Cascina degli Ulivi

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Some organic winemakers evolved as the movement gained recognition, while others come from families that never used pesticides for financial or philosophical reasons. But few have had the experience Stefano Bellotti of Cascina degli Ulivi recounts. It was the early Eighties and Stefano had gone from organic to biodynamic, but this was decidedly out of fashion with the winemaking set, then enthralled with all the new technologies being introduced. He was producing 50,000 bottle at the time when the floor fell out beneath him. Some negative press, including poor reviews in Gambero Rosso, had vaporized his customer base. Nearly a decade’s worth of effort building his name wiped out with a swipe of the pen.

Stefano works land that has been in his family since 1936, when his grandfather bought the farm. His grandfather may have had no idea about organic practices, but worked the land for years in this fashion, including planting the first vines. By the time Stefano was 18, only an acre of vineyards remained and the steadfast lad decided to revitalize the holdings. The year was 1977 and it never occurred to him to use pesticides. An encounter with Luigi Brezza led him to convert to biodynamic practices, and the market responded positively — until that bout of bad press brought him to his knees.

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Luckily for wine drinkers, Stefano persisted and rebuilt his reputation, with an assist from the German market. Today he sells over 110,000 bottles all over the world and is widely respected as one of the top biodynamic winemakers on the planet. He resurrected the farm side of the property as well, to balance out the crops and also supply an agriturismo and restaurant he opened in 1998. His holdings today amount to 22 hectares of vineyards, 10 hectares of crops that include ancient varieties of grains and cereals, 1 hectare of vegetables and 1,000 fruit trees along with cows and chickens. He even planted almond trees to help combat phylloxera.

Located near Alessandria in eastern Piedmont, the pastoral agriturismo is set amidst vineyards, rolling fields and wandering farm animals. A rustic building offers 4 duplex rooms and a restaurant mainly supplied by the farm — over 80% of the goods are grown and raised on the grounds. You will find homemade yogurt, jams and delicious rustic bread among other treats. And don’t miss the house-cured 3-year-old prosciutto.

During dinner one night, we tasted 10 wines alongside a degustation menu (antipasti, pasta, secondo and dessert) costing €28. Wines by the glass are a reasonable €4 – €6 and the full range is available to taste, thankfully with your room a mere steps away.

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A 2007 Filagnotti Cortese from Gavi grapes was a rich, fruit-forward wine that showed very well with some age. The 2009 Montemarino is Cortese aged in acacia barrels, a complex wine that needed the extra years to integrate its flavors, while a 2009 A Demua, a blend of Riesling, Timorasso, Moscatello, Verdea and a few others, sees 2 years of skin and 2 years in bottle, making for a deliciously funky oxidized style wine. We tried two Nibios side by side, a 2006 Terre Bianche and a 2007 Terre Rosse. The ’06, grown on limestone from vines aged 10-40 years was more elegant and showed great balance. The ’07, grown on red clay, was earthy, more full-bodied and quite intense. By contrast, a 2006 Mounbé (85% Barbera with Dolcetto and Ancellotto) with evident tannins still had years to go. We finished with a floral 2008 Passito, made from the moscat grape, which sees 1 week of skin contact and 10 months of fermentation. The resulting wine is all about balance, not too sweet with notes of honey.

I have met few winemakers as passionate as Bellotti in their respect for the rhythms of nature and their stewardship of the land. He never set out to be an evangelist but even through the lean years, he persisted in executing his vision. The proof is evident in everything he does and these wines, not of all which are imported into the U.S., are worth searching out.

Website: www.cascinadegliulivi.it/eng/index.php


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