April 20: Piero Masi, the rock-solid winemaker of Akluj, Maharashtra- based Fratelli Vineyards, who was creator of all wines including Sette, and a minority partner, died yesterday morning at his home in Italy, leaving a big gap in the winemaking team, writes Subhash Arora who had met him many times in India and even visited the small farm and winery he owned in Tavernelle near Florence, a few years ago
He died yesterday morning, losing the battle to an aggressive lung cancer. The funeral takes place this evening.
I had first met Piero Masi at the winery in December 2011 when I spent a weekend at Akluj where I was impressed by his humble demeanour and commitment to quality winemaking. He had just started bottling the first vintage of his favourite ‘Sette’. Earlier, we had invited him with Alessio to the Launch of the Mumbai Chapter of the Delhi Wine Club at J W Marriott when Alessio came but Piero stayed back because he was busy making wine and refused to leave the winery.
He was a regular visitor to India and was there at every blending. He last visited India in August-September last year when there was no sign of cancer that was diagnosed earlier this year only. His youngest son Giovanni who is a certified winemaker (27-year age) and also worked with his late father and even a few vintages in India, is expected to fill the gap left by Piero’s passing away.
Alessio Secci. Co-founder & Executive Director Fratelli Wines, who lives in Tuscany, talked to delWine about his journey with Piero Masi, divided between vineyards where they spent most of the time together during their multi-visits every year to India and says, ‘Fratelli exists because of the vision of founders and because of Piero who in turn has helped us to make our vision come true.’
Reminiscing how he met Piero in 2006, he says, ‘when my brother Andrea and Piero came to India for the first time to look for areas to bring the idea of Fratelli to fruition, we explained our mission to make international quality wines to Piero and show that India could make super premium wines. He said firmly that the only way possible was to plant grapes in infertile soils where yields were restricted, selecting peculiar varieties which could work well.’
With a lot of hard work on research with Kapil and Andrea, Akluj was the final call as destination. First plantation started in 2007-2008 and all plants and clones were specifically selected by Piero according to soil characteristics.
Alessio adds,’ I took the place of my brother in July 2008 as an active partner and together with Piero we started to work on a new big plantation in Garwar in January 2009. Since then we have been working closely and visiting India 6-7 times a year. I have learnt everything I know about vineyards and winemaking from him. We had reached such a connection that our palates and tasting notes always matched and based on 14 years of making wines in India we always agreed, be it a decision to pick up a grape or work on a blend.’
Though Piero was responsible for creating the varietals and blends, he was known for his creation of Sette- perhaps because it symbolised the ‘seven’ partners of Fratelli with Piero inducted as a partner after the 3 pairs of brothers (Fratelli) had collaborated on the project back in 2005-06. Fratelli had a Pan India road show of Sette vertical Tasting of 2009, 2010, 2105 and 2107 vintages, attended by Arora at Le Cirque in Mumbai. That tasting expressed what Piero had been able to achieve, making a super Tuscan style red wine in India by respecting the grapes grown at the vineyards since Piero was capable of finding the right balance between Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and making Sette a point of reference among the Super-Premium Indian wines.
The last time he was in India was in August- September 2021 when the company decided to make three vintages of Sette 2019 (currently in market), 2020 and 2021 which are yet to be released.
Giovanni, his youngest son, has been working with Fratelli for three years; the 2022 vintage is going to be the first one he has completed entirely on his own.
Gaurav Sekhri who took over the role played by his brother Late Kapil Sekhri who had passed away unexpectedly with a cardiac arrest on 10 October, 2021 has been also immersed in the winemaking process. Always consulted by Kapil, he interacted with Piero from the beginning and is devastated by his death and says it is a big loss to the company. ``We Will miss every part of him, but the best way to keep his memory alive is to work hard and always give our best,'' he says.
With the passing away of Piero Masi, both the protagonists of M/S wines (Masi and Spurrier) have now passed on; Steven Spurrier died a year ago in March 2021. Coincidentally, both the stalwarts have been snatched away by cancer. Steven had braved the battle and passed away peacefully at his home in Dorset, UK on 9 March, 2021.
The concept of M/S was the brainchild of late Kapil Sekhri who put these two masters together- Piero with his knowledge of Sangiovese grown in India and Steven with immense knowledge and exposure on international wines. They were a perfect match to make an international brand like M/S with deep Indian roots.
Indian Wine Academy pays its homage to a great winemaker who set the foundation and style for quality wines by Fratelli and bids him farewell.
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