We are all guilty of it. Wanderlusting over far flung places and planning that next big trip before thinking to discover the hidden gems in our own neighbourhood.
As an ex-pat, I was surprised to find myself doing the same thing in my new found home. Sure, I’d beaten a well worn path along the local tourist track with various visiting family and friends in tow over the years, but what I hadn’t been doing was exploring the awesomeness right on my door step.
My village, although not an actual producer of wine, as part of the Novara hinterland is included in the area of the Colline Novaresi DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) – a specified area in which wine can be produced and sold under this denomination as a guarantee of its quality and provenience. As a result many of the surrounding villages are ‘citta del vino’ – wine producing towns.
And here I was a self-proclaimed wine lover, living in an boutique Italian wine region and doing nothing about it! But not for lack of trying. I had tried to investigate wine tours and cellar visits in the past, but I had done so with my ‘anglo-saxon’ hat on and had had little success. There are no big wine corporations here – these are small, family run, boutique, artisan wine makers crafting wines from grape vines that have been pasted done from generation to generation. They are too busy at their craft to be advertising wine tours to Australian ex-pats 🙂 But that doesn’t mean they don’t welcome visitors and wine lovers to visit their cellars and wineries, you just need to know how.
And so 2016 is to be the year I decided to finally discover this delightful wine region right on my doorstep. I started by completing a wine course with my local chapter of ONAV (Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatore di Vino) in Ghemme, a region that has been producing wine for over 2,000 years. Now as a member, I am invited to their regular educational events and wine tastings all over the country.
The first I attended was at the Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo (the Ancient Vineyards of Cantalupo), just down the road in Ghemme. As the event took place on a fresh Friday evening in early spring, we didn’t have the opportunity to walk between the vines, but having driven past many times previously I had already seen them from a distance, climbing up the hill above the winery on the first hill of Ghemme. As all the work with the vines here is done by hand, you can often see people working the between the rows, like tiny ants in a sea of green.
Those who are interested in wine (like me) know how important the soil is, and here in Ghemme, its composition is unique as it is very rich in minerals formed by deposits that washed down from the nearby glacier on Monte Rosa in ancient times. In fact, the area forms part of the Sesia-Val Grande Geopark, which is an UNESCO recognised Geopark for its geological significance. The mineralogy of the soil gives the wines their character and elegance, making Ghemme the perfect place for growing Nebbiolo, known as ‘Spanna’ in the local dialect, but also Vespolina and Uva Rara.
As such, wines from this region have been held in high esteem over the centuries – served by the 15th century Duke of Milan to his guests at the Castello Sforza, and more recently gracing the tables of Margaret Thatcher, the Pope and European heads of state when visiting the Piedmont region, some even from the cellar of Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo.
The Antichi Vigenti di Cantalupo is run by the Arlunno family, who can trace their participation in Ghemme’s wine producing history back two whole centuries. After a detailed and passionate introduction by the owner and wine maker, we took a quick tour of the terraced underground wine cellar in cut into the hillside and the wine making facilities which included the ‘infernotto’ – the ‘little hell’ – a dark corner of the cellar where narrow corridors reveal cells stacked floor to ceiling with wine resting for up to a year’s time.
It was then time to return to the tasting room and get down to business, the tasting of the wine. The product line of Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo is based around the nebbiolo grape, including a ‘out of the box’ sparkling nebbiolo, and a rose, before moving onto more important red varieties including the renowned Ghemme DOC.
If you ever find yourself in the area, be sure to pay them a visit – www.cantalupo.net