This week, JP Schultz reflects on his summer visit to Cascina Ca'Rossa in Roero, Piemonte:
We arrived in the Roero just a few days after the rain let up. Apparently, the tail-end of spring had brought both cold and wet weather, but now in the first days of summer there was a full swing in temperature and we were seeking shade under the 90 degree sun.
Stefano Ferrio, third generation winemaker at the family run Cascina Ca’Rossa, located in Canale d’Alba, met us at the winery and was eager to walk us through the vineyard. He is a stout young fellow with immense calves, and as soon as we entered the vineyard it was clear to me how steady and strong one must be to work these vines. The winery is situated at about 20m, and the vines rise rapidly to 350m. The hillside is much too steep for tractors, and so all vineyard work must be done by hand. Stefano has spent many hours each day in these vines, learning to listen and observing their needs.
One of the first things Stefano pointed out was the sheer volume of grapes. In fact, this generous crop was reported throughout Piedmont. And in an area so wrought with hail problems, an early abundance of grapes is a welcome sight.
The late morning sun continued to bake, and one could see where the rains had accumulated from the wet spring, which had by now all but dried completely, so that dust kicked up as we walked. These are south facing slopes and the sandiness of the Roero became apparent. We spotted some peach trees, remnants of orchards past, and headed over for a view of the valley. There, we also found some shade, and just beyond the peach trees was a small metal shed with a two meter cone set vertically atop. Its efficacy in dispute, it was the Ferrio’s hail cannon. And across the valley we saw a large mill that ought to be about five times its present size were it not for the locals contesting its development. This was a bit of an eyesore to the otherwise picturesque valley.
As we climbed higher, we noticed some new vines inter-planted with the old. Stefano pointed out that some of his Arneis vines were suffering from a bacterial disease called flavescencus dorado. It was clear which vines were stressed, their leaves withering. And with no known remedy, the infected vines must be uprooted and replaced with new healthy vines. It is interesting to note that the disease does not affect Nebbiolo, and so you can have perfectly healthy Nebbiolo planted a meter away without any risk.
In our ascent of the hillside, it was impossible to make out the road that cut through the vines. Danielle, also a T. Edward employee, and I were slightly confounded as to why we didn’t just drive up here; the sun and perhaps the previous evening’s libations making us doubt our climbing abilities. This was the same moment when we were finally able to see the top of the hill, a sort of plateau, an outcropping almost with a tuft of green on top. Together Danielle and I halted, laughing that at least we aren’t hiking up there today. So we walked a bit down the road, noticing several cyclists ascending the hill. These were mostly mountain bikes, which is not completely surprising considering the wealth of trails throughout the vineyards in Piedmont. As we were again taking in the view across the valley, Stefano slipped into the uphill vines and immediately started trudging up the steep slope. At this point it became apparent that we weren’t at the top of his vineyard. So we followed and headed up to Mompissano, his highest vineyard in Canale. We had to follow, or give in as it were, to the reality of these hills.
Stefano farms these vines along with his father Angelo. They have a deep respect for the land, which has provided them a sustained livelihood for three generations now. This is an area that has mostly known grape growing for bulk sale, save for the select few like the Ferrios who from their beginning made wine from their grapes. It was Stefano’s grandfather Alfonso (namesake to the refreshingly delicious Funsu Nebbiolo) who put this all in motion. Not all the land was planted to grapes in the beginning though; fruit trees and some livestock also factored in. And they didn’t begin bottling really until 1995. Prior to that, most of their wine was sold locally in demijohns.
The Ferrios have been farming organically now for some time. This was most clear when, as we traversed a vine row to its end, we encountered the neighbor’s vineyard. This was definitely not farmed organically and had no undergrowth whatsoever; a shocking contrast to the microcosm beneath the Ferrio’s vines. The soil in the neighbor’s vineyard was compacted and hard while the Ferrio’s had more volume. We also learned that this same vineyard owner also owned the little plateau atop this hill. As we headed up the path that divided their two vineyards we came to the hilltop, which seemed somehow stunted. It turns out that the landowner had decided it was better to set some radio towers in place of what once were some beautiful old trees. Circling the hilltop we discovered bunkers dug in by the resistance. The good fight was still being waged.