We drove up a one-lane road through the vineyards of the Roero, ever higher around twists and turns. Winemaker Fabrizio Battaglino stopped the car to point out striations of earth rising up from the edge of the road. “See the different colors of soil? That’s sand and limestone. I have vineyards growing in both, and it makes all the difference in the wines. You’ll taste it later.”
I was in Vezza d’Alba on a hot April day visiting the Battaglino winery and vineyards. Soon, I would be introduced to one of Piemonte’s many small family producers and learn that quality – from winemaking to tourism – is the first and most important goal for growth.
But before we were to open any bottles, Fabrizio, a sincere, accommodating, and at times serious man, took me up to his Nebbiolo vineyards at 350 m asl.
He stopped the car near a modern ciabòt, one of the stone or brick toolsheds that are traditionally used in the Roero, shaded by a healthy olive tree from which he produced three liters of extra virgin olive oil last year – “Just for my family and I!”
At the top of the hill, grapevines clung to their stakes to the left and right of us. The southeast-facing vineyards were planted in the sandy soil about 15 years ago, while the southwest-facing vineyards were the family’s historical vineyards, planted about 50 years ago in the limestone-rich soil. Both vineyards are planted with Nebbiolo and, because Fabrizio vinifies his wines from these two vineyards using similar techniques, the differences in land and exposure are perfectly demonstrated in his Nebbiolo d’Alba and Roero DOCG wines.
Fabrizio indicated points along the horizon, from the famous Valmaggiore cru for Nebbiolo d’Alba to the Trail of the Torion I had just hiked, all the way to La Morra and beyond. He noted, “The Roero is younger than the Langhe, so there is more sand in the soil, giving its wines less structure and power but more elegance and great aromas.” A noticeable feature of the landscape is the bare rocks and cliffs that jut from the land and appear in the patches of forest throughout the territory. The prehistoric sea that covered this area receded from the Langhe first; and as the waters pulled away from the Roero, pieces of land broke away to form these Rocks of the Roero.
Fabrizio is a meticulous producer. Where wildflowers grow in between the vines, he pointed out that his integrated agriculture techniques use as little chemical treatments as possible: quality starts with healthy grapes in the vineyard. We looked closely at the tiny buds of grapes just beginning to come out, and he explained how he will cut away the inferior bunches to keep the yield at just six or seven bunches per vine, which helps to concentrate flavor and aroma in the final product.
With just five hectares of vineyards and no purchased grapes from other producers, the Battaglino winery produces about 25,000 bottles a year. His grandfather began the family winery in the 1960s, and when it passed down from grandfather to father to son, it originally played second fiddle to Fabrizio’s full time job. But in the end, “If you don’t do something with passion, you’ll do it poorly. I didn’t find satisfaction in my job, so I returned to the vineards.”
The Wine Tasting
Fabrizio’s traditional values are reflected in everything from the presentation of the bottle to the wine inside. “I don’t follow trends, and I like it when people come to Piemonte for traditional wines like Nebbiolo.” The label is the producer’s simple signature, a symbolic guarantee of its provenance and quality; and the wine inside is a clean representation of the territory’s native grapes. As Fabrizio stated, “Prima di tutto, il frutto,” Above all, the fruit.
While the winery’s selection can be considered modest – making six wines from just three grapes, Arneis, Barbera, and Nebbiolo – his wines have been well-received by critics and important wine publications. Recently, Ian d’Agata of Decanter gave his 2011 Roero Segrentin 90 points; and the Nebbiolo d’Alba Vigna Colla 2007 earned Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso.
Tasting the wines in the cellars of what once was the barrel room, what stood out most to me was the cleanliness of the flavors and texture, especially noticeable with the almost transparent Arneis 2014.
When tasting the red wines, as promised, Fabrizio pointed out how the variations in soil from one side of the same hill to the next makes an incredible difference in the wines. Beautiful, brightly colored Barbera comes from limestone soils, giving it better structure and acidity and helping its colors pop. The Nebbiolo d’Alba Classico 2012 comes from sandy soil, and is very aromatic with long-lasting tannins and a light color; while the Roero Sergentin 2012, from limestone, is a bit less aromatic, but has better structure and softer tannins.
Wine and Food Tourism in Piemonte
Wine and food tourism in Piemonte will pull this region out of economic difficulty and put it on the map for travelers, Fabrizio believes. But he doesn’t only believe – he acts on it. Just considering the winery’s website, Fabrizio is a step ahead of many producers in Piemonte. It isn’t a flashy or particularly impressive site. However, it is in Italian and English; all pertinent information is provided clearly; and – the best part – anyone can easily book a visit with the online form, any day, any time, at no cost. Included are visits to the vineyards and cellar, a wine tasting, and a tagliere (platter or, literally, “cutting board”) of local meats, cheeses, and grissini.
“I like to stay here and do the visits. Asking people for money would not be right. The important thing is for a visitor to see the producer and the wines’ origins, because that gives the wine its added value. Then when you drink the wine, you remember the person you met.”
But it is not just the website that shows Fabrizio understands and acts upon how important wine and food tourism is to Piemonte, and the Roero in particular.
The Roero, overall, is behind its neighboring wine zone of the Langhe in terms of accommodation, choice of restaurants, and general touristic offerings. However, the new generation of producers understands the benefits that wine and food tourism can bring to the region, and they are more attuned to the needs of tourists. Not only is there a search for better quality, but they have begun to take the more “mundane” aspects of wine and marketing seriously: learning English, investing in public relations, and building relationships with their consumers, for instance. Though quality of wine in the Roero surpasses quality of accommodation, the savvy tourist with a few good recommendations in hand will take advantage of the fact that here, a wine vacation costs considerably less.
In the end, one must always act with quality in mind. “You need to give tourists more than they expect. It starts with letting them taste good, high quality wine. Then the producer goes deeper and explains the wine, his family, the story behind, and interest grows. And the people who come here will return.”
Fabrizio Battaglino Winery
V. Montaldo Roero 44, 12040 Vezza d’Alba (CN)
Tel. 0039 0173 658 156
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