Augusto Cantele, Pugliese wine pioneer

augusto canteleAbove, from left: Domenico Cantele, Kym Milne, and Augusto Cantele in 1999.

The story of Cantele founder Giovanni Battista Cantele’s “reverse” post-war immigration has been told many times.

In an era when most southern Italians were heading north to find work in the factories of Milan and Turin, Giovanni Battista headed from Imola in Romagna to Lecce in Puglia. He had traveled there many times to broker the sale of grapes to be sent to the north. And while many of his contemporaries continued to operate in the north, traveling south as necessary, Giovanni Battista set up shop in Lecce where he worked directly with growers whose grapes were used to obtain darker color and higher alcohol levels in the cooler climate of the north, where — in a time before climate change — winemakers struggled to quench the thirst of Italy’s emerging middle class.

The story of Giovanni Battista’s son Augusto has also been told many times: when the family moved south, he stayed in the north. He was a teenager when he began his studies in enology and started to work in wineries in the Veneto where white grapes — not the red of his family’s adoptive Puglia — dominated the viticultural landscape.

Augusto would ultimately return to Puglia and although he was initially reluctant to embrace his parents’ new homeland, he would become one of the region’s greatest advocates and a pioneer in Puglia’s long legacy as one of the great wine growing regions of the world.

In the 1990s, he invited two English-speaking “flying” winemakers, Australian Kym Milne (now a Master of Wine) and Warren Gibson to consult at Cantele.

kym milneAbove: flying winemakers Warren Gibson (left) and Kym Milne at Cantele, circa 1993.

Last year, I spoke with both Kym and Warren, who seemed thrilled to reminisce about their time with Augusto, whom they both adored.

It’s important to remember that, at the time, the wines of Puglia were still sold primarily in bulk in the north. While many Italians drank Pugliese wines on a regular basis at that time (and mostly from a bag-in-box), it’s more likely than not that they had no idea where the wine came from.

Augusto had a vision for the future of Pugliese wines: long before anyone could imagine the Italian wine renaissance that was about to unfold, he wanted to ship wine in bottle beyond Italy’s borders. And his first target market was the United Kingdom, where there was a great thirst for inexpensive but high-quality white wine.

It’s interesting to note that before the second world war, Bari and Lecce were second only to Alessandria (Piedmont) in their production of Italian wine and that Puglia produced both white and red wines.

After the war, however, red would come to dominate viticulture there as the north struggled to keep up with demand for white wines.

Augusto’s father surely had memories of Puglia’s past “white” glory. And that fact must have been present in Augusto’s mind when he studied white winemaking in the north as a youngster.

Echoing something you often hear people say about great winemakers like Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa, Warren talked to me about Augusto’s intimate knowledge of Puglia’s grape growing landscape. As a broker, his father knew and was courted by the region’s best growers. And Augusto was keenly aware of who grew what, how well, and how old the vines were, said Warren in our chat.

“He was just so passionate about Puglia and its grapes and wines,” said Kym. “And he didn’t want to make ‘Californian’ wine. He wanted to make Pugliese wine.”

Together the three worked with growers and helped to reshape vineyard management practices there.

Ripeness was an issue: growers tended to pick their white grapes too late, said Kym, and it only took a few vintages for them to achieve the acidity levels they need for the wines that Augusto envisioned.

They brought new French casks to the winery and began fermenting in barrique. They experimented with cultured yeasts.

Together, they created a new benchmark for the production of white wine in Puglia and their UK campaign, literally transformed the potential for Pugliese winemaking overnight.

“He was very quiet by nature and very thoughtful,” remembers Kym fondly. “He liked to have a good laugh and he was incredibly generous. He never let me pay for a meal. He was a very ‘positive sort’ of character.”

“He had a sympathetic relationship with the growers,” said Warren, “and he had a great understanding of the region and the grape varieties.”

It was an exciting time when “many of the grapes were still bush-trained. Many of the growers didn’t consider old vine material as precious but Augusto helped to change that.”

Lorraine LehenyAbove: Warren Gibson (left) visited the Cantele winery last year. That’s Gianni Cantele, Augusto’s son (center), and Warren’s wife Lorraine Leheny, also a winemaker.

Warren and Kym still stay in close touch with the Cantele family and both of them told me that their time with Augusto was one of the greatest experiences in their careers as winemakers.

(Kym told me that he remembers the very young Paolo and his fondness for air guitar, a first indication of Paolo’s passion for hard rock.)

Little did they know that their work together would become the new model for Pugliese winemaking as we know it today.

Sadly, Augusto prematurely left this world for a better one. But I can tell you from personal experience, that winemakers and grape growers from Puglia to Campania remember him as one of the greats of his generation, a man who reshaped the region’s destiny as a producer of fine wines.

His legacy lives on through his children and his brother Domenico’s children. In an Italian wine world where the impact of corporate culture has come to dominate taste, theirs is still a true family affair.

Jeremy Parzen

Empathy and a will to dream in tough times

bike tours pugliaIt’s been a tough year in Italy.

Grape growers and winemakers were vexed by “bizarre” weather across Italy.

But troubles in the vineyards are dwarfed by Italy’s stagnant economic growth and its staggering unemployment rate.

According to the Italy’s national data institute, nearly one out two Italians aged 15-24 are currently unemployed (44.2%).

In America, we’re starting to see the signs of economic recovery and that’s good news for people who sell Italian wine in the U.S.

But Italy and Italians continue to struggle to get back on their feet.

The CanteleUSA blog is about Cantele wines in the U.S. But it’s also about people: the people who drink the wines, the people who sell the wines, and the people that make the wines.

I was so moved by the following Facebook post by winemaker Gianni Cantele that I just had to translate it and post it here. Thanks for reading…

A bike ride, the north wind, the smell of the Mediterranean brush, sea, empathy.

Yes, empathy between persons who admire one another, who share values that sometimes appear to be becoming extinct. Persons who, nonetheless, still have a desire to dream and to say that yes, we can still change this country.

But from the bottom up. We can do it ourselves. Not our politicians. We know that they don’t really want to.


Gianni Cantele

Scenes from Lake Como: the Coldiretti International Agriculture Forum

carlo petrini villa este coldirettiYou may remember that Cantele grape grower and winemaker Gianni Cantele was elected as the president of Coldiretti Puglia back in January of last year (Coldiretti is the Italian confederation of food growers).

This weekend he’s attending the group’s International Forum on Agriculture in Cernobbio on Lake Como as the Puglia delegate.

That’s Carlo Petrini (above), founder of the International Slow Food movement, addressing the assembly.

villa d este como italyThat’s the Villa d’Este on the lake, where the conference is being held.

lake como house rentals“It’s a splendid day,” writes Gianni on his Facebook on October 17, 2014. “This is global warming weather!”

Cantele by the sea ocean at the fabu Casa Ado in Los Angeles

best italian seafood los angelsWhen it comes to true, authentic Italian cuisine in Los Angeles, Chef Antonio Murè, co-owner of Casa Ado in Venice, California is the real deal.

A funny thing happens when Italians come to Los Angeles.

Guarda che bello il mare californiano! you might hear them say. Look how beautiful the California sea is!

Occasionally, the exclamation is greeted by an Italian language geek who will point out that it’s an ocean, not a sea.

Technicalities aside, seaside oceanside dining is always a treat when visiting the Golden State and there is no better place to enjoy the ocean breeze than Casa Ado in Venice, California where Chef Antonio Murè serves some of the best and most authentic Italian cuisine in the U.S. today (see above).

Between its phenomenal produce and the bounty of fresh fish (from the ocean), California gives Chef Antonio the raw materials he needs to make true Italian food.

It’s simply one of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. right now and we’re proud that his wine list includes Cantele wines.

Casa Ado
12 W Washington Blvd
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 577-2589
Google map

Image via the Casa Ado website.

Scenes from iSensi, Cantele’s tasting room, by Kathy Ayer, a favorite food and wine blogger

best wine tasting class pugliaWe couldn’t resist sharing these photos by one of our favorite Italian food and wine bloggers, Kathy Ayer, author of Food Lover’s Odyssey and one of the leading “food sherpas” working in Europe today.

Kathy took part in a tasting and cooking class today at the Cantele tasting room, iSensi, at the winery in Guagnano (Lecce province).

best verdeca puglia wineWe’re devoted followers of Kathy’s and so we saw the photos in our feed.

Based in Provence, Kathy leads food- and wine-themed trips across Europe. And as she writes on her blog, when she’s not working, she’s busy “eating her way through France and Italy.”

best salumi pugliaCeleste, above, was Kathy’s group’s sommelier today at the tasting.

You can learn more about Kathy and what she does on her blog, Food Lover’s Odyssey, where she’s been active chronicling her travels for many years now.

recipe southern italian bracioleBut more than anything, we just enjoy following her on social media because she’s always sharing wonderful and, often times, out-of-the-way spots for great food and wine experiences in Europe.

In other words, we wish we were her! :)

Find and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Kathy, we’re so glad you made it to iSensi!

On oak aging, a note by winemaker Gianni Cantele

The following is a note from Cantele winemaker Gianni Cantele. Originally posted last year, we wanted to share it again here as we follow Gianni and his vinification of the 2014 vintage.

puglia barriqueAbove: The cask aging cellar at Cantele (photo by Wine Friend, who also posts about a tasting at the winery).

We currently have about 700 barriques, small oak casks used for aging wine. Almost all of them come from French coopers and are made with French wood. 10% of our barriques are made from American wood and are used solely for the aging of our Primitivo.

A French barrique costs Euro 700. Why am I telling you this? So that you can get a sense of the budget required for a winery that has roughly 700 barriques in its cellar. This is one of the reasons that wines aged in wood casks cost more.

Many people believe, erroneously, that wood casks are used to give a certain flavor to the wine. The truth is that the wine is conceived in the vineyard and that’s the wine that we put into the barriques. When we’re making an important wine, with a lot of structure, the wine has the muscle needed for cask aging.

Generally, we start with a wine that doesn’t already have the balance needed for the presence of tannins and other polyphenols. The barrique is the tool that we use to achieve that balance. Thanks to the natural micro-oxygenation that wood permits, chemical-physical changes occur in the wine that transforms an imbalanced wine into a balanced wine with structure.

Cask aging also helps to stabilize the color of the wine itself and to increase its longevity. On its own, the anthocyanin molecule would wane. I need to make that molecule bind itself to the tannin. And for this reason, I need an oxygen molecule that will permit it to bind itself to the tannin. This is why micro-oxygenation in oak casks is so important.

It’s wrong to think that wood casks are used to give different types of flavor to wine. It’s also true that when the wood is toasted, it can have an “aromatic impact.” The important thing is to make sure that the impact isn’t excessive and that it respects the grape variety’s characteristics without overshadowing them.

We use our barriques for five years and then they are retired (we sell them for Euro 60 each to restaurants, wine shops, and wine bars that use them for decoration).

Our barriques are crafted by top coopers and as soon as we empty them, we wash them with hot water and refill them immediately with wine.

Here’s the aging regimen for our most important wines (Teresa Manara Negroamaro, Amativo):

1/3 new barriques
1/3 one-year-old barriques
1/3 two-year-old barriques

For all the other red wines, we use barriques in their third, fourth, and fifth years.

The only white wine for which we use wood casks is our Teresa Manara Chardonnay. The wine is racked into barrique while still fermenting (as for all of our white wines, fermentation is initiated in stainless steel so that we can maintain a constant temperature of 15° C.). Once the fermentation in barrique is completed, the wine ages on its lees in barrique and we perform bâtonnage (a stirring of the lees) on a daily basis for two months. Then the lees are stirred once or twice a week for the remaining months before bottling.