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VIGNETO SAN VITO - ORSI
Food & Wine | Wine | B&B
Biodynamic wines and a charming b&b in the Colli Bolognesi hills
If you've ever ordered a carafe of house white with a meal in Bologna the chances are you'll have been served a still or sparkling fresh and fruity Pignoletto, the most representative of the wines made in the Colli Bolognesi hills, south-west of the city. Since being awarded DOCG certification (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin) in 2011 the popularity of Pignoletto has shot up and it's being taken more seriously by wine buffs the world over. Anxious to protect local rights on the wine's name, the Colli Bolognesi winemakers even managed to have a district of Monteveglio officially renamed Pignoletto and the grape used to make the wine was formally recognised as Grechetto Gentile, whereas locally it had previously been known as Pignoletto. In this way, wines by the name of Pignoletto may only be made in this area and some of the most interesting are made by Federico Orsi's biodynamic Vigneto San Vito winery in Valsamoggia.
The biodynamic estate
When Federico and wife Carola bought San Vito in 2005, it had been a traditional wine estate; they set out to change all that, with the aim of making wines that are as natural as possible. Organic farming was used from the start, evolving into biodynamic methods by 2007. “We've been biodynamic for over ten years now,” says Federico Ecchia, the estate's chief winemaker, “and we're almost fanatical in how we care for the land: no chemicals are used of course, and we work with nature to ensure the best possible conditions for our vines.” The strips of land between rows of vines are, for example, planted in alternate years with crops that will give the soil the nutrients it needs: “if the vines are under-performing and need nitrogen we plant beans or other pulses, leaving the cut plants to nourish the land; if on the other hand the vines are over-active we'll plant grasses.” Another biodynamic method they use to provide nutrients is to bury cow-horns filled with manure.
Thanks to the care taken in the vineyard, the winemaking procedures can be simple and natural too and all the estate's wines ferment spontaneously without the usual addition of yeast to start the process off. Orsi's aim is to make wines that are a true expression of the territory with an estate that is as self-sufficient as possible: local Mora Romagnola breed pigs are kept for a particularly delicious variety of mortadella, a couple of sheep graze their way freely around the estate and the vegetable garden supplies local restaurants (including Eataly in central Bologna and La Zaira near the estate in Bazzano) with fresh seasonal produce.
The Pignoletto & where to find it
It's the vines that dominate however and the vast majority (60/70%) are Grechetto Gentile for Pignoletto. Grapes from the best plot on a steep incline down towards the valley go to make the elegant and fully-flavoured Vigna del Grotto, the still version of Pignoletto which ferments in wood and spends around nine months on the lees. By far the most popular of the estate's wines, however, is Sui Lieviti, a sparkling Pignoletto that has been neither filtered nor disgorged to remove the deposit. Sui Lieviti, with its smooth fizz and mature fruit flavours, has a keen following and enthusiasts are divided on whether to shake the bottle before drinking for a cloudy effect and fuller flavour or leave the deposit to settle at the bottom of the bottle. “Last time I ate at Osteria Bartolini in Bologna,” says Ecchia, “I noticed that nearly all the tables had a bottle of Sui Lieviti and each one was finished – it was a really satisfying sight”. As well as at Osteria Bartolini (see seafood restaurants feature) you can find Vigneto San Vito wines at central Bologna's excellent vegan restaurant, Botanica Lab, enjoy them with good traditional local dishes at Osteria Al Cappello or just sip them on their own at the Enoteca Faccioli wine bar and if you're in Bologna on a Saturday morning – or Monday evening in summer – you can try them at the weekly farmer's market-cum-streetfood festival, Mercato Ritrovato.
Although the star of the show at Vigneto San Vito and throughout the Colli Bolognesi wine-making area is certainly Pignoletto, the local reds are definitely worth exploring. Barbera is the traditional red variety – as Ecchia points out, “our microclimate is generally pretty hot and that's ideal for the high-acid Barbera grape.” Martignone is the estate's 100% Barbera and, as with Vigna del Grotto, it express its year of vintage to the full. “Vertical tastings from successive years are great fun,” says Ecchia, “as, due to our non-invasive methods, we don't make standardised wines so one year can be drastically different from the next.”
Although most of the vines were already here when Orsi took over the estate, they have introduced some Negretto vines, grafting them onto existing rootstock. “The Barbera-Negretto blend is a traditional one around here,” the winemaker explains, “as the two varieties really complement each other – Negretto contributes tannins and an intense colour while Barbera brings a fresh acidity.” In a move to revive local traditions, this is the combination of the estate's red Pro.vino label from the 2016 vintage; previously it had incorporated a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon.
With the same fresh outlook and pioneering attitude that led them to be among the first in the area to champion biodynamic farming, the Vigneto San Vito team are also leading the way with their perpetual wines – red and white Posca which have been evolving in cement tanks since 2011 and 2008 respectively. “We use the solera method, removing around 10% from each tank once a month on average to bottle up or sell in our eco-friendly bag-in-boxes,” explains Ecchia, “and we top the tanks up with a little new wine, so as to rejuvenate the blend with the result that in the glass they combine a youthful freshness with the complexity earned from ageing.” And it's a highly successful combination too. As the winemaker goes on to say “if our vintage Pignoletto and Barbera are a clear expression of their year of harvest, our red and white Posca are like an encyclopedic interpretation of the history of the estate.” They are all, quite simply, delicious.
Come to stay!
Arrange a visit to see the hillside estate with its views of Bologna's iconic San Luca sanctuary and try the Vigneto San Vito wines. Or better still, why not book into the b&b due to open in June 2018; set in the family villa just down the hill from the vines, it has open fires in winter and a luxuriant garden perfect for relaxing with an estate wine on warm summer afternoons.
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