The wine producing firm of Michele Chiarlo was founded in 1956 by the sole and present owners, Michele and Giuseppina Chiarlo. Son of over seven generations of esteemed wine growers, Mr. Chiarlo is today one of the most respected producers of the fine wines of Piedmont and a leading figure in its viticultural industry. The present firm's foundation was built on the business of Mr. Chiarlo's father, then comprised of the estate's vineyards and family home, in Calamandrana, and the cellars and bottling facility, at nearby Susa. Since then its growth, focused on producing wines of the highest pedigree, has foreshadowed the continuing quest for quality on the part of so many of Italy's conscientious producers. The firm's early years were difficult ones; prior to the establishment of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata laws, establishing a reputation for consistently superior quality was a long proposition for a new producer. Excellent, small-production wines often went unrecognized in the absence of a universal and uniform system of classification which set forth methods, varieties and zones, a system which, ironically, has today been outdistanced by many producers.
Michele Chiarlo did not abandon his philosophy. Rigorous selection of the best grapes from only the most reputable growers in the most favored vineyard areas and longer aging in oak and then in bottle prior to release were measures he adopted precursing D.O.C. laws. Instituted in 1963, these laws led to the original name of the wines, "Granduca," as distinct from the name of the firm, "Cantine Duca d'Asti," since they prohibited the inclusion of a legal denomination in a trademarked wine name. Michele Chiarlo is also credited with being one of the first producers to introduce malolactic fermentation to Italy, thereby achieving wines of greater stability, lower acidity and easier accessibility in their youth. Over the years, Michele Chiarlo has realized the success and recognition that constant pursuit of quality would bring. Between 1956 and 1968, distribution gradually expanded from Piedmont to the important markets of central and northern Italy, and, in 1967, the wines' reputation for quality opened the export markets of Germany, Belgium and Great Britain. During this period, Barolo was added to the portfolio of Barbera, Grignolino and Dolcetto wines traditionally produced by the firm. The next four years' successes paved the way for construction of a new winery, cellars and bottling facility at Calamandrana, completed between 1971 and 1973. This included equipment and storage for the production of another addition to the portfolio, Asti Spumante. A second facility was built in 1978 at Gavi, for the vinification and bottling of Cortese di Gavi. Most recently, in 1985, a third vinification and aging facility was built adjacent to the Cannubi vineyard to accomodate wines from the Barolo zone and the "crus" in which Michele Chiarlo holds contract or owns vineyards. Today, these installations remain among Piedmont's most technologically advanced, with an annual production of over one million bottles, distributed approximately half domestically and half on the export market.
At the production and vineyard level, where quality begins, Michele Chiarlo has for thirty years pursued an endless search for control over the finest vineyard sites in each of the zones from which he produces his wines. Perhaps the crown jewel among these is the vineyard of Fornace di Tassarolo in the Rovereto area of Gavi, a small parcel planted in 1910 which yields a brilliant and intense Gavi of exquisite refinement. He also has long-term agreements with the owners of two spectacular vineyards in the Castiglione Falleto and Serralunga crus of Barolo, from which he produces Barolo Riserva Rocche di Castiglione and Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda di Serralunga. In addition to these contracts, he has also purchased the Antico Podere Averame in the Cerequio cru of Barolo, considered one of the zone's finest Nebbiolo vineyards; and an estate, also in Barolo in the cru of Cannubi, which due to its extremely sharp gradient had never been cultivated. With considerable captial investment, this vineyard has been terraced and brought into production, the first time such a project has ever been undertaken in Piedmont.
In 1995, Michele Chiarlo acquired the estate of Azienda Agricola Aluffi in Castelnuovo Calcea, considered to the most beautiful and prestigious property in the heart of the classic Barbera d'Asti zone. The estate is comprised of two separate vineyard holdings, La Court and Il Castello, with a total area of 62 acres of which 50 are planted in Barbera vines, quite extensive for this area. The principally southwest and easterly-exposed slopes support superb, calcium and mineral rich soils which are of ideal composition for the production of great Barbera d'Asti. Michele Chiarlo directly manages or personally oversees every aspect in the production of his wines. Eminently qualified through the expertise acquired through his involvement with the company under his father, he also holds a degree from the prestigious School of Enology at Alba, from which he graduated in 1955. His ceaseless innovation, both in production and in marketing, has gained him the respesct of his industry. He is a counselor of long standing representing Piedmont in the Unione Italiana Vini; President of the Italian Union of Exporters of Wines; past President of the regional Consortium for Quality Control and Promotion supporting Barbera d'Asti, Barbera del Monferrato, and Grignolino del Monferrato; and in the mid-1980s assumed a founding position on the board of directors of the then newly-created Italian Wine and Food Institute, focused on the discriminating promotion of quality Italian wines and foodstuffs in the United States. Since the early 1990s, Michele Chiarlo's sons, Alberto and Stefano, have entered the firm in positions which will lead to their eventually assuming full responsibility. Alberto, the elder, directs marketing and sales; Stefano, an enologist by profession, manages vineyard operations and collaborates in production in the cellars.