Competition – ​Riccardo Brighigna

Riccardo Brighigna writes, ‘I am a winemaker consultant of several wineries for the oenological department in the Abruzzo region. My clients range from small farms, to bottlers and up to large coops. In all the companies I give operating instruction in the production area from the vineyard (in collaboration with agronomists) until bottling. I am also responsible for the research and development department. In 2016 I got the WSET Level 3 in London and I was accepted as a student of the Institute of Masters of Wine where I am going to attend stage 2.’ This is his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition

My career as a winemaker seemed destined from the start. A Passion for cooking ingredients and hours spent smelling the spices in grandma's cupboard. As a child, in every dish I also recognized even the slightest variation of the ingredients and my mum used to say: "That's incredible, you will be a great wine taster"! I do not know if due to my mum’s recommendation or because Barolo wine was often on the table when I was a child (Mum was born in Piemonte and she always said Barolo is a magic wine) but I decided to follow the smell of wine.

In the '70s in Italy and in particular in my Region, Abruzzo, wine and winemakers were not so popular and you chose to study oenology only if you really had wine in your heart. I wanted to believe my mum and I started to study oenology and viticulture when I was only 14 years old. Unfortunately, my studies ended in the saddest year of the century for the Italian wine. It was March 1986 when, due to a miscreant, 23 people died because of adulterated wine with the addition of methyl alcohol. The Italian wine market fell by 40% and several foreign borders for Italian wine were closed.

Therefore, it was an uphill struggle. I was a very young winemaker just having graduated in 1986. So, I had to accept, for my first harvest, an assignment as a simple worker in a coop near my town. I was assigned the humblest of jobs, however, it was right there that I learned the basics and practical aspects of winemaking that would then give me the opportunity to instruct and manage workers in the winery. Those years as mentioned, however, were difficult. The coop had financial difficulties (it was sadly transformed into a hotel) and I was forced to leave the winery.

My experience then continued as the head winemaker at a big (at least for the Abruzzo dimension) bottler, oriented mainly to the entry-level market. The work inevitably with the passing of the years became boring and devoid of stimulus because of the company's lack of ambition. Nonetheless, if one really loves this job, it is impossible to stay away from the vineyards and production of quality wine for long.

Therefore, in 1998 the desire to measure myself with goals of excellence led me to leave that position to follow (as a freelancer) a winery (Azienda Agriverde) born according to the guidelines of organic farming (very few at that time in Abruzzo and in Italy) and with the goal of excelling with organic wines. In the same year, however, my mum was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and in the meantime my consulting activity struggled to take off.

For almost a year I devoted myself entirely to the care of my mum and one evening, in the sterile room (where we basically lived together for the whole period of her illness) she told me: "Riccardo do not worry about your job, I am going to leave and when I’m be on the other side I will find a way for you." After a few months my mum passed away and I found myself solemnly facing the second to last harvest of the millennium, 1999 which turned out to be the turning point.

Here we are, in fact, at the epiphany: the following year, at the international wine challenge of Vinitaly (Verona), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo "Riseis" 1999 of the Azienda Agriverde was awarded with the Grand Gold Medal (only one per category) as best rosé of the entire competition! My mum's words were the first thing to come to mind and I cried for a long time with a mix of joy and pain. However, it was my dazzling moment, an awareness that led me to love my work profoundly and to always aim for excellence. My mum, as promised, had done her mission.

At that time the Vinitaly International wine competition was widely followed by both the press and professional operators, and since that moment on, my mum's prophecy has come true. In short order I had many requests for consultancy, many awards and many prizes in international wine challenges around the world. Twice awarded as Winemaker of the Year of the Abruzzo Region and then awarded "Benemerito della Vitivinicoltura Italiana" (Cangrande Medal) at Vinitaly 2013.

To date, in addition to following different wineries with satisfaction and pride, always and only in my region (I never wanted to leave it) and to be a wine educator as a hobby (I haven't got the qualification), I am attending the stage 2 of the Institute of Masters of Wine with a dream in my heart: die as MW to embrace my Mum again and tell her she was right!

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