Travel Italy: Puglia with Gianfranco Fino

It’s something I’ve always wanted, so I always had the idea of making a wine with my name that would go around the world, and that’s what happened. In short, it was a lifelong dream that I finally managed to realise at the age of forty.

Gianfranco Fino

Join Stevie Kim on another expedition to the heart of Italian wine country, today she has travelled to Manduria, exploring the winery of GianFranco Fino. In this episode Stevie will meet GianFranco and together they will talk about his two most representative wines “Es” and “” in the new, contemporary Gianfranco Fino winery. This episode is also available on our youtube channel Mamma Jumbo Shrimp with subtitles.

Stevie: What’s your name?

Gianfranco Fino: Gianfranco.

They laugh 

Gianfranco Fino: Gianfranco Fino.

Stevie: Okay, great, here we go. We’re in the right place then.

Gianfranco Fino: Yes, eh?

Stevie: But listen, Gianfranco, I’m looking at your beautiful brochure but also at your website and it always starts with “The company was founded in 2004“. What did you do before that? Can you tell me?

Gianfranco Fino: Yes, absolutely.

Stevie: Were you a secret agent?

They laugh

Gianfranco Fino: No, let’s just say that I’ve always been involved in agriculture. Because I studied oenology and agronomy, but I was an all-round freelancer. I’ve also been the technical director of a few wineries, but the last few years before I started working as a winemaker, I worked as an agronomist for Gino Veronelli, the famous food and wine journalist. And he didn’t even know that I had studied oenology, so coming back from one of the many trips we made together he encouraged me to look for a vineyard, and so I did. In 2003…

Stevie: So when did this happen?

Gianfranco Fino: This happened in 2003, I found a small vineyard 3.30 and from there began my adventure as a winemaker.

Stevie: Is that how you knew you wanted to make wine?

Gianfranco Fino: It’s something I’ve always wanted, so I always had the idea of making a wine with my name that would go around the world, and that’s what happened. In short, it was a lifelong dream that I finally managed to realise at the age of forty. So, I produced this wine with the name ‘Es’, of Freudian memory because Es is the principle of pleasure according to Freud. And it was born and is still produced from old vines trained as sapling vines.

Stevie: Okay, so that was 2004. You made it to 2004. And we’re going to taste two wines with you today. Because you do “Es”, “Jo”, “Sé”, “Es Plus Sole”, and then the bubble.

Gianfranco Fino: Oh yes, since 2015 we have been producing a classic method sparkling wine that has been renamed ‘Simona Natale’ for my wife.

Stevie: Yes, someone we know.

Giafranco Fino: That’s right, my wife.

Stevie: Okay, so let’s start at the beginning. Because “Es” is your signature wine. Your signature wine. Let’s start with the name. Why is it called Es?

Gianfranco Fino: So it all started as a joke, in the sense that in 2005, once this wine had been made, I, along with a sommelier friend and my wife, wrote down all the sensations during the tasting. At a certain point, this friend of ours, who had studied psychology, exclaimed “This is the Es”, the pleasure principle according to Freud. He really liked the name, this is a Primitivo which is now an IGT, a typical geographical indication.

Stevie: Why IGT and not Primitivo di Manduria DOC?

Gianfranco Fino: That’s a long story. I always claimed DOC until 2015. Then from 2015 I decided to call it simple IGT.

Stevie: Why is that?

Gianfranco Fino: Why? Because in those years I couldn’t see myself in the production specifications, so I preferred to leave the DOC and not claim my wines. But that doesn’t mean that in the future I won’t be able to rejoin the Consortium.

Stevie: So, listen for someone who started making wine relatively recently, in 2004 all told, how is it that you were able to get on, say, the top podium of Primitivo? What’s your secret ingredient?

Gianfranco Fino: But there’s no secret ingredient; let’s just say I had very clear ideas. They were already making great Primitivo at the time, and I just somehow exploited my personality. Because I’m a meticulous, obsessive person, etc. …. Then I brought this into the wine, trying to make something very special, so I took maniacal care in the vineyard, in the cellar, very low production, then I selected these old saplings…

Stevie: How old are they?

Gianfranco Fino: Well, they are on average 60 to 90 years old, some even a century old. So, without taking any shortcuts, I wanted to make a product of extreme value, and let’s just say that it was very fortunate that from 2005 onwards there was a convergence of judgements from all the Italian wine guides. And for a few years now, fortunately, also from international critics, whether from Wine Advocate, WineSpectator or whatever.

Stevie: Yes, we obviously know each other from OperaWine. But listen, what is the most important part, the part let’s say the man, wine-making Gianfranco Fino or the part of the territory, that is the vines, the soil…What is the most influential part in transforming this grape, that is Primitivo, into “Es”.

Gianfranco Fino: Well, there’s a lot of viticulture behind it. I think that I have taken over several plots invested in Primitivo, they have the years I mentioned earlier. So, a maniacal care especially in the vineyard. Then, it is clear that I have done my share in the cellar, but nothing much, in the sense that I have great respect for the raw material. Let’s say that my good fortune was to have found these very old vines, which I then selected, choosing clones with sparse bunches and thick skins because there are so many clones of Primitivo. But above all, I credit myself with the fact that I managed to transform Primitivo in some way into a wine that not only has its structure, but also its body, because let’s not forget that unfortunately Primitivo was used as a blending wine. So, managing to combine structure, body and finesse and elegance was not easy. So today we have a wine with body and structure, with a significant alcohol content, but let’s say that it is the balance that makes the difference.

Stevie: Alcohol 16, 17?

Gianfranco Fino: No, not 17. On average, we harvest at 14 and a half degrees, 15 up to 16 and a half degrees, more or less. Besides, Primitivo, unlike other varieties, in my humble opinion, expresses itself very well at these alcohol levels. However, the alcohol is well integrated. Then it has this note, this freshness, this acidity that makes it really very drinkable, you can drink it with great pleasure. Then, it gains a remarkable success. Among other things, Primitivo has been gaining a big audience for several years now. Primitivo is now a grape variety that is recognised all over the world and we are going through a really good time for Primitivo. Both DOC and non-DOC.

Stevie: So, I’m going to ask you a question now, one of my favourite questions, OK?

Gianfranco Fino: Should I be worried?

Gianfranco laughs

Stevie: Yes, psychologically concerned. So, in the case of a blind tasting, where there are 4-5 benchmark Primitives, the most successful ones both commercially and reputationally. How do you recognise your wine, compared to the others?

Gianfranco Fino: But first of all, let’s say that over the years I’ve tried to make it more and more austere. In the sense that in the past Primitivo always had a lot of residual sugar. My first objective was to make it dry, as dry as possible. In fact, these are wines that have 1 gram, 2 grams, maximum 3 grams of residual sugar, in short, the so-called infermentescible sugars. So, as much as you can create an austere wine from Primitivo, it’s improper, but this was one of the first objectives. Then, the help of cold was certainly not available even many years ago, so these very long macerations in contact with the skins at very low temperatures allowed me to have this finesse, this elegance. Let’s say that these are the characteristics, above all this great freshness, this great acidity.

Stevie: All right. So let’s come to your wine, which in a way represents the new wine cellar.

Gianfranco Fino: You were right to say “your wine”, do you know why? Because the “Es” comes from these very old vines, my wine is the “Sé”, it was born with me because I planted these vines a dozen years ago, and I did a great job in the vineyard, selecting… Because I had the vitivinicultural potential of every single vineyard… because I did parcellaric vinification and maturation parcel by parcel. So having this wine-growing potential of every single parcel, I then went in search of these vineyards and then from these vineyards I then did a big work of mass selection and then I created these new vineyards. Here we are in the new winery and therefore, practically, embedded in the winery in this new vineyard. So we used graft carriers with little vigour, because it is a very dense planting, we are talking about 12 thousand plants per hectare. The name of this wine is the “Sé” and we have called into question another great psychoanalyst who was a pupil of Freud, Jung. These are vines that now have an excellent balance of vegetation and production, having been planted very densely. By the way, I haven’t invented anything because here in Manduria, already a century and more ago they used to make very dense plantings, one metre by one metre, 0.90 by 0.90, so they are limited in size.

Stevie: Still 100% Primitivo?

Gianfranco Fino: Always 100% Primitivo. Even if the production regulations have recently been modified and require 80% Primitivo and 15% other varieties. But I remain faithful…

Stevie: But a lot of people do 100% Primitivo.

Gianfranco Fino: Let’s say that nobody here would dream of adding anything else. Also because if it has been used in the past for blending, it means that even on its own Primitivo expresses itself very well as a grape variety, so there is no need…

Stevie: So, you brought up Jung. But why “Sé”?

Gianfranco Fino: To stay a little in the theme. Es, Ego and Super-Ego.

Stevie: What is the difference with Es?

Gianfranco Fino: First and foremost, the vines are several years younger, covering an area of around six hectare. Certainly, since the vines are a little younger, it has a slight complexity, but it is much more based on finesse, also because here there are three different types of soil, so I have the opportunity to harvest at different times when the grapes are really, really ripe.

Stevie: And how many, say, hectares do you have around?

Gianfranco Fino: We are around 6 and a half hectares, 7 hectares of Primitivo. Then, there are two hectares of Negramaro that give us our “Jo” which stands for Jonico. Jonico is practically the ancient synonym for Negramaro.

Stevie: So, anyway, “Sé” is also linked to this winery. Tell us a little bit about the history, this is a new, brand new winery.

Gianfranco Fino: We harvested for the first time in 2021, after so many years… because I’ve been making wine on the move, and after a bit of trouble we finally managed to get approval for the project to build this new winery, which looks a bit like a farmhouse. However, we didn’t want to do something vernacular, but rather a contemporary winery, even though we used local materials, such as this limestone, tuff, and this yellow colour. Then, among other things, the entire winery is totally underground, both the vinification and the ageing rooms, the barrel cellar. So, the result is certainly a good job and I hope it will be appreciated, also because we also have a wine resort within the structure, which was created precisely to pamper wine enthusiasts, so it is not open to the public.

Stevie: So, you have hospitality?

Gianfranco Fino: Yes, we have this wine resort, so there is an opportunity to stay.

Stevie: And how many rooms do you have?

Gianfranco Fino: We’ve just got rooms.5

Stevie: Okay, five rooms.

Gianfranco Fino: So there are 10 beds, we’ll have these packages that consist of wine tasting, then there’s the catering part, so you can eat and drink our wines in combination. And then, those who want to can also stay overnight at the facility.

Stevie: Listen, how did the harvest go this year compared to previous years?

Gianfranco Fino: This year we had a very hot July; in fact, we feared that we would have a very early harvest. However, this was not the case because we had a rather cold and rainy spring. So, we picked the grapes, in full Mandurian tradition.

Stevie: Listen you have this winery, it has been a challenging, forward-looking project what is your vision of the next steps for Gianfranco Fino winemaker?

Gianfranco Fino: We have consolidated the quality of our wines and we want to keep the quality high. I must say that with this winery we have the opportunity, because here the supply chain is totally closed. We have the vineyard, the winery, the bottling, everything here. So, making fine adjustments…

Stevie: An enhancement.

Gianfranco Fino: To improve it. My dream would be to host and have the opportunity to communicate a bit about my philosophy. That’s why we created this wine resort in the winery.

Stevie: The very last question, how is the food pairing with these two wines, “Es” and “Sé”?

Gianfranco Fino: Let’s say that…

Stevie: What do you recommend, that is, what would you eat with these two wines?

Gianfranco Fino: But also structured first courses, but above all roast meats and stews. In fact, my wife uses a lot of those bottles because she often makes beef stew with “Es” wine. So, it goes very well with meats, traditional cheeses, caciocavallo podolici cheeses.

Stevie: Okay, that’s a wrap. Cin Cin with Italian Wine People. Cin Cin with Gianfranco Fino and we will see you next time. Bye, guys!

Gianfranco Fino: Bye, Bye!

Stevie and Gianfranco: Cheers.

February 26, 2022
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