Piemonte 8: Langhe 2: 31 Oct – 5 Nov 2021

Sunday 31 October 21 

After a slow start, we drove south (by a more conventional route this time) to meet Niccoletta Bocca of San Fereolo in the Dogliani DOCG, high up above the town. We had been greeted energetically yesterday by two large noisy dogs – which, were they not labradors, I would have considered threatening.  This time they were coralled by a barricade of chairs in a room off the main space where Niccoletta entertained us, and in the presence of their owner, they were compliant.  I didn’t like the guns though!

The house was remarkably unreconstructed; and I image her work is all-consuming, and everyday life is tough – though she is looking forward to quieter times soon to visit London and the galleries. Her elderly neighbour was very fond of an old carozza – cart – and kept it carefully wrapped up against the weather above one of his vineyards, until he lit a little bonfire close by – and wandered off – and the wind got up…Rather sad, I thought.

Nicoletta gave us a potted history of her involvement in the region, beginning with her father

Giorgio Bocca was born in Cuneo, and during the war joined the partisan stronghold at Monforte nearby and there made plenty of friends of local cellar owners including Bartolo Mascarello. (It was Alessandro, a  colleague of Bartolo’s who found them this property)

Her mother was an English ballet dancer who performed at La Scala, though her parents separated quite early in her life. As an adult Niccoletta worked in Milan on the history of the fashion industry, but she was drawn to the area, and decided to make wine. Fashion seems a long way from here…

The first grapes were picked in 1992, and since then she has bought little parcels here and there. The land was much cheaper then!  She has recently bought new parcels of c. 15 ha around Rocca Cigliè at 600m, which records suggest used to be vineyards, and on which she is planting – Dolcetto, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and possibly Pinot and Nebbiolo; even Moscato. 

She told us what we had already heard – the ‘Barolistas’ are now buying up land aiming to produce Nebbiolo and not Dolcetto; indeed some of the land she rents may now be sold at a price she can’t match.  ‘That battle is lost….they set the terms now’ 

Lunch in a very quiet Dogliani – yesterday had been a busy market and general business – today it was a struggle to find somewhere to eat!

Afterwards we drove around the best known wineries, including that of the town’s most famous son – Luigi Einaudi, the second president of the Italian Republic, economist, politician and local  estate owner, whose property now houses a very bijoux hotel with newly created formal gardens and fabulous views of the Dolcetti vineyards whose rich red autumn colours are so distinctive. 

Supper was very disappointing at Conterossa in Alba – although the food was OK the wines by the glass were poor. Consoled – again – by a Riesling and a Barolo Bussia reserva 2013 at the De Gustibus winebar

Monday 1 November 21: All Saints’ Day 

Sergio, at Ettore Germano in Serralunga d’Alba had agreed to an 08.30 start to accommodate us, and he was at all points very obliging – keen for us to taste from the tank and the barrels; giving very detailed account of each wine’s progress in terms of fermentation and management. These were surprisingly accessible even as they fermented/rested. Tannins became increasingly demanding in the top vineyards – Rionda and Prapò. 

We also tasted some Alta Langa sparkling – and he has white grapes (Riesling, Chardonnay, Nascetta) already in Cigliè. His dog was a beautiful creature – ‘aristocratic but thick’ – according to Sergio! notice the crossed front paws! Sergio was very warm to David, encouraging him to return each year! 

We arrived at Ca’ del Baio in Tre Stelle in Barberesco at 11.15 in the much anticipated pouring rain, where we met again Paola, Valentina and Federica, the three sisters, and Lydia and Anna, the grandchildren.

Three generations working together very successfully… Here we also met Suzannah Hoffman, author of two books based around the history of the region, with her cohort of American tourists.

Ogni Santi is a national holiday in Italy, and many of those who had already paid their respects to departed family members (a tradition alive and well in Italian cemeteries) and might have hoped to saunter around markets in Alba, but for the rain, had headed instead for the hills to taste in obliging wineries. Paola (above left) felt overwhelmed – and indeed everyone was very busy dealing with the rush. 

Lunch was tricky. One helpful if full ristorante tipped us off about the tasting room of Lodali next door who served antipasti with the wines. The space was strangely empty despite the teeming rain.

This may have been related to the service – our hostess (aka the Snow Queen) seemed distant and aloof until the Walter Lodali ambled in, and we realised he also owned the restaurant next door.

Back to the hotel for a snooze. Woke feeling sad, which lasted all evening. After three and a half very full and demanding weeks, and with only a few more days to go before our return, it felt a little like I imagine the last phase of a marathon might – almost impossible to keep going… 

Or perhaps it was the sadness of the season ? Whatever it was, we were off again to meet Francesco and Lucrezia at 17.30 in Canale at Monchiero Carbone. They really couldn’t have been friendlier, especially as David had given them little notice and they had been entertaining family all day. It was Lucrezia who had proposed the tasting samples and zoom mechanism to the people of Roero, on David’s behalf; and it was Francesco whom I had remembered meeting on our very first visit to Canale in 2010. 

They have been very active in re-styling their winery, which sits below the forecourt of the three story town Cascina, and have also created a gallery-like extension which Francesco refers to as his laboratory. It certainly looks glamorous from both inside and outside ! 

Supper at the Osteria del Vicoletto which we visited last Sunday. Less charming this time, with tired staff after a busy day, and short-handed. As a compromise we drank a rather tired Langhe Nebbiolo 2018

Tuesday 2 November 21 

Our meeting at 09.00 with Aldo Vacca, the Director of the Produttori del Barbaresco cooperative in Barbaresco was a real high spot of our visits. He is a remarkable man : long-serving, modest and unassuming. He and his family have long-standing involvement in and connections with wine-making in Barbaresco, and his knowledge of it is extraordinary. 

He began by describing the critical contribution of Domizio Cavazza – who died in  1913 at only 58, who was the director of the wine school in Alba, founded in 1880s. Known as the father of Barbarseco, in 1894 he convinced nine growers to bring their grapes to the castle to make wine. Aldo described him as an idealist – ‘before the Russian revolution spoiled the socialist dream’. He used the knight holding the bottle as his marque. He put Barbaresco on the map and described Barolo as the ‘austere cousin’. He was focussed only on Nebbiolo, and only blended with Barbera in poor vintages. (Later when the DOC was created in 1963 it only used Nebbiolo) 

By 1921 Fascism had rendered cooperatives unpopular. The Cavassa family moved back to Modena, and the Manzo family bought the castle and kept the brand. 

By the 1950s the wine industry in Barbaresco was at a low ebb – and wheat and corn dominated. Dom Fiorin Marengo was appointed to the parish in 1956, formed a marching band, and taught Aldo’s own father to play the organ in the church. He also convinced 19 families to work together; others would have joined in had multiple grape varieties been allowed. Marengo took on the Cavazza vision. 

Produttori was founded in 1958; the earliest labels Aldo has seen are from 1961. At the start some sold in bulk, some in damigiani, some to private consumers. Now there are 54 farmers. 

Their hallmark has always been quality; there is no ‘everyday’ market. Growers  deliver all their Nebbiolo grapes here; none held back; the DOC label was given to the wines of the winery not to individual. “Quality’ payments were paid from day one; originally for sugar levels, but now on a raft of criteria. 

[Aldo then spoke about the Gaja family, (see tomorrow for our visit there) with whom his own family has been involved for generations. He remembers as a child his uncle telling him of the day when he, as a twelve year old, assisted Giovanni Gaja by holding markers as he surveyed his vineyards (using a theodolite). The uncle’s clearest recollection was of how fast Giovanni moved; it was hard for him to keep up, he said.

 In 1961 when Angelo Gaja was 21 he persuaded his father Giovanni to buy land – lots. The family decided stopped buying grapes, and to make their own first class Nebbiolo. This shift transformed Barbaresco’s fortunes. 

As Aldo said: “then wineries bought grapes, they didn’t own land. He bought loads. Smart man! “

Aldo was 22 when he travelled to the states with Angelo Gaja – and spent the trip trying to keep up with his pace. He recalled his uncle’s story. ”He’s another force of nature – like his father before him” 

In 1967 Angelo Gaja first made wines from five single ‘vineyards’ and then from nine in 1971. He used local geographical names and so the others owners then benefitted. Under the influence of this trend, the entire Rabaja vineyard was bought by the only Michelin star restaurant in Piemonte.]

After this extraordinary meeting, we hurried back towards La Morra for an 11.30 tasting at Cordero Montezemolo with Alberto. The views were spectacular – Annunziata below, La Morra above; a fine view over his vineyards towards Castiglione Falletto. The family formerly vinified in La Morra itself in the old family house. His father built this huge cantina in the 1970s which has been extended into the hill to contain the held back bottled wines and family collection. 

WE tasted Arneis, Chardonnay, Dolcetto (only in SS – w removal of seeds from bottom of tank – and whole berries after de-stemming);  Langhe Nebbiolo 2020  – no oak just SS whose vines are in La Morra but outside the denomination. Two Barberas – 2020, and a  2017 reserva; Monfalletto 2017 Barolo ( and the dry summer version of ’18). Gattera ‘18 – best picks of the vineyard around the house; and finally Enrico VI – after the sixth child of the grandfather. 

Alberto identified 1986 as the critical the turning point – the year of the methanol scandal, which has resulted in greater care being taken and thus interest in quality grew. 

We left at 13.40; and opted to go directly back to Treise, eating our very tired, much-travelled iron rations (crunch bars) en route to Bruno Giacosa. It was just as well we skipped lunch –  we had been expected at 14.00 and we piled in at 14.30. 

We were met by Sophie who is English, brought up in the North – Yorkshire, Wythenshaw and Milnthorpe in Cumbria. She moved after her GCSEs to join her mother here in Italy (who used to run a pub in the UK but now has a B and B in Neive.) Learned italian at 16, in school here, and has worked here for four years. 

We tasted with Sophie:  Arneis and Nebbiolo D’Alba both from Roero. Barbaresco Asili 2016 Reserva and Barolo Falletto Vigna di Rocche Reserva 2016. I left my phone on the table under a brochure – and only just remembered as we were leaving. (There had already been two false alarms over my ’lost’ phone)

On to Castiglione Falletto to stay three nights at Bricco Rocche and the Ceretto family, though it felt very strange that Chiara (the PA) had failed to brief us and we had to fall back on Ulrika for instructions which were – go to Castiglione and when you reach the glass cube, you’re there…mmm. It was growing dark….

Fortunately an operative needed to drive though the gates when we did (no bell) and Manuele was in. After some confusion, she let us into the apartment and then gave us the keys and some basic information:  “We’re here! You’re not alone!’ 

Federico turned up c 19.00 and cheerfully invited us to supper – tomorrow. After the convenience of Alba, it was a struggle to find somewhere to eat tonight, but the new Locanda in Castiglione Falletto had room. Very complex if small dishes – on the one day when we could have eaten more, having skipped lunch earlier. I was still feeling low and apprehensive and didn’t find Federico easy; his glasses were seriously trendy and his dress style included a flat tweed cap, and a very short concentration span…

Wednesday 3 November  21 

This was Diana d’Alba day and we set off in damp dull weather – more nebbia – to meet Matteo at Alario Claudio. He showed us straight into a warm and stuffy cellar where wine was fermenting and the carbon dioxide heavy in the air. I felt very light-headed. Nor had I shaken off my anxiety. (Only two more days until we head for home. What could possibly go wrong? I could think of lots… like fainting…)

We met a shy and retiring Claudio and possibly a brother moving barrels in a very tight spot in the cellar. And then a long tasting in a very homely room where I busied myself taking pics of all the stuff on the walls while Matteo talked at length. The drawings of grape varieties were very instructive!

Our next stop was at Bricco Maiolica, so up, down and then up again the steep hillsides crossing the valley, through Diana d’Alba itself, to the other ridge on the other side. This is an area of the Langhe which feels a little left behind and unsophisticated; so different from Barolo: elegant, manicured and mannered. 

Beppe Accomo’s vineyards are altogether in front of the cascina known as Rolando. Castella was the name of his wife’s father’s business. The businesses have combined and now there’s a B & B Casa Castella. Beppe counted Patrick Sandeman as a friend and his death has impacted on his 30 years of trading with Lea and Sandeman. He has seven wines including Dolcetto and Nebbiolo d’Alba from a vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba;  also a methodo classico rosé pas dosé; some Pinot Nero; Merlot which goes into his vino rosso; Chardonnay and Sauvignon Grigio.

Beppe hosted Prince Charles some years ago when he made a private visit with Slow Food to Piemonte and proudly displays two letters – one handwritten – on his wall. Charles was very fulsome in his praise!

We saw little of the Diana d’Alba landscape as we drove straight to Barbaresco in fog and heavy rain, once more looking for a bar or some lunch in vain. Iron rations again, and a cup of coffee in a primitive (possibly pop-up?) street-side enoteca.

We were keen to be on time – this was Gaja after all. We were shown into a very fine reception room, alongside a small American group (who had probably paid 300 euros for the privilege – which Gaja extracts on behalf of a charity of the client’s choice) and waited for a few minutes, having been early for once. 

Giovanni Gaja spent an hour and a half with us, showing us a little of the Castello before beginning a sophisticated tasting in a fine upstairs room. Sadly the person detailed to show us the cellars had run out of time, so that will have to wait for another time.  (See yesterday’s entry on Produttori for more on the Gaja family, courtesy of Aldo Vacca)

We headed back to Bricco Rocche to struggle with the nightmare Travel Locator form. Day 2 test from Boots should be easier – surely? 

Federico had organised drinks with Ulrika, his former hospitality manager who had introduced David to Federico; with Manuela, and Ulrika’s very daft lock-down dog. After Manuela the most sensible person seemed to be the export manager, who lives in Bra. We ate supper upstairs in a room which is really for hospitality. The family space is very well hidden.  

Thursday 4 November 21

This was the view from our apartment at 07.47 on our last full day. In the distant haze, the Alps emerge..

David was preparing for the day, behind the window through which these views were visible

Our last day involved a visit to Monica of Albino Rocca in Barbaresco. We also met Paola and Daniele who together are continuing the work of their father Angelo, who tragically died in a light aircraft accident in 2012. Monica fondly recalled the presence of Albino, sitting on the chair, next to the botti, advising them on the making Angelo’ – made in memory of her father, and his son. Albino died in 2017.

It was a beautiful day in Barbaresco too!

We looked at the very tight cellar; the tiny space, now storing the mini tractor, where the grapes arrive at the sorting table with the best ever view); and used the small tunnel that links the house to the cantina, that runs under the road between them. They produce 100.000 bottles from 25 hectares

We hurtled back to Alba, to the via Europa to drop off 32 bottles and four heavy books for Mailbox to pack and send home. This was done in a flash, for 130 euros. Astonishing. We learned that they had reached Turin by 18.00, and Stansted by 04.00 the next day, but the last leg took another 10 days…

INSERT: I had spotted this copy of Wine Spectator while with Monica Rocca, and was pleasantly surprised by how many of these impressive women we’d met

From L to R: Bruna Giacosa, Chiara Boscis, Maria Teresa Mascarello x2, Gaia and Rosanna Gaja

The question hanging over the whole week had been whether Roberto Conterno of Giacomo Conterno in Monforte would find time to see us. David has been on tenterhooks, having managed an introduction from his importer, though no date had been forthcoming, but a sort of ‘wait and see’ response instead. Apparently Roberto does all the meetings and tastings himself.

Finally yesterday David was offered 15.00 today. Our last and only available slot. Magic. 

It was a fascinating meeting. Though the vineyards are in Serralunga d’Alba, the winery is in Monforte. the grounds of the newish building looked immaculate in the crystal clear afternoon light.

The machinery is kept immaculately clean; everything shines or sparkles. Roberto is gripped by new technologies, and has the prototype of a robotic small vineyard tractor in the winery which he both designed and made… 

His bottling line is mesmerising; the technology so neat.

He struck me as a very protective, shy operator, and he warmed to David’s interest in the detail.

A fantastic final visit – thank you

Well – not quite! Federico had arranged for us to taste his wines in the enormous Ceretto building on the outskirts of Alba; beautifully positioned facing south in parkland just off the via Europa, which we reached as dusk set in. 

He is a populariser, and even at 18.00 was busy with a zoom, and the place still filled with visitors and tourists, so charming Sophie, sommelier and employee of 10 years, stood in for him.

Alessandro and Lisa, and Federiko and Roberta are two sets of cousins who now run the business. Which wine did David want as a gift? Why – the 2007 please! And so we came to possess a magnum worth more than I’m prepared to say – and which the good Sophie posted home for us – with a kilo of hazelnuts. I have retaliated with three jars of home-made jam… I only hope Manuele gets to open them! 

Friday 5 November 21 

We said our farewells and thank yous to Federico at 08.30 and took one last look at the fantastic view from our rooms as we packed up the car, and headed cross country to La Morra for a walk and a cup of coffee, before turning for Cherasco, and the link road west to the motorway, and then north to Turin, and beyond. I was tense and anxious the whole way. So close… but yet so far… Obviously keen to get home! 

All our QR codes stood up to scrutiny as we boarded at 15.30 and we arrived at Stansted at c 16.45.
The train to Tottenham Hale was busy; the tube on a Friday teatime to Oxford Circus and on to Waterloo was horribly packed, and the train journey home from Waterloo was threatened by sudden disruption and a shuttle service from Basingstoke on account of the Salisbury tunnel crash.

30 days; 93 visits… David’s notes will take some writing up! 

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