Langhe Camp at Cascina Ca ‘Rossa
Stefano & Angelo Ferrio, winemakers at Cascina Ca ‘Rossa
Georgia Sugerman recently attended our Barolo/Langhe Camp, where she spent the day at Cascina Ca ‘Rossa in Piemonte. What follows is her script on the visit, along with some stunning images of the area. Thanks Georgia!
Pulling up at Cascina Ca ‘Rossa in Roero on a foggy Thursday morning, three generations of Ferrio’s came to greet us. The youngest, Stefano, was already covered in mud from a morning’s work in the vineyard. His father Angelo and grandmother were more formally dressed (in part a generational thing as Angelo had been working the vineyards too). We spoke broken Italian discussing the poor weather, their cute dogs and what we’d eat for lunch, then we put on our work boots and went for a walk.
When we think of Piemonte, we think of Barolo, and maybe Barbaresco. Roero isn’t the first region to come to mind. I don’t know what I expected, but I was shocked to see how steep the vineyards were, and how stunning the views, even on an overcast day. I knew the Roero soils had more sand in them, but there was obviously more to it than that as some thick, wet soil mixture clung to my boots like glue. I knew Ca Rossa was family run and certified organic, but what that really meant to the vineyard and wines I was about to find out.
Roero is across the Tanaro river from Barolo and Barbaresco, heading northwest, between the plains of Alba and the Turin plateau. Vines here date back to Roman times, though the Reoro name comes from a prominent local merchant family that lived here during in the middle ages.
Angelo and Stefano own a few parcels in the steep, expansive bowl of vineyards above their house. We walked (and climbed) up several hundred feet as they pointed out which rows were theirs. Walking up the hill you see the Arneis first, then the Langhe Nebbiolo, and then up at the very top of the hill is the most famous site Mompissano, from which they make a stunning single vineyard Nebbiolo .
The famous Mompissano Nebbiolo vineyard is 1.5ha of steep, south facing slopes with a soil mixture of limestone, sand and clay. Angelo’s plot is at the top of the hill. Mompissano is aged 30 months in large Slovenian oak vats and 1 year in bottle. It’s the most powerful of his wines, with rustic notes of smoke and tar matched by red cherry fruit, rose petals and supple tannins.
Further along is the sandier Audinaggio vineyard, from which he and Stefano make another single vineyard Nebbiolo using 60-year-old vines. The sandier soils mean the wines won’t age as long as Barolo, but in their first 3-10 years (when we drink most wines anyway), they are singing. Audinaggio is aged for 18 months in smaller barrels that better complement the wine’s red fruit and floral notes, silky tannins, and bright acidity. Ca ‘Rossa also makes a more youthful Langhe Nebbiolo, an Arneis and a sparkling Brachetto called “Birbet”.
The Ferrio’s own parcels were often surrounded by a row of unworked vines acting as a protective barrier from their non-organic neighbors. The Ferrio’s vines looked healthy and green, with an abundance of plant growth beneath them. Their neighbors who used chemicals clearly had less healthy vines. For one they were worse hit by a local, unstoppable disease and the foliage was often discolored and damaged. The earth beneath the non-organic parcels looked scorched (see pic below: Ca Rossa organic row on bottom, non-organic neighbor above). They are certified now, but organic farming has always been the way of the Ferrio family. As Angelo sees it, chemicals are a substitute for hard work in the vineyard. And I can visibly see that in this case, the results are not equal.
Even the Ferrio’s grapes were superior. Their nebbiolo bunches were tighter and more spread apart (just 4 tons/ha yields). The berries were much smaller than their neighbors’. With a higher skin-to-pulp ratio and less water in them, these grapes would make the finer wine without question. The neighbors’ berries we tried tasted like they would make good grape juice!
Soon the grapes would be hand-harvested into small red baskets that lined the vineyard, much like the first round of Arneis that had just been picked. After a long half-hour descent, we were back down the hill to watch them crush the Arneis, and then break for a lunch of homemade tagliorini pasta and homemade Ca Rossa wine.
For more on Ca ‘Rossa, read here.