Come to think of it, a blog on Italy simply wouldn’t be complete, if at some point, we didn’t mention one of the things our little boot is world-renowned for; the “nectar of the gods”, and the sheer pleasure which causes our taste buds to jump for joy when we treat ourselves to a glass (or two!) of delicious wine! Since a recent day out led us to discover a winery in the Piacenza area, what better time than this to fill the void, and describe our visit.
We had previously made an appointment for a wine-tasting session, so on our arrival at “Il Casello“, Mr Franco Rigolli was expecting us with a smile and a warm welcome. He was already very familiar with Valerie, our friend and owner of Villa Tre Angeli, because this winery is one of a long list of frequent destinations with her guests, whom she has taken there many times. Situated in the hamlet of Bacedasco Basso in the province of Piacenza, the winery lies amongst gentle hills facing the Po Valley, therefore, on an extremely fertile land. After our initial presentations, a pretty young lady made her appearance, introducing herself as Sofia, Mr Rigolli’s daughter, and veered us towards the nearest grapevines, behind the laboratory. Il Casello is, in fact, a third generation family-run business launched in the mid 50’s by Franco’s father, and currently carried forward with enthusiasm and passion, both of which were very apparent during Sofia’s interesting explanations. She told us that there are 45 acres of vineyards, at over 800ft above sea level, and described the cultivation methods used. The first row in front of us had already been prepared to rest for the winter, by means of a particular pruning technique; a main stem, already partially developed, is left on the vine, ready for spring of next year. Another stem, very skillfully selected, and less developed than the first, will become the principal one for the following year. All the grapevines gradually undergo the same treatment, in order to be perfectly healthy and rested for a new spurt of growth next season. A painstaking task, which must be carried out scrupulously by experts in the field, since an error can provoke an economic disaster. Sofia told us that the grapes are always harvested by hand, a job which employs a large number of workers. There was obvious pride in her demeanor, as she waved her arms in a flourish, to indicate the extension, and the beautiful autumn colors of her precious vineyards….
We were then led into the laboratory, where we saw an enormous wine press, empty and as clean as a new pin after the year’s production. A number of gigantic steel or fibreglass cisterns were lined up, full of the promising juice, silently creating their magic, while several operators went about their business around us. Sofia explained that different procedures are used, according to the kind of wine one wishes to produce. A still wine is subjected to a single period of fermentation in a fibreglass cistern, whilst sparkling wine receives a repeat run in the steel cisterns, in which temperature, pressure and other criteria are kept strictly under control.
Another interesting fact, which one doesn’t usually stop to consider, is that all juice – be it from white grapes or red – is “white”. So how does red wine turn red?! The press separates the juice from the skins and the stalks, but neither are discarded……the latter and part of the skins are sent off to the distillery, destined to be transformed into grappa – a very typical italian spirit. The remaining skins are put to ferment with the juice, for a short length of time for rosé wine, whilst for reds, the period will be longer – hence the coloring. Then of course there is the all- important question of aging (or not!), since Il Casello produces wines of various seasonings, as well as the afore mentioned rosé, which is usually a relatively young wine.
At this point, the moment had come to finally experience some ourselves, and we were invited into what had once been a barn, but has long since been transformed into a welcoming dining/sitting area for guests. We were treated to a taste of a rosé and a red, accompanied by some delicious salame and Parmesan cheese. Sofia very graciously served us and sat with us, telling a little about herself, and her love for the family business. Last but not least, she offered us some homemade sweet “tortelli”, little packets of sweetcrust with a chocolate filling, to savour along with a “Passito” – a special dessert wine obtained through processing dried fruit, which releases an intense, sweet, aromatic flavour.
Then it was time to bid our goodbyes, but not before purchasing some examples to take home! The winery had definitely made a good impression, thanks to the manifest pride of the Rigolli family in their work, and of course the warm welcome we received from father and daughter.
Not sure we tasted them all though…….hmmm!!