6 days in Piemonte

Part 1

 

Thursday: On to Piemonte. A scheduling snafu changed our day quite a bit. Originally, we were going to visit Tommaso Bussola and Zýmē (zi-May) then stop in Asti on the way to Sinio. However, Domenico Clerico had a problem with Friday’s appointment and needed to reschedule for today. Being able to visit Bussola and Zýmē at VinItaly, it made sense to cancel private visits to see one of the great Barolo producers. Unfortunately, this also screwed up the driving that I had so carefully planned out. Now I must drive past Asti and Sinio to Monforte d'Alba and then go back past Sinio all the way up to Asti before coming back to Sinio. This amounts to a bonus 2 hours of driving. Fortunately, we are ahead of schedule and we not only have time check in at agriturismo Rivetto before the visit, but we also drop off a case of wine at Centro Storico for Saturday night!

Domenico Clerico has worked the fields for many years. When it came time to expand the winery one concept was law: lots of natural light! Just as he lived his life in the vineyards, he wanted to know what kind of day Mother Nature had in store for him. Combining natural light with an underground building isn’t easy, but the new winery is a sight to behold! Modern design with lots of glass and facing west the winery is dug into the hillside with grass covering the roof.

 

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As is the trend in modern winery manufacturing, great effort was made in minimalizing the visual impact of the winery, while exploiting the benefits of gravity and the earth’s natural protection from most of the things that do wine harm. For those of you who are unfamiliar with gravity-feed wine production: building a winery into a hillside allows trucks to deliver grapes above the winery. After the preliminary processes are done (sorting, de-stemming, crushing, etc.), the must goes down to the next level for fermentation. After that, it can be gravity fed into barrels in the room below. The expense and labor to pump is greatly diminished, not to mention the wear-and-tear on the wine. The barrel room is a true cellar that is climate-controlled by the earth which is naturally and constantly about 55°, dark and vibration free. Humidity is often pretty good as well.

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The weather today is such that we go into the cellar to warm up. We drive back up to Asti to visit Braida in Rocchetta Tanaro, which is also where the wonderful restaurant Trattoria i Bologna is located. Irony upon irony: We drive past the Braida's new winery to the old winery; the instructions to the new winery are not too clear. I drive up and down several roads and return before Joel catches up to us and he is lost as we are. As we finally arrive, we mention the restaurant and ask if need for reservations. Trattoria i Bologna is part of the Braida family! After all, “Braida” was the nick-name of a young Giuseppe Bologna, the winery founder, 3 generations ago. Getting into the restaurant wasn’t hard…

Kara and Dale meet us perfectly at 19h30 after hiking in the Dolomites and Lake Como. After the first few days on Venice without a car, they found out the rental company did not have the promised GPS. Considering the rental price and the cost of simply buying one, they now own an EU TomTom. Something to consider if you travel.

 Dinner was fun and delicious! We were first in and we got to visit the kitchen and watch them make agnolotti from scratch. (Full review on TripAdvisor). Another 3-hour dinner and a long drive to back to Sinio to get to bed for a full day tomorrow.

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                                                              Renato Corino                                   Scavino                     The view of Serralunga (Pira)     Contratto

Friday. Five appointments are more than I care to do in 1 day. A typical appointment lasts for 2 hours, so 5 visits take 10 hours without counting driving time or the ever-important l-u-n-c-h. Even with a skillful plan where the commute between wineries is a matter of minutes, there is still only so much time in the day. Not to mention: we all get lost and it happens on every tour. Braida was a fine example! On this day, we also had another error in scheduling: we mistakenly turned down lunch because we crossed-up days and thought we had two lunches in one day. This somehow was construed as a cancellation of our final appointment! Argh!!! On the good side, we didn’t waste time going to that appointment since the last two places are both owned by Giorgio Rivetti. However, I am still baffled as to how declining lunch cancels a winery tour.

Kara and Dale go on a Segway tour and see Alba while we are hopping wineries. A small aggravation for them, we decide to go back to Alba for dinner just as they had returned. This is a popular place called Enoclub. This is not my typical place, partly because it is “popular,” but more because it is located downtown. Finding the place and parking is most often more difficult than finding a solitary restaurant on an unmarked road. Good food is everywhere here and I just don’t like being in the city, especially considering the anarchy on Italian streets.

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Saturday: The sun is finally out as we start the day at Revello, then we go visit Chiara Boschis.  Jeffrey Chilcott  offered us lunch at Marchesi Di Gresy (13h00 in Martinenga) and finally we’re with Angelo Gaja. Kara and Dale have been through New Zealand and were very interested to learn that Jeffrey Chilcott is a Kiwi, so they join us in Martinenga. Here we have a fine example of why it’s important to be on time. We were late to Revello by 10 minutes. We were late to Chiara by 20 minutes and we were late to Martinenga by 30 minutes. Now we are forced to call Angelo and tell him we will be late. This is not a man to make wait – especially when he makes time to see us on a Saturday!

 

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                                               The route                         Jeffrey Chilcott pouring                          Carne cruda and other treats including fritattas!

Leaving Chiara was hard to do. The entrance/exit to her Cantina leads past her home’s kitchen. It is 12h30 and wow does it smell good! My GPS has us take an absurd route to Martinenga through Alba; the final mile was down a tiny road that winds down and around a steep hill including 7 hairpins! Lunch was terrific, although I would get my fill of Carne Cruda (Italian beef tartare) today. The one item that really caught our attention was the frittatas. The size of silver-dollar pancakes, these cold omelets were really tasty! Be sure to see my other blogs on Salumi, Salami and other typical foods we ate. As I am the only big fan of carne crude, cleaning the platter with 10 servings falls to me (no, I did not finish it…)

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Angelo Gaja is a man possessed. He’s not shy about telling you about what he’s doing and he’s doing a lot! He did not hesitate to tell us that it is an honor to be with him and that being late was not good. That synopsis is a personal conclusion, not a quote. He would later admit openly to being vain. Couple this with his reputation and the fact that he has enough money to be doing whatever he wants to do, anywhere in the world, I will bow down and agree with him that it is an honor to be here with him personally.

As we are late, Angelo is in speed mode, speaking and moving quickly. He walks us through a few buildings and gives us each a picture packet and begins his a quick lecture on his outlook on doing things. Share cropping is still a way of doing business in Europe. Gaja not only objects to this socialist way of not getting things done, he offers a solution: He builds modern housing and includes it with a generous wage: You can work for Gaja and live in the 21st or you can work for someone else and live in the 19th century!

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Gaja also goes green. His new wineries are not only semi-subterranean, but he builds them from junk. This is most obvious at Ca Marcanda where there are seemingly random girders visible and pillars made from a discarded oil pipeline. He reclaims his own water, composts organically with American redworms (He tells a great story here about fighting the communists still living in Italy just to bring American redworms into Italy!) and he even brings Cypress trees into Piemonte from the south to provide small birds with a safe habitat close to the vines!

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                                                                              The General                                                                             The Sergeant Major

Angelo himself drives us around to show us the water reclamation site, composting and the cypresses. After that we go for a tour of the winery. On our way, we run into his daughter, Gaia. After the tour, we get to taste some truly incredible wines. It is also worth mentioning that Angelo, upon hearing that we were travelling south toward his other two properties, suggested that we call and visit them. He also suggested that we go to his favorite restaurant, La Pineta, while we are in Bolgheri. What stands out here is that he wrote out the names and numbers of the people we should contact and took our information as well. (I’ll explain more when I get to Monday…)

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Yes, the room is about 5 meters wide and 6 meters deep. Roberto Voerzio will fill the smaller room upstairs.

For dinner, we go to Centro Storico to drink some of the bottles I’ve carried over. Unfortunately, most of the invited guests can’t join us; but Jeffrey Chilcott and his buddy from Japan come and end up drinking us under the table! Be careful when going out with Jeffrey! He was calling for another bottle while we were packing up and there were at least 6 half-full bottles of great wine on the table! Once again, carne crude is served for this same group of people from lunch; as I am the only big fan of carne crude, cleaning the platter with 10 servings falls to me (no, I did not finish it here, either!)

Roberto Voerzio had also chosen this location for a group; our two parties pretty-much filled the place to capacity. I admit that I thought Roberto was Domenico Clerico (never having met Roberto before); this isn’t so bad since neither speaks much English so I never said anything to him that demonstrated my mistake. It’s also good, because we sent lots of bottles to his table and he sent many back! What a day and what a night!

 

End part 1

 

 

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