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The Italy Chronicles 2012: A Splendid Stop at La Stoppa!

Phase 2 of our trip consisted of one of our favorite European tasting events, Vini di Vignaioli in Fornovo. It was a great time to taste with Luciano Saetti, Casa Coste Piane, Cantina Giardino, Zélige-Caravent, Francis Boulard, Monte dall' Ora, Montesecondo, Elisabetta Foradori, Le Coste, Camillo Donati, Natalino Del Prete, Fonterenza, Cascina degli Ulivi, Cotar, Massa Vecchia and Altura.

We also scooped up some very exciting new goodies for you, but that's going to have to stay top secret for now. Also, big shout out to Diego Sorba and the Tabarro crew who once again showed us a great time two nights in a row. Hilariously (disturbingly?) enough, a quick web search landed me on this picture a random girl took of the first round of wines Diego picked out for us.

We drank the Testalonga.

From Parma, we drove off to Rivergaro to visit Elena Pantaleoni and Giulio Armani of La Stoppa. For many of you this estate needs no introduction, as the wines have been available in the U.S for many years. What I CAN say is that we are extremely happy to be their new national importer (with the exception of Massachusetts and Oregon), and welcome them to the Louis/Dressner family.

La Stoppa sits on top of a hill, and consists of medieval living quarters (and a cellar) surrounded by 30 hectares of vines.

We started the visit with a lunch/tasting combo. Elena and guest-star Arianna Occhipinti had just landed THAT DAY from a trip to Montreal (where they work with Oenopole), and told us about dancing all night at a Champagne party where Biz Markie was DJing. Because I know you're not going to believe me (partly because I enjoy keeping the Dressner tradition of making stuff up alive and well), here is proof that it actually happened.

What, no Boulard?

At lunch, we tried the current releases of Ageno and all the reds, including some back vintages of of the Barbera della Stoppa. The young vine rosso and frizzante have been renamed Trebbiolo this year. The name comes from the vines' proximity to the Trebbia river, and Elena admitted that the last thing she expected was everyone to keep asking her if the wine is a blend of Trebbiano and Nebbiolo. This has apparently been happening A LOT, which could be avoided if people realized:

1. La Stoppa is located in Emilia-Romagna, were neither Trebbiano or Nebbiolo is planted.

2. How disgusting that blend would be and how no one in their right mind would ever produce it.

After lunch, it was time to visit some surrounding vineyard sites with Giulio.

Almost all of the estate's 30 h surround the living quarters and cellar. The vines are planted 75% in Barbera/Bornada and 25% in Malvasia at 200 m elevation; these are the traditional grapes of this region, but have only been grown here since 1995. You see, the viticultural history of the estate is a bit topsy-turvy...

Over a hundred years ago, a wealthy lawyer named Ageno owned the property and decided to plant 30 hectares of French varietals: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The idea, of course, was to emulate Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sancerre (you can see photos of some of these old labels on the home page of their official website that are actually bottled as "Bordeaux"). In 1973, Elena's father bought the estate and continued making wine from these grapes. Giulio Armani took over as head vignaiolo in 1980 and for 15 years, tried his best to produce French style wines: he read every book on viticulture and oenology he could get his hands on, following Sancerre and Bordeaux "recipes" to the best of his ability. Furthermore, chemical treatments were used in the vineyards and the wines were yeasted, acidified and heavily sulfured.

But Giuilo is a smart man and a thinker, and the decade plus of trying to crack the code of his vines finally led to a simple but life-altering realisation: you just can't make Burgundy or Sancerre in Emilia-Romagna, a very hot region where grapes often end up being high in alcohol and low in acidity.

"Every year, I would see the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes completely burnt from the sun. They weren't meant to be here. We understood we had to make a wine of terroir."

So in 1995, Giulio and Elena decided to return to tradition and replant the local red grapes Barbera and Bornada, and well as Malvasia for white. And lo and behold, this instantly solved their acidity problem!

"The secret to making good red wine in this area is Barbera, which has very high acidity and thrives in this climate. It is needed to balance the wines."

Returning to tradition also meant re-evaluating the work in the vineyard, and a shift was immediately made to organic viticulture. These ideas extended to to the cellar, where Giulio started practicing spontaneous fermentations and eliminating any rectification/manipulation during vinification. Today, the wines being produced by La Stoppa are undoubtedly Emilia.

And that's a cool story.

Next up, we visit the Alessandra, Gian-Luigi and Vittorio Bera! Oh, I almost forgot:


- Jules 1-2-2013 10:21pm
tags: Italy, La Stoppa
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