da Giacomo Bistrot

Andrea Farinetti heads Fontanafredda, one of the largest and most historic wineries in Italy’s Langhe and Piedmont regions. Over dinner together, composed of a cotoletta alla Milanese and three different wines, Farinetti spoke to us about the link between wine and conviviality and, above all, about his memories of Giacomo Milano.

How did you approach the world of oenology and when did you realise you wanted to make a profession of it?
Being from the Langhe, born in Alba, I have always had it running through my veins. When I was little I used to spend my Septembers walking amongst the grapevines on the hills… there’s something magical about the area. Then, when I turned fourteen, I started wine school and approached the subject in more depth. I realised it would become a profession quite soon, around the age of sixteen. As I studied and moved on, I realised that I had such a strong passion for the subject that it could easily become my profession.

What is your favourite part of your job in Fontanafredda?
There are thousands of fun and beautiful aspects. September, of course, is my absolute favourite time of the year and of the job because that is when the grapes are harvested. In those fifteen, twenty days, all the decisions are made, including what the future wine will be. The Baroli, which can last up to fifty years, are made in that period.

What are the principles on which the company is founded?
We are the largest private producer of Barolo and great wines in the Langhe. The winery has a long history, having been founded in 1858 by the first king of Italy. The development was then given by his son Emanuele Alberto, Count of Mirafiori, who had incredible ethical and social principles. He built the first CRAL (worker’s union centre) which at the time was called FAO (brotherhood of agricultural workers), and which was the place within the company where employees could learn. He made the first Salariato Agricolo d'Italia (Agricultural Salariat of Italy), because he realised that by remunerating work, people could be happier, especially compared to systems like barter and sharecropping. He built churches, houses... everything.
Consequently, we too decided to build on those principles: on social ethics and ethics towards the land - we are certified organic -, on work ethics and economic and social ethics. In other words, all the parameters that are used today to define sustainability. We also decided that they must be clear and attested, so since 2020 we are certified within the sustainability report and social, economic and nature ethics.

Fontanafredda was certified as an organic company in 2018. An important step, especially for a company of your size. Why do you believe in this type of agriculture?
I believe in an agriculture that strengthens the natural good that I have taken into my hands today: the land, so that one day I will be able to hand it over even better than how I found it. Being organic is the first step towards treating this good as well as possible, but the development towards maximum sustainability is a continuous path.
Organic means no use of heavy chemicals in our vineyards, and that is a huge step forward. It is a path that culminated in 2018, but began much further back, in 2004, when the decision was made to be rid of herbicides. Then, step by step, something was always removed in an attempt to move towards more naturalness, favouring the biodiversity of our hillsides. This, therefore, lead to an even cleaner future.

Tell us about the role of hospitality in the activities of Villaggio Narrante in Fontanafredda? What is your impression with respect to wine tourism?
Hospitality is fundamental because, in reality, we have to recount the value and the stories behind a bottle of wine, not just the intrinsic quality of the product. Villaggio Narrante allows us to do this in the best possible way, because people come here, in the house, to see how it is made and where it comes from with their own eyes... it’s incredible.
Wine tourism today is more and more of a high level. There is a lot of culture in the world, especially for the wines of the Langhe. It brings a lot of satisfaction, but we should learn to broaden our capacity for tourism – which is more present in the lower Langa - and dilute it in the higher territories such as Monferrato and Astigiano, making them discover the entire heritage of this incredible southern Piedmont.

One of Giacomo Milano's priorities is to transmit warmth to its guests, making them feel happy and satisfied. That is why conviviality is a key ingredient in our philosophy. How do you link this to the wine experience?
I think it is a really simple transition. Wine started out as a food and has only become a luxury good in recent years. The producers' aim is to return it to its central role: a bottle in the middle of a table is the element that makes people refer to one another by name. Wine is the generating engine of coexistence, of the ability to create arguments, of discussion... all the great important decisions of humankind have been made over a glass of wine.

Giacomo has a special relationship with Milan. Our first restaurant was opened here and although we have opened several places outside the city, it remains the place we are most fond of. How often do you come here? What are your favourite places in Milan?
I come to Milan often because my girlfriend is from here. When someone from the Langhe, and therefore a farmer, comes to Milan he sees an incredible city, one which moves at the speed of light... in their eyes it is the Italian metropolis and it brings you to imagine the future. Then, upon eventing Giacomo's the reaction becomes “Ah, how nice, there's still some humanity here” and you breathe a slightly different Milan, the real Milan. I like these kinds of places, historic trattorias and osterias where there is still that village feel.

Do you remember the first time you went to Giacomo's?
I think I came to Giacomo's for the first time six or seven years ago. I was with my girlfriend and we sat in the main room because I wanted to eat a cotoletta. I remember that very well.

What struck you most about our restaurant that made you come back again and again?
It is precisely this ability to return to the Milan of the past, clearly seen from a contemporary perspective. It is one of those restaurants where you feel like you can sit back and relax. It's still got the tablecloth and the beautiful cutlery... it's not one of those super wow places that changes tomorrow because it's gone out of fashion. It always remains relevant, that's why one goes back.

For Giacomo, good food and conviviality represent a real way of life. What does good cooking mean to you? What are its essential 'ingredients'?
Good cooking for me is simplicity, and quality raw materials. There should be no more than four or five ingredients in a dish. They should be few, but good.

When you go to a restaurant and look at the wine list, what do you look for? What are the things that strike you the most?
I am not as interested in finding incredible depth as I am in knowing that the person who brings me the wine list knows everything that is in there. If he manages to not even make me open it, I am much happier. Inside I have to find Italy, because today we have a lot of regions that send great territorial expression through wines: important localisms and those four or five fun wines that are in each area.

What did you order today? Which wine accompanied your meal?
When you are from the Langhe and come to Milan, you can't not eat cotoletta. I always have it when I come to Giacomo's. Today I paired it with three different wines going trough Italy: starting from Pedimont, with Nebbiolo No Name from Borgogno; then in Tuscany with Rosso di Montalcino from Poggio di Sotto, to the Etna's slopes with Eruzione 1614 from Planeta.

Our founder, Giacomo Bulleri, believed deeply in the ability of food to evoke memories and emotions, thanks to its flavours, aromas and textures. What does this combination bring back to your mind?
It always reminds me of Sunday family lunches, when none of my brothers were working and we would all gather around a table to eat cotolette. It is also made here in the Langhe, perhaps with a little less butter... That smell and taste reminds me of family.

If you had to describe your experience at Giacomo's in three words, what would they be?
Nice, convivial, evocative.