Piemonte 4: Gavi DOCG: 15 – 19 October 2021

Friday 15 October 21 

We left La Romana outside Nizza at 09.00 after a warm farewell from La Receptionist, (yes – they use the french!) taking a northerly deviation towards Alessandria to avoid a road repair. The plain of the river Bormida makes a dramatic contrast to the runs of hills, ridges and winding valleys of Monferrato. 

Dropping SE we made it to Gavi, and the piazza Dante carpark, 100m from the B and B on via Roma in a small courtyard. We were rescued by the Presidente of the Consorzio, Maurizio Montobbio and Sara Repetto, the brand ambassador as we struggled with the parking ticket machine, and swept us first to Monica’s B and B and then on to the cortile of the Consorzio, for a presentation by the agronomist, Davide Frerarese, and to meet the programme’s organiser, the formidable but thorough Simonetta Borasi 

On to lunch at Da Renato, on the road to Rovereto – old fashioned and admired ristorante with liver on the menu. 

Sara then led us to La Raia to meet Piero Rossi Cairo, a man with a strong american accent and a lot of suppressed attitude, and the young Natalia Fabrizi from Brazil with an eneologist training but now in marketing. Not to mention Jack, a recently adopted injured dog – hobbling along and wedded to Piero.

It was hard to push past Piero’s indifference to Barbera and envy of Barolo but his affection for Jack was redeeming. The winery designer is Martin Rauch and it incorporates the only rammed earth wall in Italy (google ‘Pisé wall’ for info). Piero also pointed out that La Raia was the first winery in Italy to be ‘Demeter certified’ as biodynamic, in 2007.

La Zerba was redeeming for me! Andrea Mascherini (also nursing an injured dog whose main occupation was chewing on his bandage to reveal both the splint and raw tissue) is a diffident, shy man very content in his paradise – high up (view above), autumn colours, fresh air and red soils – terra rossa indeed.

His Barbera is also sold by Fortnum and Mason under a private label ! Such luck – aided by Michael Palj some years ago 

We left as the sun faded, heading back to our B and B before setting out for supper. One ristorante was banging – and full; the Buon Gusto strangely empty.  Squash soup and leek tortina with steamed vegetables – including the first and only sprout I’d ever seen in Italy!  

Sat 16 October 21

David had asked for as full a programme as possible, and Simonetta had taken him at his word! Five visits each day – if only two on the Sunday. (She thought we should walk up to the great Fortezza that afternoon… and we did!) Fortunately they are very densely congregated within a few kilometres of Gavi, so some routes became quite familiar!

La Bollina is one of many fine Villas, originally built as summer country residences by the wealthy of Genova, this one now serving as a hotel and golf resort with a winery attached.

The wine shop manager Mirko Sciutto met us and showed us around its garden, with the sun transforming the handsome steps before taking us briefly into a vineyard above the golf course and into the shop with all its cycling memorabilia, for a tasting.

La Ghibellina – Alberto Ghibellini (Olympian waterpolo competitor and philosopher) and Marina Galli (History of Art specialist and now winemaker) bought the estate 19 years ago when changes at La Scolca led to the dispersion of smaller properties. 

Neither had any vine-growing or wine-making experience, but by systematically purchasing planting rights they have created eight hectares of vines while retaining paddocks for their two fine white horses, and space for Emma the border collie, and a shy cat. They manage organically, using cardboard to protect the newly planted replacement vines – works better than plastic !

The swallow-tailed Merlo castellation – a reference to Ghibelline Sienna – appears on their labels; and here we met our first traditional method sparkler made with Cortese: Cuvée Marina with up to 10 years on lees. 

We were due to meet Massimo Moccagatta for a tasting and lunch at the Villa Sparina. He was nowhere to be found, but the receptionist enterprisingly rang his wife, and he quickly materialised, relaxed, gently spoken and simpatico. 

He showed us the 1700s cellars, and the salami hanging all underneath the main house and terrace.

The villa has a magnificent 360 degree view and fine trees (including electricity pylons striding across a view of La Ghibellina and its two white horses…)

These grounds were full of italian families in their most fashionable kit enjoying a day out and a very elegant lunch. The winter cold has started early; c4deg this morning but the sun by lunch time was very warm. Nonetheless, everyone applied scarves as soon as they left the comfort of indoors, and masks on their return. 

We tasted beautiful Gavi sparkling (MC) and 2020 Gavi solo aciao;  Monterondo 2016 Gavi reserva followed by a 2011 and 2009 with lunch. Massimo didn’t join us. The menu was stunning but as time was 30 minutes short we raced through two excellent courses with two vegetable dishes for me. It is very hard not to eat too much in Piemonte… 

We hurried along the SP 162 and through a new tunnel to the Produttori del Gavi to meet Orietta Alice where she and the winemaker talked David through their wines. As we read, this coooperative uses grapes from 80 family growers, many of whom have been supplying them for several generations.

There are only six people employed on fixed contracts, with extra seasonal help at harvest time. We ducked the tour of the winery,  but tasted in the new tasting space with windows on the cantina and overlooking the road, beneath a huge photo of the Fortezza. 

By 17.00 we were heading for the last tasting at Il Poggio, near Rovereto, feeling pretty weary, but by the time we had met Francesca Poggio, her husband, daughter Georgia and her sister, as well as her 84 year old mother Franca (who had started the project 40 years ago) we were re-energised. 

Francesca was warm and friendly, busy but keen to greet us in her small winery, show us her vineyards, the fine arrangement of grasses, the Poggio B & B and to explain the history and their family relationship with the huge Scolca directly opposite.

We later discovered that Monica (our B & B hostess) is a long time friend of Francesca. In fact Monica seemed to know everybody and supplied many of the names of the young people we’d met. Of course – she’d taught them…

It was nearly dark as we left, returning to a football match in the Gavi’s stadium (Gaviese – founded 1920) whose supporters we could hear from the Square, as we hunted for somewhere to eat. Yes, we should have booked! No matter, we ate perfectly well if too much, further down via Roma.

The market takes over tomorrow morning, so the car needed careful parking – in blue markings. A recurring theme… 

Sunday 17 October 21

It seemed odd to set out so early on a Sunday. We arrived at Picollo Ernesto to meet a diffident Gianlorenzo and an equally shy sixteen year old Aurora (one of twins – the other being a boy – names supplied by Monica!) as the light nebbia was lifting to reveal another bright day and the bell of the church opposite their winery began to summon the faithful. We began by peering down the hole through which the newly picked grapes are processed, and went inside to taste from the tank.

They talked about their business, their long-standing reliable US and UK importers who have made it possible for their small business to thrive. The livescribe pen amazed them too – here’s David demonstrating how his scribbles end up on the phone.

Just up the road is Marchese Luca Spinola  where we met Andrea and Nora Spinola at Cascina Massimilliana near Rovereto. 

We arrived in a very open space at the Cascina, where Andrea  was nervously waiting for us. We later learned from Nora, his German wife, that he is very particular and thorough, doing all the work in the cantina himself, however long it takes. He has made life harder for himself by agreeing to produce Kosher Gavi for his American importer. The Rabbi has to do everything ! They have three young sons from 6 to11, and chose to leave Milan for the quality of life in the countryside. 

Nora had a riding accident three years ago, damaging her pelvis badly. Now completely recovered, she has seriously reviewed her life and values. Covid has helped in many ways to re-evaluate things. The newish wine-making business thrives – Andrea opted to make wine, not simply grow grapes when Luca’s businesses were distributed through the family on his retirement.

We had a very happy and friendly outdoor tasting, in the midst of which I had a sad face-time conversation with Luke and Sam about Daddy’s new flat.  Nora was very kind. 

Lunch was the Buon Gusto, arranged by the consorzio. After a brief rest we did exactly what Simonetta had suggested: just before it went dark we walked across the ford (gives you some idea of the size of the river in winter!) and up to the very forbidding Fortrezza di Gavi, built for defence and long used as a prison, which dominates the Gavi skyline.

I was glad it was closed. I’m not much of a tourist in places of gloom and misery.

Monday 18 October 21

Another full day lay ahead of us. It began at La Caplana in Bosio where Carmen Guido greeted us, with her brother Guido, and the cantieriere Natalino (of only 27 years) and showed us a modest cantina, beneath the house, on the main street of this small town, where four other cantine also function. A modest family with classy wines, and lately experimenting with amphora.  

On we went to a very different person – Marina Piacitelli of Morgassi Superiore who by her own admission is very obsessive in relation to detail and to research. Her loud voice sat strangely alongside the patient Sandro, whom she referred to as  ‘the column of rock’ of the Azienda. 

He drove us around the steep vineyards to show us the work they do on channeling the rain water which is such a threat on these sandy soils. They are working with Lydia and Claude Bourgogne to understand the soils and the quality control. 

We returned to Gavi for lunch and a tasting with Ghio Roberto in his traditional restaurant where we had tried to book twice before. We enjoyed the interjections of the eccentric and authoritative maitresse-di who periodically joined the tasting. 

We raced off to Tenuta San Pietro, for a vertical tasting with Lucia Salmaso and the long serving wine maker whose knowledge of the vintages and weather especially was extraordinary. Clearly long-standing, old friends full of fun, joking about WSET qualifications.  

They were a welcoming, relaxed pair, easy in each other’s company and enjoying the many blessings of a large and successful winery which was large and functional, quite without glamour despite the extraordinary vistas all around.

 A small ‘resort’ is being build above the cantina, but at the moment the viewing point more resembles a building site!

Visits at the end of a long day require concentration, and as we drove into La Mesma Anna and Francesca Rosina (a third sister is Paola based in London) greeted us with serious, even solemn faces. 

They were coy almost reluctant hosts who slowly warmed up as we talked.  The WSET came to our rescue again – they had done level 2 with Francesca Poggio just before covid arrived, and had enjoyed the process very much. David’s street-cred rose significantly..

 A family dedicated to organic cultivation, and bio-diversity, having planted a special type of grass in field between the woods and the vineyards for the benefit of the local deer, which obviates their need to munch at the new growth in the vineyards.. Cunning or wot! And a real commitment to preserve their existing trees, wherever they are growing.

Tuesday 19 October 21 

Our visit to Fontanassa was dominated by the presence of a very large puppy – Gin – already as big as a shetland pony and completely out of the control of its young owner, the daughter of Marco Gemme.

She was there to show us the Piona range of wines, grown on the south side of Gavi.

alongside those of the established Fontanassa

Fontanassa make interesting use of amphora and accacia to make the fine wines very distinctive; as is the art around the tasting room, and the useful selection of types of soils from their vineyards

We spent a longer time with Dario Bergaglio at La Chiara, a modern winery, lately extended. He is the fourth generation of wine makers. His great grandfather had belonged to the world of share-cropping  – mezzadria – and had rented then purchased land from – yes – La Scolca – in an earlier redistribution of that estate. As soon as La Chiave was founded, they began to bottle rather than produce grapes or wine to sell in bulk. 

Dario tells us there are 27 hectares of vineyards -15 in Cortese (Gavi) producing 200,000 bottles which are sold both locally and internationally. His father is technically retired, but still has influence, and resists some of Dario’s ideas for development. And there remains a local market for sfuzo – and measured in demijohns (damigianas)

This long tasting produced some very useful background information on the region especially in relation to La Scolca which is not part of the Gavi consorzio. Thank you Dario!

La Guistiniana  is another fine Villa recently restored and partially furnished with 18th century items (and some less harmonious like the ghastly bathroom) standing high above the river valley. WE were warmly greeted by a young woman at great pains to conduct the full tour of this property, the site of Benedictine foundation a 1000 years ago, and changing hands frequently both before and after Napoleon. 

It is now project of a business partnership, and may one day serve as a wedding destination. As well as a useful large reception room and a beautiful courtyard garden, it has a very sweet Capellata, presently de-consecrated,  but with great commercial potential – they hope…

The tasting involved a long explanation of the actual relationship between the three businesses: La Giustiniana, Magda Pedrini and Stefano Massone. We were greeted by Magda Pedrini very formally on our arrival and departure. The commercial director was at pains to ensure the joint project will be represented accurately. Look closely below!

There followed an interesting tasting of La Giustiniana’s older vintages with a couple blind – 2002 and 1998. The latter was remarkable – as were the tempura sage leaves… 

Our last tasting in Gavi was at Broglia, as the light was fading, in a beautifully sited cantina overlooking their vineyards and surrounding landscape. 

Youngish Roberto greeted us, cautious in a mask for most of the time but eventually relaxing. He lives in Milan, with a two year old daughter and a wife whose work is in Switzerland but who ‘smart-works’ now from home, commuting and staying when necessary. Great views from the balcony:

It is a family business (with an uncle who is the identical twin of his father, who think alike and dress alike – unintentionally). Four cousins are now the up-coming generation. Great pride in older vintages – justifiably – and keen to find a distinctive route to market. Roberto was an interesting host – married in Gavi’s ancient church and put us onto tonight’s supper destination – Beer and Co – who will open any bottle under €30 to provide a single glass !

Home for a late-ish supper in Beer and Co – whose owners were attentive and engaged. Once a beer destination, it has now morphed by popular demand into a ristorante where all wines under are available by carafe. Excellent. 

On our return, Monica had organised our laundry, and keenly awaited our permission to take shirts across the road to be ironed. She is PE teacher at the Scuola, as well as managing this sweet, modest B & B, which she rarely locks and from which she conducts her social life in the cafés of Piazza Roma. There is no-one in Nizza she doesn’t know ! Thank you Monica! 

We tackle Ovada tomorrow, returning in the evening before leaving for the Colle Tortonese on Thursday. If you’ve made it to the end, I hope you enjoy these relics of former times, two spotted in a local bar, and one from Il Poggio’s old winery:

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