Davide Carlone – The Revival of a Great Wine from Alto Piemonte
Big thanks for Paul Masters for this piece on Davide Carlone in Piemonte!
Funnily enough, Davide Carlone and his family live in a frazione of Grignasco called Torchio, or “press” in English. When I mentioned this to Davide he looked at me as if he couldn’t believe I’d only just noticed and I was the 50th person to mention it to him that day. Although really, I’d be surprised if he saw 50 people in a week because it’s a quiet, almost empty little place even in the middle of the day, save for the barking of dogs. And there’s a lot of those.
Once outside of the town it’s clear that the area is made up largely of hills and forest and as Davide drives the steep, winding roads though the forest on the way to his vines it’s possible to just make out traces of long-since abandoned vineyards hidden away deep inside the rampant greenery that covers most of the hillsides and has become a perfect home for wild boar and deer that are now more than just a nuisance. In many areas they need to be fenced out. Here and there are glimpses of old terraces and the whole area is littered with old huts and little houses, or casotti, built for farmworkers in the 1800s and long-since abandoned although a few have been lovingly restored.
As is so common throughout much of Italy, this was once a thriving wine region with as many as 10,000 acres planted with vines around the middle of last century with most people farming animals and one or two crops including grapes. But after WWII people left in droves and nature reclaimed much of the hillsides so that now the DOC, one of the smallest and most northerly in Piedmont, covers only about 1,700 acres, planted to Nebbiolo (Spanna), Vespolina and Bonarda (Uva Rara). Croatina and Arneis are also grown but fall outside DOC. By the way, if you’re confused about the use of the name Bonarda you’re not alone; Croatina is often refered to as Bonarda but is no relation to Uva Rara, nor the Bonarda grown in Argentina, nor to Bonarda Piemontese, which is yet another different grape. Got it? There’ll be a quiz tomorrow.
The soils here are rich in minerals like those in a couple of miles to the southwest in Gattinara as a result of two glacial plates colliding, destroying the existing volcanic cones and folding back on themselves. All of that seismic activity left vast deposits of magnesium, porphyr, iron and potassium from the destroyed cones. This is part of the reason that the wines show such acidity, minerality and complexity and often show a real iron note on the nose.
Davide’s vineyards are up nice and high – some up to 1,400 feet and all facing south-southwest on steep slopes. For the most part they are trained in the old method – with the vines tied to chestnut poles with strips of willow. Davide insists on everything in the vineyard being biodegradable. Grazing animals roam the vineyards in winter to break up the soil and fertilize it and there’s no mechanical tilling along with zero use of herbicides.
There’s no other way to view Davide’s wines except as handmade. He is a product of this region going back beyond his great-grandparents and his whole life has been about working these vines on these small, scattered plots of land deep in the forests and making wines that reflect not the winemaker as much as the area. And yet, these wines are a reflection of him. They are honest and real. They speak to a tradition that was nearly extinct here as little as 25 years ago. As he slowly plants another plot here, another small plot there, I hope word of Davide’s work continues to grow. His is a voice in Piemontese winemaking that deserves to be heard. He is an important part of the revival of a great wine from Alto Piemonte.