Aldo Rainoldi

Who: Aldo Rainoldi

Where: Chiuro, Valtellina, Lombardy

What Grapes: Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc

How many bottles: 180,000

Key facts: High-elevation Nebbiolo farming, on south-facing mountain slopes blanketed in tiny terraced parcels.

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Rainoldi Rosso di Valtellina DOC

Organic: Organic
Soil type: Sandy limestone, low acidity, relatively deep top-soil.
Elevation: 250 – 550 meters
Grapes: Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca)
Method: hand harvested by the end of the second week of October. Spontaneous fermentation, temperature controlled. About two months in large oak barrels, then matured in bottle.
Bottles made: 

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Rainoldi Nebbiolo IGT Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio
 

Organic: Organic
Soil type: Sandy limestone, low acidity, relatively deep top-soil.
Elevation: 250 – 550 meters
Grapes: Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca)
Method: hand harvested by the end of the second week of October. Spontaneous fermentation, a certain part of the grapes ferment uncrushed. Temperature controlled, regular remontage. A short period in large, old oak barrel, then matured in the bottle.
Bottles made: 

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Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore DOCG Prugnolo
 

Organic: Organic
Soil type: Sandy limestone, low acidity, little organic matter.
Elevation: 350 – 600 meters
Grapes: Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca)
Method: Late (hand) harvest, end of October. Pre-fermentation maceration of about 60 hours followed by temperature controlled maceration with regular remontage. Twelve months in barrique (previously used for Sfursat Fruttaio), then assembled in stainless steel tanks, bottled and matured for another nine months.
Bottles made: 

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Rainoldi Valtellina Superiore DOCG Inferno
 

Organic: Organic
Soil type: Sandy limestone, low acidity, little organic matter.
Elevation: 300 – 550 meters
Grapes: Nebbiolo (Chiavennasca)
Method: Harvested in the second half of October. After a slow and long period of temperature controlled maceration, punching and remontage, the wine is transferred to stainless steel tanks for malolactic fermentation (in Spring). Matured for 20 months in oak barrels, then for at least nine more months in bottle.
Bottles made:


These vineyards! How did people farm here a century ago? Incredible. I passed a pulley system for lowering full baskets of grapes from the barely-visible top fields. Aldo Rainoldi, the man I’m here to meet, and my guide for some vertigo-inducing driving and hiking, takes his grapes out of the top parcels of Inferno by helicopter. 

I visit on a cool mid-September day, rainy, a time when this work all seems impossibly difficult. Several growers have explained to me that the mid-September cold spell pre-harvest is a normal, and welcome, feature of pre-Alpine viticulture in northern Italy. This year was warm and dry across the region, and Nebbiolo needs time for really interesting aromas to develop. The respite from August heat pushes harvest back to possibly early October in Valtellina. It is early by regional standards, but long enough time on the vine to make successful wine. 

It’s hard to generalize about what we see, other than Nebbiolo, terraced, and steep. Reminiscent in some areas of the Mosel. There are monoliths of exposed dark stone, little topsoil to speak of, in the best subzones vines blanket anything reminiscent of cultivate-able land. Some fragments are planted north-south, others east-west. Rickety iron railings and metal ropes offer little assurance: plunging headlong to demise crosses my mind more than once. 

On our damp walk (at times it is fully raining, in spite of Aldo’s recent mowing to lower moisture content in his fields, my tennis shoes and pants are soaked shin-down) we meet an old farmer, hiking with an umbrella to his 3,000 square meter parcel. He is tired of working (looks hale and capable to me, but I’m sure mountain farming is brutal) and pulls Aldo aside for a private conversation about renting or possibly just cultivating the land. In recent years the local co-operative has been maintaining his fields. He is uncertain about the quality of their work, and once the man is gone Aldo confirmed they are doing a poor job. In Aldo’s opinion, it is a human resources issue. “If someone works for me and after a while we don’t see eye-to-eye about how to farm, we part company. It’s not like that (at the co-op.)

There are 1,000 hectares of vines left in Valtellina. 800 are commercially cultivated, a quarter of those by one estate: Nino Negri. The other vines are small plots used by families to make wine at home. In the United States you are likely to encounter bottles from at most five wineries in Valtellina. Aldo Rainoldi makes 185,000 bottles of wine annually, which makes him a medium-sized producer in the region. He farms 9.5 acres of Chiavannasca (Nebbiolo) and buys some fruit from long-term contracts with farmers established by his grandfather. He also rents a little land. The winery is in three buildings, disconnected from each other by some distance. We always meet at the ageing cellar in Chiuro. It’s the original building constructed by Aldo’s grandfather. It took 10 years to build, beginning in 1920. It’s great for storage. The rooms are 12 degrees Celsius in winter and 18 degrees in summer with no air conditioning, only ventilation. The fermentation cellar is miles away in Tresivio. And Ca’ Rizzieri, the building for apassamiento of fruit for the sfurzat wines, is currently separate as well. Aldo wants to combine those two structures, but keep fermentation and ageing cellars apart, because fermentation creates CO2 (of course) and he feels that is detrimental to an ageing cellar, where he also has offices and a tasting room. 

The cellar doesn’t look much different from 1930. Giant concrete ageing tanks dominate the space. Some of the largest have been cleverly converted into rooms for the storage of bottled wine, in wooden boxes, for sale years into the future. Aldo likes to keep 20 cases or so of each age-worthy wine to use in tastings eventually. with interested wine critics and trade folk, and to sell to ambitious restaurants that want a vertical of Valtellina Riserva on their wine list.

Massive 15+ hectoliter barrels are the other larger-than-life feature of the cellar. Some of these are quite new, from last year. Others are ancient. Aldo says that until 1990 everyone aged Nebbiolo in large Chestnut barrels in Valtellina. Then barriques became fashionable for a period of about two decades (Aldo has some.) Now he thinks a middle path is prudent. He has shifted away from barriques, but prefers to change the large barrels more frequently than in the past. It makes sense. Some of the wines, for instance the Prugnolo, are aged in used barriques. The sfurzat Ca’ Rizzieri and Inferno riserva are still partly aged in new barriques.

The importance of this may be overstated, because Aldo Rainoldi does most of the ageing in bottle. He has the cellar space and resources to do so. All riservas at the cellar spend at least a year in bottle before being shipped. “Bottle ageing is like a medicine for Nebbiolo,” he said. Complex wines with strong personalities need more time in bottle to be enjoyable.