Silvia Barbaglia, winemaker and young mother of two, has a lot on her hands. When she’s not tending the vineyards or working in the cellar of Azienda Vitivinicola Barbaglia (previously named Antico Borgo dei Cavalli), owned by her father Sergio and located in Cavallirio of Alto Piemonte, she is taking care of two young children and marketing wines at events. Meeting people in person is time-consuming, but contributes to what she believes is the most important form of promotion: passaparola, or word of mouth.
Silvia Barbaglia of Antico Borgo dei Cavalli, pouring "Curticella" Brut Erbaluce - a metodo classico
Even with the help of her family, it is a heavy workload. But she has energy to spare, and a passion for the wines of Alto Piemonte. Azienda Vitivinicola Barbaglia represents the potential for growth in Boca.
Boca DOC is a Nebbiolo-based wine made from 70-90% Nebbiolo, often called Spanna in the north, and 10-30% combination of local varieties Vespolina and Bonarda Novarese, often called Uva Rara. Compared to its more famous cousins south in the Langhe, Boca wines tend to be more aromatic, display a pronounced minerality, and overall have more stoffa – “stuffing” or “consistency.” They are also more elegant and less powerful; more acidic, and less tannic. Aging, often six or more years, allows Boca to lose its austerity and develop a stunning intensity that is all the more surprising for its lightness in color and mouthfeel.
Sergio & Silvia Barbaglia – Azienda Vitivinicola Barbagalia
How to Grow Boca
With 3 hectares (7 ½ acres) of vineyards, Silvia hopes to expand not only her vineyards, but also her business. The winery lies just several kilometers south of the Natural Park of Mount Fenera, which is a naturalistic paradise and, in true Italian form, home to fascinating historical remains. Situated among vineyards and forest, with Mount Rosa dominating the northern horizon at the Swiss border, it is a tranquil retreat for a bed and breakfast: Silvia is interested in starting exactly that. As Boca producer Christoph Künzli stated, tourism is slowly increasing, and more embark on a journey to this little appellation every year. An energetic and ambitious young woman like Silvia is exactly what Boca needs.
Unfortunately, a couple of uncontrollable factors hamper growth. First, acquiring new vineyards is difficult. “The amount of paperwork is insane,” she says. Künzli’s brush with Italian bureaucracy only confirms this, as Eric Pfanner confirms (“North Piedmont Saves the Best Wines for Last, New York Times): he had to untangle roughly 80 purchase agreements to get Le Piane winery where it is today.
Second, Italy’s infamous red tape is a handicap in more ways than one. Silvia recounts the misadventures of Boca producer Cantine del Castello, who wanted to cultivate a new vineyard in the rare and traditional Maggiorina style. As noted previously, this system is only found in Alto Piemonte in about 10 hectares of vineyards. 100 years ago, this unique cultivation covered thousands of hectares.
"When a sea of vines surrounded the Sanctuary [of Boca]" – Though not necessarily all Maggiorina cultivated vineyards, this photo shows how much of Alto Piemonte was cultivated with vineyards. Today, all that land is covered in forest.
Lamentably, if they want to certify their wine as Boca DOC using Maggiorina, they cannot. According to the wine Disciplinare (technical specifications), the vineyards must have a higher yield than is possible with Maggiorina. Italy is a country that rightly values its traditions and ancient history, but its bureaucracy is simultaneously killing tradition and stifling growth.
And yet Boca and Alto Piemonte in general present an opportunity for aspiring winemakers. The land is well-suited for great viticulture, particularly for fine expressions of Nebbiolo, including Ghemme, Gattinara, Lessona, and many others. Acres of forest, once vineyards, are available at a lower cost than viticultural land in the Langhe (although, no promises on how easy the paperwork to purchase them will be! And yes, clearing the land is hard work). Though a newbie must keep in mind that he’ll need to wait a lengthy amount of time before the wines begin to show. As Silvia says, “You work now to sell in six years.” Wines from Boca and Alto Piemonte need that time to allow their marked acidity to mellow.
Acidity in wine is like its backbone. As long as you have it, you stay upright and walk around.
Boca’s strength is in its acidic soils, among the highest in all of Italy. This acidity allows for even whites like Greco Novarese – the local Erbaluce cultivar – to age very well. “Acidity in wine is like its backbone. As long as you have it, you stay upright and walk around.”
This bright acidity and the minerality that Alto Piemonte soils are known for were evident during a tasting. Azienda Vitivinicola Barbaglia produces single-variety wines of several native grapes that are usually blended. For example, the Vespolina and Uva Rara, usually used in Boca DOC with Nebbiolo, have their own labels.
The Vesponlina "Ledi" 2010 displayed notes of licorice, spices, and clove (and paired very well with Toma cheese). The Uva Rara “Lea” Colline Novaresi DOC 2013 stood out for its stunning pinkish-ruby color, strawberry aroma, and lemony acidity. The Boca 2010 had a marked minerality and citrus note to it – neither of which you find in Nebbiolos of southern Piemonte. And the final tasting was a real treat: Passito di Nebbiolo 2007. Not a better pairing for dark chocolate exists.
Azienda Vitivinicola Barbagalia
Via Dante, 54 - 28010 Cavallirio (NO)
Tel. & Fax 0163 80115
Via Dante, 54 - Cavallirio (NO)
Have you ever had a wine from Alto Piemonte? We'd love to hear what you think of it! Share with us below in the comments.
A big thanks to the tourism board of Novara, ATL Novara, for the chance to visit Alto Piemonte, Antico Borgo dei Cavalli, and to discover Boca.