The story of Fratelli Wines is well-known, a story of three pairs of brothers who came together with the common goal of producing wine in Maharashtra and went on to make a success of it. The seventh member of the Fratelli partnership is Piero Masi, who is perhaps less well-known here. Reva K Singh goes behind the scenes to discover what made him decide to come to India. Pictured, left: Kapil Sekhri, Piero Masi & Alessio Secci in the Fratelli tank room
1. How did you get interested in viticulture and winemaking?
It was always in my genes. Oenology and winemaking have been a part of my family and have been passed on from one generation to the next, from my ancestors to my family who have lived in the countryside. I intend and hope to continue the same through my son Giovanni who is currently studying oenology at Florence University.
2. When did you make your first wine and where?
I clearly remember making my first wine – which incidentally was also my first job – at the age of 22 years. I started my career with Casa Sola, a Chianti Classico DOCG winery 15 kilometres away from my house.
3. What made you decide to come to India?
Well, it is a mix of professional as well as personal reasons. In European and American viticulture and oenology, there is hardly any space left for research or changes, both in vineyards or in the wineries. Laws and regulations have been set up and made rigid due to a long tradition, not only in terms of time but, in particular, regarding the levels of quality in the vineyards. In India, we have recently started to think of how to establish a protocol that will guarantee a quality result. This was a big challenge for me and also the biggest incentive to be in India.
From a personal perspective, I have known Alessio’s and Andrea’s father, Claudio Secci, for a very long time and through him I met the the Sekhri family, Kapil in particular. I felt that there were also perfect human conditions in terms of reliability and trust to take up this project and make wines in India.
4. What are some of the difficulties of growing grapes here?
The main difficulty is related to the tropical climate. In winter, it forces the plants to keep growing without a period of dormancy which is a very vital time in the cycle of the vine plant, in order to make reserves for the production season. In India, therefore, all our agronomical activities must be concentrated on the goal of letting our plants accumulate as many reserves as possible in order to obtain better quality grapes and wines. This is also a boost for the longer life of the vine plants.
5. What’s the easy part?
The positive side too is connected to the peculiar climate of Akluj. Being mainly hot and dry, apart from the two months of rain, the development of pest diseases is very much reduced and not so vigorous, making it easier for us to produce high quality grapes.
6. What is your favourite grape? Why?
Sangiovese! In the Tuscan region, where I have always worked, there has always been Sangiovese, which is a typical Tuscan grape varietal out of which Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino are made. I have selected and developed several different clones of Sangiovese which I have also planted here in Akluj, at Fratelli Vineyards. I am very pleased and positively surprised to see the quality of grapes and the wines we have made so far.
7. Do you have certain wines that you regard as reference models for winemaking?
There are many wine regions which I appreciate. I do love very much Montalcino and Chianti in Italy and Bourgogne (Burgundy) in France, particularly the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from there. All these areas are very important wine regions which produce high quality wines which are very much sapid and long lasting. I do appreciate their elegance and longevity.
8. What should one look for in a good wine?
For me, I look at the balance of all the elements that make a wine. I believe that while judging a wine, the actual taste of the wine has to be predominant, around 70% of it, and the balance left to the nose.
9. What do you think of vine age? Does it affect the cellaring potential of a wine?
Yes it does. A young vine plant is by nature always unbalanced and gives more rough tannins in red wines and a more rough acidity in white wines. The ageing of the vine, on the other hand, contributes to smoother, rounder and more elegant tannins in red wines and in white wines the acidity tends to be less pungent. This result is due to a backlog of mineral salts and sugars in the old wood of the vine which are then released into the grapes, giving the wines more flavour. The grapes become rich in minerals with a much higher quantity of polymerized tannins inside the grapes themselves. This makes the wine high in quality and perfect for ageing.
10. How do you see Indian winemaking developing in the next 10 years? How long do you think it will take for our wines to gain international recognition?
I definitely feel Indian wines are coming of age. It is good to see that the trend Fratelli started of focusing on grape quality has caught on. I can’t speak for others but we are confident of putting Fratelli on the world map in 10 years, not forgetting that by then our vineyards will be 15 years old. I can’t wait to make Sette with these mature plants!
This interview is extracted from a longer article that appeared in Sommelier India – The Wine Magazine, April-May 2015