PINOT NERO–FROM BURGUNDY TO NEIVE
Pinot Nero is one of the most ancient grapes for which we have documentation and its origins are most probably in Burgundy.
Pinot Nero is thought to have been cultivated in Burgundy for more than two thousand years, and it is likely that it was present before the Roman invasions.
It was certainly mentioned from the sixth century, but not with its present name (the variety was as yet unnamed).
Already in the first century, Pliny the Elder and Columella both spoke of it in their writings:
• Columella spoke of a grape variety in Allobrogia, having round leaves (a wild variety) that withstood cold; its wine could be conserved with ageing and the vine preferred poor soil because of its great vigour;
• Pliny documented its presence in Burgundy and cited it in book 14 of his “Naturalis Historia".
Genetic analysis reveals that:
Pinot has its origins in the geographic area between France, Germany and Austria (the Rhine basin and its tributaries)
and is a close relative of many other vines (such as Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté, Auxerrois, etc.);
it is a descendant of Traminer and Meunier.
it is also the progenitor of many varieties such as Heunisch B, Furmint, Honigler from the Pannonian region
it is also a predecessor of Teroldego, Lagrein and Syrah..
The Pinot Nero that we know is not the original variety. The type of Pinot familiar to us today appeared in Burgundy and Champagne sometime in the 18th or 19th centuries. So, nearly 1500 years were required to arrive at the Pinot Nero of today.
The first to use the name 'Pynos’ was the poet Eustache Deschamps in the 12th century and shortly after a Burgundian text referred to ‘Pinots’ in the plural (a varietal family). From then on, references multiply and Champagne and Burgundy vie for place of origin of the variety.
In the Champagne region, Pinot was called ‘Vert Doré’ and ‘Plant Doré’ for the colour of the tips of the young buds, or ‘Cep’ with the local descriptor added (Auvernat, Orléans).
PINOT NERO IN PIEDMONT
In the Langhe and Monferrato, from 1700 until today
The first mention of this French grape variety in Piedmont was towards the end of the 1700’s, when the region was under heavy French influence.
Louis Oudart referred to this in his introduction to the Italian Ampelography, Genoa, 1873 on page 45:
“We have seen–with our own eyes–a vineyard planted with Pinò and Gamé more than 80 years ago, by the great-grandfather of the Count of Castelborgo, on his estate in Neive, near Alba. This species, though planted in different soil and with a different climate than that of Burgundy and Beaujolais, and though grown and pruned differently, keeps its nodes at the same distance as in the vineyards of Burgundy and Beaujolais."
He confirms that at the end of the 1700’s, Count Giovanni Antonio Bongiovanni of Castelborgo, in addition to cheering Napoleon on, loved French wine enough to plant French grapes.
Several noble landowners introduced Pinot to Piedmont.
The Asinari of San Marzano deserve particular mention.
THE ASINARI FAMILY OF SAN MARZANO
The legendary origins of the family can be traced to a certain Asinio of the Asinari, the abbot of the Novalesa Abbey, who was host to Charlemagne during his visit to Piedmont. Other sources mention an Asinaro, a military leader of Vitiges, the king of the Goths.
An alliance with an important Ghibelline family made them rich and powerful. Already by the end of the 13th century Boniface and Thomas were installed in Savoy and Burgundy.
The Guelph victory however, resulted in exile for most of the Asinari. Their move to other parts of Piedmont and abroad began.
Their business developed and grew in Burgundy and they became the financiers of Count Odo IV of Burgundy in 1334.By the 14th century, the family had grown enough to be divided into five lines, and with the passage of the County of Asti to the Dukes of Orléans, the end of the following century saw the Asinari become local nobility, consolidating their power in a dozen castles.
The Marquis Filippo Antonio Asinari of San Marzano (1767 -1828) was a diplomat interested in the viticulture and oenology of the area. A winegrower in Costigliole d’Asti and San Marzano Oliveto, the Marquis Filippo Antonio experimented with new autochthonous grape varieties and in particular, cuttings from French vines from the «Hermitage vineyard».
He contributed to the growth of viticulture in Asti province and marketed the wines produced on his estates, exporting them all over the world.
The Asti aristocrat Asinari, one of the most illustrious personalities of the kingdom of Sardinia, was an enthusiastic wine producer in both his fiefs of Costigliole and San Marzano and an intelligent promoter of Piedmontese winemaking.
On behalf of the Savoy family, Paolo Francesco Staglieno, a retired general, was summoned to manage the Royal Estate at Pollenzo, today the home of the Wine Bank at the Slow Food University of Gastronomy.
His 1835 manual “Instructions Regarding the Best Methods of Making and Conserving Wine in Piedmont” remains with us. In this treatise, he explains his pioneering ideas: selection of grape clusters, frequent decanting and élevage in wooden casks. Vinification was no longer to take place outside, at the mercy of Piedmont's cold winters, but in the sheltered and controlled environment of subterranean cellars.
Furthermore, vinification was to take place in closed vats with bleed valves to avoid oxidation and contamination.
He was also one of the first winemakers in Piedmont to copy the classic method of producing sparkling wine used in the Champagne region of France.
According to Giusy Mainardi in Pollenzo, published by the Cavalieri del Tartufo e dei Vini d’Alba in 2004: «Staglieno wished to satisfy the taste of their Royal Highnesses with a sparkling white wine similar to champagne».
Among other oenological techniques, he referred to fermentation in small, closed receptacles (bottles?) until halted.
The collaboration between Staglieno and Oudart produced the sparkling Vin Mousseux Clos Sainte Victoire at Pollenzo, of which we have a reproduction of the label.
General Staglieno also acted consultant to the Castello di Verduno for King Carlo Alberto of Sardinia and also to the Castello at Grinzane, owned by Camillo Benso. He was summoned by Cavour in 1836 to manage preparations for the harvest at Grinzane.
CAMILLO BENSO, COUNT OF CAVOUR
In addition to geographical proximity to France, the arrival of Pino Nero in Piedmont owes much to Cavour. During the 19th century, when Nebbiolo wines were often sweet, oxidised and unstable, the Piedmontese aristocracy drank Bordeaux and Burgundy contributing to the great success of these wines.
King Victor Emmanuel and Cavour were never without French wines at their tables.
At 21, the young Camillo Bensò was sent to the Fort of Bard, then governed by General Paolo Francesco Staglieno. He was to meet Staglieno again later on in the Langhe.
In 1832, Cavour acquired vineyards in Grinzane–in part rented, from his uncle Duke Aynard of Clermont-Tonnerre, and in part bought, from the bankrupt Cavaliere Giuseppe Antonio Veglio of Castelletto–and planted Pinot Nero vines.
In the meantime he made every effort to promote Langhe viticulture along with the production from his own estate. He summoned General Staglieno and made him his cellar master.
At the same time, Louis Oudart, whom Cavour had already met in France, had arrived in Italy; Cavour solicited his advice also.
With respect to this, Cavour said: «I had covered the hills of Grinzane with Pinot Nero because I was besotted with Burgundy wines». He asked the oenologist Louis Oudart to compile a list of rules and to formulate a method for the production of the distinguished Nebbiolo wine. It was then that Barolo became Barolo...
Along with its geographical proximity to France, the arrival of Pino Nero in Piedmont thus owes much to Cavour.
We also mention with pleasure his niece, who married Carlo of the Marquises of Alfieri, whose descendants still today are owners of a famous wine estate in San Martino Alfieri. Very old and abandoned Pinot Nero vines discovered on this estate are thought to have been part of the dowry of Cavour’s niece.
THE BONGIOVANNI OF CASTELBORGO
Among the Bongiovanni, Counts of Castelborgo, who brought Pinot Nero to Neive are the following:
Giovanni Antonio Bongiovanni of Castelborgo, son of the family founder
Camillo Bongiovanni of Castelborgo
Eleonora Bongiovanni of Castelborgo and Louis Oudart
Giovanni Antonio was a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, along with all things French.
Indeed, his son married Anna Favrat of Belleveux, daughter of one of Bonaparte’s administrators in Torino. Hence it seems plausible that it was he who introduced Pinot Nero to Neive.
Louis Oudart indirectly confirms this, having written in 1850: «I saw Pinot and Gamé (Gamay) vineyards of more than 70 years of age on the estates of the Counts of Castelborgo». This means that already at the end of the 1700’s, Pinot Nero was planted in the vineyards of Giovanni Antonio Bongiovanni of Castelborgo.
When Oudart arrived in Neive in 1826, Camillo was head of the Castelborgo family, and Oudart worked with him until 1862, as consulting viticulturist and oenologist, as well as business consultant. Camillo continued to cultivate Pinot in the vineyards, as did his descendants.
It was prized above all other varieties.
In 1865, the estate manager of Luigia Candiani, wife of Camillo of Castelborgo, wrote to his factor Barberis: «if Signor Oudart attempts to buy grapes from the estate, please be sure to exclude the Pinot variety form any sale..»
This arrangement continued into the 20th century: we have a bottle of Pinot 1904, bottled in the Castello cellars by Eleonora d’Harcourt Castelborgo.
MARQUIS LEOPOLDO INCISA DELLA ROCCHETTA
Vice-Secretary General of the Chamber of Magistrates of the kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto, having been forcibly pensioned-off after a hasty medical check-up, the Marquis retired to Rocchetta Tanaro near Asti and began to look after the family estate.
In his castle, he devoted himself to the silkworm industry and the study of viticulture.
In 1843, the Marquis Leopoldo Incisa della Rocchetta became a member of the Academy of Agriculture in Turin. He is famous for ampelography, the study of wine varieties.
He corresponded with the major ampelographers of his time and promoted the cultivation of new varieties in Piedmont. Among these were varieties from Bordeaux and Burgundy, including Pinot Nero.
The Marquis built a collection on his estate at Rocchetta Tanaro; the catalogue described and explained it and was one of the first to appear in Italy. From 1852, he established a nursery to produce and distribute cuttings of different varieties to winegrowers, including Pinot Nero, which at the beginning arrived directly from Burgundy.
Louis Oudart was not an aristocrat, but he was engaged as a consultant by many of the aristocrats noted above.
The Count of Cavour met Louis Oudart during the first half of the 19th century.
An impassioned winegrower, oenologist and crafty merchant, Oudart and his cousin Bruche opened a depot in Genoa and produced up to 18,000 bottles of "champagne” each year..
As well as being a producer, he was a wineseller and a seller of products related to winegrowing (sulfur, sugar, cuttings, wines and must) and a consultant in Piedmont. He bought grapes in various areas of the Langhe. When he arrived at Cavour's estate, he wanted to buy his also, though at a reduced price.
Cavour was perhaps the only grower who never sold Oudart grapes.
An excellent relationship sprang up between them, however, because Oudart was a connoisseur of Pino Nero and was hired first by Cavour and then by Camillo di Castelborgo as a consultant.
At the end of the 19th century, new and ambitious entrepreneurs began to replace the old nobility, including Carlo Gancia and a group of sparkling wine producers at Canelli.
The "Fratelli Gancia” company was established before the unification of Italy, in 1850. Carlo Gancia, a young Piedmontese man, was the founder; after finishing oenology school at Alba and accumulating work experience in Turin, he set off for Rheims with the objective of acquiring the secrets of champagne production at the Piper-Heidsieck company. With his brother Edoardo, he opened a small company at Chivasso (Torino) where he began to make the first Italian sparkling wine.
He employed the techniques of the French classic method, using the typical Moscato variety of the area.
Shortly thereafter the first dry, classic method sparkling wine appeared–from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes–and his success prompted him to transfer production to Canelli, in Asti province, which became the company head office.
A classical Piedmontese sparkling wine industry grew up around Gancia: Contratto, Riccadonna and many others.
Today this acquired knowledge has combined with Pinot Nero in the production of Alta Langa sparkling wines, which are gaining more and more approval from consumers.
Many others are continuing to take up the challenge, which is now a tradition, both in the use of red grapes and the classic method.