Hands On Days, the ones to come and the ones we did
October 29th, 2016 Casanova, Tuscany
Hands On Day, this time all around the production of our olive oil....
The three things a Tuscan needs in his life are wine, bread and olive oil. For this reason, La Spinetta decided to invite its One Litre Club members to come and live like a proper Tuscan for a day, a lucky Tuscan though since they also were able to enjoy piemontese specialities and wines.
This year’s Hands on Day was all about learning how to produce high quality olive oil.
It all started from the theory. A special guest, Bruno Rivetti, came to share his knowledge on olive oil production, differentiating a good olive oil from a bad one, which the members were able to put into practise themselves and get their hands dirty picking olives right off the trees. Now, certain members may have no choice but to come and pursue a future career with us in Tuscany!
Thanks to the gorgeous weather, following everyone’s hard work, we were able to wind down with a typical Tuscan aperitivo on the terrace, overlooking the beautiful rural landscape. The selection of salumis and typical breads of the area were perfectly accompanied by a glass of sparkling Millesimato and to follow one of Vermentino.
After the aperitivo, to be able to give our guests a real feel of the area and give them the opportunity to taste La Spinetta’s Tuscan wines at their best, we took them on a scenic bus ride to the little town of Chianni for lunch, where they enjoyed traditional Tuscan delicacies.
The group, accompanied by Anja, couldn’t indulge too much into the laid back Tuscan life since the olives need to be pressed within hours of their collection. When the group returned to the Casanova winery they were able to experience the pressing process first-hand and a half an hour later taste that same olive oil in comparison to other big Italian brands. The outcome surprised many, since the quality of the freshly pressed olives was a far step ahead of renowned brands, which market their olive oil as one of the best in Italy.
Hands on day doesn’t just stand for experiencing new things first-hand, it also means getting your hands on a glass! The oil tasting was followed by a vertical tasting of Sassontino Riserva, from the 2003 vintage to the 2006. A wine that has varied over these four years, but still maintains its rocky and fruity characteristics that Mirko, the enologist of the winery, so passionately explained to everyone.
We allowed our guests a two hour break, since not everyone is used to the Italian lifestyle. When they returned, we concluded our day in glory with a delicious traditional piemontese dinner prepared by Giovanna Rivetti herself. Great food must always be accompanied by great wine though, for this reason Anja brought over all of the new One Litre releases to accompany the piemontese delicacies. Great food and wine always create a good atmosphere, but it was furtherly improved by the talented Italian opera singers which amazed our guests with a selection of pieces through-out the evening.
On behalf of the La Spinetta team, we would like to thank all of our participants for their hard work and great company. We are looking forward to seeing you all again next year!
November 1st, 2015 Piedmont
Hands On Day - A Blind Day - Wine is in the air...
Although we all agree that wine is one of the most celebrated product around the world, there is always so much to know - and to learn - about what makes a bottle a great one. Something which holds true even for the expert consumer and for the winemaker alike.
This is why La Spinetta's Hands on Day, a unique event to One Liter Club members, provides not only a great insight into the philosophy and product range of the hosting estates but also an opportunity to taste and share notes on selected bottles from an astonishingly diverse amount of top class labels, whether whites, reds or bubbly, with both consumers and producers involved in the quest for that special taste.
On occasion of the November 2015's Hands on Day winemaker Giorgio Rivetti and partner Anja Cramer (who is the mind behind the event) led an exquisite tour through the cellars and the vineyards of their Piedmontese wineries as well as introducing the OLC members to their latest project: APE Wine Bar.
The day took off with an early guided tour of the fascinating cellars at Contratto in Canelli, which are known as the cattedrali sotterranee (underground cathedrals) and are featured in the UNESCO World Heritage for their unique atmosphere. Contratto, which dates back to 1867, claims to be the first Italian company to have ever produced sparkling wine with the so-called metodo classico - aka méthode champenoise elsewhere - an expression which refers to the production process where the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle after the introduction of yeasts and sugars.
The first thing that catches your eye in the cellars are those endless lines of bottles and pupitres, wooden stacks where the bottles get turned by hand to extract the lees sediments. The geometry of the bottles and the dim light, combined with the brickworks of the tunnels dug under the hill, the constant humidity and 13°C temperature add a distinctive feeling to the place.
The bottom side of the bottles is marked with a dot of white paint which acts as the reference point for the remuage (riddling), the rotation after the fermentation and aging process. In fact, a skilled operator must turn the bottle on a daily basis always increasing a bit the inclination (neck down, where the sediment is collected), an operation which is easier said than done considering the yearly production quota at Contratto reaches 180,000 bottles.
Once back in the tasting room, after a brief introduction of the international group of 28 OLC members who were attending the event, the day went on with a blind tasting of 4 flights of 3 different sparkling wines (all bottle fermented), something which is not commonly done for some obvious reasons. Besides the Contratto range, the selection included Ca' del Bosco, Deutz, Ruinart, Laurent-Perrier, Bellavista, Veuve Clicquot. Truly not bad for a start!
Luca Cigliuti, sales manager for Asia and South America at La Spinetta and Contratto, led the blind tasting making sure everybody had fun rather than feeling pressed into finding what label was hiding behind the coverage.
While everybody was happily tasting and sharing notes with the person sitting next to them, the Contratto staff worked hard to make sure everything went smooth in the service - not that easy with the unknown bottles wrapped in tin foil. Kudos to them all!
After a few surprises when the labels were shown, the jolly lot was ready to move on for the next step of their Hands on Day. A private bus took them around the area while Luca was detailing all about the landscape they were crossing between Canelli and Alta Langa. As everyone could clearly see from their windows, the economy here is still solidly based on grape and hazelnut growing. The magic colours of autumn and the unexpected heat when everyone stepped out of the bus were truly a great welcome.
Before lunchtime Anja showed the group one of their latest challenges, something where - in her own words - you have to be a little mad and daring to believe in what you are doing. In fact, CONTRATTO recently bought 30 hectares of land at an altitude of about 720 meters a.s.l. to plant new vineyards with mainly Pinot Noir and a bit of Chardonnay. The reason? It seems that global warming is not just talks for scientists and environmentalists but for forward-looking farmers too. 5 hectares of Pinot Noir were planted already in Spring. The group could enjoy the new vineyard view with a glass of Contratto For England Rosé in their hands, thanks to the generous invitation by wine journalist Christian Wenger, who had finished to build his dream home up in Alta Langa, facing the town of Bossolasco two years ago. If Giorgio Rivetti’s hopes come true, from 2019 onwards, Contratto will only produce sparkling wines with Estate grown fruit under the Alta Langa DOCG.
After a long morning of wine tasting and concentration, it was about time to do something about the hunger that had developed. Luckily even in the small towns of Alta Langa, one will find small restaurants with delicious food. The Drogheria di Langa in Bossolasco across from the new Contratto vineyard was the group’s reserved lunch destination.
A tiny restaurant, perfectly designed to the detail with great local food was awaiting the One Liter Club members to enjoy lunch. A mouth watering 4 course lunch was served with more Contratto Blanc de Blancs, Vermentino and Barbera Ca di Pian.
Refreshed and perhaps a bit tired after the lunch, the bus took the group down the colorful hills from Bossolasco to La Spinetta Campe winery in Grinzane Cavour, where Anja and her team had already prepared the next challenge, upstairs in the winery’s tasting room, a red wine blind tasting with 16 different wines.
After the first two flights, it became quickly apparent, that a blind tasting of very important reds was not only fun, but in fact hard work, that required intense concentration. Only who paid attention was able to guess the varietal, the region, perhaps even the vintage, or the producer. 16 reds and almost all of them were great. The first flight was a bit tricky, as varietals were different, Barbera, Sangiovese and a Bordeaux Blend, everything from 2004 vintage. The second flight was all Nebbiolo, but from where? Barolo or Barbaresco? Not so easy, but great to see that a La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo holds it up nicely with some top Barbarescos like Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2012 and Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano 2011.
The theme or common thread of the 3rd flight was the 2005 vintage. Barbaresco Gallina and Starderi in competition with Barbaresco Roagna Paje and Bruno Giacosa.
Last but not least, the absolute top wines from 2004 in the last flight.
Giorgio kept challenging the group. He wanted to hear, what the members thought. After the initial shyness was overcome, the members commented on vintage, varietals and regions. We all learned quickly, blind tasting is not easy. Gaja Dagromis Magnum, La Spinetta Magnum Riserva Campe, Chateau Lynch Bages, Vietti Barolo Lazzarito all vintage 2004, a fantastic flight, and at the end the blind consent was, Barolo Campe Magnum Riserva was the winner with a nose of white truffle that was recognized and commented on by everybody.
After the red wine tasting, the official “work” related part of the day was finished and the members clearly relaxed and proceeded with the program that was more familiar to them, drinking wine. Giovanna, La Spinetta’s vineyard manager, winery Chef and sister of Giorgio, prepared a lovely “Aperitivo” downstairs next to the Barolo barrels and the little “stuzzichini” already promised a great dinner to follow upstairs.
Veal stuffed onion on a bed of fonduta cheese topped with white truffles, followed by simple fried eggs with more white truffle, a piece of “pasta al forno” and some bunet for a sweet finish, all of it accompanied with more La Spinetta wines, like Lidia Chardonnay, Barbaresco Gallina, Barolo Campe and last but not least, Moscato d'Asti. Although this year the season for the white tuber was rather poor, we were lucky enough to have found some examples with decent flavors.
Wine, and the world that surrounds it, continuous to bring amazing people together. This also proved the recent OLC Hands On Day held last Saturday, when twenty motivated wine lovers from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium gathered to meet the challenge of harvesting in Piedmont.
While only two weeks prior to the event, it was not even clear, if there was going to be a harvest that day, (a late Winter and cooler Spring slowed down the growing cycle of the vines by about two weeks), September 7th luckily turned out to be the first day La Spinetta picked Moscato.
With a clear sky and lots of sunshine, punctually at 8:00 am (the Scandinavians beat the Swiss) the group met at La Spinetta winery in Castagnole delle Lanze. After a short introduction accompanied by some strong Italian espresso, the members armed with scissors, gloves and water went into the vineyards. The Moscato grapes to be picked that morning, were located in San Michele (Montegrosso d'Asti) a very nice downhill and south facing vineyard.
The members had to split up into 4 smaller groups led by Giorgio Rivetti, Giovanna Rivetti and Peter, Manuela and Eleonora Rivetti as well as Anja and Sania. They were shown how to cut the bunch of the vine, how to lay it in the basket, how to clean the bunch, if necessary from dried or squished fruit. No leaves were permitted in the baskets and it was explicitly explained that the basket should not be filled up to the top, in order to avoid a crushing of the fruit. When one basket was placed above the other for the transport to the winery, the filling level of the fruit was important. Rule number one at La Spinetta harvest, grapes have to arrive in whole at the winery to avoid any early oxidation.
Giovanna's group quickly proved to be the most efficient, by creating a type of train. The members were moving several baskets at the same time quickly along the row. Their technique was impressive, but did not stir up the other members who calmly continued their slow, but thorough harvest work.
After about 90 minutes of picking, almost everybody was sweating and it was the moment where one could clearly indentify the hard workers from the ones that appreciate a great bottle of wine, much more when drinking it. But much less, when they themselves physically had to experience, what hard work lay behind it. After two hours the majority of the group was ready to call it a day, at least what harvesting was concerned, while a small minority was disappointed that they already had to stop.
All the baskets were gathered by La Spinetta staff, loaded on a tractor, then on a van and finally transported to Castagnole Lanze cellar. The transport of the Moscato was in fact so fast, that the grapes were at the winery waiting to be crushed, before the members had arrived.
In less than 10 minutes the baskets were emptied, the fruit crushed, destemmed and pumped into the bladder press. The moment seemed too short for all the sweating the group had to endure earlier. Of course then the inevitable question was being asked. "How many bottles of Moscato will be the result ,of the groups' picking?" The answer, 600 bottles, which was not really a lot, if one considers that La Spinetta produces 220.000 bottles of Moscato per vintage.
After a very soft pressing process the Moscato juice was being pumped into auto clave tanks, closed tanks, that are used for the Moscato fermentation process. Anja explained to the group, how tricky and how much experience was needed in order to master a very long and slow fermentation, that extracts all the fruit and flower flavors of the grape. The 600 bottles of that morning, will be ready and available in less than four weeks…
The next important step of the day's itinerary, which the members seemed much more familiar with, was a lunch in form of a pick nick in the middle of the vineyards.
Giovanna and her team had prepared a beautiful table in La Spinetta's Barbera Bionzo vineyard. Despite the heat that the sun had created over the morning and with the help of two sun umbrellas and glasses of nicely chilled Contratto Millesimato, the members seemed to freshen up quickly. The noise and happiness level drastically increased with every bottle of wine that was opened.
Giovanna had prepared typical cold antipasti, cheeses and salumi. When absolutely no left-overs remained, Giovanna was sure, that the group had enjoyed the food.
After the hard work in the vineyard and the pick nick, the group retired to their hotels to freshen up for the early evening program. Just a small hard core group remained to return to La Spinetta cellar. Possibly for some more harvest work? Far from, as the group was set to "taste" more wines. Barolo Campe 2004 turned out to be one of the favorites.
Again very punctual, the members met at 5:30pm at CONTRATTO winery in Canelli. After a little Vermouth cocktail as an aperitif, Anja led everybody on a tour through the historic sparkling wine cellar, telling the story of Contratto. Mauro showed the group how he manually turns the bottles and Giorgio prided himself to open some CONTRATTO by sabering, first with a fancy sword, then with a mere spoon.
After some bubble refreshments, the members split up again. One group went to the kitchen with Massimo to prepare the appetizer, a tortino con pepperoni e fonduta. Another group helped Giovanna to make pasta and meat sauce for the primo and a third group watched Giorgio to make his famous chicken "alla cacciatore". Giorgio had been nervous all day, as he was used to cooking, but not in front of an audience. A fourth group, not so interested in preparing food (which did not mean, that they were not interested in eating, what the others were preparing) returned with Anja and Mauro into the depth of Contratto cellar and started a competition of who could best master the dégorgement à la volée, (manual disgorging of the bottles). Of course Mauro as the teacher and the master won and everybody else had to realize that even with luck the result was far from good. Nobody could compete with the master.
At 8:00pm dinner was ready and the group retreated to a delicious home cooked meal accompanied by the new 2010 vintage releases of all One Liters. Lots of very good food the groups had prepared. Also Giorgio's "pollo alla cacciatore" had turned out well, despite the earlier nervousness of the "Chef" and the peeking eyes of the members. Very lively conversations and lovely wines rounded up another joyful and special Hands On Day.
September 15th, 2012:
Twenty nine people from seven different countries with a common passion: Great Wines...
written by Ralf Beutler, OLC member, Switzerland
It's not easy to find Casanova della SPINETTA near Terricciola in Tuscany. Only a small wooden sign at the roadside – imprinted with the Rhino by Albrecht Dürer – shows the way to the winery. Accordingly, Barbara and I were very glad – that we had already arrived the night before and scouted the area near Terricciola. So we were able to start the One Liter Club event "Harvesting Sangiovese at Casanova della SPINETTA" on Saturday 15th of September stress-free and on time.
By about 8:30, everyone had arrived - 29 people from 7 different countries. Norway, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Finland, UK and Switzerland. With a common passion – great wines.
Invigorated by strong Italian espresso we sat at different tables and listened intently to the warm welcome speech held by Anja. But in the back of my head the burning question: How is it going to be – this day? This day - to which Barbara and I had been looking forward so much? This day - for which we had specially shortened our vacation on Elba?
Anja is telling us why a Piedmont family set foot in Tuscany and started to make Tuscan wine, and gives us a short summary of the day's agenda. All sounded extremely exciting to me. Then the presence of Giorgio Rivetti – with bright eyes, he declares his love for indigenous varieties. In Piedmont the Moscato, Barbera and Nebbiolo, and here in Tuscany the Sangiovese and Vermentino grape. He is not talking about Cabernet or Merlot – and in fact criticises his winemaker colleagues who have replanted Tuscan vineyards with international varieties taking out old Sangiovese. He explains the situation, when he came to Tuscany for the first time. He had a vision - a dream. Together with his brothers and the whole crew of LA SPINETTA, he turned this dream into reality. Vines were planted and a winery was built. Anja and Giorgio take turns telling the story. They are joking, gesturing and arguing. As a listener, the two have drawn me completely under their spell. This day can only turn out great, I thought. And I soon was proved right ....
Armed with a bottle of water and a pair of scissors, we set off to the vineyard, - which luckily is located right in front of the cellar. Under blue skies we strolled along the olive trees, where Giorgio started to teach us actually how quality olive oil is being made. Did you know that olives have to be picked early to produce good oil? Did you know that subsequently a lot of manual work is necessary, and that the olives must not be shaken down from the trees? Quality - that is the highest creed. After those words, this is clear to all of us. But now it was time to harvest the Sangiovese grapes.
Under expert instruction by Giorgio, Anja, Giovanna, Giorgio's sister, and Valter, Giovanna's son, we went to work full of energy. Dried and shrivelled grapes had to be removed prior to putting the bunches carefully into small plastic boxes. Boxes with holes - so the fruit was well ventilated. It is very important that the selection of the grapes is done in the vineyard. This is due to the fact that there is no selection or elimination afterwards. What would it be like to harvest Nebbiolo in Piedmont for a Riserva Barolo Campè?
Back to work. It quickly becomes apparent - and one begins to wonder - how few grapes hang on the vines. But they are incredibly delicious. Really. They are ripe, insanely intense in flavor, very sweet and fruity. I never thought that Sangiovese grapes would taste so mouth-watering. A brilliant experience. Fairly quickly, we finished our work. Then it was time to load all the boxes onto the tractor. Happy and proud we went back on the road. Still full of adrenaline, we surely could have harvested some more rows. Everybody seemed content and energized - no wonder with this beautiful weather, the nice OLC members and Giorgio and his family. While harvesting, Nadine Weihgold joined us. Barbara and I met her for the first time at Contratto in Spring 2012 - and saw her again at a wine tasting in Switzerland shortly before the holidays. The welcome here in Tuscany was very friendly and hospitable. Super.
But how is wine made? What is going to happen to the grapes that we had picked? First it was necessary to separate the fruit from their stems. The grapes box by box were emptied into a special machine, a crusher. At the same step, the boxes were being cleaned, run through a small washing machine and set up to dry. Aha - this was the reason why the boxes were so clean initially when we started picking. The focus on quality at LA SPINETTA does not stop at those harvest cases, either.
The stems were being removed, the fruit crushed (grapes were being broken, for the juice to flow) and then everything, fruit, skins, juice and seeds were being moved into a large horizontal steel tank using a special pump. For me, it was amazing to see how carefully the fruit was being treated. The discarded stems were neither bent nor damaged. On the contrary, a very clean separation was achieved. Almost like plucking the berries from the stems by hand. Only much faster.
Now what followed, was a lot of information and explaining of the procedures in the cellar. Giorgio devoted a lot of time to demonstrate and explain the various processes to us. He emphasized the importance of modern technology. For example: the impact of using Rotofermentors instead of vertical normal steal tanks for the mazeration. Formerly, the mash, a mixture of fruit, seeds, skins and juice had to be stirred over and over, as the CO2 from the fermentation would float up the tank moving all solids to the tank surface and creating a cap, that made a good color and fruit extraction impossible. Stirring or pumping over the tank is work intensive and should be done 24 hours . The use of a Rotofermentor eliminates the necessity of stirring and pump-overs. The horizontal tank has internal mixing paddles. Temperature and mixing speed can be adjusted and are being defined by Giorgio. While we were mesmerized with all this technology, Giorgio felt the need to again make us aware, that good wine cannot be made solely in the cellar. The most important work takes place in the vineyard. Giorgio - the farmer. Yes, it had become clear to all of us. It's like cooking. With bad ingredients, even a 3 star Michelin chef can't cook a first class menu. It doesn't matter if the kitchen glares like a diamond and is equipped with the best tools available. Speaking of "glaring". The wine cellar was incredibly clean. Giorgio told us that this was not specifically done for people visiting the cellar, like today. No – a cellar had to be clean from the floors to all of its equipment at all times.
Slowly we started to feel a bit of hunger. We sure had worked on our appetite. Outside, the final preparations for lunch were being made. Plates, glasses and cutlery were distributed on the red and white tablecloths. There was a feeling of anticipation - or rather the growling noise my stomach was making? We gathered comfortably around the tables with a superb view over the Tuscan countryside. On the table ripe tomatoes, bread, Russian salad, marinated chicken, delicious salami. Of course there was the olive oil, that we had learned about. Delicious. Simple. Perfect. Oh - and of course there was ...bottled water, with and without gas, but you certainly were expecting me to write about... There was wine and of that enough... We started with the varietal Vermentino. A fruity fragrance. Do we recognize pears and even hay? A juicy and elegant wine with a fine acidity. Soon the first red wine to taste.
The "Il Colorino" is, as its name suggests, produced to 100% of the Colorino grape. Actually known as a secondary component for a Chianti. A whole new taste sensation. Then we continued with the Chianti and "Il Gentile". The "Il Gentile" I find to be a very smooth and mature wine. As explained to us, it is a wine of Prugnolo-Gentile grapes, a Sangiovese clone that is normally only found in Montepulciano. But the firework of wonderful wines was far from over.
We were treated to samplings of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Sassontino vintages. A wine - which is not yet commercially available. How does it taste? It's a poem. A symphony of different impressions. A powerful, intense but very elegant wine. A wine made from grapes of 30years old vines. Single vineyard. I was sitting here with my partner - surrounded by wine lovers, Giorgio, Anja, Nadine, Giovanna and all the helpers. In the glass a brilliant wine from Tuscany, accompanied on the plate by delicious dishes and bread with olive oil. Around us, as far as the eye can see, hills, vineyards, historic villages. A dream had come true.
After hours of "tasting", enjoying and philosophizing, we had made our way back into the wine cellar. Mirko Bessi, Giorgio's assistant winemaker and the sole of Casanova winery, explained to us in detail each step of the winemaking process. Very valuable was the opportunity to taste grape juice/wine in different stages of fermentation. The fresh pressed juice of the grapes which we had picked in the morning was very sweet and delicious. The very cloudy juice after first fermentation was rather sour, strong and bitter. To me it seemed nearly impossible - that it soon will be a truly brilliant wine. In between Giorgio always found time to answer our questions. as unusual as some of them may have seemed to him. In addition, we had a chance to try a special new wine from the tank, the new rosé. Rosé - a trend which, according to Giorgio, is essential to pursue.
At around 4:00pm we were given the opportunity to return to our hotel or agritourismo to refresh and take a break, with the prospect of yet another meal and more wines over dinner at the winery.
Relaxed and with work clothes exchanged for comfortable evening attire, we arrived around half past seven back to Casanova. We raised our glasses with Contratto Millesimato and saluted to the other wine enthusiasts. In a toast to an exciting and very informative day. While the sun was slowly setting over the Tuscan hills, I was looking forward to dinner. A cross-tasting of Sezzana 2009 down to 2003 as well as a Bistecca Fiorentina were touted as highlights. Whether it was a highlight? You will find out immediately.
Back in the winery's tasting room, the tireless helpers were toiling again. The tables set up nicely, and the different Sezzana bottles lined up for all to admire immediately caught my eye.
Nadine tasted the wines. No cork taint or other wine faults should diminish the joy of this experience. I'm curious. In the hall, it smells deliciously of food already. Prepared by the crew of the Ristorante Castero-La Banca della Bistecca from Lari - a friend of Giorgio. Before the first course is served, Giorgio thanks everyone. But I must say - the gratitude is clearly on our side. Then the first course. Papa di Pomodoro. Those were small bread crumbs in a tomato sauce. A simple but very tasty dish. Ripe tomatoes were the key. I'm sure about that. 2009 was being poured. This wine was powerful, yet bitter and tannic. Enjoyment for me was out of the question. It was clear that this wine must be stored for some more years until the tannins soften and power turns to elegance. We continue with the vintages of 2008, 2007 and 2006. Slowly but surely, the wine moved into a more ready, more approachable direction . I'm convinced that these younger vintages will become brilliant wines one day. For the second course we were served trippa la toscana (tripe). A not so common dish to be served in a fixed menu. I have difficulty remembering when I last had tripe. Probably at some point in my childhood. My expectations were more than exceeded. Generally, I'm not much of a fish lover, so when I heard - stoccafisso (stockfish) for the next course, my enthusiasm was small, yet, amazingly, I liked also this dish. Now it was the turn of the vintages of 2005 to 2003 Sezzana. The 2003 was served to us from a Magnum. As far as my personal taste was concerned, I was especially taken with the powerful and robust 2005 as well as the rather delicate and sophisticated 2004. The scent of grilled food took hold. Then they were served - the Bistecca Fiorentina which had been grilled outside over hot coals by expert hands and were garnished with plenty of olive oil. The steaks were perfect, and for me as a true meat lover, "medium-rare" was on the spot. A feast for the palate. Brilliant Sangiovese & perfect Fiorentina steak, the best Tuscany had to offer.
It got later and later. To round off the evening, another glass of "Contratto De Miranda" and Cantucci.
The clock was striking midnight, a few of us started to set off, all with a smile on their face. A few more souvenirs were bought to remember this wonderful day.
For Barbara and me, it also meant slowly but surely saying goodbye. We bought some oil and wine, but one thing I knew for sure - the taste of Sassontino from lunch left me no peace. Once it will officially be available, I need to get hold of it. That much is certain.
Now we had to say "GRAZIE e ARRIVEDERCI". Thank you La Spinetta for a memorable and perfectly organized day. Thank you, Giorgio Rivetti - a man with an incredible presence, to whom I could listen for hours. Thank you for a day in which I had learnt a lot. Thank you for good food, the company of other very nice wine lovers - and a perfect weather and picturesque landscape of Tuscany.
Saturday, May 26th, 2012:
Hands on Day Champagne:
written by Elan Whetten, OLC member, Milan
Wine, and the world that surrounds it, continuously amazes me. Whether it's making wine, drinking, buying selling, talking or writing about it, this libation is fascinating. I often find myself in situations that seem like they've been plucked directly out of a movie or book, those things you only hear about in stories. This weekend was one of those situations. With 14 fellow wine lovers, I found myself in the cellars of Contratto, an historic winery with claim to the first "Metodo Classico" production in Italy, a.k.a. Italian Champagne. Hidden away in Canelli, not far from the more glamorous Piedmont wines destinations Barolo and Barbaresco, the estate is one of the few remaining gems in a quiet, almost forgotten, town that enjoyed its grandeur nearly a century ago. After decades of international success, the Contratto cellar encountered severe economic difficulties, forcing the founding family to sell, the estate ending up in the hands of a local grappa producing family, Bocchino. Since last year, Contratto has found a new home in the portfolio of La Spinetta. This weekend was confirmation that Giorgio Rivetti and his team have brought the same dedicated passion for the wines of La Spinetta to the bubbles of Contratto.
The Saturday event was organized for members of La Spinetta's One-Liter Club. The Club is composed of wine lovers from all around the world and Saturday's event hosted guests from Sweden, United States, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark just to name a few. Such events are a way for the winery to stay in touch with their most passionate wine lovers from all corners of the globe, and this Spring's event marked the 4th edition of the "Hands-On" day at La Spinetta. In Italy, particularly in Piedmont, La Spinetta is truly leaps and bounds ahead in the area, really understanding the value of every day wine lovers, like you and me.
The day was meticulously organized, thanks largely to the German influence in the Rivetti family. Giorgio's talented other half, Anja, ably ensured that every moment of the event proceeded effortlessly, organizing an informative, unique, and an incredibly enjoyable day.
The first session was dedicated to an introduction to Champagne, or the production of sparkling wine following the Champenoise method – "Metodo Classico" in Italian (the French are quite protective of their official denomination), and the history of the Contratto cellar. The winery was founded in 1867 by Giuseppe Contratto and originally the wines produced here were "Moscato Champagne," that is, traditional method sparklers made from the local Moscato grape, a variety now well-known thanks to the delicious fizzy sweet wine (produced using the Charmat method) that has taken the world by storm in the last couple of years. Gradually more traditional Champagne grape varieties were introduced, namely Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The winery has gone through ups and downs, but now in the able hands of La Spinetta, the focus is clearly the production of extremely high quality wines that can compete with the world's best bubbles.
Following the introduction, Mauro Ferrero, Contratto veteran and expert in all things sparkling, enthusiastically shared his 34 year experience at Contratto with the group, guiding us in a tour of the magnificent underground cellar, which was actually built (by hand) into the tuff rock hillside. The cellar descends a maximum of 32 meters under ground into sort of an underground cathedral, with vaulted ceilings and a museum-like precision and tranquility. The first "hands-on" activity of the day was the transportation of bottles of 2008 Brut, having already spent three years aging on their lees, to pupitres, A-shaped wooden racks that hold the bottles at roughly a 45° angle. The bottles actually start in an almost horizontal position (ideally, that is – those our group moved ended up in all different directions…) and are riddled daily to gradually increase the angle, allowing the sediments to move toward the neck and cap of the bottle. We attempted riddling, or remouage, as well, giving the bottles a slight shake and (counterclockwise) rotation and dropping them back into the pupitres. Most Champagne houses have turned to mechanized equipment due to high labor costs, but at Contratto, Mauro still riddles each bottle by hand. I asked him how many bottles per day he turns, and he said he's been timed at 18,000 bottles per day, but the average is usually about 10-12,000 – wow in any case! It was amazing to watch his hands move in back and forth, up and down in completely automatic motions. Mauro says that riddling is his meditation.
The last activity before lunch was dégorgement à la volée, or manual disgorging of the bottles. Up until La Spinetta stepped in, this tricky procedure was still carried out by hand. The objective of disgorging is to remove the lees (leaving a clear wine) without losing much of the liquid. There is a special box with an opening at the front, and a tub underneath to catch the lost wine, into which the bottle is opened (like a beer bottle), shooting out the lees and a bit of liquid. The trick is to cover the bottle opening as soon as possible with your finger to avoid losing precious wine…and years of work. There is a lot of pressure in a bottle of sparkling wine, about 6 bars, so it's essential to pay close attention. I tested my own dégorgement skills, but admittedly with rather unsatisfactory results, losing about half a bottle of Champagne. Needless to say, Mauro was not impressed…
After all this hard work…lunch, of course. Giorgio's sister Giovanna prepared an easy, fresh buffet-style lunch with oysters from Bretagne (perhaps not typically Piedmontese, but delicious nonetheless and a legendary partner for sparkling wines), fresh veggies from the garden, insalata russa, cheese, carne cruda, and steamed asparagus. All this goodness was accompanied by the 2008 Contratto For England (a pas dosé Pinot Noir/Chardonnay sparkler originally created for the, at the time, incredibly important English market who preferred very dry, low sugar wines), La Spinetta Sauvignon Blanc, and a Vermentino from their Casanova Winery in Tuscany. A glass of slightly sweet Contratto Bacco d'Oro paired perfectly with fresh strawberries (I imagine from Giovanna's garden as well) and Tuscan cantucci.
Post-pranzo, we experienced the more modern side of the production, disgorging bottles à la glace. Bottles are placed cap side down into an alcohol solution at –28°C that freezes the neck and then shoots out the ice plug, immediately followed by dosage, or the addition of the liqueur d'expédition, a secret blend of base wine, sugar and often Cognac. Bottles are corked, caged and washed/dried and left to rest an additional few months before being released on the market in order to allow the dosage to integrate fully with the wine.
Finally, tasting. Andrea Rivetti, Giorgio's son and winemaker at Contratto, organized a fantastic blind tasting of three different flights (Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé) for 12 different sparklers from France and Italy. Tasting blind is always interesting to me, and once the labels were revealed, Contratto clearly held it's own among the group. We finished with a tasting of various levels of dosage of the same wine to understand the influence on the final product.
Our tastebuds were pretty worn out by the end of the day, and thankfully Anja had knowingly worked in a two-hour break before the appointment back at the winery for the final aperitivo and dinner.
The event concluded with a dinner in the vaulted cellar, where the chandeliers were lit with actual candles. The whole set up was incredibly swanky, but even more appreciated when I discovered that the kitchen was not at all near that fabulous table – lots of work for our incredible hosts and hostesses. Giorgio prepared the first dish, a warm seafood salad, perfectly paired with two La Spinetta whites, the Sauvignon and the Chardonnay Lidia. The main course was fritto misto, a traditional Piedmontese delicacy that usually includes all the most random parts of the animal you don't generally think about eating – liver, kidneys, etc. – battered and fried. I happen to be a pescetarian (a vegetarian that eats fish, the term actually exists, I promise), so I skipped the fritto and headed straight for the cheese selection, which I have to admit went very nicely with the extensive selection of red wines that continued to fill my glasses: Barbera d'Asti Bionzo 2009, Cocito Barbaresco Riserva 2003 (Ezio Cocito is a long-time friend of Giorgio – in exchange for the use of the La Spinetta cellar and Giorgio's consultation, Ezio takes care of Giorgio's horses!), Barbaresco Starderi 2003, Barolo Campè 2008 and Barolo Campè 2000.
I generally enjoy La Spinetta wines, but sipping a Barolo in the vaulted cellar by candlelight together with the winemaker, his family and a group of fellow wine lovers is pretty over the top. Lively conversation, rounds of reciprocal toasts and exchanging of wine stories drew to a close just before midnight. Grazie mille and great compliments to all the La Spinetta – Contratto team for an amazing wine lover's day. See you next year…
Saturday, July 9th, 2011:
Hands On Day Green Harvest:
written by La Spinetta
It may seem as if La Spinetta has a direct line to the weather gods: also the latest La Spinetta One Liter Club Hands-On Day on July 9, 2011 was held in glorious sunshine. Twenty-one One Liter Club members came to our winery on a beautiful July weekend to help with the green harvest, and join us for a day of celebration.
The green harvest is done in midsummer when the grapes are still unripe, hard, grass-green berries, though already filling out into bunches. We were working in our Campe Barolo vineyard, where the Nebbiolo grapes were already hanging heavily in their characteristic shape of a long middle strand with two smaller side bunches or 'ears'. Green harvest is a method to control – meaning reduce – the yield of a vine and a vineyard. At this point in the growing season, if some of the fruit is removed, the vine will not be able to produce more bunches, and so it will concentrate all of its efforts into the remaining fruit, resulting in more flavourful grapes. Simply put, a vine plant can only process a certain amount of nutrients and produce a certain amount of flavour compounds. Having more fruit means distributing this amount of flavour between more grapes, which are then plumped up with more water. This in turn will mean diluted grape must to produce wine from – more, but more insipid and weak wine. Not the sort of quality that La Spinetta is aiming for.
At La Spinetta, we are happy to produce a smaller amount of wine of greater quality, and therefore, doing a rigorous green harvest is an important step in our winemaking process. We realized just how strict our yield control actually is when one year, a fellow winemaker in the area asked us if we could help out with their green harvest, as they were short a few hands. We were happy to do this favour to our neighbors, and sent over a few of our skilled vineyard workers for a couple of days. To our surprise, they came back to us on the second day:
used to the La Spinetta way, they had trimmed the grape bunches in the same thorough manner as they would in our Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards, resulting in a far greater yield reduction as our neighbours were used to…
Green harvesting is indeed an activity that requires skill and good judgement. The actual cutting of the grapes is a simple task, the only necessary thing to remember is not to touch the grapes that are to remain on the vine: these are covered with a fine layer of silky dust that protects the fruit a little from the sun's UV-rays. What is difficult with the green harvest is to decide how much to cut, and where. Simply counting the bunches is not enough, one must also consider the size and vigour of the vine for example: a hunched, gnarly grandfather of a vine will naturally have a limited production, for example. This is quite a lot of information to consider before making a decision – and quickly.
But it is made for every single vine in the La Spinetta vineyards, because the work in the vineyard is the most important, and is only enhanced, but never replaced by the work in our cellars. So we worked with Giovanna and her team along the lines of tall green vines until the sun was hot up in the sky, and it was time for lunch. Like the vineyard workers of old, we had our lunch at the ciabòt, the little stone hut up in the vineyard that is a typical sight in the Langhe hills.
We refreshed ourselves with delicious Piemontese snacks and of course, La Spinetta wines, and enjoyed the good company and conversation, before taking a deserved afternoon break.
As the sun started to set, we met up again, this time at the new winery of La Spinetta, the Contratto cellars at Canelli. After taking a tour of the beautiful historical cellars, where the new spumante wines of the La Spinetta portfolio are resting like sleeping beauties until their full maturation, we concluded the day with a festive dinner in the elegant dining rooms of the winery.
Saturday May 7th, 2011:
Warm sunshine, cool cellars and handmade agnolotti...
written by La Spinetta
We held the second Hands-On Day at La Spinetta, on a gorgeous warm and sunny spring day here in the Langhe. Fourteen One Liter Club members joined us this time, and once more, it was a wonderful and fun day that we enjoyed greatly.
Early in the morning, while it was still fairly cool, we watched Giorgio and Moro, our Belgian horse, plough a furrow along each vinerow to clean the space under the plants and help them to grow more easily. Then, in the sunny courtyard of our Campe winery in Grinzane Cavour (Barolo), Anja introduced the team and the winery.
Giovanna, our vineyard manager, explained to us her work in the vineyard, and how she is taking care of the vines throughout the year, from the first sprouting to preparing the plants for their winter rest. Then she took us to the vineyard – the Barolo vineyard of Campe – where we were able to try our own hands on the scusulé, the trimming of excessive leaf growth and cleaning up the vines. Giovanna showed us what to do: with a swift movement she took off the leaves below the just about recognizable tiny bunches of grapes, and broke away the double-branches and extra shoots. "It has to look like a window display, all neat and clean," she explained. "Now you do it."
How hard it was suddenly to decide for ourselves how much was right and how much was 'troppo, troppo' as Giovanna called it! But after the first timid moves – taking off a leaf at a time, and having it checked again by Giovanna and Giorgio – the club members soon began to move ahead more quickly, and even gain some praise from the keenly observing Giovanna.
For lunch, we went to the wonderful Osteria del Vignaiolo in Santa Maria (La Morra), a little township right in the middle of the Barolo zone. On the shaded terrace we ate Piemontese specialties prepared with the special light touch of the Osteria, accompanied by La Spinetta Toscana Vermentino 2009 and Barbera Gallina 2008 (of course from One Liter Bottles!).
In the afternoon, we visited the La Spinetta winery at Castagnole Lanze, where we were able to try some La Spinetta Barbera d'Asti Superiore Bionzo straight from the cask – an unusual experience to taste the young and fresh fruit that is still getting acquainted with the vigorous tannins and vanilla flavour of the oak.
Then we went to Canelli in the Asti region where we got a first introduction to the new La Spinetta project: the venerable Contratto winery with its great underground cellars full of slumbering spumante bottles. Mauro, the cellar master, showed us his skillful work of riddling the bottles to catch the sediment and finally disgorging it to leave behind only brilliant clear spumante wine. We also tasted the first La Spinetta/Contratto wines, to be released this June: a lively Blanc de Blanc from Chardonnay grapes, and a delicious and elegant Rosé of Pinot Nero grapes that managed to enchant even more than the stunning surroundings of the Contratto cellars.
As usual, an informal dinner at the Campe winery rounded off the day – relaxed and simple but sumptious all the same. Giovanna's handmade agnolotti that she was shaping as we were arriving for the meal were served in Piemontese tradition without sauce in pristine linen napkins. The La Spinetta wines accompanied the dinner perfectly, right down to the Chardonnay Lidia with the tasty local artisan cheeses.
Once more it has been wonderful to get to know our club members a little and to be able to share the passion and dedication for our work. We at La Spinetta are already looking forward to the next Hands-On Day on Saturday July 9, 2011.
There are still some places available for the Hands-On Day in July. On the day, we will be doing the Green Harvest in the vineyard: removing excessive bunches of grapes to let the vine concentrate all its efforts into a few select bunches. The dinner will be held for the first time in the elegant dining rooms of the Contratto winery in Canelli.
Saturday, September 4th, 2010:
Hands On Day, the very first one....
written by La Spinetta
Our first La Spinetta One Liter Club event, the La Spinetta Hands-On day, was held last Saturday. 42 enthusiastic wine lovers and members of the Club from 10 different countries joined us on this exciting and fun day.
The Moscato grapes had ripened just right, despite a cool period two weeks earlier, and the good weather promised to hold out for another bit. A blue sky and warm sunshine greeted our visitors as they arrived at the winery in Castagnole Lanze in the morning, where they met Giorgio, Giovanna and the rest of the La Spinetta staff.
After a brief tour of the cellar and facilities, we headed out to our Biancospino vineyard, not far from the winery, and, divided in four groups, began the grape harvest. Giovanna and Giorgio explained the work: Harvesting grapes is not a singular work, you work in a group along a row, two to a basket. Each bunch of the plump juicy Moscato grapes has to be laid carefully into the basket, after taking off leaves and any shriveled or rotten grapes. There weren't that many bad grapes, but since Giovanna advised that the best way to assure they're good is to try them, many random quality checks were done!
The sun was warm and the hill was steep, but our enthusiastic helpers managed to pick more than a tractor-load full, which we then destemmed and put into the press. The group proved to be not just hands-on but also curious, listening intently to Giorgio's and Manuela's explanations and asking many interested questions.
A good morning's work made us hungry for lunch, and the generous picnic of Piemontese antipasti and Tuscan La Spinetta wines laid out on a big table under a chestnut tree was more than welcome. A friend of the family joined us with his guitar and sang Italian and Piemontese songs.
After a relaxing lunch overlooking hills and vineyards, Manuela and Eleonora took us on a walk through the Gallina vineyard in Neive, to see the Nebbiolo and Barbera vines ripen in sight of the tower of Barbaresco.
The day was crowned with a celebratory dinner. The traditional aperitivo, the start of any Piemontese evening, was laid out right in the middle of the La Spinetta Campé Barolo vineyard, and we toasted as the sun set over the rolling hills of the Langhe, striped with vineyards beneath sturdy castles and little towns.
Then a Piemontese feast awaited us at the winery. From carne cruda to vitello tonnato, tajarin al ragù and coniglio al forno to cheese and fresh peaches, the dishes were mouthwateringly good, and matched perfectly, of course, with La Spinetta wines from Piemonte. Fun was also the blind tasting with wines brought along by our club members.
It was the perfect ending to a great day of sharing our passion and enthusiasm with many like-minded wonderful people – our La Spinetta One Liter Club members!
LA SPINETTA S.S. / Via Annunziata 17 / 14054 Castagnole Lanze / Tel: 0141 877396 / firstname.lastname@example.org