Right next to the Roagna family house is the historic and majestic Pajé vineyard.
The Roagna family has been working this land for over 130 years, and have owned the majority of this Cru since the 1950's; they currently work 2 of the site's 4 hectares, which is shared two other growers. The site is shaped like an amphitheater, and exposed South-Southwest.
Many cuvées are bottled from the Pajé, all depending on the age of the vines and the conditions of the vintage: the base Pajé comes from 45-50 year old vines, Pajé Riserva is from vines that are 60+ and the Crichet Pajé is produced only in the best vintages, and from the oldest vines (70-100).
The soils are composed of marly limestone. The Roagnas never cut the grass at any time in any of their land:
Luca explained that this creates an incredible biodiversity in the vineyards and soil, which -amongst a multitude of herbs and flowers- includes more than 10 varieties of mint.
"If we ever fail at wine, we can become premium Mojito producers!"
The young Nebbiolo vines from Pajé (which are 20 to 50) partially produce the Roagna's Langhe Rosso, and the estates's Dolcetto is also planted here.
A short drive from Pajé, we visited the Asili Cru, the second of three lieu-dits within the village of Barbaresco that the Roagnas produce from.
The soils here are clay, limestone and sand. The youngest vines are 55.
A little further down, you can spot their tiny parcel of the Montefico Cru. Can you guess which it is?
Hint: grass grows wild...
If you guessed this:
You are wrong and chose a parcel with evident, heavy handed herbicide use!
If you chose this:
Then you are correct!!!!!!!!
All joking aside, the picture above is a very interesting contrast of the varying degrees of herbicide use in vineyards. From the full "Brazilian Wax" to "just in between the rows" to "let it grow free!", you get to see it all. Still, I feel I must ask the rhetorical question: which plot looks the healthiest and most full of life?
From Barbaresco, we hopped into our Dressner mobiles and drove the half hour to Barolo. It was looking like rain the whole way over, but we still felt that it was necessary to visit La Pira, the 8 hectare Cru and monopole Alfredo purchased in 1990.
The total property is 11 hectares, with 8 hectares of vines planted. The oldest vines here were planted in 1937, but there have historically been plantings here for at least 500 years.
In addition to the obviously planted Nebbiolo, La Pira is also where the Langhe Bianco and Barbera grapes are grown. As you can see from the pictures, the grass stays just as tall here as in Barbaresco. This is particularly useful for harvesting herbs and making their Chinato, which is one of the best in the game. La Pira is an isolated clos.
At the bottom of the hill, Luca is conducting a franc de pied experiment with the best clones from his various parcels.
The goal is to see which react the best to this situation in order to propagate them in the future.
Our visit ended in a visit in the brand new cellar installation Luca has constructed above La Pira. It is fucking huge and kind of looks like the Legion of Doom headquarters.
It isn't clear if all the vinifications will take place here, but the idea is to do all of the aging here; because space is longer an issue, this will permit Luca to age wines much longer than he has been able to in the past. Even though everything looks really new, the space already has that cold, moldy cellar feel.
Cages will eventually hold reserve bottles of wine.
Or maybe lock up pesky importers if they misbehave.
Luca has also started custom building his own concrete tanks because he doesn't trust the manufacturers.
"I want it to not have lining and the concrete to have very specific dimensions. I want it to to be the most neutral tank possible, and I cannot find what I am looking for on the current market."
Here are some pics:
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise; to this day Alfredo and Luca are the only ones allowed to prune the entirety of their land. That's two guys for 15 hectares!
We tasted wine, it was good. As we drove off, a nice rainbow led the way to Torino.
That was the view from our hotel.
As you know, we here at Louis/Dressner are big fans of underdog regions and the crazy indigenous grapes grown there. We also are big fans of die-hard traditionalists, preservers of history and lovers of the land. After our visit with Giulio Moriondo of Vinirari, I can confirm he exemplifies these qualities to a tee.
First off, if you don't know Vinirari, rest assured that 99.3% of wine drinkers are right there with you. Giulio is truly a garagiste (his cellar in his garage), owns about 1 hectare of vines spread over a gazillion parcels, and tends vines/makes wine purely out of passion and love for his region's viticultural history. He's even written two books about it! And it's not even his full time job!
We only visited two micro parcels very close to Giulio's house, but still learned a ton. The first parcel we visited was planted in Pinot Noir for a long time, but Giulio has spent the last years re-grafting these with over 20 different massale clones of the indigenous Petit Rouge.
Here you can see the grafted vines.
When asked about getting rid of his Pinot, Giulio answered:
"This is not Burgundy. I've tried every vinification possible and still have never found a way to express the grape properly in this terroir."
If you're wondering how Giulio found 20 massale clones of a weird grape you'd never heard of before, it's because he's made it his lifework to discover, analyze, understand and preserve Aosta's indigenous grapes. Through his own rigorous, self funded research, which mostly involved talking to old timers but also DNA analysis, he's been able to identify and in some cases re-discover varieties long believed to have disappeared from the area.
We were lucky, because the only other parcel we'd visit that day (just a short walk from the Petit Rouge) is Giulio's training ground for all the clones he's been able to find and preserve over the years.
One, for example, is called Blanc Commun, a grape from the 18th century. Only 8 plants of this are planted within the vineyard.
Cornalin, another unknown indigenous variety, was considered to have disappeared in the area. Most confused the remaining plants as a strain of Petit Rouge. Giulio, armed with a hunch and DNA analysis, was able to identify the grape and help it regain its identity. But here is the confusing thing: What they call Cornalin in Aosta is actually Humagne Rouge in the Valais of Switzerland!
Other grapes in the vineyard include Oriou Gris, Fumin, Vien de Nus and Giulio's new darling, Nebbiolo Rose.
"This is a very different strain then the Nebbiolo grown in Piemonte. The traditional wine made with this grape was considered a luxury good. It was called a "Clairet", and made like a Recioto."
Petit Rouge and Fumin are the grapes with the longest historical standing in the area. Aosta used to have a much richer vitculutural history: in the 18th century, 4000 hectares of vines were planted on the region's mountains. Today there are barely 400.
"70 years ago, this entire mountain had vines as far as the eye can see."
As far as agriculture, the soils are very poor so Giulio lets grass grow wild, then selectively tills what he doesn't want. He also needs to have gates surrounding the vineyards because of badgers.
"If you don't take preventative measures with them, they can eat up to 70% on the crop."
Heading back to Giulio's house, he was excited to show us "the rarest wine in the world", a mutated strain of Petit Rouge that produces white grapes. Giulio had dubbed it Petit Rouge Blanc (not a confusing name at all...) and planted three rows in his front yard.
The vines are three years old and 2013 was the first year they produced fruit. 23 liters total!
When it came time to see the cellar, Giulio warned us to not expect much:
"My cellar is more of a workshop than anything."
It was indeed tiny and in his garage. The wines are fermented off their native yeasts. Giulio never filters or fines. The wines are usually bottled two winters after they were harvested.
Because he does 100% of the vineyard work alone, Giulio has customized this seat with wheels to make things easier on his back.
I had to make sure it was comfortable to be used on a daily basis.
This customized seat with wheels is Jules Dressner approved™.
We ended the visit by tasting some wine, starting with the Petit Rouge Blanc. It had an aromatic, clean nose.
"It reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc."
It was fresh, with balanced acidity, minerality and again, slightly aromatic. Due to the vines' very young age, there was not much complexity in the body.
Someone asked for a spit bucket and Giulio replied:
"I'll go get a spit bucket for you, but remember that you are tasting the RAREST WINE IN THE WORLD!"
Next we tried the Saint-Ours 2011, a blend of 70% Cornalin and 30% Petit Rouge from the re-grafted parcel we visited. It was very good.
This was followed up by a 2009 Pinot Noir from the aforementioned re-grafted vineyard. This was the last year he made it, and Giulio blended it with 15% Cornalin. We all agreed it was "not bad".
"My wines really take time to develop. I wish I could age them for 4 of 5 years, but I just don't have the room."
We ended the tasting with a wine very dear to Giulio's heart, a "Clairet" style wine he made from Petit Rouge and Vien de Nus.
Lo Vrej translates to "The Real", and is Giulio's homage to the traditional luxury wines of the 18th century.
Unfortunately, both bottles were corked.
Vallée d'Aoste. Holy shit.
In all of my years of visiting viticultural regions, Aoste just might be the most visually remarkable. You can't take a picture here without it looking majestic! Proof's in the pudding: the picture above, is the view from Franco Noussan's front yard.
Speaking of Franco, he lives in the commune of Maillod, which itself is part of the town of Saint Christophe. If all these names sound kind of French to you, that's because they are: Aoste used to be part of the Royaume de Savoie, and only became part of Italy in the aftermath of World War 1. In such, Franco speaks a local dialect called Patois with his wife and daughters, but is fluent in French and Italian.
"We are not French, we are not Italian. We are people of the Alps."
Though vines have been planted in Aoste since Roman times, the idea of terroir driven viticulture is a recent one, dating back to the 70's. This is because more traditional, rural ways of living were abandoned and forgotten during the Industrial Revolution.
As locals began working in the metal industry to build railroads, Aoste wine became for family consumption, while the more established viticultural region of Piedmonte began providing them their every day wine.
"Our tiny micro vineyards could not compete with our much more established neighbors in Piedmonte."
The first vineyard we visited was young Pinot Gris planted in 2007.
The vines are planted in very high density and in Cordon to reduce yields.
The elevation here is 1300m! As we walked through the vines, Franco started breaking down some of his viticultural practices.
In a new plantation, he always uses a small amount of herbicide along the rows for the first three years of their growth. This is because the area has a ton of cereal production, and the grains fly into vineyards because of the wind, then start growing wildly. This creates too much competition for young vines. He also irrigates the first three years, because Aoste only gets 500ml of annual rainfall.
"If the young vines don't get water in their infancy, their roots don't dig deep enough into the soil and won't fully express the terroir."
If the vines are over 3 years old or acquired at a later stage in their growth, Franco never uses herbicides or irrigation.
"After this initial step, I work organically."
Franco's "estate" consists of 1.5 hectares of vines, spread over 13 parcels in 3 communes. 7 different grapes are grown: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Vien de Nus, Mayolet, Cornalin, Fumin and Petit Rouge. He rents all of his parcels, but has fixed them up himself.
"Everything is small production here. You can't make a "commercial" wine in the sense of volume; the numbers just aren't there. The best you can do is produce a great wine of terroir that expresses its place."
Most of the people who currently live in Franco's commune are residential habitants who work in the nearby city of Aoste. Almost no agriculturalists are left.
The next plot we visited was some 20 year old Pinot Noir.
A tiny part of this parcel is a 90 year old field blend. Though he likes the current results, Franco believes it will take at least 20 more years before these vines produce "really great" grapes.
Driving to Franco's main site, we passed a 12 year old, very low yielding vineyard composed of 70% Petit Rouge, 30% Fumin.
Our final stop was Franco's main vineyard site, where 6 of his 13 parcels co-exist amongst his neighbors' vines. It is one of the most stunning vineyards I've ever seen.
The vines that produces Franco's Torrette are located here, and stand tall at a whopping 710m elevation. The soils consist of sand, and it was abandoned before Franco gave it new life.
The highest parcel here 800m elevation planted in Pinot Gris. In the same area, there is some very old Petit Rouge.
"I'm not sure how old these vines are, but they are definitely older than me."
Unlike the earlier parcels we visited, which were trained in Guyot, the much older vines here are trained in gobelet.
The soils in this particular section are very light clay that breaks up like sand.
The sun was beginning to set, so we decided to head back to Franco's house to visit the cellar. Unsurprisingly, it is tiny. So small in fact that Franco is forced to vinify all of his wines at different times. The wines ferment off of their native yeasts for 12 days.
Along with some incredible local charcuterie and cheese, we tried a bunch of wine. Each bottle features the date of harvest on the label, and looking at the lot number is the only way to identify the vintage, since it is not listed.
Blanc de Tzanté: means "little hill" and is all Pinot Gris. We tried 2012 and 2013, and both had a lot of Alpine Charm™. I'm trademarking that because it sounds like the name for a Febreze or Old Spice odor, and you never know with these multi-national corporations! I need to keep my creative endeavors safe!
Torrette 2012 had a dark nose, with a smoky, Mountain Freshness™ and herbaceous character. The blend always consists of 70% Petit Rouge, but the rest varies vintage to vintage.
11 Torrette had a fruitier nose which also marked the palate. It was the fresher of the 12.
Cuvée de la Cote is a blend of all his red grapes, all co-fermented. Both 12 and 11 were super glugable, easy drinking wines.
"You have to want to drink the wine. If finishing a glass seems like a burden, you haven't done your job correctly."
The tasting ended with a 2011 Pinot Noir that was my favorite of the night. Why?
Tune in next time...
When you've travelled all the way from another continent to visit an estate, the last thing you want is getting rained out. It really dampens the mood!
This was unfortunately the case as we pulled up to Casa del Bosco to visit father and son team Odilio and Mattia Antoniotti; in the winter it's not the end of the world since the vines are hibernating and it's cold as shit out. But when you've just landed in Italy in early May and the vines bursting full of vigor and life, you definitely want to spend as much time as possible outside. Alas, the rain was coming down hard, and it looked like it was going to be an "inside only" visit...
Luckily, the Antoniottis have some nice inside stuff to visit. For example, their really old cellar:
The cellar is directly under their family house, divided in two parts and dates back to the late 1700's. What you see here is the vinification area.
Grapes come in through this window:
All of the wine ferments in these large concrete vats from 1910.
There used to only be a single huge vat, but Odilio split it in 2 to focus on more precise vinifications. The grapes are de-stemmed, and fermentations take about 3 weeks, with 2 to 3 remontages a day. The wine then clarifies (decants) in stainless steel before being racked to barrel about a month later to age. Many of their barrels are made from oak chopped down on their own land.
The Antoniotti family produces two D.O.C wines: Bramaterra and Coste della Sesia. Both are micro-appellations, with 8 producers bottling Bramattera and 20 for Coste della Sesia.
"And each producer has a tiny annual production."
Factoid: the tiny village of Casa del Bosco was originally built as a lord's hunting resort. The historical reason vines were planted in the area is because the lord and his crew naturally needed wine to celebrate after the hunt!
Moving on, Mattia showed us their labeling room, which is literally just a room where they hand label EVERY SINGLE BOTTLE ONE AT A TIME WITH GLUE AND A PAINT BRUSH!
That's what I call attention to detail!
From the cellar, we trekked upwards to the Antoniotti's semi-formal tasting room. Old bottles were proudly on display, including this 1964 produced by Odilio's grandfather.
From the tasting room, a large window faces a large hill right by the house.
While sitting down, Odilio explained how this entire hillside was planted in vines just 50 years ago.
Before getting to down to business, Mattia busted out some local cheeses.
There was also some Prosciutto thrown in for good measure.
Finally, there was some wine to taste!
We started the tasting with a first time experiment, a delicious Rosato made from 24 hour saignée. It follows the same blend as the Bramaterra: 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina (also known as Bonarda in Emilia-Romagna) 7% Vespolina and 3% Uva Rara (which literally translates to rare grape). My notes said it was "super good" with "super purity".
Next up was the Coste della Sesia 2011, which is always 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Croatina. It was dark and fully bodied but super fresh, with bright acidity and nice finish.
"This is the best Coste we've ever made."
Conditions were perfect in 2011: cool winds, no illness, no hail.
We ended with the Bramaterra 2010, which is aged 3 years in barrel before release. It showed more structure than the Coste della Sesia, and even though there is less Nebbiolo in it than the Coste, I felt the wine to be more marked by the Nebbiolo than the rest.
Someone asked about the lesser planted and known grapes used at the estate, and Odilio answered:
"Having many grape varieties balances the vineyard and ensures that if something goes wrong (with one of the grapes), you have the luxury of a back up plan."
By the time the tasting was over, the rain had majorly subsided and we decided to brave the elements to visit some nearby vineyards. Incredibly, Odilio had eight million umbrellas handy and was able to lend one to each of us.
Well, everyone but me. I actually had a broken parasol.
The first vineyard we visited is 450 m elevation and produces Coste della Sesia.
In better weather conditions, you can clearly see the Alps and the Sesia river in the background.
The vineyard is and isolated clos, exposed full South and is planted in Nebiollo and Vespolina. The soils here consist of volcanic Porphyry, which is a type of granite. Odilio decided to grab a huge chunk of it to break it down.
"Every different color you see in a different mineral, which adds much complexity to the wine."
Here's another, smaller piece to give you an idea.
The next vineyard we visited took us through a crazy, slippery and very uneven road that I have no idea how anyone could access without a 4x4 truck.
This is their main vineyard; the current vines were planted in 1978, but the Antoniotti family purchased the land in 1860 (Odilio still has the contract papers stashed somewhere!) The soils are also Porphyry, but much finer and pebbly.
The site is a proper viticultural amphitheater, and as such the exposition spans from South to South-West.
The Antoniottis have never used herbicides.
"We till the grass, and that becomes a natural compost."