Reharsing with Emilio: a life in winemaking

Our first menu non-related post comes as we are to introduce a series of food & wine matching events, comprehensive of professional wine tasting, free TopUps and regional dishes (book book book!), which aims to present the best hidden food secrets of Italy and Spain to all our guests.

It came quite natural to talk about one of our first great encounters at the BackDoor. Specifically, when got to know one of the most interesting and passionate small Italian winemakers ever. At that time, we didn’t know that the space we now host our guests in at every supperclub night was to become an actual supperclub, we dind’t expect so many gratifications would have come in such a short time or what cooking concepet to propose and, clearly, we didn’t even know how to name this “thing” we were about to do: in fact all the sort of names suggesting mistery had been explored but THE ONE, with a majority of preferences for an exotic “The Naked Dinner” aka “thanks God chef eventually changed his mind”.  We just had a horrible glass coffee table, aseptic white walls, a huge amount of furniture to assemble and high hopes.

In that period of changes, we were quite happy to dine out, more  than usual at least, so that i accepted an invitation from the Consortium of Parmigiano Reggiano and we went to a dinner meeting to be introduced to some of the finest delicacies of the Emilia-Romagna region (yeah, it’s not just Parma Ham, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, a backdoor themed dinner coming soon anyway :P), sat at a table and started eating and chatting. As usually happens in this kind of events, nothing really happens but a good night out. But our skeptical attitude and the fortunes of the night were to be redeemed in a flash as a middle-aged man and a little girl joined our table. Paternal glance, friendly smile and sharp wittiness, the man introduced himself as Emilio and the girl as Agnese, his little daughter. Apparently in London to visit his eldest son who lives here, they grabbed the chance to come over and take a look at the event as invited as owners of a small wine estate in Emilia-Romagna and friendly to the organisers. Nothing much than your regular tablemate at this kind of food&wine events. Who could have possibly said that, after a few good laughs, a couple of glasses of wine and some mains, this low profile, small wine producer with absolutely no fuss turned out to be one an award winner winemaker and one of the most interesting niche wine producers, supporting the new organic and biodynamic wave since when nobody even know what those words possibly meant? And with a few bottles in his hotel room to try out as he had just got back from a major event at the Royal Festival hall? Well, nobody but this is one on a million occasions you don’t let just slip out of your fingers without even tasting a bit of wine! I had to know this man better, so we invited him over to sit at our horrible coffee table, dine with us and tell us everything about his wines.

Emilio Placci has been an enologist for 40 years now, you could easily say that he is one of that men who were born among grapevines and grapes and that winemaking is not what he does for living but it is actually what he is living for. He transmitted his passion to all his family and if Emilio’s wife, a chromatologist, a mother of three and a cook for their Bed&Breakfast in Modigliana, near Forlì, spends her spare time preparing flavourful food/wine matching meals for their guests and , apparently, one the best tiramisu in the area, his little daughter Agnese is his secretary abroad, bringing him around the big city, escorting him meeting new people and encouraging his English skills to an improvement. Well, believe it or not, she is only 13 years old, she is allowed to drink only half a glass of white wine and sipping few amounts of reds and only accompained with food, but she knows almost everything about vinification, biodynamic wines, the grape composition of each bottle and vintage his dad produced so far…and believe us when you hear a 13 years old saying:”I think this one has definitively got to breath more before serving” or “This vintage wasn’t ready to participate this or that bid as it would hava taken at least another year to age in bottle and give its best” you really feel crap 🙂

But this is a story of revolution, passion, expertise and, not using this term repeatedly by chance, high hopes, so no surprises. Since he got his enology diploma, Emilio tried to “reset all the school dogmas and get back to vineyard, re-learning how to fell the grapevines“. Feeling the grapevines brought Emilio from working as an enologist for great wine companies to owning its own estate where he produces organic veggies, extra virgin olive oils and, of course, wines the way he wants, the way he believes is the right one. ” My distributors sometimes want me to go for a less ageing wine style, something which is more direct and ready for the market in reasonable times”. Waiting for wine to age correctly it means incomes you don’t get in the wait and more hard work and sacrifices as for the winemakers as for the distributors. Sacrifices Emilio has been doing since 1991, when he started drowing his own grapes at Azienda Il Pratello, and that brought one of its most famous bottles, the “Mantignano Vecchie Vigne” to be awarded by the Gambero Rosso, one the major acknolegdements in the matters of  food and wines in Italy. “I think of it [changing the wine style], little changes, of course. I’m not going to change my philosophy about wine making. My bottles need time to be appreciated, time is needed to produce in the respect of the environment. It’s a cycle we need to respect to get something great back from our cultivations and to leave as legacy to our sons”.

Emilio produces a very limited number of bottles, from 2000 to 3500 for each wine type, which ranges from a fresh, structured Chardonnay-Sauvignon (Green Label) which sees oak barrels for 18 months and is projected to be a “long-life” white to a more corageous Pinot Noir which we couldn’t try but we are sure we will next time Emilio will be around at the BackDoor (he promised so!). We had to understand courage it is not just bravery but hard work and sometimes no results, and this guy certainly does not compromise on its wines and does not stand negative marks. “The Calenzone [Red Label] is a splendid blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which is refined in barriques for 24 months. I sometimes look at the French methods and apply those little tricks to my territory, to our history and tradition of winemaking. Those grapes need to ripe correctly to get the most from them. It happens that some vintages are pretty good, it happens that some vintages are not that fortunate, it happens that some are to throw in the bin. I don’t bottle wines i would not drink myself, i’m sorry, this is not me. We all suffer if the vineyard does so.”

However, the king of Emilia-Romagna grapes is the Sangiovese di Romagna, a variety of black grape which gives full bodied wines and to which Emilio is rather affectionate. Mantignano is Emilio’s azienda flagship bottle. Projected to reflect the region and the tradition, this wine is a 100% Sangiovese di Romagna refined in barrique for 18 months. Full bodied, intense and fruity, Mantignano is an example of perfect balance and one of Emiolio’s most popular bottles so far. “When you think of producing a wine you need to have in mind an idea as happens in all arts. The idea behind the Montignano is that i want to experience this region, year by year, vintage by vintage only by tasting different vintages of this same wine.”However, if Montignano is the azienda’s champion, Badia Baustignolo [Orange Label] is the hidden gem. Produced only in selected vintages and from the best vineyards, this wine has a 36 months barrique passage and it is a real treasure: ripe red and black fruits, spices, earth, complexity, the Badia is probably Emilio’s fourth son, the one WHO gave him possibly more to worry about.

At some point the distributors asked me to change my bottle labels to make them more appealing to the market. It happened that i changed my distributors.” Most of Emilio’s labels are characterised by a few verses from Neruda’s “Ode to wine” to remark the connection between winemaking, magic and art which Emilio is so fond of and which is something he’s hardly going to compromise, we suspect.

Getting to know Emilio and listening to his experience and learning his courage, strong believes has been an incredible journey of a night and an amazing encounter but also something extremely valuable to bring along with us and put in this experience which is the BackDoor Kitchen. In fact, Emilio’s story convinced me even more that if i were to run a supperclub it would have been to give to my guests something unforgettable, valuable and affordable, something i worked hard on and i’m passionate about. It is also on this night, i think, that, unconsciously, we found our concept: food/fun you cannot eat/have in every restaurant in London, sourcing the best products, helping small producers to emerge and to get known by a wider audience whilst we cook up our own personal adventure. Every night must be a friends meeting up, new friends joining the clan.

It is a shame that Emilio’s azienda website is all in Italian but scrolling down in the “Storia” section you can read the following: “Today these vineyards are 10 years old, they grow sanely and they did very well, i’m very prouf of them!”. If you got moved by that as i did, you probably want to join one of our foodie extravaganzas and have more of this because we have just started meeting such incredible people and products. And i hope and i’m  sure Emilio will be around pretty soon! As i said high hopes…

Rob – chef @ the BackDoor Kitchen

To know more about Emilio and his wines: you can also visit his azienda and B&B. Wines might look expensive but it’s you and other 2000 people in the world drinking that wine, think about it 😉

To know more about us and our next food/wine matching event: we will host small passionate wine producers such as Emilio and their creations!

or contact:


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