At the request of his grandmother Matteo Garberoglio emerged, dreadlocked and outfitted in anarchist/roadie attire from the bowels of the building. Matteo had no idea why I’d arrived, but he breezed past this detail and eagerly offered a tour of the winery. I presented the chance for a break from routine labor. I knew we had corresponded, but a lot of his family are working around this small estate in San Marzano Oliveto in the Italian Piedmont… maybe I’d written to his mother Bruna? Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Moments later brother Luca arrived, self-consciously dressed in somewhat preppie clothes: he felt it necessary to explain he was returning from having his photo taken. He also had no idea why I was there, but with an earnestly friendly demeanor Luca took over from Matteo, who returned to running the bottling line.
Luca proceeded to show me around the labyrinthine facility. The place is huge! At places comically so. Luca conceded this point. “Our equipment is too big! But it is what we have, so we use it.” Mostly empty tanks tower overhead. Giant tools lay idle. It is an understatement to say that in the future, Casussin have the capacity to ramp up production.
The estate was founded in 1927, with four hectares located on hills between Nizza Monferrato and Canelli. Luca’s grandfather started the modern history of Carussin, expanding acreage, moving the estate in the direction of organic viticulture. Today their 14 hectares are certified organic and integrate many biodynamic practices into their farming.
We had a fine time inspecting the tasting room and bar where the beer Luca brews is served alongside local cheeses and charcuterie to an audience of friends and neighbors. Luca is a huge fan of Dogfish Head, and even once made a pilgrimage to Delaware to visit the brewery. We sampled some tasty salamis and creamy cheeses with a line-up of Carussin’s current releases. Standouts among their wines included the Lia Vi Barbera d’Asti, a red made from 35-year-old vines planted by Luca’s grandfather, in the terra rossa soils in front of the cellar. Lia Vi is picked a little later, and seems more elegant than your normal Barbera. All parts knit together well. The name Lia Vi refers to a little bird that lives in the vineyards and makes nests by knotting together pieces of vine.
Of the 42 wineries in the area of San Marzano Oliveto only two are organic. Quality wineries like Carussin are struggling to do things in the right way. Estates that make honest wine with a good spirit: these properties deserve our support. Their wines are characters, in the best possible way. The Ferro family seem irrepressibly positive, a quality that radiates from their wines and really can’t be a bad thing.
WINTER 2013 UPDATE
There was a donkey in the road. I edged up a hillside near San Marzano Oliveto, hoping my headlights would cut through the falling snow enough to nudge the animal back into pasture. I was tired. The road began in Tuscany and wound up the Italian peninsula for more than a normal span of waking hours. I’d stopped to talk with farmers and visit cellars, and had very recently consumed a possibly hallucinogenic amount of anchovies emulsified into bagna cauda by a winemaker friend.
I blinked. The donkey was real, not an apparition or early indication of fish oil poisoning. I crept forward. The donkey relented. It was a relief. I did not know the password.
Luca and Matteo are pretty mellow. They were at ease with my late arrival. It was good to end a day in their warm bar. If you drink in the Piedmont, definitely drop by Carussin. The place was full of locals clustered around long tables, friends drinking beer and wine and eating local cheese and charcouterie.
We talked for a while about farming. San Marzano Oliveto doesn’t have many other organic farmers, though there is a place that grows organic apples nearby.
“We don’t have insect problems at Carussin because the insects have predators.” Matteo states. “There is an equilibrium.”
The communal room was hard to leave, an appealing contrast to the winter night outside. After midnight I refused grappa and espresso and finally left the bar for my bed, which waited a very short distance away… past the donkey, down the hill slightly, on another farm. The intense night sky and bitter cold didn’t hinder my sleep. A wood stove crackled, pictures of donkeys drawn by children and attached to every wall provided places to begin dreams.
We tasted Carussin’s new wines before breakfast. It was a bit early, but people say your palate is better at the beginning of the day. And eating a hearty, eggs-and bacon breakfast post-tasting was pretty enjoyable. Bruna Ferro made a morning feast. She tends to think of everything, and to treat everyone with kindness. After fixing my morning she sent me into the day and onto the road to Milan with an excellent bagged lunch! It contained real food: fruit, bread, and cheese, all kinds of treats. It was so much nicer than road food.
Along with Bruna, Luigi, Luca and Matteo, 20,000 watts of solar panels power Carussin. I left their farm feeling very positive. There are a lot of good people in the world who make correct choices that are not easy ones. The decisions at Carussin are fueled by belief in natural agriculture and a desire to improve our collective experience.