Paolo Veglio has some of the most precious land and vineyards in Barbaresco, but only about four of his 20 hectares are planted with vines. “There are a lot of ways I could make more money,” he told me, “but that’s not what I set out to do.” Instead, his goal is to grow grapes with personality and make them into uncommonly drinkable and delicious wine. At 39 years old, he is one of the few in a courageous “next generation” eschewing modern, industrial methods to make wine naturally according to the old, Piedmont traditions.
That begins with leaving woods, fruit and nut trees to create a balanced ecosystem that brings health and vitality to the soil and the vines. The rich and varied growth in Paolo’s vineyard is a notable exception to the monoculture in most of the Barolo/Barbaresco zone in the Langhe Hills of Piemonte as shown in the photo below.
He is the only child out of three in his generation that was interested in the family farm. Since his parents both worked in town, they couldn’t teach him about working the land. At age 14, Paolo started apprenticing himself for no pay to local farmers and winemakers. “I learned to drive a tractor when I was 15, before I had a driver’s license,” he said, “because these men trusted me and gave me a chance.” He worked weekends and in the summer, spending as much time outside as possible. Gradually, he earned respect from the contadini (farmers) by working for them. He inherited wisdom from them that he couldn’t get from past generations in his own family.
Coming of age in the 80s-90s during the height of the “Barolo Wars, he had a clear choice. “I could either go with the philosophy of Voerzio [modern] or Rinaldi [traditional],” he told me, “and it was always Rinaldi.” His classmates from the Oenology Institute in Alba, where he got his degree, thought he was crazy. “I didn’t want to make compromises. My idea was to do everything as naturally as possible in both the vineyard and the cellar.” (Paolo’s methods are more than organic even though he is not certified.)
Paolo has the advantage (almost unheard of in this area) of 50 pristine, hilltop acres surrounding the farmhouse, all in one piece with extraordinarily favorable soil (clay/marl) and microclimate (next to the Tanaro River). He explained that his vines are relatively low (180-250 meters) and that their freshness comes primarily from the clay soil.
The fifty year-old vines in his front vineyard grow in harmony with birds, insects, animals, flowers, herbs, wild grasses and even wild wheat (light colored stalks). In addition to adding health and vitality, the biodiversity also adds flavor and aromas in the wine.
The vineyard, facing south-southwest, overlooks a long, slow bend in the Tanaro River and the town of Alba. “I call it a balcony above Alba,” he told me.
Paolo explained that the other side of the Tanaro is Roero and the valley below, which has been built up with big box stores, was once considered the most fertile plain in all of Europe.
Looking in the other direction from the top of the property near the house, the tower in Barbaresco is visible
For ten years, from 1993 to 2003, Paolo acquired experience by selling his grapes to Dante Scaglione, the winemaker for Bruno Giacosa, one of the most famous estates in Barbaresco. In 2004, he took the risky leap of beginning to bottle his own wine under his unknown Cascina Roccalini label in someone else’s cellar. By 2005, he had his own cellar ready and was able to make wine his way with a favorable vintage. But then in 2006, the vintage was so difficult that he didn’t bottle had to sell the wine in bulk.
Five years later in 2010, when he was finally bringing out the 2007 vintage, which was very good, he was on the verge of going bankrupt. At that moment, he was discovered by a British importer, Les Caves De Pyrene. Then, he began selling.
“When I first started, I felt totally isolated and alone because I was making choices that few others were,” he told me, “Gradually, I started meeting other winegrowers, who were as crazy as I am,” A big breakthrough for him was becoming close friends with Fabrizio Iuli and his wife, Summer Wolff in 2011. (Summer began importing his wines into the US through her company, Indie Wineries). Then, he started meeting likeminded people in other regions. One of the winegrowers he most looks up to is Elisabetta Foradori.
In 2011, he had enough capital to plant a new vineyard on the cooler, east side of the property with Dolcetto and Barbera…
Abutting the hazelnut grove that faces north.
Paolo does all the work in the vines by himself. His mother, Luciana, began helping him in the office and sometimes in the cellar after she retired in 2000. “I haven’t had a vacation in years,” he said laughing, “because there’s no one here to do the work but my mother and me.”
The family still lives in the traditional cascina, farmhouse, on the property that was once called Villa Como. It was previously owned by Guglielmo Como, one of the original founders of Barbaresco Cantina Sociale in the late nineteenth century. In 1920, Paolo’s great-grandfather bought the property (land, a small church and the farmhouse) for 500,000 lira (about 250 euro).
Paolo has transformed the old stall and hay loft attached to the house into his cellar. He has just purchased the large concrete tanks in this photo. “I prefer the traditional cement containers,” he said, “even though it’s easier to use stainless steel.” He ferments with indigenous yeasts, adds/subtracts nothing, doesn’t filter or clarify.
He uses an old method called steccatura (literally translated as “splint”) to wedge sticks in the top of the fermentation container to hold the cappello (hard cap of grape skins that forms during fermentation) down in the fermenting juice. Macerating the wine with the skins by holding the cap down is a softer method that breaking the cap. The Langhe Nebbiolo and Barbaresco wines macerate for about 60 days on the skins, but the tannins aren’t harsh.
Paolo’s Nebbiolo wines all go into large barrels in this part of the cellar. The Barbaresco ages 18 months and the Riserva, 24 months. Only at bottling, Paolo adds 25-30mg of sulfites. Then, the wine rests in the bottle. “For at least 45 days after bottling, the wine is furiously angry,” he told me, “It has to settle down.”
I tasted five of Paolo’s Barbaresco wines in the aging cellar. Before we started tasting, Paolo underlined the fact that his traditional wine is made to accompany food and to age. The first three were taken from the barrel. Each has its own character but all share a paradoxical characteristic of being rich and complex but delicate.
Cascina Roccalini Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2015
The grapes come from younger vines, five years old, in the south-southwest vineyard. This was a warm vintage, but the wine was fresh and clean.
Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco DOCG 2014
From the oldest vines at 250 meters. Paolo noted that this vintage was less powerful and more elegant that his 2015.
Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco DOCG 2012
A year that started out rainy and cool but ended warm. The wine is like a walk through Paolo’s vineyards and the woods that surround them…a pleasure…rich but not harsh or heavy. (14,5%)
Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2011
Paolo made his first Riserva in 2010. 2011 also an excellent year with lots of freshness in the wine despite the warm temperatures. Even though the wine has 15,5% alcohol, it is balanced out well with acidity, minerality and tannins.
Paolo only makes about 7,000 bottles of Barbaresco making it difficult to find. This problem will increase the more people discover the exceptional character of both the winegrower and his wine. Summer Wolff called him this year to tell him that the Wine Spectator had given his Barbaresco 94 points (89 to Giacosa and 90 to Gaja). “She knows I don’t follow that kind of thing,” he said, “but she wanted to give me the news.”
As I was driving out the long farm road, I stopped the car, got out and stood in the silence of the woods. A male pheasant was running down the road after his mate, calling to her. Paolo’s farm is an island of beauty in the Langhe, full of all the richness that Nature can produce.