Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 61: Caluso revisited

This year I had the honour of making a presentation on themes from my book, The Wines of Piemonte, at the annual producers’s meeting. This is hosted by Vignaioli Piemontesi/Piemonte Land of Wine in Turin. It was conveniently timed leaving just a long weekend between it and the trade show which features the new releases of Barolo, Barbaresco and the other wines of the Langhe. Janet and I took advantage of this gap to travel 40 minutes north of Turin to the Canavese area. Here the top variety is the white grape variety Erbaluce and its DOCG, Erbaluce di Caluso. Within this, producers can make still, sparkling or sweet passito wines. I was keen to visit some producers who are profiled in my book, The Wines of Piemonte, in person but whom I interviewed on Zoom during the pandemic. I also wanted to extend my knowledge to a few new wineries. My earlier in-person visit to Caluso was in May 2022. These few days ticked the ‘Erbaluce di Caluso revisited’ box.

Farm Cieck

This high-quality winery is profiled in my book, pp. 289–90. But it was great to visit and to see the various experiments that are going on with training systems. The traditional pergola system has several advantages. It can carry higher yields and the canopy provides shade for the fruit in increasingly hot seasons. But it is a skilful and laborious job to carry out the pruning, all the work has to be carried out by hand and, if the weather is persistently wet, there is a danger from fungal diseases. On the other hand, Guyot is simpler to prune, does not harbour moisture but the fruit can be overly exposed to the sun. Cieck are experimenting with a modified form of Guyot to see if they can get the best of both worlds.

We tasted the current vintages of the full range, including Erbaluce in eight forms: classic, single vineyard, oaked, skin-contact, traditional method sparkling (both Brut and pas dosé, passito and passito reserva. For me, the stars of the show are the passito with its fantastic combination and fresh, dried and botrytised fruit and the single-vineyard still wine, Vigna Misobolo. Erbaluce really is a very versatile variety!

 
The end of an era at La Masera

La Masera was another of the wineries I interviewed remotely during lockdown. It was founded as recently as 2005 but quickly established itself under the leadership of Alessandro Comotto as an outstanding producer of Erbaluce. On my visit, Alessandro told me that this was probably his last tasting at the winery. He was in the final stages of selling it to local business people. To continue to grow, investment is needed and that does not make sense for him. However, his full-time winemaker will remain which should smooth the transition. The new owners are looking for a larger site for a new winery. It was poignant to visit at this key moment. Alessandro said that while he was happy to be free of running the business, he would miss the great view across the plain towards Monviso.

Monviso seen from Settimo Rottaro
Monviso seen from La Masera, Settimo Rottaro

The wines continue to impress. The 2018 Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante (Brut and Pas Dosé) spend an impressive 44 and 36 months on the lees in the bottle respectively. The still Erbaluce wines, stainless-steel aged Anima and the tonneaux-aged Macaria, showed a marked and helpful distinction of styles with evident vanilla spice notes on the latter. In both the fruit quality is high. The current vintage of the passito, Venanzia, is 2013, demonstrating a commitment to long ageing before release. A range of other worthwhile wines are made. Sparkling and still rosés and a Canavese Rosso blend Barbera, Freisa and Vespolina. The offer is completed with a Barbera that is aged for just seven months in old oak, while Canavese Nebbiolo remains in wood for 18 months. I can only wish La Masera well as it continues under new leadership.

Cantina Produttori Erbaluce di Caluso
Diary 61: Caluso revisited

Most co-operatives in Italy have abandoned the traditional model which saw the winery as a resource primarily for the local community. They offered a fair price for grapes and the wine was mostly sold locally. Today many have merged with other co-operatives to create viable businesses that can compete with privately-owned wineries. But the romantic in me loves the old model too, serving its town, a benign player not primarily concerned about growth or profit. In Caluso, the Produttori make wine from their 160 members who together own just 35 hectares of land. That is an average holding of 0.22 hectares, little more than a garden. Its other amazing feature is how inexpensively they sell the wine, again serving a local market. In bulk you can bring your own container and pay just €1.40–1.80 per litre!) or buy it in bag-in-box. Bottled the classic Erbaluce di Caluso is just €4.80; the wine that is matured for three years (!) before release is €5.90. We enjoyed the spumante version (a light but competently-made traditional method wine) and the ‘top of the range’ Fiordighiaccio, where the must is kept on the skins for 24 hours for a touch more weight in the mouth. Erbaluce di Caluso revisited enabled me to to taste the wines made for the local market.

Camillo Favaro at Favaro

Camillo Favaro is a multi-talented man who loves the art and the music of the 1960s and 1970s. When I booked to visit him, I had absolutely no idea that he is also the co-author of a substantial book on the wines of Burgundy or that he has another business that works in the field of graphics, design and communication in the wine business, ArtevinoStudio. But his heart remains in his 4.5 hectares of vineyards. Erbaluce is trained to the traditional pergola system, while Nebbiolo, Freisa and a few rows of Syrah are also grown. The winemaking here is low intervention. the Burgundian connection is evident from the experimentation with whole bunch fermentation in the red wines. Neither Erbaluce nor the Nebbiolo are primarily about fruit expression but aim to bring out the chalky and salty nature of Erbaluce and some stemmy/earthy notes in the Nebbiolo. Oak, where used is in the form of used barriques. These are elegant and restrained wines that require some patience in the bottle before being at their peak. They can take their time as, after all, there is the wine writing and the design business to attend to. It may have been a short stay but this was Erbaluce di Caluso revisited.

Three of the four Beatles clay vessels
Three of the four Beatles clay vessels
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