After lunch on Thursday we headed up into the Monferrato Hills to Fortetto della Luja, and the hugely entertaining Giovanni Scaglione. Giovanni missed his vocation, his career path of agricultural engineer, consultant and part time wine maker has left the entertainment world the poorer.
However, we were able to enjoy his passionate and energetic explanation of a magical place. An old vineyard and winery, which his grandfather had planted in 1937, had been kept going at weekends and holidays while the family pursued other careers. It was identified by the WWF as a site of unique interest – with 21 species of orchids growing in the fields and vineyards, some in symbiosis with white truffles. So now it is preserved and visited by naturalists, wine lovers and walkers, and Giovanni is making organic wine on the steep slopes, from vines interspersed with grass (which is holding the hillside together), quince and pomegranate trees, using only horses for power.
We looked out across the Unesco world heritage site of the Langhe, Monferrato and Roero, the largest agricultural patchwork landscape in the world. Giovanni explained about the Savoy tradition of dividing land among sons that drove subdivision of properties so that now the average farm size is 3 hectares (vs 80ha on average in Italy), making Fortetto della Luja (literally: goat farm) at 9ha quite large! It provides a glorious landscape, but a poor living, the reason why so much industry is based in this area of Northern Italy.
Piedmont is also the largest wine landscape in the world, surrounded by mountains, the Alps to the north, Appenines to the south. Monferato is the ‘iron mountain’, so local soils are ferrous brown in colour.
The winery is traditional and tiny, so we could barely fit in it. WWF allow investment in modern technology provided it does not require carbon fuelled energy, but Giovanni is proceding slowly as the traditional ways are still producing some very good wines. His equipment even included a solar powered cooker!
In the walled garden we tasted
Barbera Superiore 2016, late picked with four months in old barriques, he described Barbera as the Cinderella wine, awaiting its prince.
Its prince arrived in the shape of Pinot Noir, which is planted quite widely in the region, and our next wine was a blend of 30% Pinot and 70% Barbera, which had spent 9 months in oak and was a fascinatingly complex wine.
The 2010 late harvest Moscato, made from grapes dried over many months in the sun, was absolutely glorious, not hugely sweet but complex flavours and great acidity.
We finished with a fresh Moscato D’Asti, which perked us up for our coach journey back.
It was very hard to leave this beautiful place, and many of us are intrigued to return for one of the festivals that they run – celebrating orchids at the end of June and truffles at the end of October.