La Casaccia

 

Who: Giovanni Rava, his wife Elena, daughter Margherita and son Marcello

Where: Cella Monte, just south of the Po River, in Piemonte.

What grapes: Barbera, Grignolino, Freisa, Chardonnay, Pinot Nero

How many bottles: 30,000

Key facts: Certified organic. The underground cellar of this estate is entirely carved into sedimentary “Pietra da Cantoni” stone, which you see above ground in all of Cella Monte’s buildings.


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La Casaccia metodo classico sparkling wine

Organic: certified organic
Soil type: limestone/chalk
Elevation: 450m
Grapes: Chardonnay
Method of fermentation: "Champagne Method" secondary fermentation in bottle. Hand-riddled. Ambient yeast.
Bottles made: 1,200

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La Casaccia “Charno” Chardonnay Piemonte DOC

Organic: certified
Soil type: limestone/chalk
Elevation: 450m
Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Method of fermentation: temperature-controlled stainless steel with ambient yeast
Bottles made: 5,000

 

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La Casaccia “Freisa” Monferrato DOC

Organic: certified
Soil type: limestone/chalk
Elevation: 450m
Grapes: 100% Freisa
Method of fermentation: temperature-controlled stainless steel with ambient yeast
Bottles made: 6,100

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La Casaccia “Poggeto” Grignolino di Monferrato Casalese DOC

Certified organic. Poggeto is the top of the hill owned by Giovanni Rava and his wife Elena. It is quite close to their cellar in the village of Cella Monte, in the northern Monferrato. The vines are at high elevation (450m above sea level) and grow in limestone rich, brittle and porous soils. Mineral character, great drainage, low soil fertility and cool temps. play to the strengths of thin-skinned, seedy Grignolino. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel at cool temperatures in the 18th century cellar under their home, resulting in a wine that is distinctly bright, aromatic, and thirst-quenching.

Organic: certified
Soil type: limestone/chalk
Elevation: 450m
Grapes: 100% Grignolino
Method of fermentation: temperature-controlled stainless steel with ambient yeast
Bottles made: 7,000

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La Casaccia “Giuanan” Barbera del Monferrato DOC

Organic: certified
Soil type: limestone/chalk
Elevation: 450m
Grapes: 100% Barbera
Method of fermentation: temperature-controlled stainless steel with ambient yeast
Bottles made: 6,100


Giovanni Rava makes too many good wines. We want to buy them all. Their style is refreshing, intellectually and physically, and reflects positive elements of the character of Giovanni and his family.

La Casaccia means “shitty –looking house” which is an overstatement, even during its recent period of construction dishevelment. Giovanni Rava and his wife and son Marcello are restoring a portion of their 17th century home to be an agriturismo. The building surrounds a courtyard and rests above a deep cellar carved into stone. The place is calming, a refuge from the (not terribly bustling) town of Cella Monte outside their front door.

The Ravas are energetic, intelligent, easy to engage. Their property came in the family’s hands over three centuries ago. Genoese aristocracy bestowed a royal seal upon the wines of La Casaccia during that era. Centuries passed, and wine became a secondary product for the family. Eventually only scattered patches of vines were in cultivation by extended family members, and no wine was being made at La Casaccia.

In 2000 the Ravas decided to leave their careers as organic agricultural extension agents and bring their work home. They began with vines that had been tended by aunts and nephews, eventually piecing together a 6 ½ acre estate. Two more hectares will be planted soon. The vineyard work is informed, certified-organic, the practical application of two viticulture degrees and 1,000s of hours of thought and advice. All the fruit is harvested by hand in small baskets, then carefully triaged at the cellar. Grapes are moved via gravity from ground level into the winemaking facility. The cellar itself is perfect for producing quality wine. Deep underground and naturally cool, it is a thoughtful combination of the modern equipments and ancient space. It is remarkably clean. Cool old presses and disused filtration equipment rub shoulders with temperature controlled fermentation vats, bottling, corking and labeling equipment.

I had a lovely impromptu lunch with the Ravas. They served handmade fresh pasta (agnolotti) and two types of local salami. The salami are made by the son of the woman who makes the meaty, rich fresh pasta we consumed.  Cella Monte can’t have more than 500 residents, but the hamlet supports two competing salami makers. Italy can be great.

The future here is very promising. Margherita Rava is clearly very bright, and as the next generation she will inherit an estate already operating at a high level of quality that has the capacity to effortlessly double its current 30,000-bottle production. There are many good wines to come from La Casaccia.

 

September 10-11, 2015- La Casaccia Today!

Picking grapes is a decent way to get through jet lag. It’s something to do. The time passes quickly until an hour when the sweet, sweet sleep you crave is advisable. Sunlight scrubs gross airline recycled air from your skin.

I would be a terrible farmer. For core, essential reasons. Number one: absence of patience. This morning it is rainy and cold: not a time to pick grapes. So we wait. But I don’t want to wait. I want to pick Barbera. Yesterday we breezed through the last rows of Grignolino. The grapes were so perfect from a warm, dry summer that La Casaccia can even risk the harvesting assistance a bumbling American importer. On my first day of picking (ever) there was really nothing to triage. I discarded one rotten bunch in a half day of casual cutting and talking. Apart from removing the occasional section of dried grapes and skipping a tiny portion of still-ripening clusters, we simply loaded up bright orange small crates with Grignolino that looked ready-to-eat. Hard not to eat a little….

Everybody is in a good mood. Our team is led by heir-apparent Margherita, co-captained by long-term assistant and college buddy Federico, ballasted by Alejandro from Argentina, a young man of agricultural experience, but rooted in the cultivation of cereals, and rounded out by a WOOFer, Anna from Helsinki. She is as untrained as me, but has been working at La Casaccia for a few weeks, in route to a future apartment in Milan. She is a mid-30’s nomad clearly untethered from worldly concerns, strikingly happy. And then there is me, grubby, fresh off the plane.

In a lesser vintage pickers feel mired in place, crawling along rows, painstakingly extricating damaged and dangerously blemished sections of berries. This year it’s full-speed ahead. Giovanni is in the cellar with his mentor Cecchino, a man who has made wine in Cella Monte for 51 years. What an amazing asset! Every vintage since 1964 has been handled by this spry 83-year-old. He has dealt with every conceivable obstacle. Frederico and Margherita are in awe of him, actively soaking up his experience. Federico says you can never work hard enough to keep up with (or satisfy) the old timer. He just doesn’t quit, or cut the youngsters any slack. Cecchino unloaded cartons of grapes and ran the de-stemmer until long after sunset. And he looks really healthy, strong even. Incessant work has given him the frame of a man 30 years younger. I’m not kidding. The dude is always working.

After the last parcel of Grignolino was picked, we went for a walk past abandoned and nearly-abandoned fields worked by the elderly and part-timers, parcels trellised in outlandish and outdated ways, past fig and apple trees, over hills and through cool verdant stands of forest. Federico points out the house of his dreams, Il Paradiso, a really perfect old farmhouse looking out over several hectares of fallow land coveted by Giovanni. The route we take is quiet save the odd tractor and wasp. We pause to look at vine leaves beleaguered by oidium and other maladies, we have time to talk about domestic and foreign economics. I like that Italians are more inclined to daily discourse on large matters political and otherwise, but this conversation initiated by Federico is not theoretical: he is approaching the end of a university oenology program and is weighing options. I give him my frank assessment based on some travel in Italy, and gut feeling. For him, America could be a smart move. Margherita is in a good position, her parents built something amazing against the odds: she can succeed. To start something new in Italy, Federico’s challenge… the odds are stacked against him. Taxes, bureaucracy, a waning domestic consumption of wine, a stagnant (or worse) economy… moving makes sense. And he’s a trained sommelier and cheese expert with experience selling Italian wine in the very competitive Shanghai market. In the U.S. these are marketable skills.

At the last minute I packed a sweater: northern Italy, I know your tricks! And against the run of recent sunshine and predictions of my iphone, it’s pretty chilly this morning. And I’m about to go underground to check out the first fermentations. In an average vintage, natural fermentations take a day or two to start in a cold cellar. Not in 2015! Wild yeast are healthy and abundant, their natural competition (unwanted bacteria) is on the run, virtually nonexistent. Giovanni said he put his Chardonnay in tank and came back just a little later and the fermentation was beginning. He usually cultures a small vat of starter yeast from his own fields, this year it’s barely needed. Large concentrations of healthy yeast and other microorganisms are the backbone of successful organic farming. La Casaccia’s wines are clean and stable because they nurture and protect this unseen resource.

In the end, the sun won out and picking went on unfettered from mid-morning until 6pm. Two regular employees from Moldova, and a childhood friend of Margherita’s joined the team. It was tough. Today’s Barbera grew on a high sun-exposed sight that fared poorly in the atypically warm 2015 vintage. Many grapes were scorched and desiccated, undesirable. They had to be cut out of already scant clusters. Also sections of the site were afflicted by flavescencia dorada, a malady spread by small winged insects. Ultimately these vines require re-grafting. The proximity to neighboring fields that are either abandoned or very neglectfully farmed makes flavescencia hard to contain: it lives in these wild places. But many rows were in rude health, and numerous beautiful textbook Barbera bunches seemingly weighing a kilo each were tossed into the baskets. At the end we had 160 baskets loaded with 20 kilos of fruit each, enough to make possibly 2,500 bottles of wine. La Casaccia uses only free-run and delicate first press juice, following a law that is widely violated in the region. It keeps the bottles-per-kilo low, and the wine fine, elegant often.

We ate both our meals outside, the first in the vineyard under a fig tree, the second in the winery’s courtyard immediately following the arrival of the last tractor-load of Barbera. It was dark outside, but not too cool. Vegetable courses were abundant: Margherita has a great garden! Tomatoes, Ratatouille, plus plenty of antipasti and meaty agnolotti. Sleep will be easy.