Carussin after the harvest. San Marzano Oliveto to Torino.
Matteo’s house across the valley from Carussin is hard to describe. I like it very much, but there is a certain lack of creature comforts. Now that he lives there full time with his girlfriend things are improving. Their vegetable garden is impressively diverse and thriving, given that it is mid-October. Tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, nasturtium, spiny plants without names, there’s no doubt he is a man with a green thumb.
Mateo extended an invitation for gin and tonics in has half of the building. WOOFers have recently vacated the other half, where I will be sleeping. The tile throughout the large crumbling farmhouse is impressive, a mix of late sixties/super-seventies earth tones and bold patterns.
I caught up initially with Matteo on his tractor in a vineyard they use for Asinoi. A shallow plowing (30cm, not turned) of every other row of the field allows oxygen into the soil to aid the nitrogen-fixing legumes and clover that are planted to further structure the earth of the field. He shows me some rows of Ancellota that made fruit to darken the Completo liter-bottle vino rosso. The juice of Barbera is clear, the Ancellota runs blood-red. I popped a berry and stained my fingers. Only a few grape varieties have red juice like this.
I met Matteo’s girlfriend for the first time in the cellar. She was labeling bottles: boring work. She is from Mantova, Veneto. Now both Luca and Matteo’s girlfriends live on the farm. The family continues to grow.
After gin and tonics in their kitchen it’s time to drive back to Carussin/Bruna’s house for dinner. Luca, his girlfriend, and a friend with a three-year-old named Dante arrive. Bruna has prepared a simple feast, cooked salami, a tuna, white bean and onion salad, a 12-inch saucepan filled to the brim with locally-made agnolotti. We taste new vintages of Lia Vi and a Nebbiolo from Fara in the Alto Piemonte. It’s 11 percent alcohol and made in the style of Sisto/Felice: no oak, no sulfur, crown cap. Also there’s a new vino rosso Dolcetto, sturdy, ripe, 14 percent alcohol. The other end of the Carussin stylistic continuum.
After the feast it’s time for grappa. After the grappa it’s time for bed, for the finding of clean sheets stowed away by the retreating WOOFers in a wardrobe and choosing one from many available mattress options. In the morning there is hazelnut cake and espresso delivered by Matteo. They are thoughtful hosts, and I am grateful for being allowed to crash at their farm with very little notice.
It’s a perfect day in Torino. I should be on the autostrada to Veneto, but Bruna and the girlfriends are working at Torino Beve Bene, and I’ve been invited to tag along. The wide avenues of the city are swarming with joggers, cyclists, hikers, happy couples meandering along the Po. The tasting is held in a small event space in a leafy neighborhood close to downtown. It’s hipster enough, with vibrantly and expertly graffiti-ed walls, and sliding rusting industrial doors. A throng of maybe 100 winemakers hang around tables in the main room. Initially I’m more interested in the affineur selling aged Fontina, Toma, Gorgonzola, and Comte in the foyer. Also there is a vendor of pretty spectacularly delicious tripe, words that don’t often fall into the same sentence for me. It is served in a mellow tomato sauce with white beans. The tripe itself is perfectly tender, and not at all rubbery, a flaw which I fear is the global norm.
I enjoyed my stint as a wine civilian. Aimless wandering for enjoyment. When did I last attend a wine fair for the sake of enjoyment? The probably in the 20th century. Since I’m not shopping for anything, I stumble into a phenomenal young producer of natural Arneis and Nebbiolo, a man making maybe 7,000 bottles of each in a very refreshing, directly enjoyable style. You may be seeing these wines in NC soon. Along with this newfound secret potential source there are fun farmers to be met all around the dolled up warehouse. Bruna takes me to a buddy of hers from Rocca de Carpento, a strong-looking tan woman with an awesome smile whose estate bottles big-boned dolectto and barbera from five hectares in Ovada that contain 45+ year old vineyards, organically farmed. Then I meet a man making Riesling (called Davero) and Syrah (named Grijer) near Vicenza, and improbably I enjoy them both!
Natural wine events are not inherently better or worse than “normal” wine events. But maybe I like the people more. The stereotypes are different. There are more intellectuals, more enthusiastic younger drinkers who probably also love Dead Moon and Sparks, and read books. And the whole thing feels less grossly commercial, more like community. I guess it means the big money isn’t here yet, in spite of the relative rise of natural wine in journals and on urban wine lists. I taste some stinkers: it’s about 50/50. But that’s pretty good, by any trade show’s standards. At a more industry centric event the stinkers would be boring, tired, slick retreads of dull, focus-grouped flavor profiles. Here the bad wines are flawed, they have scars and funk like a brackish pond. But the good wines are unfettered and alive. They still provide the thrill of experiencing a sip of undigitized reality.
I take my gooey aged Fontina and head for different hills, across the industrial plain of Lombardy/Veneto (a place Matteo accurately described as Mordor) to the surprising beauty of Conegliano. As regions change so does the weather. I’m happy. I packed sweaters. It would be deflating to take them home clean. And Sebastiano has a massive meal of Venetian grandma food planned, in a timeless countryside restaurant where everything passes before the ever-watchful eyes of a septegenarian matriarch, with 40 years of her life lived inside its rooms.