Stefano Bellotti’s Cascina degli Ulivi in Piemonte’s Tassarolo hills (province of Alessandria) is one of Italy’s pioneering biodynamic estates.
The now 16ha vineyard converted to biodynamics in the mid-1980s.
Viticulturally, Bellotti’s style of biodynamics [“BD”] is quite an interventionist one, and I mean that in a good way.
He sees the practice of cover cropping or ‘green manuring’– sowing plants like legumes, crucifers, grasses and buckwheat between the rows to improve soil structure, to maintain healthy nutrient levels, to prevent erosion, and to provide biodiversity – as a better way of maintaining soil fertility than by using animal manure-based compost.
Cover cropping is a plant-based organic tool also used in but not specific to biodynamics.
Composting is another organic soil fertility tool which is also used in biodynamics where it has fundamental significance.
This is because biodynamic compost piles are also seeded with six “preparations” or “preps” made from the medicinal plants called yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian. Before they go into the pile they are “prepared in a special way”, BD shorthand for “aged in animal organ sheaths which are exposed to the elements for 6-12 months.”
Bellotti applies the compost preps in a different way – via soils sprays. he feels excess compost creates too much fertility for the vines.
Excess fertility turns vines into couch potatoes, which are then more easily prey to pests and diseases.
As Bellotti rarely has to trim his vines in spring-summer he seems to have created a vineyard which self-regulates. This is the kind of state to which all vineyards should aspire.
Unlike some French and Italian growers who can show a less than fastidious approach with their BD sprays, Stefano Bellotti sprays the other main BD preparations horn manure ‘500’ and horn silica ‘501’ regularly.
These sprays help soil, vines and grapes tune in fully to natural and seasonal cycles to maintain the long-term health of vines, wines, and wine-grower (assuming s/he drinks his own wine).
The grapes are hand picked and fermented with minimal additions. At their best Bellotti’s wines show real wildness of fruit, savouriess, clarity, ripeness, lift and texture. They can also show some of the kind of funk and blur that his style of non-interventionist winemaking can invoke.
My favourite wines of his are
– the Gavi ‘Filagnotti di Tassarolo’ from old vine, 100% Cortese, fermented in acacia wood with some skin contact, no racking, and no added sulfites. An intriguing wine of fibrous, apricotty-funky depth.
– the Monferrato Bianco ‘A Demûa’ from five local white wine grapes of unknown origin. Lively saline citrus flavour and with a very original texture
– the Montemarino Bianco from mainly Cortese grapes. Shows textural denseness from extended skin contact, then peachy flavours with some herb and funk
– the Mounbè Barbera, a bright, tidy, wild, direct red you’d take on a light picnic lunch then wished you’d saved for a generous main course at dinner
– the Dolcetto ‘Nibiô’, a red whose quite structured tannins can taste aggressive if the wine is too cool (cellar temperture or below). Nibiô = Dolcetto in local dialect.