Visiting Chiara Boschis and Claudia Cigliuti: organic farming and blind tasting

Returning to Piedmont was inevitable, my first visit in October of 2018 lit an unquenchable flame. The region is captivating. For many of the same reasons as Burgundy, wine lovers are drawn like moths to a flame. Generations of history, innovation, stylistic turmoil and nuanced intricacies between vineyard sites. Piedmont is also home to some of the most influential women in the world of wine and I was lucky enough to meet two of them this week.

Natural, organic and biodynamic. These practises/movements are snowballing, how much of this growth is fashion and trend is a discussion within itself. However, before there were hipsters, trends and pseudo-scientific woo woo there was Chiara Boschis and her well-grounded logic and ambition to innovate and preserve.

As the Barolo Boys forced change on the Langhe, tearing apart families and orchestrating a change which would shape the future of the region, a female joined their ranks. Chiara Boschis was the first female winemaker of the Langhe. Her charisma, passion, innovative approach and endearing personality have helped her forge a winery of iconic status.

When we arrived at the winery Chiara was manoeuvring a forklift truck laden with a pallet load of her wine. Chiara’s niece Vittoria showed us around the winery and guided us through a tasting of a range of Boschis’ wine. Before we left I played unashamed fanboy and asked for a photo with Piedmonts most powerful woman. Perhaps through good fortune, this photo led to great conversation, followed by Chiara walking us through the vineyards located behind her winery.

Chiara has always worked without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, preferring the sustainable path of integrated pest management. But in 2010 she decided to make it official and began conversion to be certified organic. The 2014 vintage was her first as certified; but she did not stop there. She started a project called Cannubi Bio, and has successfully all but 1 of the growers in Cannubi to work organically.

As we walked the vineyards, Chiara shared with us some of her preferred organic methodology. A whole host of bird boxes have been constructed throughout the vineyards, Chiara tells us she provided homes for these birds and in return they keep many pests at bay. Pictured above is an ingenious solution, which I have not witnessed before, to a particular pest problem. The device is laden with an organic aroma which causes approaching pests sexual confusion, deterring them from making a home out of her vines. Arguably the most impressive of her organic efforts came as we found a lone caterpillar exploring a vine, Chiara told me that the vineyards are swept and caterpillars removed by hand, this dedication to manual farming undoubtedly promotes an intense connection with the vineyard and its inhabitants.

Many a vintage in Piedmont has fallen victim to hail, as a result producers are now experimenting with netting (much to the dismay of UNESCO who have begrudingly dictated netting colour) Chiara is eager to explore the benefits of netting; however, what I found interesting was her hesitation to dive in and net entire plots, which has been the trend amongst many producers. Chiara has instead set up several micro-experiments of various netting solutions in order to better explore how the nets may impact working practise, this may also give her an advantage if any negative, unexpected consequences were to arise from the use of netting.

Meeting Chiara was nothing short of epic. I am inspired by her achievements and her wines are simply delicious. Her dedication and pioneering spirit in the realm of organic viticulture, without the need to make it the the focal point of her offering, is admirable and to be learned from.

Powerful women are far from rare in the Langhe. Moving from Barolo to Barbaresco we met with Claudia Cigliuti who showed us her winery, talked us through her Cru and even challenged us to a blind tasting. Claudia’s father, Renato Cigliuti, comes from four generations of farmers, principally this was his profession. Renato had always believed the soils of the Langhe were capable of producing great wine and in 1960, far before the Barolo Boys, he began green harvesting. Renato sought quality, and quality is what he got, producing his first vintage in 1964 with 300 bottles of Barbaresco. Over the years Renato did not expand his winery a great deal, mostly because he didn’t think his daughters would be interested in working the land. But life, as it often does, surprised him. Today the winery is run by Claudia and Silvia Cigliuti, with Renato and his wife Dina supervising.

Similar to Boschis, Claudia farms organically and her approach in the winery is one of minimal intervention. Fermentation is spontaneous, both alcoholic and malolactic. Claudia told me that often malolactic will not start until spring where barrels are sometimes brought outside of the winery in order to encourage the beginning of malolactic. The family has recently invested in both a rotary fermentation tank and a device called a Ragazzini. The Ragazzini is a peristaltic pump (a positive displacement pump) which uses similar technology to that used during blood transfusions to very gently move the wine/must from tank to tank and much more. This gentle transfer, Claudia tells me, is essential for preserving the quality of the end product.

Claudia’s production is tiny, only 35,000 bottles per year, so you can imagine my surprise when she had arranged (at the request of the wonderful Valerie and Evan; whom I will discuss in a latter post) a blind vintage tasting of her single vineyard Barbaresco’

We tasted 3 vintages of Serraboella, which sits outside the window of the tasting room. These loose clay marl slopes were most recently planted between 1981 and 1984, with the youngest vines 30 years old. This was followed by 2 vintages of Via Erte, grown of 15 year old vines planted in calcareous, sandy soil in Bricco di Neive at 350 m above sea level.

On this occasion the blind tasting Gods were on my side and I managed to impress both myself and Claudia. I correctly deduced the 98, 08, and 05 with 12 tricking me with its youthful appearance. I was impressed with the ageing potential of Claudia’s wines, even the 98 remained spritely and full of life.

Meeting these two incredible winemakers was a genuinely profound moment for me. What I felt from them both was an intense vigour and passion for their terroir, their organic approach to farming and insistence upon minimal intervention, without allowing this to become the defining characteristic of selling their wine, is inspiring and admirable. In my opinion the future of viticulture is organic, but I do not believe categorising wines and using labels such as natural, organic and biodynamic is incredibly helpful without a genuine philosophy and understanding does not underpin this work.

Thank you to both Claudia and Chiara for welcoming me in to your wineries and for sharing with me such amazing wine.

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