Meet Italy’s best wine consultant, who counts the Pope as his client
The small road winds upward through the hills of Umbria, Italy. After passing the next bend, the vines are all around.
It is the home of the Cotarella family’s wine cellar, in the small village of Monteccio. The winery, which enjoys a worldwide reputation, is the center of Riccardo Cotarella’s network.
Known for his particular talent in bringing out the best of red and white grapes, the entrepreneur, who works with celebrities ranging from Sting to the Pope, himself enjoys star status in Italy.
“Making a wine is a project,” says the 72-year-old.
Analyzing the sugar and acid content of the grapes, studying the soil, is certainly part of the process, he notes. But deep down, 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 filled with certificates and trophies documenting the quality of his wines, talking about the human relationships between all involved in the process.
Cotarella has a wealth of stories to share: about his own family, about old vineyards he tends, wealthy clients, politicians like Massimo D’Alema, the Catholic Church, and wine growing in Israel and the Territories. Palestinians – which is a peace project for him.
Cotarella started his first vineyard with his brother Renzo in the Lazio region in 1979. Since then the company’s headquarters have moved north to Umbria. The Cotarella family owns around 200 ha in the two regions and rents an additional 60.
The younger generation took much of the responsibility for the vineyard in 2016 and 2017, when three of the brothers’ daughters took over.
Cotarella still has enough on her plate, however, working as a consultant oenologist for more than 100 wineries around the world – in Japan, Russia, France and the United States, for example, in addition to several in Italy.
He works with a team of around twenty assistants, many of whom are his former students. “We share the same philosophy”, explains the oenologist, who also teaches at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo.
Cotarella has advice on everything – from the selection of vineyards and vines at harvest time, the use of yeasts, fermentation, bottling and marketing. Most important, he says, is the personal relationship with everyone involved.
“Making wine means developing a relationship with the owner of the vineyard. You have to know your goals and your emotions, ”he notes.
Cotarella’s style and reputation also caught the attention of British musician Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler.
The couple own a vineyard in Tuscany, Il Palagio, and they hired Cotarella to oversee their wine production.
Cotarella recently hosted an online tasting for the British superstar, featuring around 70 international wines. Fans sent four bottles of wine each to smell and try, including a Chianti Riserva and a Vermentino.
During the tasting, Sting also took the time to praise Cotarella, calling him a “tough teacher and master of tasks.”
Among those also looking to harness Cotarella’s knowledge is Pope Francis: the Vatican has hired the wine guru to produce wine on two acres at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, in the longtime summer residence of the leaders of the Catholic Church.
“I planted the vine,” Cotarella said, her eyes twinkling behind her square glasses. It is true that Francis no longer lives in the house. But he is behind the project, says the oenologist.
“It’s a great adventure. The fact that a consultant oenologist has achieved 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 when it comes to food and drink. The quality and know-how are based on family traditions.
When asked to describe the success of his products, Cotarella said, “It’s not just about color, smell and taste. I also have to talk about the soul and the history of a wine.
Many of his clients are already enjoying great success in other areas.
“But success with oil or music isn’t enough at some point. People want something alive, closer to nature – like wine,” Cotarella notes. “People mean: my wine,” he concludes.
“My wine sounds like ‘my child’.” – dpa