First of all, I have to admit that I didn't know much about Roero. Maybe I also underestimated the region because of previous experiences. But when I tasted the wines of Valfaccenda tasted, I was surprised by its richness and bewildered by its complexity. That was more than enough to tickle my curiosity.
I started researching the land and soil and through a very pleasant interview with Luca Faccenda, I discovered a unique approach to winemaking.
To learn more about the region, I had to take a few steps back in time:
The first took me to the Pleistocene, when a great mass of water poured into the Adriatic Sea and so de facto the Po Valley (Pianura Padana) was created, to which the Roero belongs. This dramatic event left behind an incredibly rich soil that was once the bottom of the sea and is now the gentle landscape where the grapes grow. I have to admit that reading about it was a bit like going back to school, as this is a milestone in the geological shaping of northern Italy.
Rocche del Roero
The second step, on the other hand, led me to something I was unfamiliar with, but also related to major water movements, albeit more recent and local. Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago, the Tanaro River began to move from the paleo-Tanaro River bed to its current position - on the border between Roero and Langhe - causing major erosion phenomena and the Rocche del Roero the so-called hill was created.
Now that I had a general understanding of the richness of the Roero soil reflected in Valfaccenda's wine, and a picture of the "Rocche del Roero" that are close to the winery, I was ready to approach the winery. So I asked for an interview with Luca Faccenda - oenologist and co-founder of the winery, together with his wife Carolina.
After a long conversation with Luca, the two key words that resonated in my head were: "Sensitivity" and "Wait". I let my mind wander over the Rocche, these dramatic hills, imagining them as a kind of display on which a person can read the passing of geological time, like counting the rings of a felled tree.
Perhaps the sense of time emanating from these rocks helped Luca and Carolina to understand the position of man and the extent of his intervention in relation to natural processes.
Valfaccenda that's Carolina and Luca in Roero
They started in 2010, and they were the young, the colourful, the natural winemakers in a Roero that is sometimes still too subordinate to the more famous and lucrative Langhe.
They decided to grow only Arneis and Nebbiolo, typical grapes of the region. Even then, they knew that they could only listen and wait to develop the right sensitivity for dealing with the plants. All this sensitivity and all this waiting builds on the most important moment in Valfaccenda's winemaking process: the harvest of the grapes. From Luca's point of view, this is the only step of the process that depends entirely on human decisions. Choosing the right moment for the harvest is the decisive act of a vintage. An act full of respect for the processes of nature.
I asked about the next step, the work in the cellar, and Luca answered me with the same sincerity he maintained throughout the conversation: "Everything is already in the grape, the only thing we have to do is preserve it. It's harder to know when not to act than when to act."
His words were full of sensitivity and sense of time, but also of the experience gained during these 10 years at Valfaccenda.
Being able to listen does not mean leaving everything to chance. On the contrary, it requires a full presence at every stage of production. This is only possible because they work on a small scale, completely below the market's demand for their wine. But they are not there for the market. Valfaccenda, it says on their website, that's Carolina + Luca in Roero. By the way, Carolina is also the author of the wonderful labels.
At the end of the conversation, I had the impression that they will always remain the young, the colourful, the natural winemakers, but their wines will surpass that. Because they tell stories.
Some of them are very old, from the time when fish still swam there, others are more recent and have to do with the clever craftsmanship of the farmers in the fields. You can't tell stories if you don't have the right sensitivity, if you can't stand the pauses between the words.
ROERO ARNEIS 2016
Yellow gold to the eyes, first nose of ripe apple, honey and wet hay, followed by apricot jam and a warm, pleasant note of Marsala bringing sultanas, cinnamon and orange. Finishes with hints of chalk and hydrocarbon.
The mouth opens on baked apple, strawberry jam with a very long, salty chalky finish that plays well with notes of black pepper, nutmeg and caramelised orange peel. Complex and perfectly balanced between sweet, warm flavours and a long, refreshing juiciness.
Reminiscences from the past, starting with the old golden yellow and moving into some Marsala notes that bring sultanas, honey and orange. Grandmother's house, with yellow apples overripe on the counter, apricot jam and the smell of wet hay coming from the window. The mouth is perfectly balanced between baked apples, nutmeg, caramelised orange peel - conveying sweet family memories - and some mineral, salty notes that give us a hint of old times.
ROERO BIANCO 2019
Straw yellow in the glass, the nose picks up notes of barnyard and hay, followed almost immediately by a delicate, fresh composition of elderflower, pear, nectarine, orange zest, white pepper and pepper stalk. The palate shows a good correspondence with the nose: we again find hay, nectarine, pear and orange peel with an unexpected final note on flint.
In Valfaccenda's "simplest" wine, we nevertheless find the winery's footprint: the nobility of the landscape. The first nose of barn and hay is a reminder of where this wine is rooted, but it is immediately followed by elegant, fresh notes of elderflower, pear, nectarine, orange peel and a vegetal hint of pepper stalk that reveals an immature spiciness. The mouth almost righteously confirms the impressions of the nose: hay, nectarine, pear, orange zest. An unexpected final note of flint gives us a hint of a rebellious soul.
LORETO ROERO RISERVA 2018
Pale straw yellow, the first nose is hit by animal notes, stable and hydrocarbon, reminiscent of some wines from the Moselle. After a few minutes, an orchestra of scents comes from the summer landscape: peach, honeydew melon, white lilac, strawberry blossom, nettle and grass. In the mouth, again a juicy taste of peach and honeydew melon, together with pear, lemon peel, elderflower and a hint of wildflower honey.
The fullness of the aromas is held by a very long, refreshing acidity that invites you to take another sip
The Label already gives us the impression of a landscape division made by the ancient wisdom of the farm workers, and in the bottle one can perceive all the smells and tastes of a summer in the countryside, ready to be brought to the table of the nobility who manage the land. Warm notes of barn and hay are quickly followed by white lilac, strawberry blossom, fresh grass, nettle, peach and honeydew melon. In the mouth, a never-ending children's summer holiday, with the juicy notes of peach and honeydew melon carried by a long, refreshing acidity.
ROERO NEBBIOLO 2014
The wine presents itself with a garnet red colour and a very deep nose that leads from black cherries, blueberries and red roses to ash, essential oils, beeswax, wet musk and hazelnut. In the mouth, black cherries and ash again with dried plums, pomegranate, oregano and flint. A present, albeit velvety, tannin is well paired with an exciting acidity.
A farm in autumn, where the freshly picked black cherries and blueberries lie on the table and their aromas mingle with the ashes from the fireplace, beeswax, essential oils and roses. The straightforward attitude of this wine, perceived in the mouth through the present tannins and tense acidity, is tempered by careful work in the cellar, perceived in the perfectly clean, long finish.
ROERO ROSSO 2017
In the glass, it reveals a very elegant garnet red, while the nose slowly discovers a balanced complexity made up of notes of black fruits (black cherries, blackberry jam, plum), but also beurre noisette, dried chamomile, violets, Virginia tobacco, chalk and a peculiar brackish touch. In the mouth: black cherry jam, chestnut blossom, anise, tobacco and white pepper. Tannic without being aggressive, it shows a perfectly integrated acidity.
The first image this wine conveys is of eating bread, butter and black fruit jam on a hill, while the scent of flowers floats around you. Joy, a simple, satisfying joy. It's hard not to smile while you stick your nose in the glass. But by the second, maybe third time, your mind begins to wonder at the complexity you have sitting there. Tobacco, dried flowers, chalk, a brackish smell, they all bring out the ancient composition of this hill when fish swam there and everything was covered in water.
Text: Jonathan Gobbi
Photo: Letizia Cigliutti
Editor: Dimitri Taits