Before his death, the incredibly talented Bernardo Vallana was able to pass on his knowledge to his daughter Giuseppina’s husband, Guy Fogarty, a British citizen by birth. Later, after Guy’s passing, we’ll find that Giuseppina also had her father’s gift – though she really didn’t have a choice, Guy passed, suddenly, and the grapes were going to be harvested, wines had to be made. (below, Giuseppina and her husband, Guy Fogarty)
The more I hear the story that Marina is sharing with me, the more I’m enraptured by these people, by this land. These people, and their personal stories are striking, and gritty, and as hardscrabble as the land. It takes no small amount of humility and determination to survive here. But this family has done more than that, they’ve produced world-class wines. For generations.
As we make our way from her home in Maggiora to the Boca vineyards, Marina explains that this is rather atypical landscape for vineyards. Atypical in the sense that to get to the best sites one must often pass through the deep sections of woods, first, before coming upon a clearing that reveals a neatly positioned plot of earth, with just the right slope, and drainage, and soil characteristics. This explains my first impressions as I encountered this region from the roadway, on my drive up from Asti – to see the well-manicured and sweeping vineyards of Barolo, all anyone has to do is look out the window of their car, it’s all around them; this was the opposite.
We continue our drive to Boca (the roads are narrow, sometimes very steep, always deeply rutted – our speed must always be kept really low), Marina explains that the Boca site is very fragmented, there are lots of private owners, some who produce their own wines, and others that farm the grapes and then sell to others to produce their own wines.
Finally, we come upon the vineyards, though we have more (slow) driving before we reach the Vallana plots. It’s a mixture of young and old vines, and also a fair amount of (seemingly) barren earth. At this moment, the Vallana family is actually purchasing grapes for many of their wines because they’ve chosen to replant; a good number of vines in many locations were simply too old. (later, I get to meet Marina’s brother, Francis, the winemaker, but, also a Ph.D. viticulturist – who better to have on your team when replanting! See photo below)
It doesn’t take me long to do the math – Vallana has key positions in many of the best vineyards in the area, they’ve recently been replanted (most), the current stewards (Francis, Marina, Miriam, and Giuseppina) have the backbone, education and drive instilled in them from generations of their predecessors’ fortitude. Which is to say, the future here is very bright. As in, really bright.
If I could buy stock in this company (I can’t, sigh), I’d buy as much as I could. Then I’d borrow from friends and family and buy even more. With these newly planted vineyards, on established soils that already have proven track records, it’s only a few more years before this is again going to be a very hot brand (the shortage, due to vine age, of a steady, healthy supply of their own winegrapes caused them to (temporarily) pull out of some long-established markets), and I’ve no doubt it will remain so for the next several generations. It’s already successful, but I’m convinced, seeing all the different parts of the current strategy, that in just a few short years, the Vallana wines are going to be best in class.
We’re nearly there as Marina explains that we’ve now entered the Montalbano region, where the family’s story really begins. (Pliny the Elder wrote about this region – the Novarra hills – perhaps inspired by the quality of wines produced by the Maggiorina (ancient vine-training system). He wrote all this about 2000 years ago. Two. Thousand. Let that sink in.
So the story gets even deeper…and I’m finding the sheer amount of history here to be mind-boggling. But as I look around, something seems askew: I know (now) there’s pedigree here, but it comes without the visual aesthetics/trapping of pedigree, it’s just, well, land, it’s not groomed and coiffed, it’s not glamorous, it’s just land. Just vines (see above photo). There’s an honesty here that adds yet another dimension to this story. Later when I taste the wines at the Vallana cellar, I’ll come face to face with that honesty.
In the next few hours, as Marina and I continue to each of their vineyards, I’ll learn just how special that land (i.e. soil) really is. (photo: volcanic, highly mineral-laden soil underlying the newly replanted vines in their Boca vineyards)
To be continued…
(header photo: the Cappella delle Brunate, in La Morra comune)