Stefano Occhetti, the brother-in-law of one of my great friends, is the owner and founder of the “Azienda Agricola - Stefano Occhetti ” in Piemonte where they produce high quality Nebbiolo wine and organic saffron. (www.stefanoocchetti.com)
What makes Stefano’s vinery business stand out from all the other excellent wine producers in the Italian Langhe-Roero territory, is Stefano’s great knowledge, love and respect for his homeland, it’s wine tradition and the great wine from those vineyards. Together with his bravery in starting his business, almost from scratch, in a very competitive and difficult field, the quality of the wine produced in Stefano’s winery reflects all the tradition, dedication, love and hard work that goes into making it. The finished product is sophisticated and light, easy to drink Nebbiolo wine.
I spoke to Stefano about his background, the challenges he faced when starting the new business, and of course the wine, to get to know more about his journey so far:
GLORIOUS ITALY : Stefano, you are a highly qualified engineer with a Masters in Business Administration, yet two years ago you made the decision to change your career and start a wine business. What inspired this decision?
STEFANO: I started my MBA to acquire the skills necessary to manage my own business, one day. That has always been my goal. To work hard on something that I have created and would belong only to me. Wine-making has always fascinated me as it is a big part of my family tradition and I grew up in and around vineyards. After I finished my MBA studies, I went to Norway to work in a large energy company, but I always longed to come back to Italy to start my own business, and that passion for wine making is what brought me back. With everything I learned in my MBA studies, and the corporate experience abroad, I started working on my new business project. I started with a small vineyard (6000sqm) that once belonged to my grandfather. The land was very difficult to work on and the vines very old, but still had the potential to produce a great quality wine. Vineyards nowadays are almost always found on land that is flat, whereas, in the past they were mainly found high up on the top of the hills, in places impossible to reach with modern, large agricultural machinery. Those old vineyards still produce the best wine, but the land requires a lot of time and manual labour to realise their potential. Now after two years, I can finally see the results of my hard work, and I am very pleased with the wine I have produced, and especially the positive feedbacks I have received.
GLORIOUS ITALY: What factors affect the quality of wine?
STEFANO: There are lots of factors influencing the quality of wine, firstly is the age of the vines. Older vines produce the best quality wines but a lower yield of grapes and therefore quantity of wine. Secondly, the vineyard position is important, ideally it should be south facing. I’m lucky because all my vineyards face south or southeast. Thirdly, the elevation of the land. The higher up the hillside the vineyard is located, the better so as to avoid the valley frosts. The quality of any wine can also be compromised by the use of chemicals. The use of herbicides in the vineyard, and in the cellar must be done carefully and respect the unique characteristic of the vineyard and terroir to avoid interfering in the natural wine making process and the wine’s inherent ability to express itself. The terrain is also a very important factor in the characteristic and quality of wine produced. I have very sandy soil in my vineyards that gives my wine their unique signature aroma, which is very light and delicate when compared to other “Langhe” wine with more structure.
GLORIOUS ITALY : Producing wine is certainly not the most easy or straightforward thing to do, what are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
STEFANO: The biggest challenge was to make the jump …. to jump into the new adventure and start this new business from scratch. That first step is always the hardest to make. I had my little vineyard but as soon as I made that career-changing decision, I needed to start looking for more land to rent, to give myself the chance to produce enough wine to make a profit. My old vineyards give me the highest quality grapes, but require a lot of physical hard work because of their position up high in the hills. They are worked exclusively by hand, without any mechanic help, making it emotionally and mentally a much harder decision to leave a secure job and certain career progression and make the leap into this new adventure. The first step was the most difficult one to take, but from here I am sure it will be easier… a difficult uphill climb but easier.
GLORIOUS ITALY: What food is the perfect match with your wine, and Is it a wine good to drink on its own?
STEFANO: My wine is a light Nebbiolo - perfect and easy to drink either on its own, or with an appetizer or starter like pasta or at the end of a meal with cheese. It also pairs very well with meat dishes too, but maybe then, I would suggest a more structured wine, like Roero DOGC (100 % Nebbiolo), which will the next project I begin working on.
GLORIOUS ITALY: I think it is fascinating that you have combined growing organic saffron with the vines, is there a particular reason behind that decision?
STEFANO: Everything started with producing zafferano (saffron) really. I didn’t have any experience of farming before I made my career changing decision, so producing zafferano is how I got started. Zafferano spice is very interesting, delicate and sophisticated, displaying all characteristics I always wanted my wine to have. I like the idea to continue combining their production for the characteristics they have in common.
GLORIOUS ITALY: Can you tell us your favourite wine cellars in the Piemonte-Langhe area, and any particular wines from other parts of Italy that you like?
Piemonte -Roero- the Correggia family wine cellars produce excellent quality wines like the Barbera Marun of Matteo Correggia.
Piemonte- Langhe, both the Manzone wine cellars and Boerzio wine cellars, plus lots of other smaller vineyards, all produce good wine with it’s own identity and unique style.
Trentino Pinot noir has a similar characteristic to my own wine
Teroldego – the Marco Donati wine cellar.