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Scovero and Chiovini, Wine Artisans in Piemonte!

They call Piedmont the Burgundy of Italy and it has an incredible history.  The Kingdom of Piedmont, ruled by the house of Savoy controlled much of northern Italy and southern France and Turin was briefly the capital of the unified Italy in the mid 19th Century.  It is perhaps one of the reasons that Piedmont’s signature fine wine, Barolo, became known as the ‘Wine of Kings’.  Today the region produces many of Italy’s best and most famous wines, including Barolo, Barbaresco, Ghemme, Gattinara, Gavi di Gavi, Barbera d’Alba, Moscato d’Asti, the list goes on.

Piedmont or ‘Piemonte’ is very beautiful.  The rolling hills are carpeted with vines wherever you look, they are topped with pretty old towns with narrow streets and studded with old farms and homesteads many of which have now been converted into ‘smart’ old farms operating as ‘Agriturismo’, small hotels where you can eat and drink the products of the owners.

Agriculture has always been the mainstay of the economy and wine has always been the majority of the agriculture.  In June, I visited two small wine famers who like many in the region have inherited their family hectares.  Andrea Scovero and Paride Chiovini are tiny producers, with just 6 and 4 hectares of vines respectively.  Both are passionate and committed, both work pretty much alone in the vines and both produce distinctive wines from the main local grapes.  Their wines are distinctive and genuine like themselves.

Talking Natural Wine with Andrea Scovero
Andrea and his vines in the beautiful area of Asti, Piemonte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Scovero talks very quietly about natural production in his family home while we taste his 2016 Barbera, a rich crimson coloured wine bursting with dark fruits and prickly, brambly acidity.  ‘No one cares’, he says, ‘the guy over the road from me spent the whole morning spraying the cover crop with herbicide just because he doesn’t like the ‘look’ of cover crop’.  Being organic is tricky in Piedmont because, like in Burgundy, growers own small parcels of vines dotted around with their neighbour’s vines only a few feet away.  The first row of Andrea’s certified organic vineyards act as a barrier to the leaching of chemicals in the soil from the neighbouring vines.  They soak up the chemicals into the vine and by doing so protect the rest of the vineyard which doesn’t see any chemical use at all.  By doing this, Andrea sacrifices the outer rows of each plot, (he has around 6 different plots, planted to Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato and now Freisa, a new vineyard which he is really excited about).  He harvests that fruit separately and makes a little wine for home.  ‘Any good?’, I ask.  ‘Yeah, it is fine, it is only residual chemicals that get into the soil so we don’t mind drinking it, I can’t do anything else with that fruit anyway, it doesn’t taste the same as my wine because the fruit doesn’t ripen as well but it is ok, I give it to my Mum!’

Andrea is a big bloke, heavy set, humble, a farmer.  He gets up every day at 5.30am and is in the vineyard at 6am (a little later in the winter, when I was there in June, it was 36 degrees so you have to work the vines early in the summer).  He works until about 12.30 and then returns home and spends the afternoon operating the rest of his business.  He produces about 15000 bottles a year in this quiet way and rarely leaves Piedmont, only sometimes to wine fairs in Paris, Copenhagen, New York, where he sticks out like a sore thumb.  His wines are like him, big, powerful, and unassuming but with a quiet intelligence.  He says he likes wines with weight that last in the mouth.  The colour of the Barbera is exceptional and the rich fruit so warming and mouth coating.  But like all natural wine producers, he makes wines with great freshness and you want to keep drinking despite the 14.5% of alcohol.  Although the bulk of production is Barbera d’Asti, Andrea also makes a small amount of rich Nebbiolo, aged in one 500 litre barrel and also a delicious hearty Rose and skin contact Sauvignon Blanc.  The wines are honest and tasty and a true reflection of the natural side of Piedmont wine which sadly is still only a tiny percentage of this noble region’s overall output.

It was hot when visited Paride in Ghemme!
High trained Nebbiolo in Ghemme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very modest basement winery where Paride crafts his delicious Nebbiolo.

Paride Chiovini is based in Ghemme, in the province of Novara, about 100 km north of Asti and one of several lesser known Nebbiolo producing regions of Piedmont.  Paride is a young guy who decided about ten years ago to ditch his studies and dedicate himself to the family vines which at the time were being sold to the cooperative winery.  His place is tiny; we tasted his delicious Nebbiolo’s in the little office complete with laundry drying on the clothes horse!  The winery is made up of 3 or 4 small vats and a few oak barrels and his output is no more than twelve thousand bottles in a good year.  When I arrived, in 35 degree heat, his Father and Uncle were bottling the new vintage of the Vespolina with a rented bottling machine in the small courtyard out front of the winery.  Paride makes a small amount of Bonarda, called ‘Uva Rara’ in the region, a little Vespolina, a sharp red wine noted for its stinging acidity (Vespolina comes from the word ‘Vespa’ meaning wasp) but his main production is Ghemme made from  Nebbiolo, known locally as ‘Spanna’!

The wines of Ghemme have a slightly different character than those of Barolo, general finer, lighter, and ready earlier.  The Nebbiolo retains its lovely sweet fruit character but often displays menthol flavours and liquorice rather than tar and leather.  Paride makes two Nebbiolos, the straight Ghemme is 100% Nebbiolo, with a minimum of 3 years total aging, including 20 months in wood and 9 months in bottle from November 1 of the harvest year.  It is beautifully delicate and fresh with subtle mint and red fruit aromas.  The rare Cru Sizzano, a historic DOC from vineyards around the village of the same name is mainly Nebbiolo with a little Vespolina and Uva Rara and aged in oak for two years.  This deep red wine is rich and warming with dark aromas of dried fruit, aniseed, rosemary and spice.  The palate is rich and full with a long savoury finish.  For Rabbit stew or game, this would be magnificent.  Ghemme tends not to command the very high prices of Barolo and if you love Nebbiolo, these lesser known wines are well worth a look and are very serious wines indeed.