A weekend in Valle d’Aosta among wineries and castles
The distant cowbells in the pastures and the constant rustling of the Dora Baltea river flowing along the valley floor, accompanying the sound of folk music with a few words in patois, the local language, the silent castles that dominate the valley and the dark nights that allow you to observe the night sky: Valle d’Aosta is an enchanted region. Arriving from Piedmont, Fort Bard perched on the mountain served as a fortress blockhouse in the nineteenth century, now it is a European cultural centre with exhibition spaces. Towers and crenellated walls emerge from the rock in Châtillon. Following the river upstream, a visit to the ancient Augusta Praetoria, today’s Aosta, is a must.
Although snow and ski slopes are the main attraction in winter, once you’ve taken your ski boots off and put your trekking boots on, between a walk in the mountains and a visit to a castle, the wineries are the best place to find refuge. Also wine enthusiasts will be bewitched by the magic of the valley that has a small but strong winemaking identity in just 400 hectares of vineyards.
The vine is cultivated all along the valley of the Dora Baltea and on the slopes of the mountains under pergolas supported by pillars that redesign the sides of the slopes. Most of the wines from Valle d’Aosta are drunk within regional boundaries, paired with traditional dishes, an excellent reason to travel as far as the extreme northwestern border of Italy in search of some rare wines, such as Chambave rouge only made by two wineries, or to see some of the highest vineyards in the world, in Morgex. Large cooperative wineries and small resistant producers make wine from Valle d’Aosta varieties such as Petit Rouge, Fumin, Cornalin, Prëmetta, Vien de Nus and the rediscovered Vuillermin among the red grape varieties, the white ones include Petite Arvine from nearby Switzerland, whereas higher up Prié Blanc grows. Picoutener is the local name for Nebbiolo, which has found an ideal habitat in the Donnas and Arnad-Montjovet area, just before the border with Piedmont. Also international varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero and Syrah give excellent results.
The cooperative wineries and the link with the territory
There are a total of six wine cooperatives in the region, together producing over half of the Valled’Aosta wine. One of them, the Cave Mont Blanc de Morgex et la Salle, collects grapes from the municipalities of Morgex and La Salle to produce one of the highest white wines in Europe: Prié Blanc still wine, a late-harvest sparkling wine. The traditional method Cuvée des Guides is produced at a high altitude: 2,173 metres, this type of viticulture isn’t called “heroic” for nothing. The winery is not far from the ski slopes of Courmayeur and the hot springs of Pré-Saint-Didier and can be visited all-year-round, by booking.
Coenfer is a wine cooperative located in such a suitable vinegrowing area that there is evidence of wine production dating from 1312. The Enfer area is in the municipality of Arvier, in a south-facing hollow, a condition that creates a hot microclimate hence the name “Enfer” meaning “hell”. The wines produced here have structure and personality. The cooperative has recently started on the road to environmental sustainability, deciding to convert all of their production organic. Visits by booking only.
After centuries of fame, Chambave Rouge has virtually disappeared today. There are only two wineries left that produce it, one of these is La Crotta di Vegneron, the other is a cooperative made up of 120 members. The winery and the shop are in the centre of the town of Chambave, next to the bar where the pensioners play cards and children play football just outside. There is a large production for both wines from native and traditional grapes, such as Muscat de Chambave and Nus Malvoisie, and those from international grapes, such as Pinot Noir and Müller Thurgau. A tour of the winery can be booked for groups of more than five people.
Viticulteurs Encaveurs, small united producers
Despite the spread of the cooperative phenomenon, many producers have decided to continue their business alone, though joining forces to publicise new products and to buy tools destined for common use. The Viticulteurs Encaveurs association includes 30 small wineries. One of these is Les Crêtes, founded in the nineteenth century by the Charrère family. The vineyards are located between 600 and 800 metres of altitude, with steep slopes, a high planting density and divided up into micro-plots. Although the native vineyards will always be a reference point, this winery reserves a special place for the international Chardonnay, skilfully interpreted in the Cuvée Bois, the mineral and vigorous son of the mountain. The new tasting room “Il rifugio del vino” (the wine refuge) has recently been opened, where you can taste the wines after a tour of the winery.
This family dimension is also common to a more recent winery, which has managed to win an important place among the Valle d’Aosta wineries in just a few years. Triolet is located in Introd, where the Martin family doesn’t just run the winery but also farmhouse accommodation recovered from an old building dating from 1656. In 1993 Marco Martin decided to replant an old vineyard at an altitude of 900 metres, replacing the Petit Rouge with an early variety such as Pinot Gris. It was a crucial decision and today Valle d’Aosta Pinot Gris continues to achieve huge success.
Ermes Pavese has pushed the resistance of the vine to its limits by growing Prié Blanc in the municipality of Morgex in the La Ruine area, where there are some vineyards that produce Ninive, a white dried-grape wine as fresh as the mountain breeze. The vines are trained in the low pergola system and grow at an altitude of 800 to 1200 metres: here the Prié Blanc plants are ungrafted because phylloxera has never arrived here.
The Grosjean family has been producing great mountain wines since 1969, strongly linked to their respect for the environment. The Grosjean Frères winery is in Quart and the grape varieties grown are the traditional Petit rouge, Fumin, Cornalin, Prëmetta and Vuillermin, together with Gamay, Pinot noir and Petite Arvine. During the tour let Tinì tell you some stories, he is an old vigneron who used to own a small plot of Syrah in the middle of the Grosjean brothers’ vineyards. He went into the vineyard every day until the age of 92, then he decided to rent the vineyard out to them so that after his departure they could continue to vinify the grapes the way he did: without added sulphites, the wine obtained from the grapes grown on this land is quite rightly dedicated to Tinì.
Where to eat
– Bellevue restaurant, in Cogne: a cosy, romantic environment with large windows overlooking the green mountain meadows and the Gran Paradiso mountain. Local cuisine and a long wine list.
– Café Quinson restaurant, in Morgex: for anyone who isn’t in a hurry and wants to enjoy all the local specialities. Housed in an old seventeenth-century house, the restaurant has been run by the Quinson family since the early nineteenth century.
– Baita Ermitage, in Courmayeur: a mountain atmosphere, panoramic view and well-cooked traditional cuisine combined with friendliness and composed simplicity.
– Maison Rosset, in Nus: raw materials with zero food miles, it has farmhouse accommodation and an educational farm. A rustic, intimate and elegant environment, it is ideal for large groups, offering the possibility of a private room.
Where to sleep during your weekend in Valle d’Aosta
– Bellevue, hotel and Spa in Cogne
– Triolet, farmhouse accommodation 5 kilometres from the border of the Gran Paradiso National Park
Locanda Lo Fòo, on the La Salle hill at 1550 metres
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