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Rivetto: the only certified biodynamic Barolo producer

Reading Time: 7 minutes

On one side Serralunga, the cradle of Barolo; on the other Sinio, the heart of a “lesser” Langa that is cut off from all the major Piedmontese denominations. The boundary line runs in the middle of the farmhouse. As a result, the cellar lies in Sinio, while the vineyards right below belong to the township of Serralunga. This is what makes the Rivetto winery interesting, but even more interesting is the philosophy of Enrico Rivetto, an enthusiastic vintner who has become the first and only producer in the Barolo and Barbaresco area to obtain the certification by Demeter, the world’s leading organization for biodynamic agriculture. 

 The first trip of the year could not have started better: lulled by the misty Langhe, I drove through the vineyards to reach an outpost in the heart of the Barolo area. The view from there is breathtaking even on a foggy day: the castle of Serralunga stands out on the horizon like a giant monolith. The paths that run between the vineyards create a geometrical pattern that becomes more irregular as you look towards the southern end of the valley, where the woods start appearing.

I quickly realize that this is not the usual Langhe estate where everything revolves around wine – producers in this area in southwestern Piedmont can easily make a six-figure income from just two or three hectares of vineyards, so it’s no wonder that most of them ignore the concept of biodiversity, and plant vines all over the place. Just above the first rows, I see a stable that houses three donkeys; on the opposite side of the Cascina, a swan sims in a small lake that is surrounded by woods. “Suddenly I realized that I was a winemaker, but I didn’t know how to cultivate anything but vineyards – explains Enrico – then I understood I couldn’t go on like that. Monoculture is devastating for the environment. I decided to plant fruit trees and ancient wheat varieties, and I approached biodynamics:”

The Rivetto family has an unusual story – they are nothing like the classic peasants from this area. The family moved from Montaldo Scarampi, a village in Monferrato, to Alba at the beginning of the 20th century. “ The inhabitants of Montaldo were so poor that they had to trade meat for wine. So my great-grandfather, who was a butcher, started accumulating casks which he then sold to the merchants”. Right before the end of World War the family moved to Alba, and established what the french would call a maison de negoce. Then, in the 1930s, Enrico’s grandfather bought the cascina. “The production of wine from purchased grapes has been our main activity until the early 2000s. As soon as I took over, I transformed the winery in Alba into a B&B, and started focusing on our vineyards.”

As we sit in a former barn that has been converted into a tasting room,  Enrico talks about the difficulties he faced in the early going, when he constantly argued with his father: “. When I was young I wanted to smash the oak casks, introduce barriques, and make hyper-technological Barolos that could be already approachable in their youth. Then I realized that what you can’t see matters more than what you see, and that there must be a reason why all our ancestors, from Italy to Japan, followed the lunar phases in agriculture. Scientists in the last half-century claimed it was all bulls**t. The problem is that we lost track of the emotional side of wine.”  Unlike many old farmers who are deeply fond of “modern agriculture”, because it helped them to get out of poverty, his father was enthusiastic about this change – for him it was like going back to when he was a child.

 Enrico’s approach to winemaking is anything but ordinary. He currently produces two different Langhe Nebbiolo: the first vinified in large oak and bottled with screw cap, so to increase the cellaring potential, and the second aged in terracotta amphorae. Amphorae are becoming popular everywhere in the world, but in Piedmont you see them very rarely. Oak is still the norm – no matter if the casks are big or small.  His most bizarre creation, though, is Kaskal, a Metodo Classico from Nebbiolo grapes that spends 60 months on the lees. He obtains the must by picking the tips of the bunches in September. By doing that, he also avoids green harvesting.

The Barolo production consists of an entry-level bottling from three different vineyards, a single-vineyard label from a tiny plot in the Briccolina Cru, and a Riserva that consists of a blend of the best casks. His approach to vinifying the Nebbiolo grapes for Barolo is very classic – he leaves the wine on the skins for up to forty days, and uses large “botti” for aging. He then blends the fruit from the San Bernardo, Serra, and Manencino vineyards, and keeps the Briccolina grapes aside. “Briccolina has what it takes to be one of the best crus of the Langhe – he says – Unfortunately, it has been monopolized by a big producer that hasn’t always been quality-minded”. Stylistically speaking, the wines are pure and streamlined – you don’t get the sense of quirkiness often associated with biodynamic/natural wines. If anything, these Baroli are more open-knit than the other wines from Serralunga, which tend to be very dark and tightly wound in their youth. That is especially true for Briccolina, one of the most exotic, perfumed Baroli you’ll come across. 

Tasting notes:

Metodo Classico Kaskal 2014

The most powerful Metodo Classico I have tasted in recent times. Round, creamy, but razor-sharp on the back-end, Kaskal reminds of a Champagne Blanc de Noirs. It clocks at an impressive 13,5% abv. – a full octane more than the average Champenoise method wine. As a result, it tastes broader, rounder than most Brut Nature (no sugar added) sparkling wines on the market. You get more of a granny smith/candied citrus character on the finish, and none of the bitter almond notes often associated with Pas dosè bubblies . This boundary-breaking fizz  is the perfect match for truffle dishes.

92/100

Barbera d’ Alba Zio Nando 2018

Sourced from high elevation vineyards – 350 to 400 meters above sea level – this Barbera reminds me of how warm the Langa is during summer. You get bold, luscious aromas and flavors of blackberry jam, dark chocolate, clove, grafite, and the heat you would expect from a 15,5% abv wine. However, the wine manages to stay light on its feet thanks to the brisk acidity on the back end. Not the most quaffable Barbera ever, but it will definitely please who are into bigger, heartier wines.

Langhe Nebbiolo Vigna Lirano 2018

A complex Langhe Nebbiolo that you could mistake for a Barolo – in the fact the Lirano vineyard in Sinio lies on soils that are identical to those of Serralunga. It’s less oxidative and definitely fresher than the average amphora-aged wine. The nose offer pristine cranberry and raspberry aromas along with hints of white pepper. The palate is at once weighty and taut, loaded with succulent fruit and slightly earthy, but not funky at all. It’s considerably deeper and more structured than the average Langhe Nebbiolo, but also very quaffable. Drink it now or hold it for three to five years.

90/100

Barolo del comune di Serralunga D’ Alba 2017

The 2017 vintage was scorching hot, and yet I don’t find any signs of overripeness. This wine compensates what it lacks in complexity with downright delicious flavors of ripe red cherries, creme de cassis, and juicy tannins that backbone the seamless progression. “ The 2017s are already approchable – says Enrico – it a was a tough vintage, but not as bad as 2003.” This wine ranks among the very few Baroli that I would order at the restaurant immediately upon release.  

90/100

Barolo Leon Riserva 2015

An old school Riserva that consists of a blend of the best casks. This wine bursts with scents of creme de cassis, sandalwood, cinnamon, and damp earth. The palate is still tightly wound, with classically dusty tannins, and a focused, mineral-inflected finish. It’s the only textbook wine in the range.

92/100

Barolo Briccolina 2015

A charming, exotic Barolo from 0.4 ha plot in the amphitheater of Serralunga. Scents of Christmas spice, incense, tamarind, and dried flowers jump out of the glass. You get the the classic “Serralunghiano” tannic backbone, which derives from the high percentage of clay in the soils, but this wine boasts also suave, exotic undertones that add to its charming, flamboyant personality. I can’t tell to which extent the aromatic finesse is connected to biodynamics, but British superstar wine writer Jamie Goode once claimed that well made biodynamic wines taste more “mature” in their youth, and then evolve at a slower pace. This wine might be a proof for that argument. What I know for sure, though, is that, regardless of biodynamics, Enrico’s Baroli are among the most distinctive I have tasted over the last years. 

94/100

ITALIAN VERSION

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