Sean O'Callaghan arrived at the idea for Il Guercio after more than twenty years in Tuscany, having already earned a reputation for making wines of great elegance and approachability. With Il Guercio, he pushes himself farther away from the norm each year, challenging almost everything he knows about making Sangiovese. The result is stunning. Il Guercio is utterly remarkable. It is a wine worth savoring and it is a wine that approaches perfection.
In the clip, Sean explains the how and why of his approach to this wine. The text that follows is extracted from his presentation.
Thanks to Distinto, Sean's Importer in the Netherlands for this interview.
In making "Il Guercio," Sean O'Callaghan treats the wine somewhat like an evolving art, a canvas where he can innovate and take greater risks, primarily because it bears his personal signature without being tied to the rules of the Consorzio. This freedom allows him to develop and refine techniques that in turn enhance the quality of his other wines.
"Il Guercio" is a product of a high-altitude vineyard, fermented and aged exclusively in cement - a method inspired by practices Sean witnessed in Burgundy, where open-top tanks are a common sight. The tanks, sourced from Burgundy, aren't lined, presenting an interior akin to the polished cement floors typical in industrial buildings. This structure facilitates micro-oxygenation, where small oxygen particles interact with the wine during both the fermentation and aging phases. This process imparts a softness and accentuates
the wine's minerality, as opposed to diminishing it, which is often the case with other materials like stainless steel and wood.
Each batch of "Il Guercio" encapsulates Sean's love-hate relationship with this somewhat wild winemaking process. While it leans towards the realm of natural wines, his aim is to always maintain a classic touch.
Every year, he tweaks the process slightly, but the core remains unchanged. They utilize two 55,500-liter cement tanks and some open-top plastic bins, filled entirely with whole bunches, including stalks. Following a two to three-month maceration period, the contents of the bins are pressed and used to top up the tanks. This technique, borrowed from Nebbiolo producers in Barolo and referred to as "piemonzina," creates an infusion-like effect, similar to steeping a tea bag. If left for too long, the infusion can turn bitter. However, they've fine-tuned the process to encourage the wine to slightly increase in pH, thereby becoming a tad richer, albeit at the expense of a slight drop in acidity, which is generally undesirable. Despite this, the method enriches the wine with a burst of freshness, derived from the stalks and the infused tannins.
This extended maceration period lasts about four months, a considerable span that allows for the development of unique characteristics, culminating in a wine that distinctly expresses the essence of San Jose, a quality not found in any other wine. The 2020 batch, for instance, was pressed in mid-February, marking the end of its fermentation journey. Sean is genuinely passionate about this style of winemaking, which continually evolves, embodying a trend that resonates deeply with his personal approach to viniculture.
In the eyes of many, Sean embodies the rebel of the industry - the English guy with a singular vision who dares to tread a different path. But he believes there's a growing appreciation for his unconventional approach, with many recognizing the unique qualities and nuances it brings to the table. Personally, Sean finds great satisfaction and pride in his style of winemaking. It resonates with his spirit, and he hopes that others can perceive and appreciate the distinctiveness and depth of flavors that are the hallmark of his wines. It's not just about diverging from the norm; it's about crafting wines that carry a fragment of his personality, a genuine reflection of his passion and dedication to the art of viticulture.