LE PIANE: THE LOST HILLS OF PIEMONTE
Boca was once the heart of a vibrant wine-making area in Northern Piedmont that produced Nebbiolo wines from high altitude, south-facing, terraced vineyards on volcanic soil. Then in the 1950s industrialization arrived in northern Piedmont and the farms and vineyards around Milan began to be abandoned as people left for the city and the easier money of the factories. Boca DOC was all but abandoned. Literally. It went from 40,000 ha under vine in 1950 to less than 10 ha in 1998. The terraced vineyards were simply abandoned and reclaimed by the forest.
Boca now is every wine-makers dream. An area that has a track record of producing world-class wines from a noble grape (Nebbiolo), volcanic soil at an altitude of 400-450 metres, and all the best south-facing vineyards are available or abandoned. And best yet – the terraces are still there – sleeping quietly in the forests – waiting to be reclaimed and returned to life. For a wine professional – to drive through these forests is like finding that lost forgotten place that you dream of but are sure cannot exist.
In the 1990s, there was only one producer of note left in Boca – Antonio Cerri and he was 80 years old. Cerri made elegant long-lasting Nebbiolo wines that would rival anything from the south. We recently tasted a 1990 and a 1964 Cerri wine – and these are Nebbiolo wines of the highest pedigree – still vibrant and bursting with fruit after 25 and 50 years. But, Cerri was the last real wine-maker left in Boca and he always said: “With me, Boca will die.”
But one person, came to buy his wines, one person revered him, and one person was determined to carry on his legacy and ensure that Boca would not die with Antonio Cerri. That person was Christoph Kuenzli. When Cerri passed in 1998, Christoph bought the estate and through 90 separate real estate deals he expanded Cerri’s small vineyard to a manageable size of 6.5 ha to carry on the tradition of making great wine in Boca.
His vineyards lie between 400m and 450m. They are all south-facing and include some original 80-100-year-old vines planted in the “Maggiorina” system that is unique to the area. In this system, 4 vines are planted in the centre of a 4m by 4m area. Then the vines are trained to make a “crown” around the vines. It is the ideal system for manual growing and harvesting and it allows a single pruning in the winter and a lot of old-growth wood on the vines that leaves them healthy and vibrant without the need to interfere with them during the growing season.
The soil is also loose volcanic soil that allows the roots to penetrate deep into the hills – this – combined with the low density of the Maggiorina training system – means that the roots systems of these old vines are enormous – providing amazing phenolic maturity and complexity without heaviness.