Cascina Barisel

Who: Franco Penna

Where: Canelli

What grapes: Dolcetto, Barbera, Favorita, Moscato

How many bottles: 35,000

Key facts: No chemical fertilizers or insecticides are used on this five-hectare family estate. A south facing three-hectare calcium-rich monopole sits immediately behind his cellar and is the source of most of Barisel’s grapes.


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Cascina Barisel Bianco “Foravia” Monferrato DOC

Organic: Organic
Soil type: South sloping calcareous marl/limestone
Elevation: 300-350m
Grapes: Favorita
Method of fermentation: Fermented in Stainless steel tanks.
Bottles made: 3,000

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Cascina Barisel “Perdisné” Rosato

Organic: Organic
Soil type: South sloping calcareous marl.
Elevation: 300-350m
Grapes: Dolcetto
Method of fermentation: Fermented in Stainless Steel; bottled in the spring with minimal sulfur. 
Bottles made: 1,000-1,200

It tastes a little mysterious. Dark, mellow, this is a full-bodied flavorful rose that does not punch you in the mouth (or nose) with aggressive acidity, or tropical fruit-bowl aromatics. In its own way, Perdesne is subtle. The roundness and amiability of Perdesne makes it very food versatile. Made with dolcetto, The name, Perdesne, means “for lunch” in Piedmontese dialect. 

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Cascina Barisel Dolcetto Monferrato DOC

Organic: Organic 
Soil type: South sloping calcareous marl.  
Elevation: 300-350m
Grapes: Dolcetto
Method of fermentation: 100% destemmed, fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel; bottled in the spring with minimal sulfur.  
Bottles made: 2,500

Organic. Calcareous marl soils. This wine is harvested from the middle of Cascina Barisel’s south-facing slope. Penna does vigorous cluster pruning to create intensity in the finished wine. The fruit is picked in two passes, to harvest it at optimal maturity. 100% de-stemmed, and fermented in stainless steel. The wine is bottled in spring, with minimal sulfur (<20mg/l.)

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Cascina Barisel no sulfur added Dolcetto Monferrato DOC

Organic: Organic 
Soil type: South sloping calcareous marl.  
Elevation: 300-350m
Grapes: Dolcetto
Method of fermentation: 100% destemmed, fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel; bottled in the spring with NO sulfur.  
Bottles made: 2,500

I’m agnostic when it comes to the natural wine community no-sulfur vs. low-sulfur debate. Tasted side-by-side in Franco Penna’s cellar, this no-sulfur cuvee seemed more complete, complex, exotic… the low-sulfur version (which I also import) was more bright and direct, its appeal tied to refreshing red fruit. I like Dolcetto with duck (if you have time to prepare duck) but it really suits a lot of autumn flavors: acorn squash, black lentils, farro, chard. Turkey, too.

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Cascina Barisel “Listoria” Barbera d’Asti DOCG

Organic: Organic
Soil type: South sloping calcareous marl/ limestone
Elevation: 300-350m
Grapes: 50-year-old Barbera vines
Method of fermentation: Hand-harvested, temperature controlled, stainless steel
Bottles made: 5,000

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Cascina Barisel “Canelli” Moscato d’Asti DOCG 

Organic: Organic
Soil type: South sloping calcareous marl.
Elevation: 300-350m
Grapes: 50 year old Moscato vines.
Method of fermentation: Gently pressed and fermented in pressurized, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.
Bottles made: 10,000


Franco Penna is a patient man. His winery is remarkably hard to find, hiding in plain sight among segmented roads bearing the same name and non-contiguous house numbers. His house number is 30, number 31 is at least a kilometer away. Across a main road. Guarded by a not-so-friendly dog. Canelli is rich in wineries, numerous enough that innocent pedestrians are ignorant of this five-hectare family estate at the beginning of a south-facing hillside more or less in the outskirts of town. I found my way to the wrong cellar a couple times before ultimately winding up the drive to meet our waiting winemaker.

Franco has been a grower since 1985. Penna’s father bought the house in 1965 and grew grapes on the land. His brother grows some of the fruit Cascina Barisel utilizes: all his fruit comes from the family’s vines. In conversation about the property, it is clear that Penna is enjoying himself. He has perspective and a sense of humor, but this lightheartedness does not signify a lack of dedication or purpose. He has the charisma of a man 100% in control of his life’s work.

“I do everything. I work in the vineyard, in the cellar, I sell the wine….” In the vineyard Penna works without chemical fertilizers or insecticides. Franco says his parents taught him to respect nature. “I work mechanically, not with chemicals.” In the cellar, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks keep the estate’s flavor profile one of decidedly fresh fruit aromas.

The Dolcetto from Barisel is a low-key masterpiece, subtle and fine.

Foravia is wild herb and pithy citrus; wine from Piemonte on a seaside holiday. Put it on your table next to (Favorita/Vermentino) from Liguria or Sardinia and Foravia reveals talent for understatement. It is measured and brimming with local character.

Recently Franco built a new cellar with old bricks under his house. You can see the roots of his vines coming through the marl from five meters above. In this very clean, cool underground space he has a corner devoted to a natural spring, one of many local water sources that these roots are seeking. Their struggle is the origin of good wine in this good terroir. Franco Penna’s single-handed careful and constant work completes their labor.