Piero Masi’s tryst with Fratelli goes back to 2006 when he was approached by the Secci family in the same town of Tavarnelle, about 30 kms from Florence. He was already working as a consultant after working with Casa Sola in 1975-85 and Isole e Olena in 1985-1998– well-known producers of Chianti Classico in Tuscany. He is also attributed with the creation of the famous ‘Chianti Classico Casa Sola’ and the Super Tuscan ‘Cepparello’ for the premier Tuscan winery Isole e Olena. He also had a small family-owned winery of his own with 7 hA of vines.
Meeting the Fratelli
Secci brothers, also from Tavarnelle had tied up with the Sekhri brothers in Delhi and Mohit-Patile bothers in Akluj and needed a good winemaker to work with them in the proposed business. Piero knew the father agreed to visit Akluj to look at the possibility. He first travelled to India in January 2007 when he went with the partners to Motewadi village and a few other properties in Sholapur District, about 180 km from Pune), 3 hour-drive.
Vineyards of Fratelli
The soil got tested at the local grape producers Association and the virgin land found suitable for growing grapes. Working with the local Akluj partners Arjunsinh –Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil , three vineyards were developed in 3 villages- Motewadi (M-about 30 hA), Garwar (G-About 40-45 hA) and Nimgaon (N-around 10 hA belonging to Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil). Piero supervised each of the 350,000 plants planted at 1m* 2.4 m distance, making it 1600 plants/ Acre. Recently 33 Acres belonging to Arjun at Garwar have been also consigned to Fratelli for the total production of grapes. The winery, guest house and other infrastructure are located at the original vineyard in Motewadi.
‘The barren land in these areas sees no water except during rains. Pipe lines ranging from 3 to 7.5 kms were laid to bring water from the canal in the area for all the vineyards,’ he tells me.
Piero has a free hand in growing what he thinks is best for the soil and he is constantly innovating and experimenting. I remember he had Pinot Noir earlier in Motewadi which he uprooted as he did not think it was doing well.
He continues to grow 12 varieties in the three vineyards-7 reds and 5 whites. Sangiovese (G,N), Cabernet Sauvignon (M,G), Merlot (N,G), Cabernet Franc (G,N,M), Syrah (G), Marselan (G), Petit Verdot (G) are the 7 red grapes while Chenin Blanc (M), Sauvignon Blanc (G,M), Chardonnay (G, M), Gewürztraminer (G,M), Müller-Thurgau (G,M) are the whites.
He stress the point that ‘’we keep our yields very low-I make sure of that-in order to get good concentration.’ Fratelli often claims that their yields are merely a fourth of the industry norm. His viticulture assistant, Datta Gule ensures that the fruit is in the most healthy condition.
Keeping to his philosophy, all wines are dry, with less than 3 gms/liter residual, no matter how fruity they are. In fact, they don’t feel too dry on the palate because of the fruitiness and the balance. The premium Vitae Tre (a blend of Chenin, Gewürztraminer and Mueller Thurgau) is a perfect example.
One of the key objectives of my visit was to be a passive part of the blending process. We tasted wines from several tanks. The Chenin was fruity but bitter and astringent and I didn’t like it. Not to worry, he says and tells his assistant Vrushal Kedari to mix 2 gms/liter of fish gelatine which is imported from France. Similarly we go from tank to tank and he gives different instructions for different chemicals and quantities. ‘I think these quantities will work for the blend but we shall re-taste and tweak, if needed.
Sette pe Setta
Sette continues to be the flagship wine despite several additions during the past few years and his experimentation with the blend-varying from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. He recommends decanting the 2011 for 60 minutes while 2012 would need only 30 minutes, he says. When I tell him he should have bottled some bottles as magnums also- for storage and future vertical tastings etc, he agrees that they should have considered. But now he has decided to bottle in magnums-but not for Sette. ‘I have 6 barrels of Cabernet Franc and 6 of Sangiovese maturing in 4 year barrels- by removing the lid and re-sealing it. I propose to put these in Magnums as I feel they would be beautiful, unique wines.’
He is also experimenting with Gewürztraminer being fermented and stored in 4- year old barrels. Though I feel it would be too oaky for my palate, I would keenly await the results of this experiment.
Millionaire in the making
Kapil Sekhri does not like to talk about the financials of the company including holdings or his future plans but he admits with a smile of satisfaction that they sold around 110,000 cases last year-including around 23,000 cases of Cidus Port, the low-end sweet win with 60 gms/liter sugar with around 13.5% alcohol being produced at a small contracted winery of a farmer in the region. He is pleased that for the first time they achieved revenues of over Rs. 50 crores (Rs. 50 million). He is even happier that there had cash profit in 2015-16 for the first time.
Kapil has often denied the rumours that they are looking to dilute their stake but a merchant banker who even approached me for my opinion on the future of the company confirmed that a reasonable percentage of shares at Face Value of Rs. 10 a share were sold to friends, family and acquaintances at a premium valuation of Rs. 110 a share. The object of the exercise would be to get better valuation. They are also looking for making their brand Fratelli worth 500 crores (Rs. 5 billion).
A very smart move was made by the Fratelli to gift him a small but decent percentage ownership (I I would not like to divulge it as it is irrelevant to our readers-editor). If the plans go well, Masi will be a millionaire (in Euros), many times over, one of these years. But that is not of immediate concern to the Tuscan winemaker. He wants to keep on experimenting and tweaking continuously, and make the best Indian wine possible with the hand he is dealt in-be it soil, climate or the vintage.
That experimentation also includes tweaking with the blends and packaging. When I met him at the winery 5 years ago he was bottling the first batch of Sette.
Tasting the Competition
It was part of the surprise package that we finished the last part of the evening, tasting wines couriered from Karnataka and brought in by Arjun Mohite-Patil. A total of 16 wines-but we decided to taste only the reds due to paucity of time. Wines from Sula, Grover, Big Banyan, SDU and KRSMA were uncorked, including a couple of Reserves. Comparing with Sette, no other wine could hold water despite a brave front by Grover La Reserve. There was a face-off between KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and Sette 2012. It would be unfair to compare the two because of different grapes and vintages. But Piero did concede it was a fine wine.
I would drink to that and Piero Masi and say Salute! Jai Ho!!!
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To visit to Fratelli or for more details - check out www. Fratelliwines.in Fratelli.Vineyard (FaceBook) Twitter: Fratelli_wines). @fratelliwines (insta) or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is not extremely comfortable with English but works surprisingly with easy with his viticulture and winemaker assistants who work regularly and take instructions from him when he is in Italy.
(Voluntary Disclosure- Hospitality and Logistics support for the visit was provided by Fratelli Vineyards –editor)
Video : Chat with Masi