Pinot Nero Harvesting- check out that steep slope. Back-breaking.
Imagine the most French-sounding Italians ever, clinging to the steep slopes of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain peak in the Alpine chain, fearlessly daring to grow grapes and make wines in the most inhospitable and vertically challenging place ever. This is what goes through my mind when I think about viticulture in Valle d’Aosta.
This region in Italy is known for a style of wine we love at A.I. Selections; floral, pretty, racing lightning-like acidity throughout, with clean fruit and balance. Sadly there are few wineries in this region, and the ones that exist are often extremely small. This kind of scarcity makes the conservation of the region’s agricultural practices critical to the preservation of history of the Valley. Thankfully a group was formed called the Institut Agricole Régional (IAR), whose mission is to ensure the local agrarian practices are not lost. IAR is not just a winery- it’s an entire winemaking and agricultural University.
IAR was established in 1951 as a professional agricultural program, designed to preserve the indigenous Valle d’Aosta agrarian products (vegetables, fruits, cheese, wine), and to teach the next generation as well. Master winemakers and professors work both in the fields and in the lab. A large part of the group’s focus is also on genetically identifying the many indigenous grape varietals. IAR is responsible for determining the origins and traits of many clones and phenotypes of vitis vinifera. The research alone is invaluable, but the wines that result from this fully functioning winery are nothing short of spectacular.
We met with a few representatives of IAR during Vinitaly this past year, and it was an eye-opening experience. Just tasting these almost-forgotten wines made from obscure and quasi-extinct grapes is enough to make your head spin. Petit Rouge. Mayolet. Nus Malvoisie. Vuillermin. Fumin. Exotic-sounding, reminiscent of the region’s French/ Swiss heritage, and foreign enough to be totally enthralling by name alone.
Rows of Petie Arvine.
The wine-making is well-researched and professional, as you’d expect from a group of academics, but thankfully the wines have soul. Not hard to believe- as growing grapes here (growing anything here) is nothing short of a labor of love. There’s no other way to describe it. There are also some aromatic qualities that float across the varietals- these wines smell like the mountains they come from. They are rich with wildflowers and icy minerality and dark, dusky iron bitterness. There is a restrained fruit that recalls the strength of the sunshine that must penetrate easily at such altitudes, and that long, slow ripening process is also evident, thanks to the winds, the protection of the mountains, and the crisp mountain air.