In northeastern Piemonte, wines from Nebbiolo are produced in a set of townships known as Alto Piemonte. To call the region a geological treasure is to introduce a high drama going back 280 million years, to the spectacular effluvia of the Sesia supervolcano and its subsequent collapse. Continental collisions then churned the volcano’s remains, and after that the glaciers entered the stage, dragging the whole cornucopia slowly across the land, leaving behind distinct pockets of varied soil types—and one of the most fascinating subzonal discussions in wine.
The potential of the Alto Piemonte terroirs was well known in the nineteenth century, when the wine culture of Barolo and Barbaresco, with their less-acidic soils, was still being born. Back then, the world’s sought after Nebbiolo wines were from this region further north, one blanketed in 100,000 acres of vines, not just of Nebbiolo but also treasured local indigenous grapes. The story of how these plantings plunged to under 2,000 acres involves layer upon layer of devastation: from phylloxera and other diseases, the hailstorms of a century, war and economic change that left the farmers no choice but to take other jobs, abandoning their way of life and leaving the wild forests to overtake the vines.
The restoration of Alto Piemonte’s vineyards is a story of dedication. The last two decades of recovery are due in no small part to the work of Cristiano Garella, who consults with the Fabris family to bring us these stunning wines from Gaggiano. The Gaggiano vineyards find their home west of the River Sesia, where the story is of iron-rich red volcanic soils in Bramaterra and Gattinara, and the sandy soils of Lessona. The red rocks lead to wines of intensity and structure, and the sand delivers an alluring, floral elegance.