With the 2011 release, the Vietti family’s Barolo Rocche di Castiglione celebrated its fiftieth year. It is an important occasion, especially if we consider the stunning changes that have taken place over this half century not only in the Langhe in terms of climate, style, business, and landscape, but also the parallel revolution in the world of Italian wine in general. Above all, we must consider where we started from. Fifty years ago, the Langhe existed in a sort of productive Middle Ages. But a few big bottlers and a few quality producers made the difference, and today we can rightfully call them the "Pioneer Barolo Boys".
The Pioneer Barolo Boys
They were capable, determined, passionate, and bonded by an extraordinary understanding of their own territory and a precise vision of what needed to be done. Alfredo Currado, who was the first to vinify and separately bottle the grapes of this cru, had vision. “His decision was obstructed at every turn. I can’t even believe it when I think about it now,” Luciana Vietti says. “When my husband proposed the idea, they thought he was crazy. Or worse. They tried to make him change his mind, saying Barolo was a blended wine, an assemblage, we would call it today. I think it was just that conviction, that obstinate certainty that convinced my husband to follow his own path.” So 1961 was an important vintage year in the Vietti-Currado household. It was the first harvest Alfredo personally managed. “My father, and before him my father’s father, and so on since 1873, when it all began, always personally ran their own estate. My husband, who was an enologist and had already worked in some wineries in Canelli, began consulting here in 1958, two years after we were married. Actually, it was really because we were married, since even though the estate needed an enologist, my father didn’t want to spend any money. But when my father died, my husband could make the decisions he believed to be right. Like bottling the cru, or using the labels by Gianni Gallo, which were very controversial at first. Later, everyone adored them.”
Vietti's vinification methods
Rocche di Castiglione is a long and narrow vineyard of about eight hectares that follows the Alba Dogliani provincial road. It faces southeast, has thin, loose soil layered with strata of tufo that can vary a great deal within the same plot of land. The Vietti family has about a hectare, 4,000 vines from which they can make 3,600 to 4,000 bottles annually. Vinification is traditional, above all as regards maceration. “We do what are considered long macerations,” says Luca Currado. He, his wife Elena and his brother-in-law Mario Cordero are presently in charge of the winery. “After the 1960s, we went to macerations of about four weeks, which can extend as long as forty days, depending on the year. Our system is called submerged cap, that is with the cap (the solid part of the grapes that is naturally pushed up by the carbon dioxide developing during fermentation) immersed in the liquid.” Malolactic fermentation takes place in barriques that are used for about four weeks over seven to eight years. Then the wine is transferred to 33-hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels where it stays for over two and a half years. “Villero is our most important wine, but we are deeply committed to Rocche di Castiglione, not only because the cru gives extraordinary wines, but because it represents our first step towards the logic of cru that made the Langhe what we all see today, a territory that is complex and richly multi-faceted.”
The tasting was a marvelous occasion that reached back in time until it touched the first vintage year produced of this cru – 1961. Unfortunately that bottle, like those of 1966 and of 1971, was corked. Nevertheless, we thank the Vietti family for opening these unique bottles for us.
text by Eleonora Guerini
photograph by Dario Bragaglia