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Organic, Solar-Powered Wines & Prosecco from Northern Italy – with Savian Wines

5 Sep

It’s always inspiring to meet someone who is doing good while they are doing well.  Such is the case of William Savian in the Veneto region of northern Italy – and his organic, solar powered – and delicious – wines!

Traditional “azienda vinicola” – except for the solar panels on the roof!

The Savian vineyard dates back to 1925, when William’s grandfather’s small plot of land produced wine for friends & Family.  Flash forward to 1990 when William’s father Arnaldo decided to expand and commercialize the vineyard.  Using conventional farming techniques he did indeed expand the production but over time became disturbed.  After 3 years he realized that he could no longer hear the hum of crickets and the chirps of frogs at night – the pesticides and herbicides had killed them all off.  Whatever they were doing to the land, was destroying the local wildlife.  And how could an agricultural business survive the destruction of its environment?

So in 1993 Arnaldo became a pioneer in transforming his wine production to be completely organic (certified by ICEA, Delinat and NOP).  And instead of the business suffering as a result, today it thrives – in Italy and around the world.

William, his mother Madame Savian, his father Arnaldo & Alessandro from Dialuce Wines

Actually, in Italy most consumers really only care that his wines (including standards like Merlot & Chardonnay,  sulfite-free wines, as well as wonderful regional specialties like Lison Classico and Refosco da Peduncolo Rosso) are of the highest quality.  But in other countries, starting from Germany, buyers took a second look at Savian’s wines in a saturated market because they are organic.

One of Savian’s outstanding organic proseccos made in the Charmat method.

And over time, William and his father decided to go a step further than organic and make the vineyard solar-powered.  With the amount of sun shining in Italy, this was a great choice for Savian wines, and the savings in their consumption of ever more expensive power makes this also a savvy business  move too.

This central console shows the solar power production and usage of the vineyard.

Today’s Savian’s wines are sold all around the world, including Germany, Canada and Brazil and have won awards and fans in a multitude of categories. But one of the greatest indicators of success was for William seeing his kids be able to play around the vineyard, and to not worry about the health hazards of pesticides and chemicals.  We even saw a snake in a ditch on the property while we were there.

In Ontario, Savian’s extraordinary wines can be ordered through Le Caviste or you can contact Alessando Dialuce for worldwide availability.

Enrico and Michel want to know why you aren’t drinking wines from Orvieto

5 Jun

Enrico is a man with a mission. Years ago he purchased 22 acres of prime vineyard, just outside the ancient city of Orvieto, Umbria; overlooking Lake Corbara (about an hour north of Rome). With Freddano‘s elevation, softly sloping incline, fertile earth and sunny exposure, it was the ideal place for producing not just wine, but magnificent wine.

But he had a problem.

In the somewhat limited perspective of wine drinkers around the world, Orvieto doesn’t signify magnificent wines. Sure, everyone knows Tuscany = great wines, a mere 30 kilometers away. The fame of the Tuscan region means even that its less stellar wines command the highest demand and good wines can draw impressive prices. However, if a wine drinker in America or Canada or The UK deigns to try an Orvietan wine, they usually expect it to just be cheap.

So Enrico and and his oeneologist Michel had an important decision to make. They could take their lovely vineyard, cut corners, crowd the grapes, spray the land with chemicals and create cheap, non descript plonk; or, truly honor the potential of the land and create a magnificent wine to convince the world that Orvieto wines are contenders.

Fortunately for us, and for the earth; these winemakers chose not only to make gorgeous wines, but  upped the ante and committed to make them organic too (certified by Accredia)

Starting our visit standing in the vineyard, Enrico explained that it’s simply not possible for all vineyards to be organic. If the terrain lacks wind, is situated at a low altitude, or otherwise has damp conditions, it’s difficult to avoid mold and rot with anything but chemicals. But here at Freddano, the conditions are perfect for sustaining organic growth.

Freddano

What can possibly taste better than wine sipped while standing in the soil of origin poured by its creators?

We sipped glasses of VIgna del Sole (“vine of the sun”) standing between rows of grapes; admiring the wildflowers growing at the base of the vines. All maintenance of the vineyard is done by hand, from the pruning of the vines to the cutting of the grass. We could imagine the wildflowers imparting a delicate hint to this delightful white.

And of course the ubiquitous rose bushes placed at the end of each row, the “canary in the mine.” roses are even more susceptible to diseases that affect the grapes. So by monitoring the health of the roses, a wine makers can monitor the health of their vines before a problem takes hold.

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Enrico, with fans.

We moved onto the bottling facility where Enrico explained how not only the their agricultural production is organic, but also their fermentation process. This means there are no additives, and most importantly no flavorings added to the wines at any point. Again, more spectacular wine was poured, this time right from the casks, as we tried a grand, unnamed white which will be released in only limited quantities in magnum bottles – this was a true celebration wine! We bandied about inspired names, our enthusiasm whetted by our liquid creativity.

Freddano’s wines blend familiar with new – blending grapes you know, with ones you’ve never heard of – like Trebbiano & Grechetto with Chardonnay & Sangiovese – and modernizing ancient growing and processing techniques to achieve organic status. And constantly there is strong appreciation for the sense of place.  We are proud to make and drink Orvietan wines!  Right down to the bottles – which designs feature tiles from the stunning duomo (cathedral) in nearby Orvieto.

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We wrapped up our “wine tasting and vineyard tour” with a 5-hour lunch in the stone farmhouse with 3 generations of family and friends. A perfect time to enjoy a “celebration wine” from Orvieto!  And we were convinced – Orvieto wines are magnificent (psssst…pass it on!)

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Freddano is represented by Dialuce Wines in Canada and internationally.  Please contact Alex Dialuce to order.

Food Paradise in Northern Italy…oh yes, and there’s wine too…and single men!

1 Nov

It’s not that Italian women don’t care about food, but I never cease to be amazed by the passion and expertise that Italian men express regarding food.

A few weeks ago, we spent the weekend in one of the world’s elite wine regions, during the autumn wine crush.

Paradise? Yes, unless you are a vegetarian.

We were “helping” Aldo Marenco, a family-owned organic wine producer in la Langue of Piemonte Italy.  Having just hand-picked the harvest, it was urgent that the grapes be crushed before they started to ferment. I am sure they would have done just find without our complete lack of expertise, but they graciously allowed us to watch and participate in this ancient ritual first hand.

Claudio Marenco is the son who took over the wine production from his father, Aldo. Today they grow and make the classic wines of this region – the soft and easy drinking Dolcettos and Barberras,  as well as the region’s most prized vintage – Barolo.

The Bounty

It was Claudio’s idea when he took over the vineyard from his father to certify the wine production as organic.  As a small family-owned/operated vineyard, many of the processes were already done by hand with close attention to the natural and ancient methods of growth.  Grapes were hand-picked; not only because the uneven terrain demanded it, but also because machine-picking the grapes causes the delicate fruit to break prematurely, thus fermenting prematurely and not under the strict control of the vintner.

Me, working the farm, with Claudio’s help

As we “worked” alongside Claudio, Aldo and their neighbour, their hands coarse from working in the fields, the conversation more often than not turned to food.  We were in the process of shoveling the leftover grape skins (“must”) from the press to a truck (to be taken to a grappa production facility), when the neighbor started extolling the many culinary uses for the must.  First, he told us, you can wrap a local semi-soft cheese in the must – marrying the sharp tannins in the skin with the mellowness of the cheese.  Or you can layer the must, alternating with pepperoncino slices, for several layers, marinating in olive oil and salt.  I smiled as these men stopped their work in the field to exchange recipes and culinary tips.

The men, taking a break from their labors to chit chat about recipes

Forget a bowl of stale chips…this is what you get on the side when you order a glass of wine at an enoteca in Dogliani

Although the world knows Piemonte for its powerful wines, wine itself often seems like a backdrop to the extraordinary food here.  Interestingly enough, few Piemontese had ever heard of the Slow Food movement, even though it formally originated in the local town of Bra.  I think it’s because the slow food mentality is so ingrained in this region, that it’s simply taken for granted.

Our work on the press had to be completed by 2 PM, because that’s when lunch was served.  Claudio lives a kilometer away from the vineyard where his family’s home sits.  At 2 PM we were invited inside for a classic meal prepared by Claudio’s mother and joined by his 2 nieces.  It was one of those moments that you want to hold onto forever – after working outside in the sunshine surrounded by vineyards rippling away in every direction, to join 3 generations of a family to sit down for the midday meal – we stepped back to an idyllic place in time.

During the course of the weekend I developed a theory.  Although I know that Piemonte literally means the foot of the mountains, I think it must actually mean “carnivore” in Latin.  Each meal was layer upon layer of delicious meat.  And all the ways to prepare – and not prepare – meat!  Such as, I didn’t know that you’d want to eat raw pancetta, which is essentially bacon.  But in Piemonte, you do.

Claudio’s bread!

The multi-course lunch (even featuring bread baked by Claudio himself!) was delicious, although perhaps counter-productive?  We needed a nap afterwards.  In the meantime, Claudio went through his meticulous process of checking his wines, ensuring that the temperature in all vats and barriques would allow optimal fermentation.

It’s idyllic here.  I started fantasizing that living here was a branch of my life that I had not followed yet…and the mind started to fabricate plans. But for Claudio there’s a problem with this life Piemonte. His home and his livelihood are intertwined with this land, and you can imagine that growing up here it would be impossible to leave for anywhere else.  But according to him, for a single guy in his early forties there is no chance to meet single women.  Although Claudio’s a catch – he grows organic wine! He makes his own bread! I assumed he was exaggerating.  But a Saturday night in Dogliani was remarkable.  At a chic and atmospheric enoteca that would be bursting with single women in Toronto, the men here outnumbered the women at no less than 10 to 1.

Paradise, but you have to work for it

At the end of the weekend I was disappointed to fly to Paris, as I suspected I couldn’t possibly maintain this level of luscious indulgence in such an idyllic environment…I was right.  Next time I’m bringing some of my single girl friends!

Wine Tasting on a Volcano

30 May

We were in a precarious position, according to our host; perched on the side of a legendarily destructive and still-live volcano.

Yet at 11 AM that morning, as we tasted wines on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, overlooking the Bay of Naples; the greatest threat we could perceive was that we would lose all motivation to leave for our engagement at the Canadian reception of the International Women’s Form later that afternoon in Rome.

Now, I have to say that by 10 AM, it had already been a busy day. We woke at 6:30 AM in Vietri Sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast (at this lovely B&B called La Soffitta sul Mare) and went for a walk around this gorgeous village stacked above the sea, before breakfast. As a lifetime chronic over-scheduler, I have developed a rule of not leaving one place for another, when you are enjoying yourself at location #1. And I was extremely reluctant to leave a place that looks like this:

Yet we had a 10 AM commitment scheduled with friends, and had no choice other than to move on. And fortunately, our next engagement by far surpassed the beauty of Amalfi!

Italy is justifiably famous for its many celebrated wine regions – Tuscany, Piemonte and Veneto to name just a few. But few people outside Italy have ever tried wine from the Mount Vesuvius region. Which hopefully, will not long be the case.

Personally, the region has long been embedded in my consciousness. No doubt, due to some National Geographic issue I read as a child, showing the mystical ruins of Pompeii after being simultaneously destroyed, and preserved by its massive eruption in 79 AD. But now the region has an additional, epicurean, association for me.

Alessandro represents Sannino Wines, a small family-owned winery in the area, with vineyards in Sorrento and Pompeii, as well as on the slopes of Vesuvius in Ercolano (Herculaneum). The charming and gracious Mr. Sannino himself kindly offered to give us, and 4 friends, a tour of the vineyard as well as a tasting of some of his wines and local delicacies.

In contrast to the endlessly pastoral landscape of Tuscany, many of the local vineyards here are somewhat urban. I’m not talking about vines in the downtown financial core, but a seemingly modern (but probably ancient) multi-use neighborhood with green vineyards tucked between homes and local businesses. The grapes here are defined by the Volcano, drawing up their high mineral content to produce wonderful and unique wines such as Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ – you can read the legend of the name here), Falanghina, Coda di Volpe and a personal new favourite, Gragnano. Many of these wines, especially the reds, actually have a remarkable bouquet of violets.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned about the potential complexities of pairing wine with food is simply this: look at the foods that are produced in the region of the vineyard, and pair wine with those for the best combination (this assumes the wine has a regional production representing the local terroir). In the Naples area, that meant we were in for a treat! Naples is the birthplace of some of the most iconic Italian flavours, including pizza, pasta, buffalo mozzarella, limoncello and espresso.

After guiding us on a tour of the Aglianico vineyard (an ancient vine dating to the 6th century BC), we retired to an enormous rooftop terrace to indulge in an unexpected midday feast of 4 different local wines plus mozzarella, prosciutto, pizza and bruschetta – the latter made with unusual local tomatoes that are unique in their ability to last for months after being picked (due to their high mineral content). One of the highlights was the Gragnano, a deep red but slightly effervescent wine with floral overtones. I could not imagine a more “perfetto” wine to sip on a warm & sunny morning; and whether it was the Gragnano or another wine, the sumptuous food, or the hospitality of Mr. Sannino (according to Alessandro, men from Naples are the most charming of all of Italy – a remarkable accomplishment); the huge smiles of our guests indicated that everyone was completely enraptured by the experience.

If you are thirsty for a taste of the unique wines from the Vesuvius region and live in Ontario, some of Mr. Sannino’s wonderful wines will be on the shelves of LCBO in August.

FYI – we did make it to the Canadian reception that afternoon, thanks to someone sober in our party who had to gently and repeatedly remind us of our previous engagement. And, like everything else this day, well worth it!