by Ping-Ko Chiu
The best winery in Roero
We stayed at the Ca’Rossa winery of Roero. The wine maker converted a portion of the winery into AirBnB units. We slept and ate right above the fermentation tanks and the cellars. Angelo, the head wine maker, came from a farming family. In the 1970s, the Roero region wasn’t considered a fine wine producing region. Angelo’s father, Alfonso, grew peaches and grapes but they were sold as bulk, for direct consumption or to other wine makers. The father was against the son’s decision to become a wine maker so the son borrowed money from his uncle to buy a piece of land nearby. Angelo’s success with his first wines lead the winery to where it is today. Little did we know, the local town of Roero consider the wine maker the best in town. The winery has 16 hectares of land. three to six people work this land, producing a handful of wines. It is fascinating to listen to the winemaker talk about allocation of space and time for the production of different varietals. On the land the we stayed at, at least three grapes are grown — Arneis, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. The higher the elevation, the better the sunlight and ventilation. Nebbiolo, the most profitable grape, is grown at the top of the mountain. Then followed by Barbera in the middle and Arneis at the foot of the hill. Early in the season, they have to prune the grape vines by removing 80% of the total plant mass. With the amount of staff, they can’t prune everything all at once. So the farmers would take turns tending to different grapes. Once they are done with one varietal, the next is ready to be worked on. These grapes ripen at different times so they also stagger their harvest and processing. Of course, the environmental factors can change this so the farmers keep a close eye on the weather. There is always work to do year round, just different kinds of work.
The Tanaro river divide
The Tanaro river separates Roero and Langhe. Langhe contains the Barolo and Barbaresco communes that produce the most internationally recognized Nebbiolo wines. Roero is known for its Arneis wines but also produces Nebbiolo that has gained popularity in recent years. Given that the two regions are only separated by a few kilometers, it is fascinating to see how differently the two regions are perceived. At lunch with a few Piedmonteese and a Barbaresco wine maker, I asked why they think Roero does not have the same fame and recognition as Langhe. I was surprised at the heated argument that broke out. Some consider it just as an inferior wine making region. Some consider it to hold the same potential but cost less. Some talk of the legacy of Barolo and Barbaresco as royal wine producing regions. I even heard some demeaning depictions of Roero people as lazier and poorer. DOCG rules separate wines produced in different regions — to be a Barolo DOCG, or a Barbaresco DOCG, or a Roero DOCG, the wines have to be made in the respective region and achieve a certain level of quality. The DOCG designation is reserved for wines of the highest quality. For the other Nebbiolo wines that are still good but do not make the cut for DOCG, there is the Langhe Nebbiolo DOC designation. Some Roero wines are legally labeled with Langhe Nebbiolo DOC even though its not from the Langhe region. I asked a Roero wine maker for the rationale behind this and he said that the Langhe DOC is a more widely recognized brand. While some newer Roero wine makers decline the Langhe Nebbiolo DOC label for a less recognized Roero Nebbiolo label, this wine maker thinks it is not necessary. The fine distinction on the DOCG wines is necessary because they wines show off the characteristics of the land more precisely. The less-superior DOC wines need not have the same subdivision in his opinion.tags: Life - Travel