- Written by Gabriele Pieroni
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Püsä kä nä vecc, ä spo nut gni: "Growing older is all that can happen." This was the cynical motto of Novara’s inhabitants as they bemoaned the lack of a new generation ready to work the land their fathers did. In the 1950s, the industrial boom and vicinity to Milan called the working forces to the big city, taking many potential viticulturists from high western Piedmont and, in the process, destroying the quality of the wine while the splendid vineyards of Ghemme choked with tangled weeds.
The big city emptied the surrounding provinces with their promises of fast money and success. Yet the riches of the ronchi, or the slopes of Novara – as they call the land that recedes down towards Sesia – were overflowing with riches. They should have had faith in these lands at the foot of Monte Rosa, its pebbly soil rich in minerals, beaten by the winds of the Alps and caressed by the humidity of the rice paddies - because this is where Nebbiolo, present here since antiquity, knows how to produce wines of exquisite nuances, in a terroir that left the Dukes of Milan and the Count of Cavour, Camillo Benso, comparing the Ghemme nectar to the wines of Burgundy.
It is here that the wine estate Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo, Ghemme DOCG written in its history, made its first steps. From 1969 when the estate was managed by brothers Carlo and Giuseppe Arlunno, Cantalupo has never stopped investing in its territory, working at the rebirth and rediscovery of a noble and elegant wine that was once more celebrated than its Langhe cousins Barolo and Barbaresco. Today, Cantalupo is a solid and well-known estate, managed by Alberto Arlunno, who, for the love of his land, pairs an authentic passion for archaeology and Ghemme's viticultural history together with the success of his prestigious wine. As he claims, this is because "the terroir of a wine is an interior dimension that deserves to be cultivated."
Very often in Piedmont, wine means the Langhe. The Novara hills have a millennia-old tradition to defend.
Very true. The Novara area testifies to the presence of cultivated vines from the end of the 7th century BC after a discovery that found seeds and pollen from vines in a tomb. These are unequivocal signs of a strong viticulture, probably brought to the region by Etruscan cultivators when they came into contact with the Northern Italian Celtic tribes. The Romans continued to consider the land ideal for wine production until the Middle Ages, when the canonical law of Orta San Giulio repossessed it. And don't forget that the monk cults of Cluny, who valued the oenologic and viticultural heritage of the Côte d’Or, had numerous vineyards in Ghemme. Still today, one of the quarters that this town is divided into carries the name of St. Pietro, dedicated to the ancient abbey that was the epicenter of his order's world. It's them who we should recognize for holding the first documented efforts for maintaining the high quality of our vines: in some of their rental contracts there was a precise clause ad meliorandum, that is, specifically regarding the preservation of the earth's productivity.
Modern history also recognizes Ghemme and its wines as part of an excellent and enviable viticulture.
In the 15th century, Ghemme provided wine to the Sforza family's Court in Milan: the duke Francesco particularly appreciated the Vespolina, as his huge order from 1465 attests. But the most accurate estimator of Novara's Nebbiolo wines was Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour. In one of his letters in 1845, he praises the bouquet by comparing it to Burgundy wines, and expresses his hope to find good producers and appraisers of this wine so that they would spread wine culture all over the world.
The terroir of a wine is, above all, an interior dimension that deserves to be cultivated.
How did the Cantalupo winery begin?
My father, Carlo, came from a family of wine producers that hails from at least the beginning of the 1600s, and as a young man followed his dream of being an artist. After the war, he and his brother Pino began an grapeseed oil mill, and later a restoration endeavour, all the while cultivating his family DNA. Therefore in 1969, with the decree that recognized the DOC certification for Ghemme, a dream was planted: to create great vineyards in Ghemme. He began with four vineyards of the family's and then purchased others. In that period, it seemed risky returning to the earth because the country sides were losing population and the vineyards remained uncultivated. But he had great faith and expectations for the future. In 1977, when the vineyards were finally in full production, the winery Arlunno became Antichi Vigneti Cantalupo, which today counts over 100 hectares (247 acres) of terrain, of which 35 are planted in diverse zones between 250 to 310 meters (820 to 1046 ft) above sea level.
Ghemme DOCG comes from the same grape as Barolo and Barbaresco. What are the differences?
The beauty of Nebbiolo is that it has a variety of nuances, each one with its own personality given to it by its place and terrain of cultivation. In Carema, it's born from the mountain rocks, in Lessona in the marine sands, in Gattinara the volcanic rocks, and in the Langhe it grows from marine foundations, clay and limestone, that confer the vine an unequalled power: all the denominations of Nebbiolo sing its greatness. Ghemme is born from its geological heritage of Monte Rosa, represented by brittle rocks that are very rich in minerals and microelements. It has, however, a great structure like Barolo and Barbaresco, but it’s less explosive because it concentrates more on austerity and elegance. These were the characteristics that led the enthusiastic Cavour to exclaim in 1845, "And so it's proven that the hills of Novara can compete with the hills of Burgundy."
And yet even in Ghemme, it's not extremely famous.
The principal problem of Ghemme is its position, for centuries left outside of the ancient nucleus of Piedmont, left on its borders. The Langhe was able to identify with the entire production of Piedmont, so they're practically a synonym, while the territory of Novara historically remained tied to the Duchy of Milan until 1738.
What wines do you produce?
Other than the labels of Ghemme DOCG (Collis Breclemae, Collis Carellae, Signore di Bayard and Cantalupo), we have various Nebbiolo Novara Hills DOC wines: the white Carolus (Greco di Ghemme with Arneis and Chardonnay) and the Villa Horta, produced with Vespolina, a wine so pleasing that its spiciness recalls the Pelaverga. For more than 20 years, we’ve also produced a rosé of Nebbiolo, the Mimo. It's an unusual rosé because it's a wine suited to all meals, fresh, delicate, with a good structure, the result of the phenomenal paternity of this great variety. Finally, we've launched the second year of Mia Ida, a brut dedicated to my mother, a spumante of Nebbiolo made with the Long Charmat method. Our production is about 180 thousand bottles a year, of which 25 to 40 thousand are Ghemme.
What are your most important markets?
We export about 50% of our production to Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, France, and overall Norway and the United States, where Ghemme is gathering more interest and popularity.
How important is it to know how to communicate the excellence of your product?
It's extremely important, using all methods of communication. But I'm convinced of one thing: the best presentation of our wines is its silence. The silence of an attentive tasting, first of all. It's an inner silence: a wine is always the product of a story, which needs to be heard and appreciated in order to taste. If silence isn't enough, it's best to follow the advice of Cavour.
And what advice is that?
As he wrote in 1845 regarding the vineyards of Novara: "To triumph in the competition [with the wines of Burgundy, ed.] it is only necessary that owners look after the creation of wines and rich, elegant gourmands establish its reputation."
COLLIS BRECLEMAE - Ghemme DOCG
From the Nebbiolo grape of the Breclema vineyards harvested during the second part of October. A traditional vinification punched down twice daily gives the wine its characteristic velvet texture, and sweet and austere taste. Aged in Slavonic oak for over 30 months, this wine has a captivating nose with notes of liquorice, violet, and red forest fruits.