Renzo Cotarella grew up in the tiny village of Monterubiaglio in Italy's Umbria region. While you may not know of Orvieto Classico, the white wine produced in this area, Cotarella himself is probably area's most important export.
Today, Cotarella is the CEO and Chief Enologist of Antinori, one of Italy's — and the world's — most popular, well-known and oldest wine producers. The Antinori family has owned and run the company for more than 600 years (and was even the subject of a profile on 60 Minutes).
In more recent times (1978), Cotarella was working for the local Orvieto wine association, where he met the legendary Piero Antinori; Antinori hired him in 1981, and Cotarella's been with the company ever since. Across all the estates Antinori owns, each has a dedicated winemaker and vineyard manager; Cotarella is their boss and, as of the coming spring, he'll have been at the company for 30 years.
Yet through all his experience and having worked with some of the greatest winemakers in the world, Cotarella prides himself on making elegant, drinkable wines that aren't overpowering and pair well with food. Good food, good wine and good company to share it with are all that really matter, he says.
Read on for our full interview with Renzo Cotarella.
Bottlenotes: Where did you grow up?
Renzo Cotarella: The small rural village of Monterubiaglio, in the province of Terni, Umbria, which is a few kilometers away from the small city of Orvieto.
What's the first time you remember drinking wine?
I remember drinking my first wine when I was seven years old. To this day the taste remains fixed in my mind. I was with the cellar master in the winery located in our home cellar when I tasted a partially fermented white wine.
What influenced you to become a winemaker?
I have a great deal of passion for the vineyard and the degree I took from the university was in agronomy. My interest in winemaking came about from the need to understand how to grow better grapes to make wine with great personality.
How would you describe your winemaking style?
I strive to make wine with intensity and authenticity — yet elegant and not too heavy. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes not.
What's the key to your winemaking success?
Provided I am judged by my peers to be a successful winemaker, there are many keys. Possibly the most important is to have the good fortune to work alongside of Piero Antinori. Next would be the deep passion for the career I have chosen. Finally, I am very fortunate to have experienced winemaking in some of best winegrowing regions of Italy and the [rest of the] world.
What's your favorite wine-and-food pairing?
Having a favorite wine-and-food pairing is not enough, as I love the diversity of food and consequently the diversity in wine. The most intriguing wines to drink are made from Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico. One suggestion would be a great Pinot Noir with partridge.
If you were stranded on a desert island and could enjoy one wine for the rest of your life, which would it be?
First of all, I hope I am not stranded alone so that I have someone to share this wonderful bottle of wine with. This being the situation, I would prefer a white Burgundy; say a Corton-Charlemagne, or more easily a bottle of Castello della Sala Cervaro.
What are your favorite winemaking memories?
I have many winemaking memories. Most of these relate to the opportunity to have met many wonderful people who have instilled in me the passion for wine. One memory that is very clear in my mind is the first time I met with Piero Antinori. I was just finishing my studies in the university and met Marchese in Orvieto. Another wonderful memory is meeting André Tchelistcheff, one of the most highly respected winemakers in modern history.
Do you have any winemaking-related disasters?
Luckily not. Even though I have managed through many difficult vintages, i.e., 2002 for Tuscany, but with resulting wines that I am very proud to have helped craft.
What's your motto for enjoying life?
Have passion for everything you to do in your life.