Monday, May 21, 2012

Cantine Vallana, old bottles, large cellars, and future vineyards

This is probably the expected place to begin a story about the Cantine Vallana, at the doorstep of the large winery and underneath the sign you can see from the distance all around it.

Or this might be the start: one of the old vintages for which Vallana was already famous before a DOC appellation had even been created to paste on the label.

But probably best to begin here to get a sense of Vallana today, on the road through the Gattinara vineyards. This is the heart of the Alto Piemonte and also where Vallana's oldest vines are.

It was a bit moody on our day, as if the weather hadn't quite decided to leave the house fully dressed for the world just yet.

Vallana has both Nebbiolo and old vine Vespolina planted in this soil.

You can distinguish Nebbiolo, called Spanna here, by the red coloring along the edges of its young leaves.

Gattinara is quite a bit bigger in size than neighboring wine zones like Ghemme and Boca.

The road to Boca, where Vallana also has acreage and buys in grapes. The Vallana vineyards that were once the backbone of the Traversagna and Castello di Montalbano bottlings, thought to be some of the best vineyard sites in Boca, are not currently planted to vines. The hope is to replant them soon.

This is what the old Montalbano vines look like today, awaiting to be burned.

This vine, which belongs to Le Piane and is across from the old Montalbano site, is trained in the local manner traditional to this area. It is as if the vine reaches to pull itself up.

Back at the winery the mood is quiet. Few tourists come to this place now, although the reputation of Vallana's old wines is legendary amongst all of the Piemonte.

The cement fermentation tanks in the cellar today were installed in the 1960s, and are the same ones that were used for the bottlings from that era.

So the bottled wines, such as this one, were fermented in the same tanks that will be used for the next coming harvest.

And there is a long history of bottling wines at Vallana.

But the real change at the winery has been the decline of the demijohn business, wines sold to local consumers basically in bulk in large containers. This was once a huge source of revenue and industry for the winery, which contains today a much larger space than is actually actively used. The picture is of one of the many fermenting tanks in the subcellar that has gone unused for years, as the bulk demijohn business has greatly declined. You can hear people talk about the demand for "less wine of better quality" and quote numbers about smaller national alcohol consumption, but this is what it actually looks like: empty cement vats. The old family saying at Vallana was that "the demijohn makes the bottle, and the bottle makes the demijohn" meaning that the demijohn sales provided the ready revenue stream while the winery's reputation was determined by the bottled wine.

Demijohns are still offered to the mostly older patrons who ask after them at the winery.

It is easy to think of Vallana as greatness contained in the old bottles, but this was only half of the story. The other half of the telling has receeded into a small corner of a large facility, and what that means for the future of Vallana is still being determined. At the moment the bottled wines currently for sale offer good value, and are honest enclosures of their origins in the Alto Piemonte, often with some age.


Steven said...

Thank you for this post, Levi.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Those vines at Le Piane are a particular trellising system, called Maggiorina, where four vines emerge from a center point and wind, forming a cup. Designed by the architect Antonelli, who hailed from Maggiora in the Boca wine region.

Levi with an i said...

Hey, Alfonso.

Thanks for the note.

We caught sight of a church in Boca designed by Antonelli, as well as a house of sorts. I have the pics but I didn't know who would want to see them. You probably have seen these same structures already, however.

Be well.