April 2024 – A ripe moment to get to know the man for whom Spring’s grasses are the lifeblood of his vines – Mauro Mauri of Borgo San Danielle. Flipping the map, we got a vintage/harvest report from Alejandro Sejanovich (considered by many to be the top viticulturalist in South America). Our own Joe Billesbach takes a peak under the hood to explore Manos Negras’ history and methodology. 
This edition contains:
It Was Not Tragic. But It Was Important. – How the winds of life turned Mauro Mauri into an ardent naturalist who forged his own path in the womb of natural wine.
There Is No Recipe – The philosophy guiding some of the freshest and most exciting wines coming from Argentina today.


In 1968 Mauro Mauri was born into an agricultural family in Friuli. His mother, Maria Lucia, owned a gardening shop and nursery. His father Emilio was a trucker. “She loved her nursery. Home was our special laboratory—she loved plants.” Mauro says of his mother. “She entrusted me with this passion—both me and Alessandra (Mauro’s elder sister). Our parents loved plants. They loved nature. And our grandparents encouraged it.”

At the tender ages of eleven and fifteen, Mauro and his sister lost their mother.

In Italy, extended families often lived (and live) together. Raising children is still a communal/familial experience. Nonetheless, as a child, losing a parent is of course a “greatest fear.”

With their father on the road, the work of parenting fell to their grandparents. Farmers and agrarians, they raised crops—including grapes—which they sold to the local co-op. Mauro’s uncle, brother of his deceased mother, became an influential figure. “He saw my blocks and he encouraged me. He helped me to face things head on.” Most importantly he taught Mauro, “if you have a dream, let nothing stop you.” His name was Berto.

“If you have a dream, let nothing stop you.”

“We don’t come from a rich family. When you are not rich, parents and grandparents push you to work. Obviously, you don’t get the occasion to open your eyes, to open your mind—with study. Our grandparents were different. They didn’t stop and ask us about every decision we made.” Mauro and his sister were encouraged academically and left to follow their interests. First, Alessandra would become an agronomist. Four years later Mauro would choose to study oenology. A winemaking team was born.

As young adults, their grandparents allowed Mauro and Alessandra to put their education to use. Taking charge of the family’s six hectares, Mauro changed the vine pruning from cappuccino (a cut promoting yields) to guyot (favoring low yields and high-quality fruit). Perhaps considered a financial folly at the time, this was just the debut of innumerable changes their grandparents lovingly endured. Next, they stopped tilling and fertilizing. Their vineyards were covered in grass. Everyone thought they were lazy farmers. They planted 5 more hectares on fallow land within the family property. In 1990, Mauro said he was ready to make a vintage.

With no proper cellar or temperature control Mauro hacked a system in the garden. Using cool well water from the depths of the property, Mauro piped a spiraling sprinkler around tanks in an outdoor garden. The water, running down the side and cooling the tanks would be collected underneath and used to irrigate the crops. The tomatoes were brilliant in those years.

Mauro took a loan to build a cellar. It wasn’t quite enough. For a few years he had a cabrio, a convertible cellar. When it rained, it rained right into the cellar—temporary roofing structure be dammed. It didn’t matter, the wines were good.
His first vintages were snapped up. The wines were rich, a degree and half more body than the typical regional wines (thanks to good pruning), and still showcasing all the acidity which makes Friuli famous. “I made good wines. But they were the wines of a young man.”

At the same time, in and around his village, “natural wine” was being born. Josko Gravner started his amphora production. La Castellada, Radikon, Prinčič and many others pioneered a path of long skin contact and O2 exposure. “It’s a serious philosophy. I experimented,” says Mauro. There were two things however that made Mauro sure of who he was and what he was doing.

1) “I like to produce wines that have a relationship with the grape.”

2) “Some of these winemakers were saying that these (orange wines) were the only ‘healthy wines.’ You have to respect farmers. This is not a dogma I can follow.”

“Some of these winemakers were saying that these (orange wines) were the only ‘healthy wines.’ You have to respect farmers. This is not a dogma I can follow.”

Whichever side of the fence one fell, the boldness of Friulian winemakers and their impact in this period cannot be downplayed. “We were lucky to be born then,” Mauro posited. “By 1994 I had my own philosophy. No chemicals, grass in the vines, homemade hummus, and I wanted to do this in the cellar (work naturally). No sulfur during fermentation. Let’s allow the malolactic, and let’s increase the terroir.”

Confident in his direction, Mauro gave birth to Arbis Blanc in 1997. This blended cepage, has become his paragon – winning the coveted Tre Bicchieri more than 10 times. “We maximize the grapes. Then we make the wine. It is the maximum of our philosophy.” The wine blends Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Friulano. It is blended with wines from a perpetual cuvee Mauro started during the first harvest in 1997. It is a world class wine.

Mauro’s drive is a curious one. He’s not an insatiable man in any respect, but he maintains a course of progress. He’s confident in what he’s done, but has no pretense. He is still growing. He recently added more land—eight hectares in Collio along with another small cellar. There are plans for a second masterpiece coming from the hill of Monte Quarin. The even keel, the harmony, and the discretion that you experience in Mauro as a man is also the chief characteristic of his wines.

He who knows no hardships will know no hardihood. He who faces no calamity will need no courage. Mysterious though it is, the characteristics in human nature which we love best grow in a soil with a strong mixture of troubles. – Harry Emerson Fosdick

Your chances to meet Mauro and taste for yourself:
April 24th – Curated Selections, Trade Only | Charleston, SC
April 25th – Curated Selections, Trade Only | Hilton Head, SC
April 26th – Prime Wine & Spirits, Trade Only | Atlanta, GA
April 26th – Perrine’s Wine Shop, Public Tasting | Atlanta, GA
April 27th – Lion’s Head Private Club, Members Tasting | Atlanta, GA
April 29th – Uva Imports, Trade Only | New York City, NY
April 30th – Uva Imports, Trade Only | New York City, NY
May 1st – Ruby Wines, Trade Only | Boston, MA
May 2nd – Ruby Wines, Trade Only | Boston, MA


It’s the middle of the 2024 harvest for Alejandro Sejanovich, Jorge Crotta and Jeff Mausbach at Manos Negras. So far, it’s looking like a great vintage, thanks to an abundant winter snowfall that provided much needed water ahead of a hot (but not too hot) summer and textbook Spring and Fall. As each parcel is harvested and delivered to the winery, Alejandro and his team are making hundreds of decisions in a flurry of activity. Some plots will be separated in up to 10 different 50kg harvest bins to undergo different variations of vinification. The winery, which has so many various types of tanks and barrels that it could be a wine equipment showroom, is currently jam-packed with those harvest bins. Each fermenting bin is being closely monitored to ensure that extraction prioritizes a complexity of fruity and savory aromas, and minimizes harsh seed tannins. For the red grapes, stems are constantly inspected and, more importantly, smelled to determine their quality and what percentage will be added to the multitude of micro-vinifications. As Jeff removes his stained hands from a bin after doing a punch down, it is a visual reminder of why he and Alejandro chose the name, Manos Negros. For those of us who come from restaurants, the winery has that unmistakable air of a restaurant kitchen before service, with the intensity and focus of chefs and cooks reacting to the day’s delivery.

This is very different from the wine world of Mendoza that Alejandro entered over 30 years ago, where wine makers wore lab coats, new oak barrels were everywhere, stems were absolutely “Prohibido!” and (not to belabor the metaphor) the recipe of the day called for ripeness, maximum extraction and lots of new oak. Even for Jeff working as a sommelier in the United States, this was the era of “No Wimpy Wines.” However, there were outside influences at work. As a sommelier, Jeff was already exposed to the “classic” French regions, but a magnum of Hermitage shared on an early trip to Buenos Aires was revelatory. Alejandro, inspired by his father’s own international education (a brain surgeon who studied in Japan and the USA) attended the master’s program in Viticulture at the Ecole Nationale in Montpelier where he encountered a wine world of vignerons and terroir.

Eventually their paths crossed at Catena Zapata, and there they both worked for almost 20 years exploring the depth and diversity of Argentina wine. Alejandro conducted extensive research into Malbec clones and at the same time found and planted some of the highest and now most sought-after vineyard sites in Mendoza. Jeff and Alejandro met Mendoza native, Jorge Crotta during this time as well. Jorge was focused on brand and commercial development. When it was time for them to embark on their own project, Manos Negras, in 2010, they knew they wanted to focus on the diversity of grape varieties of Argentina and the multitude of soils in and around Mendoza. Uco Valley, the highest and most prestigious region in Mendoza, with its diversity of soils and various elevations, soon became the sole focus for Manos Negras. They worked with Malbec, of course, but also Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, those classic translators of terroir, to create wines that reflect not just trends, but place.

They gravitated to higher elevation sites and always looked for some amount of limestone in the soils for its ability to retain moisture and impart the freshness that wines on these soils exhibit.

They gravitated to higher elevation sites and always looked for some amount of limestone in the soils for its ability to retain moisture and impart the freshness that wines on these soils exhibit. One of the first things they did was to stop producing a “Riserva” wine since it had mainly become a signifier of higher alcohol and new oak usage, which they refer to as “BBQ”.

Several trips over the years to the Rhone valley and Burgundy, visiting Alejandro’s old classmates, have reinforced in them the importance of traditional techniques like stem inclusion and co-fermentation as well as the idea that a single grape variety can exhibit a multitude of expressions even within a tiny geographical area. While the pinots and chardonnays of Burgundy are the oft-cited template for [MM1] this, the case can be made that the syrahs of Northern Rhone have more in common with the Malbecs of Mendoza. They both show a lot of varietal character which can be overpowering when pushed to the limits of ripeness and extraction; however, when made with balance, they possess the ability to display all the characteristics of their terroir. Therein lies the real difference between “Old World” and “New World” wines. In the “OW,” there is a generational knowledge that goes back centuries, and the “NW” is just a few hundred years into figuring out the difference between vineyards and subregions like Paraje Altamira and El Cepillo. Perhaps that is why there is no recipe for Manos Negras, but most likely it’s because, for Jeff and Alejandro, the search and the experimentation are the work so there will never be a recipe.

Your chances to meet Jorge Crotta to taste for yourself:
April 16th, 17th – Artisan Fine Wines, Trade Only | New Orleans, LA
April 18th, 19th – Cavalier, Trade Only | Columbus, OH
April 20th – 22nd – Prime Wine and Sprits, Trade Only | Atlanta, GA
April 21st – Three Parks Wine Shop, Public Tasting | Atlanta, GA
April 23rd – American Premium Beverage, Trade Only | Greensboro, NC
April 23rd – The Loaded Grape, Public Tasting | Greensboro, NC
April 24th – American Premium Beverage, Trade Only | Raleigh, NC