Paitin: standing the test of time in Barbaresco

In 1796, Benedetto Elia purchased a small plot of vines in the Bricco di Neive. A few years later, after purchasing a number of contiguous parcels, he bought a nearby underground cellar. The Elia’s were private bankers owning a small bank on the border between Neive and Castagnole facilitating transactions between the two provinces. The Pasquero family, from Spanish military ancestry, served the Royal House, managing and vinifying hectares in Vezza d’Alba. On Oct. 13, 1943, Italy declared war on Nazi Germany. However, German forces soon took control of northern and central Italy shortly after. Soon after, Mussolini, having escaped with the help of German paratroopers, established a puppet state to administer the German-occupied territory. The oppression of Italian Jews had begun in 1938 with the enactment of racial laws of segregation. Between 1943 and 1945, under Nazi occupation, Jews in Italy faced persecution, deportation, and murder. As a result, the Elia family lost their bank, their reputation and their livelihood. Subsequently, the family made no wine on their estate between 1938 and 1945, instead Luca’s grandmother was forced to sell their properties to pay her staff while the men were at war. Today brothers Giovanni and Silvano Pasquero-Elia manage the Paitin estate with Giovanni’s son, Luca. The family farm 18 hectares, 13 of which are Nebbiolo, and have recently, for the first time in 125 years expanded their holdings, purchasing a vineyard in Basarin. I spoke with Luca and Giovanni about their families history and the estate today.

Through turbulent times

Both families roots are deeply anchored in Piedmont, their respective histories are rich and enchanting. The Elia family once owned a small bank constructed strategically on a protruding hill on the border between Neive and Castagnole. Helping facilitate transactions between the two provinces (Cuneo and Asti) the family had built a strong local reputation. In the past Asti was a more prosperous province with wealth accrued through trading coins. The Elia family also served as judges, helping mediate disputes between and within local families. The land surrounding the families property, known locally as Paitin, also gave birth to the families nickname, a common practise of the day. For this reason, in 1976 when Benedetto Elia purchased the Sori on the Bricco di Neive (now Serraboella), he named the site Sori’d Paitin, meaning the Sori property of Paitin. Shortly after, Benedetto purchased several contiguous parcels as well as a nearby underground cellar. The family farm these same plots and vinify wines in these same cellars to this day.

Little data is available until post-1828, it would appear Benedetto had purchased the land but not begun cultivating grapes. After this date, the family possess historical documents showing they had been trading grapes, namely Barbera, and selling wine locally. In 1860, Luca’s great-great-grandfather began working with the University of Torino’s agricultural department, helping to publish a number of papers, for the most part exploring the varying reactions of grape varieties to different soils. In the 1890s, demonstrating his eagerness to comprehend and champion the region, he began working with Domizio Cavazza, headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba and founder of the Cantine Sociali, the cooperative that would be the foundation of the Produttori del Barbaresco.

Alas, these successful and noble endeavours were brought to an abrupt halt when, being of Jewish origin, the family lost their businesses and property during the German occupation of Italy in World War 2. No wine was made between 1938 and 48, in order to ensure employees were paid, at the time these were mostly women whose husbands were at war, Luca’s great grandmother began selling the families remaining properties. The Pasquero and Elia families got joined at the beginning of the 20th century. Elisa Elia Married Giovanni Pasquero and together had four children. The only one bearing the surname Elia was Luca’s grandfather Secondo. In 1948, Luca’s grandfather, Secondo, determined to rebuild the families stature acquired the rights to the remaining vineyards from his mother and set about making functional the cellar and replanting the vineyards.

Out of the ashes

It took Luca’s grandfather 5 years to replant the vineyards, having too little working capital to purchase an ox until over 3 years after he had begun. Even then, Luca’s Grandfather possessed advantageous foresight, having decided to plant to a wider inter-row distance 10 years before tractors came to the Langhe. Secondo had also begun reacquiring the best plots the family had previously lost, most of the older vineyards outside of Serraboella were planted to other varieties, and with his belief in Nebbiolo in mind, the estate was reestablished where Nebbiolo flourished. It wasn’t until 1961 that he started making wine, an enviable freshmen vintage. In 1974, Italian gastronome, wine critic and intellectual, Luigi Veronelli, recognised the winery’s potential and in 1979 management of Paitin was passed to Luca’s father Giovanni and in 1982 his brother, Silvano, joined him. Giovanni’s father was an autodidact, conversely, Giovanni and Silvano were oenologists with formal training.

Under Secondo’s learned gaze and themselves sharing his inquisitive nature, the pair began experimenting and refining their winemaking and viticulture. They were intrigued by contemporary processes and techniques introduced to the region by the early protagonists of Barolo’s revolution. In the late 80s, Paitin experimented with shorter maceration time and begun swapping out old fermentation and ageing vessels. In 1985, Secondo made a wine called ‘Paitin’ from a small crop of various varieties including Cabernet Franc, the wine was aged in various sizes of tonnaux. Between 1999 and 2001, further experiments with smaller barrique were not favoured and so since then Paitin has opted for longer (roughly a month) maceration and have aged their wines in larger Slavonian (Garbellotto) and Austrian (Stockinger and Schon) barrels, without toast. More informed use of oak in winemaking and a synthesis of new and old was arguably the largest contribution of Barolo’s revolution in the late 80’s.

The decision to extend maceration was made on intuition, interpretation of the finished wine and with the help of a consultant. Today Paitin opts for a longer more gentle maceration for Nebbiolo, having experimented with submerged cap in particular years they later introduced it in every vintage. The brothers felt that with shorter and hotter fermentations their wine lost a little finesse and though the wines gained body, this was not how Paitin interpreted the essence of Nebbiolo. Cap management is also gentle, seeking to tease every ounce of complexity in a cool, controlled manner. After trialling a rotary fermentor in the ’90s, Paitin decided against ongoing use for Nebbiolo. Following this, there was a period where technique improved but pumps were too strong and extraction too heavy.

Parcel by parcel, plot by plot

While Secondo worked the ground with an ox, he quickly realised that even within the families Serraboella vineyard, each parcel was not the same. There were parts of the vineyard that would require greater effort from the ox, areas it could quickly plough, places where it would struggle to maintain balance. These observations drove early planting and bottling decisions, with Barbaresco being produced from the centre part and Langhe Nebbiolo elsewhere. This early shift toward a parcel by parcel approach to viticulture and winemaking permeated through later generations and has today been further developed by Paitin. Precision viticulture and parcellation of Serraboella allows Paitin to tailor their viticulture and winemaking to each plot based on its own varying needs. It allows them to discriminate more carefully when spraying, customise carefully their pruning, determine picking times, avoid mixing plant genetics (Lampia, Rosè and Michet) during massale, inform vinification decisions and a great deal more. The below map shows the current parcellation of Serraboella.

The length of the arrow indicates slope steepness (the longer the steeper) while its direction indicates exposure and purple denotes the sites historical border. The bulk of Paitin’s Serraboella plantings are divided into 3 sections, indicated by the colours pink, red and blue and on the map. The sections indicate key distinctions in soil type. Pink is more loamy, red more balanced between loam, sand, and clay while blue is more sandy.

Plots 1 and 2, close to Claudia Cigliuti, are loamy soils, known for their aggressive fertility. Pruning is left a little later in plot 1, following talks with Pierguido Busso in response to this fertility and to avoid frost damage. Plots 3, 4, 5, and 6 are Sorì Paitin. Within Sorì Paitin plots 3 and 4 are a little younger than the rest and so are divided while plots 5 and 6 boast particularly old vines. Plots 11 and 12 have similar exposure and soil but plot 11 shows a peculiar change in soil 11 and produces a slightly more vigorous vine than 12. Plots 7, 8 and 9 are located near the bottom of the slope, next to a shallow creek, named Starda after an ancient family. These plots are less suited to Barbaresco and provide grapes for Paitin’s Starda Langhe Nebbiolo. Plots 13 and 14 are technically a new vineyard.

Viticulture in each plot varies, from significant structural changes such as increasing trellis height to the management of caterpillars which tend to prefer different plots. Each plot also has a historical name, each is detailed in the table below. Paitin is certified organic, tillage is rare, animal manure is applied every few years, cover crop promoted, and copper and sulphur are used in small amounts to treat powdery and downy mildew. For more on their approach in the vineyard and their commitment to environmental synergy visit this dedicated webpage

PlotHistorical Name
1Giro ‘d Mario
2Schiena ‘d Ernestin
3Schiena Alta
4Torre
5Schiena Bassa
6Sorì Vecchie Vigne
6AVigna del Diavolo (Devil’s vineyard)
6BMingiuna
7Punta
8Giacosa
9Giacosa basso
10Tourun
11Piano alto
12Piano basso
13Voghera

At Paitin there are no vast leaps, evolution is steady and considered. An entrepreneurial spirit is rife in each generation, a distinct willingness to learn, experiment and retrace their steps where necessary. For the first time in 125 years, the family acquired new vineyards in Basarin and Faset (sitting above Asili) with a hope to add further holdings in the future. The biggest change in the past decade has been the realisation and formulation of a clear objective, a notable path allowing them to take small, informed steps in the right direction. The families approach is now a touch more philosophical, regular cooperation with other likeminded vigneron helps maximise collective and personal gain. These are wines of elegance, breadth, and complexity deserving the upmost attention from discerning drinkers.

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