This week, on a bonus episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are joined by Maurizio Maurizi, winemaker at Mezzacorona, to discuss all things Pinot Grigio. Maurizi explains why Pinot Grigio is so popular, and why the region of Trentino is the perfect place to grow the variety.
Listeners will learn about Mezzacorona’s unique organization as a co-op, and will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Mezzacorona’s experimentation with Pinot Grigio. Finally, Maurizi explains how Mezzacorona’s sustainability practices date back decades.
Or Check out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is a “VinePair Podcast” bonus episode.
Z: Another one!
A: I know. There are lots and lots of bonuses, but what’s going on?
Z: I am in this weird mood lately where I’ve been in the mood for macro-brew light lagers. It’s really weird. It’s spring and it’s warm in Seattle, and I was doing yard work. And it’s been hitting the spot. They might be the original low-ABV product or beverage alcohol that is light and refreshing.
A: That’s awesome. Light lager is good every now and then, always.
Z: Yeah, just to mix it up.
A: It’s funny, I’m actually going to dinner tonight with a good friend and his wife. It’s their first time going out to eat anywhere since the beginning of all this stuff. And speaking of macro light lagers, he said “Hey, let’s bring a 6-pack to the kitchen.” I thought to bring them some Modelo.
Z: There was a restaurant, at least one in Seattle, that I went to that had on the menu a 6-pack for the kitchen, which I thought was interesting. I thought it was a nice gesture. And I’m sure they appreciated it, but also a 6-pack is around $25. I thought to just bring one.
A: Exactly. It is so funny because I guess they pull the 6-pack out of the bar.
Z: Unclear if they actually had a 6-pack of whatever kicking around. They probably did, but I don’t know if you could order one of them for yourself. Was it just for the kitchen?
A: Yeah. I mean it’s funny because there are definitely a few restaurants in New York that did that a few years ago. And you’re right, they are $25 to $30. That’s a pricey 6-pack. I’m just going to go to the bodega.
Z: The bodega’s 6-pack is $7, so I could buy them three 6-packs for that.
A: I don’t know what bodega you’re shopping at that’s $7, but it’s still a lot cheaper.
Z: OK, granted that was maybe back in 2006.
A: Those were in your NYU days.
Z: Prices haven’t gone up since then, I’m sure.
A: Anyways, I’m so super excited today. We’re gonna talk about Pinot Grigio.
Z: Yeah. And I have to say, before we bring our guest, Pinot Grigio is one of these wines that my opinion on it has definitely gone in a lot of different directions over my lifetime as a wine drinker. I’ll freely admit I was one of those snobby, sommeliers that thought, “Pinot Grigio, really?” And I blame this on me. I blame this on culture. I also blame it on not trying a lot of good, interesting Pinot Grigio and writing the category off after trying a couple. However, I actually found more and more in the last few years. Not only are there more delicious examples of Pinot Grigio, but I think I like it more. And I don’t know, is that track for you at all?
A: Yeah, I’ve had different phases with it where I drank Pinot Grigio at certain times throughout my wine journey. And I have found myself coming back to it now. What’s interesting is we talk a lot about data on this podcast and the data shows that there’s a resurgence of interest and demand for it over the last year or two. Lots of people are drinking it and coming back to it, so that’s why I’m super pumped to talk about it today.
Z: Yeah, me too. I guess we should probably bring in our guest. He knows more about it than either of us, and that’s Maurizio Maurizi, who’s the winemaker for Mezzacorona in Trentino DOC. Thank you so much for joining us.
Maurizio Maurizi: Oh, thank you for inviting me.
Z: Maurizio, do you remember when you first had Pinot Grigio?
M: Yes. The first time I had it was when I was maybe 18 or 19.
Z: Did you like it?
M: Yes. When you start to drink and approach wine, it’s one of the first ones you’ll start to drink because it is easy to approach, and it’s one of the most famous also. Of course, it has to be the first to drink.
A: Well, Maurizio, you say that it’s easy to approach. What is it about Pinot Grigio that makes it so widely beloved and easy to approach?
M: Because you find it almost everywhere in Italy. Across the northeast, it is more famous and popular, but you can find local Pinot Grigio almost everywhere. And then about the wine, of course, if you start to drink wine as a new consumer, you don’t want something very strange or particular. You want to approach with an easy wine. I don’t mean simple, but something that you can enjoy easily, and Pinot Grigio is something like that.
Z: I think this is a great point that I want to get your thoughts on, which is I think some people view Pinot Grigio not just as approachable, but as simple or lacking in complexity. Yet, I think when we look at your wine and wines from Trentino in that northeastern part of Italy, I think the well-made examples are decidedly not simple wines. They are complex wines. What is it that lends the wines their complexity? Is it the grape? Is it winemaking? Is it the place that they’re from? Where does that come from?
M: First of all, I’m sure it is the place where the grapes come from. In Trentino, you have to imagine this small region, very north of Italy, close to Austria, that 80 percent of the region is mountains, Dolomites, beautiful Alps, and everything. Just 20 percent are small valleys with a small flat while the river flows in and around as more yields are small. Again, small vineyards are cultivated. So it’s like a small paradise where we cultivate these grapes. There is a very strong difference of temperature between the day and night. And so the grapes accumulate a lot of aromas. The production is not so high, so we have a small production, and each farmer cultivates maybe one hectares or two, maximum. They care about their own vineyards like a gardener. In the end, what we add is a very particular Pinot Grigio. It is not a big production. It’s a boutique Pinot Grigio from the vineyards. Then, in the winery, we don’t need to make many things to try to preserve what the mountains give us.
A: Interesting. Everything that goes into the Pinot Grigio that you produce is coming from how many different growers?
M: Actually, in Mezzacorona, we are 1,500 growers.
M: We cultivate 2,500 hectares. The average is less than two hectares for each grower. They earn money only from these vineyards, so you can imagine how much they care about growing. I’m not from Trentino, and the first time I came there, I looked at the grapes and the cave that they used to cultivate the grapes, I thought they were crazy. That’s so much pressure on the grape, but then I understood their philosophy. The secret is about the farmers and the way they cultivate the grapes.
A: In terms of all the growers, this means that Mezzacorona is a co-op, correct?
M: Yeah, it’s a first-level co-op.
A: Can you explain to our listeners who are unfamiliar? I think we hear this bandied around, a bunch of people saying, “Oh, this is a co-op-made wine,” especially when it comes to Europe, and Italy that have a lot of co-ops. Yet, I think Americans have no idea what that means. So can you explain that?
M: A co-op is an association between growers. Trentino, 120 years ago, this region was one of the poorest regions in Italy because Italy was living by agriculture. Trentino was no place for agriculture. And each person owns maybe one access to hectare to produce food for survival. That’s it. Then, each grower was producing their own wine, their own grape, their own fruits and vegetables. The only way to go in the market and try to export their production was to unify with each other. To add to each other, and create something bigger. Co-ops are where the growers put forth money, build a winery, and bring the grape to make wine.
A: And so it’s one company?
M: It’s one company where there are no owners. The owners are the farmers.
A: So you’re basically employed by 1,500 farmers.
M: Yeah. I have many bosses.
Z: I think one of the things that is super interesting about Pinot Grigio as a variety and style in Italy is you’re seeing in the United States more styles of Pinot Grigio that previously were only consumed locally. And here, I think about a particular extended skin contact on Pinot Grigio and potentially even some longer aging process, either with or without skin contact. What are you experimenting with? What can people who are interested in the wines find in the market right now?
M: The Pinot Grigio grape is not a white grape. It’s middle way between a red grape and a white grape. It looks blue, so if you apply normally as a typical white wine, usually you cannot obtain white wine. You have something like a tomato color, a touch of orange. In the last 50, 60 years, the image of Pinot Grigio was only about the white grape, because if you eliminate the skin going into the presses, the juice you’re going to obtain is white wine. The real phase of Pinot Grigio is an orange wine or something more rosé. What we are trying to experiment with every year is also to take a step back in history and try to do some maceration or using some amphorae. Of course, the main production is the classic Pinot Grigio that we like. As you can imagine, we have so much Pinot Grigio that every year, we have many experiments from the context of the skin, from oxidation of juice, from the opposite reduction of the juice, cultivating Pinot Grigio in a high altitude, cultivating it in the flat. There are many experiments that, at the end, give us many tools to play with and create the final blend.
A: In terms of this Pinot Grigio specifically, so Mezzacorona specifically, how do you recommend serving it? Is there a specific temperature that people should be thinking about when they serve Pinot Grigio? If you were in Trentino right now, what would you be serving along with Pinot Grigio? Is it a wine that’s drunk on its own? And if it is served with food, what food would you normally see it served with?
M: On its own, it is perfect, because it’s very appetitive wine. In Italy, we don’t freeze too much. We drink around 10/12° C., especially the Pinot Grigio from Trentino, because we have a higher acidity in the wine. That makes the wine fresher. Possibly, the wine at the beginning is a touch too sharp. That is good for refreshing wine in some respects, but also two or three degrees more, it’s perfect for the wine. Of course, the characteristic of the wine is perfect to pair with food. If you have white meat or grilled fish or starting with the light appetizers, the wine is perfect to pair with because it has a very delicate aroma that never covers the taste of the food. I think it is also very good with some delicate dishes.
Z: You are the winemaker for Mezzacorona, but you also make some wine in Sicily, too. And I’m curious, you mentioned that there’s Pinot Grigio in Sicily as well. How would you compare the wines from these two very different parts of Italy?
M: The result is totally different because of the temperature. The sun is so different from Trentino to Sicily. In Trentino, we need to expose the branches to the sun, better the ventilation between the vineyards. In Sicily, we need to protect the branches from the sun. In Trentino, we have to harvest during the day. In Sicily, we need to harvest during the night because otherwise, the grapes are too warm. Managing in the vineyards and in the winery is the difference. The approach is totally different because in Trentino we start from the grape and we need to protect the aroma that comes from the mountain. In Sicily, the grapes accumulate so much sugar and so much body. And in the winery, we can foster fermentation and try to protect the wine as soon as possible at the end of fermentation. The wine, in the end, has a fresh, crispy, green apple aroma, very refreshing in Trentino. In Sicily, it’s larger, bigger, softer, and sweeter. Not sweet about sugar, sweet about the glycerin. Those are the two totally different types of Pinot Grigio. Also, we use the different clones in the vineyards. In Sicily, we have more French clones that are a bit more aromatic. In Trentino, we use clones selected from Trentino. We have two different wines in the same unit.
A: In terms of Mezzacorona specifically, I remember I was looking at the bottle and you have a sustainability seal on the bottle. I’m curious, as a winemaker, first of all, what does sustainability mean? We’ve obviously talked a lot on this podcast, but I’m curious from your perspective. And why do you think sustainability is so important when it comes to winemaking?
M: It’s the most important thing because you have to make sure that these people in Trentino care. They cultivate the grape where they live in the small valleys, and they live in contact with the vineyard. They cannot pollute their environment because that is where they breathe. They eat what they grow in the vineyard. Of course, it’s not a thing of the last 10 years. It’s something that started in the ’70s. The respect for the environment in Mezzacorona was really a focus for them. For example, we were the first company to use some alternative way to contrast the insect in the vineyards, one of these is sexual confusion. That is a strange thing, right? We don’t spray. We don’t kill the insect that we put in the vineyards. The men cannot find the girl, so there is no reproduction. There are no eggs in the berries. And there is no mildew starting from there. We don’t spray, but we just confuse them. It’s a sad thing for them, but I love it. This is just one part. In the winery, for example, 100 percent of the energy we use comes from clean sources. Most of them are either electric from Trentino, and the roof of the winery is covered by solar panels. Every step we follow is focused on environmental respect. I repeat, it is not from the last 10 years, but for 40 years we have been doing this.
A: So this has been important to all of the 1,500 farmers for a very long time?
M: It’s also good because once you make a decision, then 1,500 people follow you. It is not like many privates that you have to convince. We follow our line and everybody follows that line. So Trentino is totally sustainable — not only Mezzacorona, but also other wineries. The region is actually one of the cleanest and most sustainable regions in Italy.
Z: I have to ask one thing, too, about the label because Adam prompted this question in my mind. When you look at it, you see a beautiful depiction of a stylized version of what Trentino probably looks like. I noticed that the trellising system used, and this is my nerdy question: It looks more like a pergola than a lot of what people here in the U.S. might associate with grape growing. What is the traditional method? And why does it work so well in this setting?
M: It’s the traditional method that is made by the vertical part and then in an angular roof to get a consistent plant. We grow 4,000 plants per hectares. First of all, we use this system because the soil is very rich, so the plants have to express and need to vegetate. We have a bigger place to vegetate, and the buds are at higher level from the ground. We usually accommodate freezing at the level of the soil to have higher buds. That prevents the freezing of the buds. It’s also better because the branches, when they are ripe, don’t remain in the middle of leaves, they are just outside the leaves. You can see down from the roof, you can see the buds and the branches coming down. It is better for ventilation, preventing mildew, and everything.
Z: Does it make it easier to pick them, too?
M: Yes, 100 percent of the grapes we cultivate are hand-picked, because it’s easier and it’s practical.
Z: Yeah. I just would appreciate it, having done a little bit of picking and having to bend over to deal with your typical various training methods, being able to just reach out and grab bunches or cut branches would be nice. Easier on my back. I’ve got a kid, so I got to worry about that kind of stuff.
A: This has been really interesting. I have just one last question for you on my side. Zach may have another one, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about how things are in Italy now. We’re talking to you in early May. Obviously, we’ve all had a really difficult time with Covid. How are things at the winery, and how are things in Trentino?
M: The general situation is not fantastic, because the vaccine rollout has been slower than in other countries. Yet, we are quite optimistic because we see every day things are getting better and better. Of course, in the last year, we had some problems in Italy especially with organizing work in the winery. In the vineyards, that is not a big problem because you have one person per two hectares. In the winery, we had to organize more shifts because we wanted to be safe if something happened. Fortunately, nothing bad happened. There was not a big problem about the organization. However, the market was not so enthusiastic. Last year, there was a decrease in sales. But in the last two months, we are starting like a bomb. Things are going very well now.
Z: Oh, good. I’m glad to hear that. This has been super interesting. I actually opened a bottle that you guys were kind enough to send us a sample last night. I’ll be having some more with dinner tonight. I don’t know about you, Adam, but I have never been to that part of Italy and I’m going to have to find a way to get there soon.
A: I’ve been once, and it’s amazing.
M: It’s beautiful. I’ll wait for you here.
A: OK, good, we’ll come. Can I stay at your house?
M: Of course.
Z: We’ll do a podcast from the vineyard.
M: There are a lot of bottles in my house.
A: Well, Maurizio, thank you so much for joining us to talk about Pinot Grigio and about Mezzacorona, specifically. This has been a really awesome conversation. We really appreciate your time.
M: Well, thank you for having me.
A: It’s our pleasure. And Zach, see you next week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, then please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits, VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tasting director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who is instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.