Oltretorrente – biodiversity at its fullest
It has been more than two years since we were last in Italy. WhatsApp and Zoom can do so much to keep us in touch with producers we used to visit regularly. Chiara helps by sending regular emails and photos at the turn of each season to update us on what’s new in the vineyards and how wines develop in the cellar. We can’t taste the wines, but we have never been closer.
Chiara and her husband Michele are the face, mind and arms of Oltretorrente, a tiny winery whose name may translate as “beyond the stream”. It can also be translated as “counter-current” – and Chiara and Michele are indeed so. While most of the younger generations leave the agricultural inland to settle in the comfort of the big cities, this wine-obsessed young couple sought help from friends and family over ten years ago to leave the city of Milan and settle in the small, unknown town of Paderna, on the hills of Tortona, where population stands at 167 and is mostly in retirement age.
Chiara looks happy, while we sip the same wine but each seated at the opposite end of a long distance Zoom call. After completing her PhD, and working overseas for a short run, she realized she wanted more from her life. Michele used to work for various wineries, including some big names but felt he wasn’t doing enough to fully develop his talent. Their dream had been to start out a winery of their own to make the wines they like with an organic approach and respectful of biodiversity. After a decade spent revitalizing vineyards that had been left unattended for years by the retiring generation of wine-makers, we can say firmly they made it. Their hard work is consistently met with appreciation for their wines by the experts and the public alike.
Chiara and Michele make two red and two white wines only – this is a winery extending over 7 hectares of land divided into 10+ tiny parcels scattered all around the hills of sleepy Paderna, 300-meters above sea level. And yet, every year we are astounded by the diversity of flavours they extract from each vintage. Macerations and aging are never standardized. In general, there is no skin maceration for the whites but malolactic fermentation may occur. For the reds, harvest happens late to ensure full ripeness. Among them, Barbera Superiore is a single-vineyard wine from 100+ years old vines. Rosso is a blend of mainly Barbera and Dolcetto which may contain grapes from various parcels in different quantities each year.
Production is entirely organic and currently stands at 25-30,000 bottles a year.