Without mankind, there’s no terroir.
Interview with Stefano Ruini
Stefano Ruini is more than an oenologist for Luce. He’s a real “vigneron”, that is to say that with his expertise he participates in each phase of both vine-growing and wine production. He joined the team in Montalcino in 2017, and worked on the launch of Luce’s new products, La Vite Lucente e Luce Brunello, capitalising on his long experience in France.
In this interview by wine writer and photographer Tom Hayland, he describes his previous career and his current work with Luce; he explains the importance of terroir and its human component, and gives a final piece of advice to young people who want to take on a similar career path.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in wine.
«I was born in Switzerland in 1960 and spent 8 years there, 14 years in Italy and 32 in France. I was in Italy between the age of 15 and 27, and was a grad student in Piacenza at the Catholic University.»
«My first viticulture class during my third year of studies triggered my interest in wine. I recall that it was a general presentation made by the great and famous professor Mario Fregoni; after 3 hours, I fell in love with that world.»
Do you remember a specific wine that attracted you to thinking about working in the wine industry?
«Yes, it was the 1979 Château Pape Clément.»
Obviously, your experience in Bordeaux was great preparation for your current work with Luce. Can you compare the two territories – Bordeaux and Montalcino?
«I don’t want to, because it makes no sense. All wine growing countries are different, but have a common history. We must consider their individual characters.»
«Why is each terroir is so specific? Because it depends on the soil composition, on the geomorphology (presence of slope effects, orientation, watercourses, micro-climate, vine varieties and their rootstocks). Every climate change influences wine characteristics and this is the foundation of vintage notion.»
«The concept of terroir is a human realisation. Without mankind, there’s no terroir. Without men, there would be only undiscovered territories. Terroir has its own potential, and my job is to reveal this potentiality. The know-how used in thousands of years of viticulture, leads here (Montalcino) and there (Bordeaux) to originality as unique expression, unique style, no copies can be made, and also typicity like recognition of the product, in this area, and recognition of human skill.»
How do the climate and soils differ between the Montalcino area and Bordeaux?
«Logically, in the same way as Montalcino is different than Piedmont. It would be too technical to explain that. Let’s just say that Atlantic and Mediterranean climates are different in terms of temperature and rain.»
Are there important differences as to the harvest dates for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Montalcino, as compared to Bordeaux?
«Logically. Not just concerning harvest dates, but most of all in terms of duration of the growth cycle of the vine and the wine maturation.»
What is the biggest challenge for you each year with the harvest?
«There are three important factors. 1. To understand the specificity of the vintage through a precise tasting of the berries of the different plots. 2. To classify the qualities of those parcels in order to separate them in vats. 3. To provide a keen eye on vinification and extraction to get the very best out of the grapes and craft a well balanced wine.»
As your vineyards are in a warmer area than other parts of Tuscany, I would imagine that the growing season is not as challenging as in Chianti Classico, for example.
«Montalcino provides us the best terroir for Sangiovese in Italy. It allows us to produce Merlot with great complexity and richness.»
How do you see your role as oenologist at Luce? I ask this as the wine has been produced for 20 years and has become very well known. Do you see your role as someone that is maintaining a consistent style and approach to Luce, La Vite Lucente and the Brunello? Or are you slowly changing things? How much personal influence do you have in your winemaking?
«You should know that I am a “vigneron”, in the French sense of the word, that means someone who has been involved in all aspects of wine growing (vine and wine), “from the plant to the bottle”.»
«I consider that my craft is to reveal potentiality of “terroirs”, not to create or make something. I’m much more a midwife than cosmetic surgeon! Don’t call me a winemaker.»
«I intend to bring all my know-how (savoir-faire) in order to push forward, more and more, the wines’ qualities, through a deeper respect and knowledge of the concept of “terroir”. I am proud to assist in the ever-increasing originality and typicity of Luce della Vite wines.»
Can you briefly describe the qualities of the 3 wines in a few words? How do you characterize Luce, La Vite Lucente and the Brunello?
«La Vite Lucente is an extremely stylish wine, more supple than Luce, which should be enjoyed in its youth, thanks to a good sense of accessibility, with its present but non-invasive tannins.»
«Luce: thanks to the marriage between Sangiovese and Merlot in its youth, Luce expresses intense aromas of black fruits and also varietally fruity notes. As it matures, the wine will start to express garrigue (scrub) notes, complexity and spicy mouthfeel.»
«Luce Brunello is a gentle and powerful giant, tightly wound on the palate during in its early years. A powerful wine with marvellous ageing potential. It is a wine with a refreshing acidity and spicy structure.»
Frescobaldi is a legendary name in Tuscan and Italian wine. Did this influence your decision to work at Luce? How much input do you seek from Lamberto Frescobaldi?
«To be in Italy now is like a homecoming for me. To live in one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, if not the most beautiful, it’s great. Moreover, to work now for a venerable producer like Marchese Frescobaldi is a special honour for me, in order to contribute to the huge project of Luce wines. Marchese Frescobaldi guarantees the project’s vision.»
What is the most satisfying part of your job as oenologist?
«As “vigneron”, when the work provides me with a sense of connectedness with the natural environment.»
What are your favourite foods with the three wines?
«Magret de canard on the BBQ with Luce, pasta with La Vite Lucente, traditional Tuscan food and meats in sauce with Brunello.»
When do you most enjoy drinking your wines?
«Regularly. As European my culture means wine and food pairing, especially with reds; sparkling for any occasions (meal / apéritif) and whites with cheese or fish.»
Finally, what advice would you have for a young person, wherever they live, if they were interested in becoming an oenologist or in some other wine-related position (grower, agronomist…)?
«Our twenty-first century sees people isolated behind computer screens, television screens and telephones. This severs emotional ties between individuals. Who will treat our emotional problems and psychoses? Anxiolytics! But wine resists. It is here, faithful to humanism, faithful to conviviality, to friendliness, to celebrate and, most of all, to physical and mental health. I hope that the future of our craft will be fed not only by the perfect development of the technique but also by humanistic education. Our century will be spiritual or it will not exist!»