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Cascina delle Rose: big ideas and incremental change

Amidst a prototypical winter, marked by ample snowfall and adequately cold temperatures, pruning is well underway at Cascina delle Rose. The family work the same land today, bar half a hectare in Neive, that they have owned for a little over 70 years. Today, brothers Davide and Riccardo, under the watchful gaze of their parents, Giovanna and Italo, spearhead the steady, consistent evolution of this outstanding Piedmontese estate. In 1983, having felt disenfranchised with the textile industry, Giovanna, fiercely determined and eager to carve out her own path, saved a portion of her income and purchased the family estate from her parents. Having released her first Barbaresco in 1992, Giovanna, herself an autodidact, was working in the vines, raising children, and planning to open apartments on the family property. The locals, then a typically individualistic and often cynical people, rarely offered her assistance. A break came In 2004 with Davide joining the business full time, followed by his father, Italo, in 2007. Consequently, the estate grew in terms of both the size of its workforce and its overall quality. Today, the estate produces less than 30,000 bottles annually, and though not having grown in size, Cascina delle Rose has steadily but surely refined both their farming and winemaking. The resulting wines deliver finesse and elegance in abundance. I spoke with Riccardo Sobrino of Cascina delle Rose about the estate’s origins, the families philosophy of and the future for both them and the region.

Much appreciation to Luca at Passione Vino for kindly providing wines to support this interview.

In 1948, following the turmoil of the Second World War, Riccardo’s great grandparents, mill owners in Alba, sought to purchase a summer house where they and their family could escape Alba’s blistering summer heat. Their eventual property purchase included an impressive landholding with vineyards in Rio Sordo, which the Produttori del Barbaresco have bottled as single-vineyard since 1978. Italian law at the time meant that the family farming the 5.5ha estate, the majority of which (0.5ha to hazelnuts) was planted to vines, shared the yield following each harvest. With no desire to work the land themselves, this arrangement suited the couple perfectly.

Though retaining only a small domestic production for themselves, Riccardo’s great grandparents were wine lovers. Following their death, ownership of the estate passed to their children, Giovanna’s mother and father, themselves less interested in wine. Until the 1980s, winegrowing in the Langhe was a labour of love, post-1980 its wines received little global acclaim, many of the regions farmers were too poor to rely solely on viticulture. With this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that Giovanna’s parents had little inclination to pursue what may well have seemed a fruitless endeavour. As was the common desire at the time, the pair encouraged their daughter to pursue a career in the city, to leave the Langhe in search of prosperity.

Riccardo tells me that for what she lacks in size, his mother more than makes up for in character, vision and work ethic. Having found employment in the textile industry, she began to feel stifled. Following a period of intense study, fuelled by a growing disdain for the city, by 1984 Giovanna had saved enough money to purchase her parent’s property. She immediately set about establishing Cascina delle Rose as an independent producer and by 1992 had released her first Barbaresco. Demonstrating a sensibility beyond her time, she had opted against the use of herbicides fairly early, instead opting to treat the vines as delicately as she would her children. Riccardo and his brother Davide were born several years apart, Davide in 1987 and Riccardo in 1992. Just a year after her second child had been born, Giovanna opened a series of apartments, again demonstrating acute foresight. Though the locals thought she was crazy, many of them shocked to see a woman pruning, it was impossible for them to downplay Giovanna’s achievements.

Until 2007, Giovanna’s husband, Italo, had maintained full-time work in the textile industry. Despite this, Riccardo recalls both of his parents working every hour the day allowed, his father returning home and joining his mother in the vineyard. In 2004, after completing his oenology study, Davide joined the family business full time. In 2007, the pair’s father also left his job in the city, the draw of the family business impossible to resist. Vast wholesale change has never been in vogue at Cascina delle Rose. Instead, this expansion in human capital set in motion a sustained, considered, and iterative elevation of the estate which to this day remains a hallmark of their philosophy.

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still

Until 2005 all of the families vineyards were classified as Rio Sordo, with the introduction of the MGA, and the enthusiastic encouragement of Cascina delle Rose, Tre Stelle gained independence. The family have three vineyards in Tre Stelle, each vinified and aged separately then blended before bottling. Riccardo tells me that his brother believes the clone growing in one of these sites is the now-rare Rosé Nebbiolo, a clone said to offer a lighter-coloured wine. The brothers also often dream of bottling a homage to the original Tre Stelle, blending their some of their holdings in Tre Stelle with the estate’s Rio Sordo. Interestingly, Riccardo also shares Pierguido Busso’s desire to work with Asili in the future

Fermentation is spontaneous and takes place in either steel or concrete, with the brothers preferring the cleanliness each offer. The Cascina delle Rose Langhe Nebbiolo never sees wood. Depending on vintage conditions, maceration takes places over 30-35 days. This has changed considerably over the past 15 years, previously duration would rarely exceed 15 days. Following a trend amongst the regions great winemakers, one perhaps made possible by improvements in both viticulture and better handling of fruit, they favour longer gentle extraction.

The brothers use a range of oak vessels depending on the site being vinified, the vessels range from 10-30hl. While there is no temperature control, their recent investment in extending the cellar now provides practical benefits in this regard, including natural humidity and lower ambient temperature. The family are also experimenting with a number of different barrel shapes, in the past, it had always been traditional large oak Botti from Garbellotto. While Garbellotto is indeed a reputable firm, the family sought an artisan, eventually settling on a Swiss firm offering oval-shaped barrels, similar to those seen in the cellars of many producers in the Mosel. The smaller circumference means that ageing can take place over a longer duration in contact with the lees without any unwanted stylistic or practical impacts.

Pumpovers are gentle, starting after 2-3 days followed by one pumpover a day until fermentation nears completing when pumpovers are reduced to one every 2-3 days. At this stage alcohol content is much higher meaning extraction would be too intense were pumpovers continued as regularly. Following this, there is a very gentle pneumatic pressing to reduce the requirement for filtration.

In 2016, having considered it for some time, the brothers chose to experiment with submerged cap. Given the families small annual production, this ‘experiment’ consisted of their entire Rio Sordo yield. The experiment tested their nerves with Marie Teresa Mascarello helping settle their nerves when they briefly believed a pungent green aroma would result in some difficult discussions with importers. A family friend produced an ‘iron net’ which the pair placed into their stainless steel tanks, submerging the cap. The result pleased the brothers, both having felt that it added a further dimension and structure. Multi-dimensionality is a theme running through the families wines, their Cascina delle Rose Barbera d’Alba is among the most exciting examples of Barbera I’ve tasted.

‘Agriculture is our wisest pursuit

In the vineyard, the families work has gotten progressively more meticulous and thoughtful, with a particular focus on pruning. The vines are now pruned to Guyot Poussard, a simple Guyot with two arms, one arm with a spur and another with a spur and a cane with the fruiting wood alternating each year. This method of pruning is said to improve vine health, potentially through a relationship with sap flow. Riccardo tells me this additional time spent pruning offers them an invaluable insight into their vineyards, allowing them to better understand the varying microclimates within their small plots. While green harvest was popular in the late 80s and 90s, Riccardo and Davide have significantly reduced the need for this, instead opting for a more balanced yield through pruning and viticulture.

Above and beyond exacting work in the vineyard, the family pay particular attention to reducing their consumption of water, electricity, and energy. Acknowledging the importance of sustaining the Langhe’s landscape for future generations, the brothers seek ever more ingenious ways to minimise their impact on the environment. They are in the process of installing solar panels and the water used for treatments and cleaning is not public, instead, it is taken from a well and from their own rainwater reservoirs.

Above all else, at Cascina delle Rose finesse, elegance and complexity are byproducts of demanding vineyard work. Riccardo notes that while one can add power and structure in the winery, healthy, balanced fruit is a prerequisite to achieving elegance. The family’s relatively small production sells in its entirety each year, thus their aims must transcend quantitative growth. Instead, their motivation is the constant and sustained pursuit of excellence. Among their peers, sharing enthusiasm and a worldly perspective, Davide and Riccardo will certainly elevate this revered estate to new heights in the coming decade.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Noel

    It’s really fascinating how a deeper understanding of the vines seems to contribute to a balanced yield and better product. Working with nature rather than subjugation appears to pay off!

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful story of Cascina delle Rose. Giovanna’s story was especially impressive.

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