support. The gnarled vines bear testiment to the wish and whim of the plant. Each vine will typically only yield a couple of bunches… meaning that the resulting wine has an astonishing concentration, which I fully appreciate when we get on to the tasting.

DSC05294Alessandro, the chief winemaker here since 1998, and his family have been farmers for as far back as they can remember. Time has stood still. The vineyards have never seen a single chemical substance. In the cellar, there is not one machine. Everything is done by hand.

At harvest, the hand-selected grapes go straight into concrete. No cultivated yeasts, no temperature control, just spontaneous fermentation. There are no barrels, foudres or any kind of wood in this cellar. The inox tanks are only used for the blending before bottling. “That’s the way we do it,” says Alessandro proudly.

“The wines are what they are, and not what you want them to be.”

AlessandroTo de-mystify the Tenute Dettori even further, here are three things you did not know about Alessandro:

1. His ringtone is Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”

2. When he was young, he was a drummer in a rock band. They released three albums.

3. There was just five days between the first date and him proposing to his wife.

For full transparency, I feel I should say that I work for the Tenute Dettori, but I was in no way asked to write this post. I’m not even sure Alessandro knows I have this blog!

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