PART 1: Coste Piane
After our great visit with Loris Follador at Coste Piane, we drove back to Conegliano. We had some time to kill, so naturally we decided to go to some local bar with a terrace about a block away. Note to all broke travelers: if you're really hungry but can't afford a nice meal, go to an Italian bar around 6pm. I ordered a beer and the waiter brought out chips. Robert Browson ordered a Spritz (which I mercifully made fun of him for) and they brought out a tray of prosciutto. Ian Becker ordered something else and they brought out 4 mini sandwiches. I was a bit perplexed as to why this bar would give us so much free food (didn't they know we had to eat dinner at 8?), but Robert explained that this practice is fairly common, that bars tend to give away all the old stuff they hadn't sold for lunch/dinner because it's better than throwing it away. We barely touched it.
We got back to the hotel and were immediately greeted by Ernesto Cattel, the brainchild of Costadilà.
He easily recognized us since we were the only obnoxious, loud Americans screaming down the streets in English.
For the most part, we here at Louis/Dressner haven't put up too much info on Costadilà (check out their meticulously detailed profile), so I'm glad that we can finally shed some light on what Ernesto has been doing since 2006 (the first wine was in 2007). The Costadilà project is the combined effort of Ernesto, Mauro Lorenzon (who owns the famous Osteria Mascareta in Venice), their oenologist Leonello (didn't catch his last name) and a few silent partners/investors; it's truly a labor of love, since all three currently have full time careers. The goal is to valorize and rejuvenate the rich agricultural traditions of Tarzo by reintroducing natural farming -however small the scale- to the region. The scope of the project goes well beyond wine, and emphasizes polyculture: the long term goal is to have vines, fruits, vegetables, cereals and livestock coexist on the same plots of land. They hope that by creating this example, they can create a model farm for the region, so other farmers who are trapped in monoculture can see the way out. Completing this cycle, the produce grown from Costadilà land is then used and sold in local businesses, such as Osteria la Muda where we had dinner.
Nestled in the little mountain village of Cison di Valmarino, Osteria la Muda is one of the oldest restaurants in Italy, dating back to the 1470! When the last owner decided to sell the space, Ernesto and 6 other partners didn't hesitate to remodel and keep this landmark alive. They are currently touching up the upstairs and planning to open an agriturismo. Also, the place is open till 1am almost every night.
The next morning, it was time to visit the first of many vineyard sites.
Our first stop was a completely isolated plot, only accessible by a single dirt road. Tucked away in the mountains, this little area has a rather interesting history: up until the early 70's vines had been grown here, but when the owner retired no one wanted them and the land became abandoned. It was then taken over by a German hippie commune. Then they left, and nothing really happened until Ernesto saw the terroir's potential and decided to replant vines two years ago. These vines are coming from 6 different clones, all in selection massale, and are a mix of the four traditional prosecco grapes (Glera, Prosecco, Bianchietta and Verdizo, but more on that later). The soil is composed of clay with a marn subsoil at 15-20 meters.
Ernesto is replanting the vines exactly where they were originally located in the 1970's.
Everything at Costadilà is farmed organically. Ernesto, who has never studied agriculture or oenology, explained how he came to this decision.
"Working organically and not manipulating nature is much more favorable in the long term. Chemical agriculture seems beneficial in the short term, because you get instant results. But those quicker, easier results have repercussions. For example, if you use a herbicide, on the short term you've solved your grass problem. But then the soils have less life and micro-diversity, so yields suffer. So you use a chemical fertilizer, and now your yield problem is solved. But then your soils are even weaker and the vines, now lacking a proper immune system, become prone to fungal illness and insects. So now you have to use pesticides and large quantities of sulfur to protect the vines. And even then, the vines become so overexploited and ill that they can only live for about 25 years before they need to be ripped out and replanted. It's a vicious cycle that traps the farmer in continuing to use chemicals if he wants to keep his business going."
The site is also host to this old house that Ernesto and the gang are in the process of converting to an agriturismo and attached osteria that would serve only Costadilà produce.
It's fully equipped with the coolest sun clock ever.
For those of you familiar with the Costadilà wines, you already know that each cuvée is named by the elevation of the site. We got to check out the "280" vineyard, and our final stop was the "450".
The "450" is a 3.5 hectare parcel that is completely isolated, featuring chalk soil. It's all glera grapes. If you've never heard of Glera, Bianchietta and Verdizo as grapes used for Prosecco, you're not alone. These grapes, along with the seminal Prosecco, used to be widespread in the area, often blended together to make the region's famous sparkling wine. But in an all too common scenario, farmers began to realize how much more prolific and high yielding the Prosecco grape was, so they began tearing out their remaining vines to replant the more productive varietal.
As far as the wines, they are fermented with native yeasts until completely dry, then bottled with must made from passito grapes they dry themselves in the attic of the farm for a secondary fermentation. No sulfur is used at any point in the vinification. The wines are crisp, fresh, expressive and each cuvée successfully expresses its terroir. Ernesto cites Loris of Coste Piane as a big inspiration for making a quality wine in a region that has succumbed to the pitfalls of industrialization.
"Loris is a sculptor! We just shape rocks!"
Tune in next time for the official recap of Vini Veri, Villa Favorita and, drumroll please, our wacky hijinks at the craziest place in the world, VINITALY!