Small, minimal and organic is Bondonio’s way
“I am a farmer,” says Barbaresco winemaker Olek Bondonio. “It all happens in the vineyard. My wines are the vineyard in a bottle. If you have good grapes, it’s easy to make a good wine.”
This is the constant refrain that sprinkles Olek Bondonio’s talk. And it rings true. His wines are minimal manipulation, or, as he puts it, they are “not winemaker wines”. He has a policy of not adding anything except minimal sulfur dioxide (maximum 30 parts per million total SO2).These are beautifully made, elegant wines with effortless purity and balance.
He comes from a farming background: his family has been in the Barbaresco area for a long time but his father and grandfather never made wine. They grew grapes which were sold to other wineries. He’s a hands-on guy and his wife Alessandra is a chef: she was in the kitchen at Sydney restaurant Acme helping prepare the food for a series of lunches and dinners during a recent Bondonio visit.
Olek’s first-name is not typical Piedmontese or even Italian – his mother is Polish.
Twenty years ago he came to work the vintage in Australia, at Hardy’s in McLaren Vale, where he came under the influence of Stephen Pannell, who was Hardys’ chief red winemaker at the time. “I met him at an important time in my life,” he says.
The first Olek Bondonio vintage was 2005.
Today, Bondonio makes fine, elegant, pure Barbarescos, with two special terroirs in Roncagliette and Starderi. The 2009 was the first vintage that he bottled Roncagliette separately. His neighbour in this plot of vines is the famous Angelo Gaja, who sells his wine under the name Sori Tildin.
Bondonio also makes a Langhe Nebbiolo – the 2016 is a blend of declassified Roncagliette and Starderi which would normally make Barbaresco grade.
There are also Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbera d’Alba (the 2016s are current at AUD $85 and AUD $115 retail each, only in magnums). And Bondonio also makes a pelaverga, which is a rare indigenous Langhe grape (the 2017 is AUD $57), a bright, fruity, fresh wine that sees no wood and is best drunk young. It is labelled Langhe Rosso Giulietta as the name pelaverga is not permitted on Barbaresco labels.
These are beautifully made, elegant wines with effortless purity and balance. None of the wines are filtered or fined, but they are scrupulously clean. The barbera sees only large 2,000-litre casks – not barriques, which are standard practice elsewhere.
The vineyards are organically managed, but the problem is the estate is tiny (3.5 hectares) and the wines are in very limited supply. They are most likely to be found on the wine lists of smart restaurants. At the time of writing, only Bondonio’s three cheaper wines (pelaverga, dolcetto and barbera) were available from the importer, but the Barbarescos will be back in time.