Cascina degli Ulivi
- Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
Thank you to importer Louis/Dressner for this estate profile:
(Click here for the full Ulivi story on the LDM website)
Where to start with the late Stefano Bellotti and Cascina degli Ulivi? Largely responsible for the legitimization of biodynamic viticulture and the eschewing of modern oenology since the early 1980's, his vision has inspired a generation of younger vignaioli. In a world determined to categorize and explain everything with science, Stefano preached holism. Even more impressive, he showed us how to buck the system, to voice dissent and fight back against the commodification of nature and agriculture. In so many ways, Stefano has played a key role in our evolution and approach to the wines we import. But let's rewind and start from the beginning.
Gavi, one of the foremost denominations of white wine in Italy and one of the first white wines to be granted the DOCG status, is produced entirely from the Cortese grape, an indigenous variety to the southern Piemonte province of Alessandria where it also shows its finest expression. After the phylloxera epidemic of the early 1900’s exterminated the more widely planted red Dolcetto vines in the rolling hillsides of the towns surrounding the town of Gavi, the majority of replanting was made with the white Cortese in order to satisfy demand from nearby Genoa and the Ligurian province that lies directly south over the coastal mountains. During the 1960’s, Gavi enjoyed tremendous success on the domestic and international markets thanks to some fine producers in the region. Over the next twenty years, however, competition from other white wine producing regions of Italy, higher yield allowances by the DOC and less scrutinous winemaking led to a glut of commercial and uninspired Gavi.
In 2001, Kevin's recollections of Gavis he'd recently tasted were not memorable. Joe and Denyse were neither familiar with the region nor the grape. Stefano Bellotti was a good friend of the Bera family and they recommended him to us. We met with him to taste his wines and immediately were pleased. On first taste, we knew that this was the type of estate we were seeking and that these wines were wines of terroir. They evoked the soil, climate and grape from which they came.
Cascina degli Ulivi produces wines from around 24 hectares of vines that have been worked biodynamically since 1985. The estate has been in the Bellotti family since the 1930’s but Stefano was the one who transformed it into what it is today. Before he took it over, the farm was more or less abandoned; Stefano, a city boy with no agricultural training, effectively started with a blank canvas. Through his own empirical observations, he progressively came to eschew chemicals in his vineyards, eventually leading him to the philosophies of Rudolph Steiner.
The whole farm is truly polycultural and committed to the fundamental beliefs of biodynamism. Vines are the main focus of the azienda, though vegetables, livestock, milk and cereals are all grown and cultivated. An agriturismo is attached to the farm, and practically everything served is raised and grown on the premises. According to Stefano:
“We consider that the soil is a ‘companion organism’ for everything that lives. In working our vines, we foster the potential harmony of all those forces that contribute to the flow of vitality (of the vine)”
The hard work and dedication is immediately evident in the vineyards where Stefano’s parcels are adjacent to other producers of the area. The health of the vines is immediately apparent to the eye.
The estate hand-harvests in small boxes and uses only the indigenous yeasts to ferment the wines. Use of oak is limited to large, successively-used barrels of traditional provenance. Some are humongous, as large as 4000 liters! While the white wines were at one time lightly filtered and sulfured, these two interventions have been completely omitted since the 2003 vintage in order to produce the purest expression of the land.
A true believer in his terroirs, for many years Stefano fought to keep his wines within the Gavi DOCG. The first victim to the bureaucracy of the appellation was the "Filagnotti", a single vineyard bottling from the estate's best grapes planted on red clay and limestone. in 2008, Stefano had decided to plant fruit trees amongst the vines. This was decreed as violating protocol: because there were now fruit trees amongst the vines, it could not officially be considered a vineyard by law! Undeterred by this reality or that he would be denied subsidies for this land by the EU, Stefano stuck to his convictions and declassified "Filagnotti" as a Vino di Tavola.
In 2015, the estate's entry-level Gavi,made from grapes that don't make the single vineyard bottlings along with other vineyard selections, was refused the appellation due to its color. This was a direct result of making an unfiltered, unadulterated product (most Gavis are usually heavily filtered, completely transparent and a pale straw color). With no other choice, the wine was forced into declassification and renamed as "Ivag" (get it?) Much to his regret, this forced Stefano's decision to give up asking for the appellation for any of his wines. Fortunately, by this point his reputation was cemented and his customers would buy the wine off its own merit.
Stefano left us in 2018, right in the middle of that year's harvest. He was a true visionary and pioneer. In our opinion, he managed to create the most symbiotic natural environment we have yet to encounter: a place where man, beast and plant co-exist in mutual respect and harmony. More than anything, he's left us with an indescribable energy we've felt on every visit and with every sip. While there is much to figure out in the wake of his death, recent visits have confirmed this energy is still there. And with his daughter Ilaria continuing her father's work, we look forward to what the future holds.