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In Search of “Little Big” Champagne Producers


Whether you like it or not, a meeting with Dario Pepino will change your approach to the champagne. Dario is a distinguished Torinese, a mechanical engineer who for some years held down prestigious posts in a number of top companies. Since retiring, he has begun a second life, no less exciting and no less rewarding.

About twelve years ago, in fact, he and a bunch of fellow wine lovers established l’Etiquette, a small online retail service specialized in fine French wines (especially Champagne, Sancerre, Chablis and Muscadet), which serves mostly private buyers in Italy. During the next Terra Madre Salone de Gusto event in Turin, at 6pm on September 26, he will introduce you to some of his “little big” producers at a workshop entitled Champagne – A Sentimental Education. His story will set out not, as is often the case, from terroirs, grape varieties and vinification techniques, but from the personality of the vignerons involved, in a sort of interior journey through taste.

Dario, how did your adventure with L’Etiquette begin?

It began at a lunch among friends in Saluzzo. We often used to meet to taste all the wines from the mountains of Piedmont. We’d collected as many bottles as we could from the zone that stretches from Saluzzo up to the highest altitudes. Luca Mazzoleni, who used to contribute to the wine magazine Porthos, had brought a couple of bottles of Voirin Jumel which, he said, you could buy for no more than 15 euros in France. Even before we’d had time to take the news in, my pal Natale and I were in the car headed for Paris. Our mission was to meet the producer in question and buy a few bottles for us and the other friends present at the lunch. Before we left, of course, we decided to contact other producers too, to make the journey all the more enjoyable. We came back with a fair number of bottles to share out among the people who’d ordered them. It really all started for fun. But that’s how we set up L’Etiquette, which now, for a series of reasons, I run on my own.

How do you choose which producers to meet and add to your list?

As early as that first journey, I figured out that the only way possible was to go in search of the best Champagne had to offer. We didn’t want and weren’t able to approach the great maisons, so we went to the smallest most obliging récoltants manipulants. I didn’t want to follow fashion, that’s something I’ve never been interested in. What I wanted to do was to meet producers, find out about their philosophies and their lifestyles. The ones who won me over with all this, I added to the list. With the various friends who came along with me on those trips, we visited somewhere in the region of 150 to 200 producers in Champagne alone. We would go to France about six times a year, and each time we’d pick out six or seven new names and, if all went well, we’d add maybe one of them to our list.

What are the factors that make you decide that a wine and a producer are right for you?

For me, empathy with the producer is almost more important than the wine itself. Take Francois Billion, for example. Over the years lots of people have tried to contact him, but they always get the same answer: ‘I’ve got nothing to sell.’ When I first called him, I told him what my idea of wine is, and he invited me to go to see him. We got on like a house on fire and he let me buy all the bottles I wanted. Before judging wine, I always try to judge the person behind it, their character and their peculiarities. And that’s precisely what I’d like to do at the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto workshop.’

Tell me more about it …

For the tasting on September 26, I’ve tried to imagine three comparisons, not so much between wines as between ways of living. I’ve thought up three frameworks to fit the most identity-making producers in my selection into. I’ve favored the least known, so that the Workshop can be a discovery for the public. Just as the first time I met these producers was a discovery for me. I didn’t want to include anyone too well known, because I didn’t want their fame to distract attention from what we are trying to get across. We’ll obviously get each of them to talk about their wines, and I hope to be able to convey the idea that, besides terroir, technique and grapes, there’s also a person, and it’s that person who defines the wine’s character. I’ll be helped by two friends of mine, Paolo Nozza and Giampiero Pulcini. I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

Which was the best journey of all? Can you imagine new discoveries for the future?

For a series of personal reasons, the best journey was the one I made six years ago with my son. On that occasion, we visited all the producers who are friends of mine, and I had the chance to consolidate my dealings with a lot of them. It was then that I got to understood them more than ever before. For the future, the situation is complex. It’s really hard to find new producers these days. The last time we visited 20 producers and only one deserved to be added to the list. I’m not interested in putting forward producers because they’re commercially strong. L’Etiquette isn’t a commercial operation. Sure, it’s run professionally, but it’s basic aims are enjoyment and popularization. For me, that’s all that counts.

Eugenio Signoroni
e.signoroni@slowfood.it


An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
In collaboration with
Mipaaf
With the contribution of
 
Official Partners
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Supporters of the Terra Madre Foundation and Slow Food
 
 
 
With the support of
 
 
 

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto
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