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  • Michael Rioles

Renato Vacca : in memoriam

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

Renato Vacca, strolling through his vineyard
Renato Vacca, strolling through his vineyard

Renato Vacca has passed away. One of the closest and dearest winemakers to us at Craft and Cru. We take the wines of Cantina del Pino, Renato's winery, very seriously, and we have put many of them into your hands. Renato was a human of Barbaresco. He was a farmer first, with a life centered around the hills of his homeland, never away from his vines for long. The fruits of his labors, his glorious wines, were universally celebrated, yet he remained humble and hard-working, not a type to bask in the spotlight. He did literally everything in the winery, though in the vineyards he received help from family, friends and workers. We will miss him sorely, but Michael knew him best, and has penned a fitting tribute.

We are not pleased to bring you this sad news, especially when we're all coping with the risks and challenges posed by Covid-19, but Renato was very important to us and our hearts are heavy. Please be safe and keep your energy strong.

John Paul Kaminga

Wine Buyer, GM


Given its fame and privileged status, Barbaresco is a rather unassuming little town, home to some 600 or so inhabitants, and nearly entirely devoted to the production of its fabled wine, with a couple restaurants, a wine museum, a single bar, inevitably named Bar Baresco, and the iconic tower that graces the wine label of the Produttori di Barbaresco, the town's wine cooperative, and a convincing contender for the world's most esteemed wine cooperative, founded in 1958 by the parish priest and the grandfather of Renato Vacca, proprietor of Cantina del Pino, whose wines we have sold with great enthusiasm and conviction from our opening.

I met Renato when he was still in his mid-twenties, and still a member of the co-op, which only vinifies nebbiolo, so he had a tiny cellar from which he released small quantities of dolcetto and barbera. Ideal Wine and Renato were introduced to each by a restaurant in the Berkshires that had met him through his cousin Aldo, the commercial director of Produttori. I remember well Renato's first vintage, of which we imported ten cases of dolcetto and five of barbera. At the time Renato's vines were entirely comprised of a contiguous parcel in the storied Ovello cru. I have mentioned to some of you in the shop that from a commercial perspective, these dolcetto and barbera vines have no business being planted in the Ovello cru; they are old parcels that Renato could pull up and replace with nebbiolo vines that would go to market as Barbaresco Ovello and sell for three times the price, but many of these vines are ancient and gnarled, planted by his grandfather, and make expressive wines that convey the sense of place in their own way.

This steep slice of Ovello faces west toward the Tanaro River and the town of Barbaresco, curving to form a dazzling afternoon sun bowl where there is little prevailing westerly wind, affording warm ripening conditions.

Fortuitously for us, Renato struck out on his own with the 1997 vintage, leaving Produttori and expanding his cellar. In time, he added parcels from the crus of Straderi, Albesani and Gallina, and most recently a further flung plot in Asti planted to barbera.

I first visited the property some sixteen years ago; after staying with my relatives in Molise with my son Dominic, we traveled up to Barbaresco en route to Burgundy where Renato put us up for a couple of nights in his apartment above the winery where he lived, alongside his parents. His sister lives next door, at the edge of the family vineyard parcel, and Aldo is across the street.

His dad is very much a farmer prototype; I have only ever heard him speak to Renato in Piedmontese. When the winery was expanded, he insisted that they plant some olive trees, rarities in the Langhe, on the south side of the structure to save him from having to drive to Liguria at olive harvest time in November where he would pick olives himself and have them pressed for family use. He keeps a vegetable garden among the trees as well.

Renato was in his thirties then, and still had a head full of thick and longish golden locks. After coffee at the bar, Renato explained that we had to make a detour to the museum to drop off some mixtapes he had made to a couple of the young women working there who greeted him with smiles and giggles. He appeared to be a darling of the town in every way, but was always unassuming and never seemed to take himself too seriously.

With the heaviest of hearts, I am sorry to say that Renato succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Saturday at the age of 52, survived by his wife and his daughter of not yet years of age. In the small wine world of the Langhe, people have diverted their focus from the coronavirus crisis to share their sorrow and dismay.

It has become something of a tradition for me to celebrate Christmas Eve with my numerous (we are seven) siblings with bottles of Ovello that have been tucked away in my cellar for a few years. We at the shop have put many Cantina del Pino bottles in your hands, and I hope they have brought some modest pleasure into your lives. It's what Renato would have wanted.

I have nothing to sell you here today. I just wanted to share some words about a man towards whom I have felt a great sense of admiration and affection.

Michael Rioles


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