Aldo Conterno, an Italian wine pioneer and one of the great protagonists of Barolo, died on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 in the commune of Monforte d’Alba in Piedmont, Italy. He was 81 years old.
Conterno was a transformative figure for Barolo. His winemaking creativity and interest in New World techniques changed one of Italy’s most storied and traditional wines, made from the austere Nebbiolo grape at the foothills of the Italian Alps.
“He was a huge personality, a figure of enormous importance to the rebirth of Barolo,” says Enzo Brezza, a Barolo producer and president of Albeisa, an Italian winegrowers association. Brezza told Wine Enthusiast Magazine that even though Conterno had not made many public appearances over the past several years because he was battling illness, “You felt his presence even if you didn’t always see him.”
Like many of the wine estates in the area, Conterno’s craft was passed down through the generations, from father to son. Unlike others, however, his family roots included ties to Argentina and America, where his ancestors first settled. His father, Giacomo Conterno, produced his first bottlings of Barolo upon returning from World War I.
Giacomo’s sons, Aldo and Giovanni, inherited the Giacomo Conterno estate and brand in 1961. But in 1969, Aldo Conterno founded his own estate, Poderi Aldo Conterno, and its recognizable white label.
Conterno was no doubt influenced by his deep knowledge of the New World. In the 1950s, at 23 years old, he moved to California to learn more about the wine business. That’s when he decided to complete his mandatory Italian military service in the United States and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
Today, Aldo Conterno is credited with building the prestige of the Bussia Cru in the Monforte d’Alba subzone of Barolo, where his sprawling private residence overlooks the vineyards. He’s also credited with embracing modern winemaking techniques, such as the use of French barrique, longer macerations and tight control of vineyard yields.
“He existed in a special place between modernism and tradition,” says Brezza. “He wasn’t an outright revolutionary like Elio Altare or Domenico Clerico. He was a man of clear ideas and determination, and he was a beacon of light who shined on the path the rest of us would take.”