It was most probably 2007, and I was participating at the annual professional Barolo Barbaresco tastings. Gregory Dal Paz, an American in our tasting party came over at the end of the work day, visibly excited. He had arranged for a last-minute visit to a new producer in Barbaresco, and I was invited along. Off we went to meet Olek Bondonio. It was dark, so the stunning sorì [Piedmontese for top of a hill in vineyard country] could not be gleaned. The wines were exciting, full of unbridled power, and although I tasted honesty and energy, I didn’t immediately catch on.
Fast-forward to 2022. Olek and I had remained in contact, mostly through mutual friends like Luca Faccenda. My team and I came to visit Olek. His grandmother, who has unfortunately since passed, was parked in her wheelchair under a blinking traffic light, suspended under the entrance to Olek’s cellar. At 99 years, she was present and would then dose off to rejoin the setting once more. My first impression was that Olek was almost rough and insensitive toward this distinguished elderly lady. When we finished the visit, Olek suggested we have an aperitivo at Castello di Verduno, which belongs to his wife Alessandra and her sister. Olek swung his grandmother in the car, threw her wheelchair in the back, and off we went. It was only when we were enjoying our Negroni under the old trees in the castle park that it became clear how intimate a relationship Olek and his grandmother had. The love and care, affection and quipping relationship was truly heartwarming. Olek doesn’t know this, but it was on that day that I finally understood the depth of this Barbaresco wine producer.
Olek is very fortunate to own part of the Roncagliette MGA [Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva refers to a specific area officially defined within the production zone of Barolo DOCG. Simply put, an MGA can be seen as the equivalent of the French terms cru or climat] as well as a small piece of Starderi MGA and some beautiful old plots in Altavilla. Just this year, he was able to secure a tiny parcel in Verduno. He is very excited to study the expression of each place. Herein lies one of the secrets of low-intervention wine production. If you seek to understand place, you simply cannot afford to interfere in the natural expression of a specific terroir.
Both Olek and I finally wanted to get our cooperation off the ground. As a result, I have received an absurdly small allocation of Barbaresco in my inaugural year, which is complemented by his Barbera d’Alba.