Meet Italy's top wine consultant, who counts the Pope as his client


Cotarella, Italian vintner and wine consultant, poses in his family's wine cellar. Photos: Petra Kaminsky/dpa

The small road winds upwards through the rolling hills of Umbria, Italy. After passing the next bend, vineyards are all around.

This is the home of the wine cellar of the Cotarella family, in the small village of Monteccio. The winery, which enjoys a global reputation, is the centre of Riccardo Cotarella's network.

Known for his special talent to bring out the best in both red and white grape varieties, the entrepreneur, who works with celebrities ranging from Sting to the pope, himself enjoys star status in Italy.

"To make a wine is a project," the 72-year-old says.

Analysing the sugar and acid content of the grapes, studying the soil, is certainly part of the process, he notes. But at the core, it's about passion and working with living nature for Cotarella.

The wine guru sits in the courtyard of his vineyard in front of a wall full of certificates and trophies documenting the quality of his wines, talking about the human relationships between everyone participating in the process.

Grapes growing in Cotarella's family vineyard.Grapes growing in Cotarella's family vineyard.

Cotarella has a trove of stories to share: about his own family, about old vineyards that he looks after, rich clients, politicians like Massimo D'Alema, the Catholic Church and viticulture in Israel and the Palestinian Territories – which is a peace project for him.

Cotarella took on his first vineyard with his brother Renzo in the Lazio region in 1979. Since then, the company’s headquarters have moved northwards to Umbria. The Cotarella family owns about 200ha in both regions and is leasing an additional 60.

The younger generation assumed great part of the responsibility for the vineyards in 2016 and 2017, when three of the brothers' daughters took over.

Cotarella still has enough on his plate, however, working as a consulting oenologist for over 100 wineries worldwide – in Japan, Russia, France and the United States, for example, on top of several in Italy.

He works with a team of about 20 assistants, many of them his former students. "We share the same philosophy," says the oenologist, who also teaches at Tuscia University in Viterbo.

The label on a wine bottle of a 2014 Ferentano from the winery of the Cotarella family.The label on a wine bottle of a 2014 Ferentano from the winery of the Cotarella family.

Cotarella has advice on everything – from the selection of vineyards and vines to the timing of the grape harvest, the use of yeasts, fermentation, bottling and marketing. Most importantly, he says, is the personal relationship with everyone involved.

"Making a wine means to develop a relationship with the owner of the vineyard. You have to know their goals and emotions," he notes.

Cotarella's style and his reputation have also caught the attention of British musician Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler.

The couple owns a vineyard in Tuscany, Il Palagio, and they have hired Cotarella to oversee their wine production.

Cotarella recently organised an online tasting for the British superstar, with about 70 international wine. Fans sent four bottles of wine each to smell and try, including a Chianti Riserva and a Vermentino.

During the tasting, Sting took the time to also praise Cotarella, calling him "a tough teacher and task master".

Among those also looking to tab into Cotarella's knowledge is Pope Francis: The Vatican has hired the wine guru to produce wine on two hectares in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, at the long-time summer residence of Catholic Church leaders.

"I planted the vineyard," Cotarella says, with eyes sparkling behind his square glasses.It's true that Francis no longer actually lives in the residence. But he stands behind the project, the oenologist says.

"It's a wonderful adventure."The fact that a consulting oenologist has reached star status says a lot about Italy.

In the culinary paradise, passion often leads the way, not only when it comes to fashion, design and architecture, but also with food and drink. Quality and expertise are underpinned by family traditions.

When asked to describe the success of his products, Cotarella says: "It's not just about colour, smell and taste. I also have to talk about the soul and the history of a wine."

Many of his customers are already highly successful in other areas.

"But the success achieved with oil or music is not enough anymore at one point. People want something lively, closer to nature – like wine," Cotarella notes. "People want to say: My wine," he concludes.

"My wine – that sounds like saying 'my child'." – dpa

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