Our next stop was at Boniperti in the town of Barengo. As we planned our trip, Gilberto Boniperti, was one of the first to confirm a visit. He was also very helpful in introducing us to Cristiano Garella, who also consults for this winery AND also helped open the door to a few other producers–Mazzoni & Francesco Brigatti (more on each later) to name 2. Gilberto owns but 4 hectares of vines–2 1/2 hectares of Nebbiolo (6 different “clones”), 1 hectare of Vespolina & 1/2 a hectare of Barbera. His centerpiece wine is Fara, a village along the “tongue” shaped hills of Fara, Sizzano & Ghemme with similar soils & growing conditions. Fara, he says has but 5 producers today, is warmer than Boca or Gattinara. His soils have a strong iron component which creates the “blood” character of his wine. During a dinner we had one night with Cristiano & Gilberto, I found him to be a warm, thoughtful, sensitive man who was so straightforward in a very kind, gracious manner. He had wisdom & a depth of knowledge way beyond his years & approached it all in a very humble, almost unassuming style. When walking his vineyard, one could see he tended his vines with care. I was thrilled to hear, his Fara just received a Tres Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso–a HUGE achievement. Imagine being highlighted in the Nebbiolo world ahead of many, many of the biggest, most prestigious names of Barolo & Barbaresco producers by the TOP Italian wine & food magazine. HUGE….& I would wholeheartedly say deservedly so. During our stay in the area, we had previously tasted his 2016 Barblin “Colline Novaresi”–100% Barbera, fermented in stainless steel with NO stems. We loved its polish, transparency, refinement, balance & seamless texture. Yes, I would definitely buy some for VINO. In addition, with him, he graciously let us taste his 2017 Barblin, 2017 “Favolalunga” 100% Vespolina)–spicy, easy, softer, more gentle red; his NV Rosadisera Rose (100% Nebbiolo)–very pale pink in hue, NO ML–pure, stony (charcoal), tangy with a pungent bitter almond to the finish; his 2017 “Carlin”–(100% Nebbiolo Colline Novaresi)–with its characteristic rose petal, stony, savory nuances done with a much gentler, masterful touch. His Fara is undeniably standout & deftly shows why he is one of the chosen, New Age winemaking stars of northern Piemonte. Gilberto certainly has a great touch & feel for his vineyards, grapes & his wines & is one to keep an eye out for. PLUS, he is a really nice guy!
Our next visit was at Carlone, located in the Boca municipality. Davide Carlone has quite a commanding personality & presence. He is a strong leader & has the fire & perseverance to get his vision done. He is a warrior. This was very evident on our visit, as he orchestrated the last of his harvest (solely done by family & friends) at the last day, before the forecasted, looming
thunderstorms to hit the next morning. While all of that going on, the grapes were being unloaded at the winery down the hill & fermentations already happening with grapes picked earlier. Yes, it was very busy time. We were so thankful that he stopped & made time for us both in the vineyard & insisting that we try his wines. (This is yet another Cristiano Garella consulting project & Cristiano did make another appearance for us there–walking the vineyard, tasting grapes & spot inspecting the grape selection process & the winemaking tasks). Davide currently has roughly 10 hectares of vineyards, (& is also planning to plant the 2.5 hecatres above his current vineyard–on a much steeper & rockier terrain). His main sites are at higher, cooler elevation–1350 feet–a combination of porphyric sand & porphyry rock (more tannins). He prefers those east AND southeast facing. As far as I could tell, Carlone has at least 7 different Nebbiolo vine selections, each having very different & unique character, as we munched on the grapes still on the vine ready to be picked. (clone #71–1970’s from Langhe–had really good fruit & acid balance; #423–higher acidity, more refinement & more aromatics; #66–Lampia from the 70’s–higher yields, bigger bunches, less intensity in the skins; #185–Chiavennasca, Valtellina–juicy, higher acidity & lovely aromatics; #308–medium small grapes, savory & aromatic & #142–Altare/La Spinetta 1990’s–sweeter, more viscous, earthy aromatics). Of all of the wineries we visited, he certainly was the last to harvest, which at least partially explains why his resulting wines are more forward, generous & textural. We were also quite taken with all of his Slavonian oak barrels of different sizes. His wines were quite stunning, classy, quite polished, seamless & well worth seeking out. Yes siree, his style of Boca is one that will attract much attention, win many accolades & therefore create droves of followers from the sommelier community without being overdone or blatant. I should also add, that several of the “barrel samples” Davide let us taste from 2017 & 2018 featured the #423 “clone of Nebbiolo with some Vespolina added & will be aged for at least 24 months in 2540 liter barrels. I don’t think that was by coincidence.
Another Boca winery we were able to visit (though on a different day) was Poderi ai Valloni. I list it here for geographic convenience for the reader, since they too are located in Boca. There are but 5 towns in the municipality of Boca & only 12 producers. Poderi ai Valloni sits at the highest elevation (1650 feet) with but 3.5 hectares of vineyards, mostly hillside. southeast to southwest facing. These are also the oldest plantings in Boca–the majority planted in the 1960’s. This area was once part of an ancient volcano which imploded & therefore has volcanic porphyric soils, some yellow-ish & some reddish & is actually inside a national park–Mount Fenera (2014 UNESCO–geopark). Although I had previously heard of this estate, I would quite candidly say it was not on anyone’s TOP, “must see” visits whether in print or with the people I spoke with…..EXCEPT Marina Olwen Fogarty of Vallana wines, also based in Boca. She insisted that I should visit Poderi ai Valloni & in hindsight I am so thankful she insisted. It was with such an extreme pleasure to drive to the secluded hilltop estate to meet with Anna Sertorio, the current matriarch that runs their family estate. I am in total awe of her & I have even much more respect for her after this visit. She is so gracious, articulate, charming & kind with quiet patience to my many questions. She is totally the heart & soul of the estate, visionarily & culturally AND all with a very reverent respect for the land & her family’s legacy. It was all so resoundingly heartfelt for me & I was so thankful to be in her presence, hear her words first hand & feel her passion & sincerity at the same time. OMG! What an aaamazing experience. The estate is breathtaking in its panoramic location & view. The vineyards have a sense of solemn serenity & in a “time stand still” setting, undulating around the curve of the hilltop it sits on…..like a perfect sculpture. I could feel a very warm aura from the site as we walked up, down & around. It was certified organic in 2011. The winery itself also had quite a feel that was not scientific or laboratory like. It was stylishly kept & yet seemed so practical. Old concrete vats, large barrels–2000 liters, 2500 liters & 3000 liters with a stash of 3 year old, used Gaja barrique & some 300 liter & 500 liter tonneaux. The wines were really quite charming, classy & well made. It came as a big surprise when we found out that her winemaker is Matteo Baldin, who joined the team in 2017. (My cousin had earlier noted his name was on the entrance gate, as we drove up). This was the same winemaker I had tried to track down & secure an appointment with, during my pre-trip planning! I have been told by several he is a relatively undiscovered New Age winemaking phenom I should keep an eye out on. I really think this estate has all of the pieces in place, especially with Anna Sertorio at the helm, to be one of the real “IT” wineries of northern Piemonte. This was such a serendipitous, truly & unexpectedly memorable visit I will treasure forever.
Our next stop was to Vallana, also well renown for their Boca wines. In the late 1950’s, I have been told this venerable, iconic Nebbiolo driven Alto Piemontese estate used to stand alongside such highly revered Barolo standouts as Giacomo Conterno & Bartolo Mascarello for producing prodigious, glorious Nebbiolo based red wines. Antonio Vallana’s great grandchildren–Marina Olwen Fogarty & her brother Francis Bernardo Fogarty have now taken over the estate–the vineyards & the winery–& are looking to resurrect this sleeping giant. During the pre-trip planning, this was actually the first winery I contacted because of a sampling of a bottle of 2007 Vallana Gattinara I had purchased while on a trip to the mainland U.S.. I loved its masculinity & inherent savoriness & complexities, done in a very civil, intriguing, stylish manner. It wasn’t grand cru-esque by any means, but it was very interesting, masculine without being hard & quite stirring. A prompt, enthusiastic & welcoming reply came back from Marina Olwen Fogarty. Despite this would be harvest time & all of its hectic work hours, she not only welcomed us to visit their vineyards & estate, she also helped open doors to other producers, most notably Poderi ai Valloni of Boca & Antoniolo & Franchino Mauro, both of Gattinara. Marina was a super dynamic, charismatic force of passion & Master of Wine quality knowledge. She was so articulate & patiently & thoroughly presented all of the details in a way that we all got it……..a rare combination. Curiously she spoke with a heavy British accent, despite being born & raised in the area. (Her father was British, her mother was a Vallana–which explained it all). This estate was founded in 1937 & currently has 3 hectares in Boca (several small, high elevation parcels of super rocky soils with very little topsoil, planted in 1970’s), & 1 hectare in Gattinara (replanted in the 1960’s/1970’s). (She also took us to see a small museum display which showed how a super volcano imploded resulting in a myriad of soils–granite, kinzigite, gabro foliate, peridotite & milonite–one of the few spots on earth with so many different soils. In addition over the years there were also quite amount of seabed influence as well). All quite interesting & telltale. As we walked one of their Boca crus, one could readily see how thin the topsoil was & how incredibly rocky the site was. Because it had rained hard the night before & during the morning, the sand mix was also quite evident & prevalent, because of how well & quickly it drained. I was sad to hear that they lost 50% of their crop this year due to foraging by the wild animals, a malady that was true in all of the Alto Piemontese regions (& also Liguria), which has sharply risen over the past 4 to 5 years. Because of this atrocity & the fact that these animals are protected by the government, many are looking at fencing (& electrical fencing for those that can afford it) to help curtail the problem. Marina pointed to one of her other prized, high elevation rocky parcels across the way, noting they lost nearly everything in that parcel this year. OMG. The wild deer, also will not only eat the grapes but may strip the vine of leaves, bark & all. BIG challenge! We then first tasted their 2007 Boca (70% Nebbiolo & 30% Vespolina)–18 months in large barrel, 1 year in concrete & 4 years in bottle before release. It still was quite the untamed beast full of spice, stems, savory notes–roasted chestnuts, forest floor–& still quite tannic. We then tried THREE of their Gattinara–2015, 2008 & 2002. Each were quite masculine, rustic, leanly built, though hearty & savory to the core with lots of structure & forest floor nuances. Through all of the challenges this sister-brother dynamic duo have their sights on moving this iconic estate to new stages. Already 90% of their production is exported, which is a huge accomplishment. The legacy continues at this estate & it seems like a new birth is underway.