After a tiresome three days at Vintaly we had to skip day 4 of the show and get where we really wanted to be all along, nelle vigne, in the vineyards! We woke up in a serious haze early that Wednesday morning and drove three hours to the Agriturismo Le Belle Vite in Carpeneto, Ovada in Piedmont. This is an unknown part of Piedmont, closer to Genova than Torino. Ovada is known for its castles, in fact the road you take through Ovada is called the “percorso dei castelli” taking you from one tiny little castle town to the next. – The area has the highest density of castles in all of Europe!
Ovada is also the birthplace of the grape Dolcetto, being so synonomous with Ovada is was known historically as “uva ovadese” or grape of Ovada. In fact this represents a very important D.O.C.G. zone for the grape where most importantly it is given prominent vineyard position and sun exposure like Nebbiolo does in the rest of Piedmont. Wines are also subjected to longer oak aging in Ovada, not necessary made fresh like you may find from Nebbiolo producers who are hoping to earn a quick buck on some fresh juice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome juice but lets just say Dolcetto shines in Ovada and is given proper time to age and show its true potential.
For all its beauty it’s sad this region doesn’t get much love in terms of wine consumption or tourism. My good friends Paolo and Lidia of Le Belle Vite are helping to change this however. After working in Milan for several years this couple decided to leave it all for greener pastures and start making wine in Piedmont and open an agriturismo. Lidia went to school, in fact when we were visiting she had just graduated becoming an official enologist, and Paolo started building the business from the winery to b&b rooms and tree houses! This couple is also very involved in the promotion of their region in general and of course their wine via their consortium. Trouble is they are the consortium! The tiny group of producers in Ovada that form the consortium do not have the means to have a staff promoting their wines like maybe the consortium’s in Tuscany would, so Paolo and Lidia also have a hand in this as well. One thing you learn when you spend enough time with winemakers is there is never a lack of work to be done!
Funny story, when in Rome I taught Lidia’s sister Letizia English. I would tell her about my hopes and dreams of entering into the wine industry in Italy and eventually starting Mucci Imports. She immediately mentioned I should meet her sister who was in the midst of her Masters and learning how to make wine. Kelsey and I took a trip to Piemonte to find Lidia and Paolo and a friendship was born. It’s been really enjoyable to watch their growth and see the opening of their agriturismo and this year taste some wine in the bottle.
Le Belle Vite is one of the most beautiful agriturismo’s I have stayed in throughout Italy, and I have some experience in this field. The rooms are extremely comfortable and so uniquely mesh modern and old school Italian. Each room is immersed in the vineyards so your morning view is tough to beat. Final plans are being made on a couple tree-houses that will give folks a great opportunity to take in the scenery!
Paolo and Lidia focus on Dolcetto and Barbera production. Some of the vines on the property are as old as 50 years and the wine from this part of the vineyard will go towards making a cru wine, which has just been granted to them by the Ovada D.O.C.G. At Rocco Carpeneto (the name of the winery) they work with very small yields of about 40 tons per acre, like producers in Barolo or Barbaresco would (averages for more ordinary wine are around 100 tons/ acre). To give you an idea of what that means, essentially there is a choice of how many grape clusters per plant you can have. With less clusters you are focusing more on quality and allowing the grapes that you do leave on the vine to reach an optimal maturity.
Although our stay at Le Belle Vite was quite short we were able to spend some time in the cellar tasting from barrel to barrel of wines that will be ready over the next few years. This is always a great exercise to understand the potential of a certain vintage and understand how wine changes over time in oak. Lidia made sure we tasted the same wine from different barrels where there might be the slightest nuance that one could pick up on.
This year will be the first major release of wine for Paolo and Lidia with a small batch of 500 or so of each wine already bottled. The next batch will be ready around September and we look forward to getting our hands on as much as we can of the very limited quantities produced. Please keep your eye out for these wines in the fall as they represent the true potential of Dolcetto but are also made organically, with spontaneous fermentation and therefore truly terroir driven wines.