On their historic estate in the heart of the Barolo zone, Giuseppe, Alfio and Laura Cavallotto use organic/natural viticulture and natural cellar practices. They are fourth generation in their family to make wine here, following their father, Olivio, and uncle, Gildo, who were outliers in the 1960s when they began researching and experimenting with these methods while everyone else was going “industrial”.
The Cavallottos likewise resisted the “modernist” trend in the 1980s-90s. Instead, they continued researching natural methods to make ever more immediate and classic wines, typical of the area and the native grape varieties (Nebbiolo, Barbera, Freisa and Dolcetto).
Their philosophy and their land are extraordinary. The photo above shows the family home at the top of the Bricco Boschis hill, and the vineyards below. It is extremely rare for one family to own an entire hill (22 hectares or close to 50 acres), for all the vineyards to be together and also adjacent to their home, and for the terroir to be so remarkable. How did this happen?
(Map courtesy of Cavallotto)
In 1928, Giacomo, great-grandfather of the current generation bought the estate from the Boschis family. Giuseppe Boschis had been manager of most of the Marchesa Juliette Colbert Falletti’s estates until she died in 1864, Boschis inherited various parcels of land from the Marchesa (who is largely credited with inventing dry Barolo wine in the 19th century) and out of those, chose this one for his home.
The vineyards face west and south within view of the town of Castiglione Falletto.
They are on the border between the towns of the western area (Verduno, La Morra and Barolo) and the eastern area (Serralunga D’Alba and Monforte D’Alba) of the Barolo zone. Some of the soil is more like the western (calcareous marl) that results in softer tannins and some, like the eastern (sandstone with calcareous marl) that yields more austere tannins.
I met with Giuseppe, who exudes quiet humility and the same kind of elegance and restraint that is found in the family wines. The Bricco Boschis vineyard was in a riotous growth phase with the first summer warmth after a cool, rainy spring.
Giuseppe explained some of the vineyard practices. In the mid-70s, Cavollotto stopped tractor tilling and using chemicals like herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Grass, flowers and others crops grow among the vines, and when they are cut back, are left as “green manure” (organic hummus for soil vitality).
The plant growth forms a kind of sponge that helps the earth absorb water. It also stops erosion by limiting runoff on the steep hillside. In addition, the plants compete with the vines enough to create the right balance in grape production….all naturally.
The most recent innovation (beginning in 2010) has been phasing out copper treatments (used to stop mold and mildew in organic vineyards). Instead, Cavollotto is spraying the vines with organic essential oils and bee propolis.
In the cellar, Giuseppe and Alfio (both of whom studied winemaking) use technology to make wine more naturally. For example, they use temperature controls to keep indigenous yeasts working slowing and consistently. They have recently moved away from vertical fermentation containers that require breaking a “cap” of grape skins and pumping the wine up (rimontaggio) to cover the cap. Instead, they have a custom horizontal machine that gently rotates the grapes, keeping the skins submerged in the wine during maceration, a softer method that maintains subtleties in the wine.
Dolcetto and Freisa wines go directly into cement containers in the fall for malolactic fermentation and to allow sediment to fall naturally to the bottom without filtering. (In stainless steel, the electric charge in the metal can hold sediment in suspension requiring fining agents or filtering to clarify the wine.) Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barolo rests for the winter in large botti then, goes into cement in the spring for malolactic fermentation and natural sedimentation.
The large aging barrels are in a new (2002) part of the cellar that is 22 meters under the Boschis hill. An innovative system of tubing along with the brick ceiling allows the cellar to “breathe” with air circulating naturally. The temperature varies with the season, but this actually helps the evolution of aromas.
Cavallotto wines completely defy the misconception that so-called “natural” wines have a limited the aging capacity. In fact, the vineyard and cellar practices give them better than average aging capacity.
For the tasting, Giuseppe poured five wines. Each has its own personality, but all have common characteristic of being naturally balanced. All are fermented only with indigenous yeasts and macerated with submerged cap as described above.
Cavallotto Barbera D’Alba Superiore Vigna Del Cuculo DOC 2013 100% Barbera from a particular part of the Boschis Hill. 10-15 days macerating with the skins. Aged almost 2 years in large botti plus 6 months in the bottle. Structured and elegant with classic acidity and aromas/flavors of red fruits and flowers. (14% alcohol) About 16,000 bottles. (Recommended to drink 2016-24)
Cavallotto Langhe Freisa DOC 2013
100% Freisa from a tiny half hectare plot on the Boschis Hill. Historically made sweet and sparkling, this dry, dark red is intense and full-bodied with lots of tannins. It pairs best with meats or strong cheeses and has a sensual, earthy and slightly spicy character…more rustic than Nebbiolo.(14% alcohol) 3,000 bottles (Drinking 2016-2023)
Cavallotto Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2014
100% Nebbiolo from an exceptionally cold, wet vintage year in which all the wine that would have been Barolo was declassified to Langhe Nebbiolo. The year was saved by warm, sunny weather right before the harvest. Complex and persistent (14% alcohol) (Drinking 2016-2023)
Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis 2011 DOCG
100% Nebbiolo from a part of the Boschis hill that has a lot of clay that holds humidity. This hot, dry vintage came out well. Complex and tannic. Already beginning to mature and balance out. 21,000 bottles (2018+)
Cavallotto Riserva Barolo Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe 2009 DOCG
100% Nebbiolo from the old vines (40 years) of the San Giuseppe cru. Another warm vintage. Elegant, dark, fruity, smokey and complex with classic tannins that will soften with age.
6,000 bottles (2018+)