Bruno Ceretto: from wine to its territory, the key is in the quality
- Written by Pietro Ramunno
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Bruno Ceretto responds to Wine Pass's questions on privatization, tourism, hospitality, and castles
The story of the Ceretto brand begins in the town of Santo Stefano Belbo at the beginning of the 1900s, when Riccardo, the patriarch of Ceretto, began to make wine for guests at the family inn. In the 1930s, he transferred to Alba to continue producing wine under the name Ceretto.
His great success story began 50 years ago, when he had the “intuition to buy Brunate, Cannubi, and Le Rocche, today recognized as some of the best cru of Barolo, at a time when they were worth nothing.” Today Marcello and Bruno Ceretto, the Barolo Brothers, together with the family’s newest generation (Roberta and Federico, Lisa and Alessandro), export wine to 80 countries and dominate the markets of the United States, Japan, Switzerland, and Russia; not to mention China, which “in the next 30 years, faces a growing population of two billion inhabitants, of which 200 million will be in the upper classes.”
Bruno Ceretto, a dynamic man born in 1937 and the strategic spirit of the company, gives us an enlightening analysis of the world of wine.
"My brother Marcello and I arrived in the wine business at the end of the ‘60s, during the same years that Renato Ratti, an ambitious and energetic man, had just begun building the fortune of Barolo. Starting from the 1970s, however, we still had our hands in producing some not-so-great wine: winemakers were not rich, so I started selling Barolo that wasn’t even aged four years. Mascarello was correct when he said Barolo has to be aged at least 8 years to be drinkable, in its better years of production.
We have the fortune of living in an extraordinary territory, which apart from wine is rich with truffles, hazelnuts, meats, and all in one beautiful countryside. All of this qualifies the prestigious Langhe to be of great interest for tourists.
Another mistake, for example, was in the ‘80s when Syrah and other non-native varieties were being planted in this earth. It would have been better had producers believed more strongly in Barolo and Barbaresco, which were considered “good, but…”. And so it was until 1994, when Robert Parker arrived in the Langhe for the first time: after his visit the wines became “Good. Period,” and consumers, their palates used to French wines, began to appreciate the nuances of some of our most noble vines. Even though, also in this case, some winemakers decided to produce their wines in the strong-structured and bold American style. Barolo is best left to its classic style, and then it can become a wine of absolute prestige. Instead, we’ve now distorted the market: 12 million bottles are too many, just like there are too many excellent crus: this has been a bit of a political error of the Consortium, which at the time wasn’t strict enough. We let them profit; but it we would do better to turn back and regain the prestige that we deserve and painstakingly earned, to when we arrived at the summit of our production between the 1990s and 2000.
But I do realize how difficult it is to change a habit. I’ll make a metaphor to help illustrate the situation: in fishing, in order to protect the little fish, they made the net for a bigger catch. The same thing is happening is the world of wine. However, as always I have faith in the fact that in the long run, the market guides itself. Even though I’m sorry to see the shelves of supermarkets and highway rest areas lined with wines at ridiculous prices.”
The future of Piedmont’s wine? Privatization
“Quality will always mark the difference in a wine; so will rigorousness during production, the specialization, and the extent of research. To do all this, it would be better to have privatization. Let me explain: if winemakers were useless, we would buy the oenology school and manage it independently. It can’t be managed by the State, because doing so would be impossible to get someone inside like Lanati, who has such great technique he would be perfect to run such a thing. But if he earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year doing his work, why should he have to accept 1,800 euro a month to run a school? If instead it were private, his work could pay producers, who would then have excellent research at their disposition.
Quality will always mark the difference in a wine; so will rigorousness during production, the specialization, and the extent of research. To do all this, it would be better to have privatization.
Until we’re all united, anyway, and until we stop losing time in meetings that never come a conclusion in the end, we won’t be able to grow. We have already come a long way, but we could do much better. And there are two ways to do this: privatization and tourism.”
Tourism is the key
“From the beginning I was always saying, as regards to my other argument, that there needs to be more initiative because tourism is a gold mine. We have the fortune of living in an extraordinary territory, which apart from wine is rich with truffles, hazelnuts, meats, and all in one beautiful countryside. All of this qualifies the prestigious Langhe to be of great interest for tourists. Then, too, the numbers speak for themselves: in ’99 there were 500 members in the sector, and today there are six thousand, and by 2020 we’ll arrive at ten thousand employed in the tourism sector. We need to continue investing in tourism and we need to do it well, and then we can make progress. It’s necessary to increase high quality tourist reception, improve existing structures, and build a great Convention Hall. Last year, for our winery’s reception, ten thousand people came; our objective was to arrive at 25,000 people a year within 5 years. And here we can educate the tourists: they’ll pay for the service, but we’ll also give them advice, suggesting hotels and other hospitality structures. Before, tourists that came to us complained about the lack of organization in the area. We have to eliminate the possibility that tourists can be duped: these agencies that sell three bottles of wine for ten Euros are not serious...It’s okay to sell, but the important thing is to communicate to tourists the feeling that here, you can live well, enjoy our food and wine, and choose beautiful itineraries to experience the Langhe – things that you rarely see offered all together in just one area.
Tourism should guide the wine producers, who have in fact become wealthy and should now have the patience to reinvest their earnings in this field. There are people who travel 2000 km to find great quality here. And my colleagues, instead of giving just advice, would do well to follow an old adage that my grandmother used to tell me: “give half advice and half money.” For my part, I like to see new ideas that excite young people: but then I happily let them go on their own once I’ve seen they’ve learned all they can, and continue supporting them with my wallet. I’m a man of marketing, and I understand the importance of solid communication; my colleagues, too, are beginning to use some of their money to help young professionals get ahead."
High quality hospitality
“The Langhe has an incredible concentration of high quality: all we have to do is let people know what we have. Three-star Michelin restaurants are very useful for tourism in this area. As far as I know, l’Apro, the agency for professional development, has never awarded a culinary degree to a chef who hasn’t then won at least two Michelin stars. The last starred chef came from the school of Crippa, and in the kitchen we have a guy from Diano who, I’m sure of it, will one day earn a Michelin star. We’ve spent millions of euro on the Piazza Duomo restaurant, but there we also have a world-class chef that teaches in the kitchen and uses only Piedmontese products.”
Castles of the Langhe
“Apart from hospitality, the territory has another great attraction: its stupendous castles. I have great hope for the newest initiative to unite them all under one management, the new Barolo & Castles Foundation. Another great idea in Roddi was to open a cooking school based on the territory's cuisine, and I also think a Museum of the White Truffle of Alba would go over well. The management of the Barolo Castle is excellent, and I have high hopes for the magnificent Castle of Serralunga, too. As for Grinzane Castle, much has been done already, but it has potential to be even better if it were made more international. Perhaps we should consider holding again the Asta del Tartufo (Truffle Auction). In the past it involved great restaurateurs from New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, and London, who became ambassadors of the excellent gastronomy of the Langhe, of our wines, our truffles, and of all our great products.”
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