For anyone staying in Turin, an excellent, half-day trip out of the city to breathe fresh mountain air and walk through spectacular terraced vineyards is to Carema.
We went to this town located an hour’s drive from Turin on a sunny August morning. Dark clouds obscured the bright sun every now and then, reminding us of the rainy forecast, but it never rained. Al contrario, the mix of cool Alpine foothill breezes and a hot sun was the perfect, refreshing pairing.
This small town has just 750 inhabitants, and we saw not a soul. It must have had something to do with it being August, that month of the year when cities become empty shells as Italians flock to the seaside or to wherever they choose to vacation. The town seems to be carved from the mountainside itself, with slate roofs, stone steps, and tiny, clean alleyways in cobblestone.
Streets of Carema
We wandered up through the twisting, narrow streets past ancient fountains trickling clear water and flowers blooming from wooden terraces. We easily found signs for The Vineyards Trail (Il Sentiero dei Vigneti). Already we had seen tantalizing glimpses of those famous piloni, or pylons, that the Carema viticulturalists use. These pylons are thick columns of concrete that support horizontal wooden trellises across which the vines climb, their grapes hanging in heavy bunches in the sun-spotted shade underneath. In this area, the nighttime temperatures drop too low for the vines’ comfort. The Carema winemakers have ingeniously solved this problem with their pylons, which soak in the sun during the day and slowly release it during the night. I imagine that the natural “rooms” created by these trellises, with the grass as the carpet and the layers of grape leaves above as the roof, also help to keep the heat in and protect the grapes.
Piloni, or concrete pylons that soak in the heat during the day and let it out during the night
The Vineyards Trail was clear, paved, and marked by signs or white trail markers. The route was one that vineyard owners might use daily, with those funny, three-wheeled trucks to haul off the grapes, perhaps. Grape harvesting machines certainly don’t travel here. The vineyards, planted on steps of land in layers of terraces, are too steep and narrow to allow any type of harvesting other than by hand.
As we hiked, the trail opened up to incredible views: an amphitheater of trellised grapevines in front of us, and the valley flanked by mountains behind.
Around every curve were picturesque vineyards, bunches of grapes coyly posing for their close-up, or the town ready for its postcard shot. Bushes full of blackberries, and fig, apple, and apricot trees filled the small, square plots of land not claimed by the grapes.
Here, the grapes are largely Nebbiolo. The one certified wine made in this town is the Nebbiolo-based Carema DOC.
Carema is located in the Canavese wine area, which itself is geographically located within the larger Torinese wine zone (a zone that also includes Collina Torinese, Pinerolese, and Susa Valley). Carema DOC is of a minimum of 85% Nebbiolo grapes and up to 15% of other red grape varieties suitable for cultivation in the area. Two local variations of the Piemontese Nebbiolo variety are cultivated in Carema, Picutener and Pugnet.
At lunchtime, we arrived near the end of the trail, conveniently located at what may be one of two existing restaurants in this village, La Maiola. The menu was recited by the waitress, and only two other tables were occupied in the spacious restaurant. A primo of pasta with walnut and radicchio pesto, two glasses of Carema Nebbiolo, hazelnut cake with zabaione, and caffé came to just €9 each.
We also saw a horse!
The route then passed by the Cantina Sociale, to which I give extra points for staying open in such a small town during the middle of August. We picked up some Carema Nebbiolo, and then looped back up to the parking spot.
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.