This is a story that began more than 30 years ago. I was eight at the time and as always, I spent a few weeks with my maternal grandmother in her country house in Podio. Podio is a small village on the plain between Bene Vagienna and Monforte, where my grandmother, Maria, was born. The daughter of brickmakers, she became a teacher. I remember her as very soignée-she always wore red lipstick and a string of pearls and carried a matching handbag and hat when she went out.
I’m a winemaker and also the mother of four children.
Two occupations seemingly difficult to reconcile.
I try to spend as much time as possible with my children, even in the midst of the high season and I’m working more than ten-hour days.
Everything gets even more complicated when for various reasons, I need to spend more time at home, especially as winter closes in. Everyone knows how easily children get bored and when work beckons, it’s hard to satisfy their desire for company.
But I try. Always.
So, how to invent something to keep my four children busy for the short time I can get away from work?
For sure it has to be a game for them and not ‘housework’.
Every day in the cellar, we uncork many bottles, and we keep all the corks if they don’t have filters or protective coverings.
Where do all these corks go?
The special container for corks that we keep in the tasting room is always overflowing: most of the corks are recycled with the help of the “Acchipicchia Workshop” that creates for our customers beautiful keychains
Corks can however, be recycled and reused in many ways and with many pleasant surprises.
Cork is a 100% natural material with many properties such as being waterproof, insulating, pliable, robust and light.
All qualities that make corks perfect for many creative uses.
Well, I’ve thought a lot about this, checked out hobby programs and sites and I’ve decided to take action myself: I’m going to try and come up with alternative uses to make objects and Christmas decorations, starting with a simple cork.
1. In the kitchen, corks can be transformed into original trivets or coasters: just cut the corks into disks of at least 3 mm and stick them together.
Tie a coloured ribbon around your eco-trivet and see how pretty it is.
2. Following the same procedure, you can also have fun making a lovely mat for the kitchen or the bathroom.
In this case, you don’t need to slice the corks up, just glue them together, as shown in the photo below.
3. To surprise your guests, decorate the table with name cards made with corks.
Draw a line to divide the cork in two lengthwise and cut into it to a depth of about a half a centimetre.
Now you need only insert a label with the name of the person who will sit there.
You’ll see how surprised they are!
4. Don’t waste money on expensive Christmas decorations: make them at home with corks.
From a small Christmas tree to garlands of little cork figures that the kiddies can play with, there are many ways in which you can recycle corks.
5. Here’s an great idea for entertaining children: repurpose corks as stamps.
Cut out letters and designs, dip them in coloured ink and have fun.
6. You can also make bulletin boards with corks.
Post-it notes and lists won’t be lying around the house any longer–they’ll be posted in full view.
Another fun way of decorating!
7. Just for a laugh: trim the cork at both ends to form a wedge.
Pinch them between your nose and lips: instead of drawing on white napkins when we are sitting and waiting in a restaurant, my children have a lot of fun stealing my cork and pinching it between their own noses and lips.
These are just some of the ways you can reuse corks, leaving plenty of room for imagination and perfecting the art of arranging a fun afternoon with your family all together!
Are you looking for an original Valentine’s Day present for someone passionate about wine?
Here are some simple ideas for you from the Josetta Saffirio cellar:
–A gift certificate for a tasting for two: it includes a guided tour of the cellar and a winetasting experience. You can choose between the Authentic Experience: that include a visit and a tasting of four wines, one of which is a Barolo, for have the possibility to taste different types of wine and have a 360-degree view of the company’s wines. Or, the Barolo Experience, a tasting of five wines, of which three are: Barolo Classic, Barolo Persiera and Barolo Reserve. A tasting more focused on Barolo and the different characteristics of this wine.
– A gift certificate for lunch in the cellar for two people: a cellar visit and a tasting in the cellar is followed by a light lunch. Lunch includes three antipasti and dessert in the Piedmontese tradition paired with four of the Estate’s wines. It’s for anyone who appreciates total wine and food culture.
– A gift certificate for truffle-hunting for two people: a truffle hunt with our ‘trifolau’ (truffle hunter) and his ‘tabui’ (truffle dog) in the local forest. It’s an experience for animal and nature lovers. The truffle hunt is followed by a cellar visit and a tasting of four wines (of which one Barolo) paired with a charcuterie and cheese board.
-Picnic amid the vines for two: a cellar visit is combined with a tasting of four wines (of which one Barolo). Following the tasting, a lunchbox with everything for a picnic is supplied: threetraditional Piedmontese antipasti, bread, water, dessert, plates, knives and forks and cups. The lunchbox also contains a bottle of either Barbera d’Alba Superiore or Langhe Nebbiolo along with a Josetta Saffirio corkscrew. It’s an experience to have outside!
-Gift certificate for an amount that you choose. The recipient can decide to use it to reserve an Experience on the Estate or convert it to buy wine.
-A mixed box of six bottles of wine: You can compose your own box of wine, choosing from Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Langhe Nebbiolo, Barolo Classico, Barolo Persiera, Barolo Riserva, Langhe Rossese Bianco, Classic Method Nebbiolo Spumante, Moscato d’Asti, Passito, grappa and oil. Compose your box of six bottles as you see fit!
All gift certificates are valid for a year; the recipient can decide when to use them. All activities should be reserved in advance and are subject to the availability of the cellar at any particular time.
Contact us for more information and to get your gift certificate!
There is no doubt that the estate’s vineyards are the beating heart of my work.Everything begins in the vineyards.
The first fruits of my labours and the labours of my co-workers come into being there. And the vineyards need my constant care throughout the year.
I have to keep an eye on what they need and when they need it, not only to bring home healthy grapes to make into wine, but also because they are part of a delicately-balanced habitat.
In Monforte d’Alba, in the subzone of Castelletto, where my cellar is located, there is a great variety of biodiversity.
The area’s many vineyards are offset by forests, fruit trees, hazelnut trees and meadows.
I am personally committed to leaving my surrounding environment untouched: 30% of the estate’s area has been maintained or replanted as forest. Within this uncultivated, there is an educational area dedicated to truffles, an orchard, a hazelnut grove and also beehives.
Areas such as these are ever more rare, despite their importance to the ecosystem and the local fauna which still take refuge in them.
For example, this past spring I often exchanged morning greetings with a hare frolicking in the courtyard; it became almost a daily occurrence to see it dash out and then disappear into a hedge.
During the harvest, when the grape clusters are nearly ripe and ready for picking yet another visitor confirms how good they are. Roe deer find them delicious–it would seem I’m not the only one who adores these sweet grapes!
Even badgers like a stroll among the vines. And how do I know this? Because they always leave very tangible ‘evidence’ that they’ve been there.
Sometimes in the evening, a fox steals out from the edge of a path, with its fluffy rust-red tail. It’s a rare treat to see one.
Ladybugs, butterflies, bees and earthworms are a signs of a lively, silent nature hard at work.
Over the days spent among the vines, I often come across a bird’s nest among the leaves. Robins and blue tits are the most usual, but they are becoming ever more difficult to spot. It is exactly for this reason that we have placed birdhouses in the small wood below the cellar, to help the birds build nests. We add balls of fat and seeds in winter to provide them with food during the cold season.
Shortly we’ll start on a new project which I’m especially enthusiastic about: a circuit with various stops for families with small children. Its purpose is to get to know the vineyard and the different types of environment around it, as well as offering a chance to enjoy a day out in the fresh air.
I would like to share what is closest to my heart: these vineyards that are home, but not just home to me.
They are also a refuge and a safe haven for other living creatures that I feel a great responsibility for looking after.
That the weather has a direct influence on each year’s results is irrefutable.
Every winemaker knows that the same wine can never be had, because the weather, which is unique and unrepeatable each year, has such an effect.
Often I realise that consumers look for a product they can recognise, with a familiar taste. This is just like going to a restaurant and asking for a drink of a particular brand and getting a similar, but different drink–one that we aren’t used to.
Of course wine isn’t–and shouldn’t be–compared to an industrial drink.
The latter should indeed have the same flavour to satisfy each client and reassure with the same, consistent taste.
But wine is an expression of the land,
the vintage, the weather
and the winemaker.
I find it really interesting to look for different sensations attributable to the weather in all its aspects (for example, different temperatures at different points during the year, the number of millimetres of rain, the percentage humidity, or the differing lengths of each season) and how these are expressed in the wine and influence each year.
- Vintages with higher than average temperatures (especially from flowering to harvest) usually bring early-ripening grapes, with greater quantities of sugar. This results in higher than average alcohol content than in cooler years, which usually result in less alcoholic wine.
- Years that are sunnier than usual can result in wines with more lively and intense colour (keeping in mind the colour characteristics of each variety) or wines with more attenuated colour.
- Years with greater temperature fluctuations between day and night (especially towards veraison) enrich and amplify aromas and bouquet, while also adding to elegance and refinement.
- Vintages that are especially favoured and of unusual quality are a result of excellent ripening (in all aspects) of the grape clusters, leading to a perfectly-timed harvest.
It is stimulating to look for and find all these aspects in a glass of wine, instead of looking for identical characteristics each year.
To be able to taste different vintages of the same wine and perceive the many different sensations is what I look for and prefer.
And it is also what distinguishes wine from any other type of conventional drink.
Here’s great news for wine lovers and anyone interested in the world of wine. Offers of food and wine served outdoors are on the rise in response to the demand for activities that put people in touch with nature and offer a chance to get out of the city for a day.
Food and wine tourism focuses on getting to know wine-producing areas and local cellars. Winemakers in these areas offer various activities, in addition to wine tasting which make an indispensable contribution of economic development throughout Italy.
For both experts and neophytes alike, visiting a cellar, getting to know the producer and his philosophy, learning about vineyard and vinification techniques and understanding the effort and enthusiasm behind each bottle of wine are all fantastic opportunities.
This is not a marketing strategy, it is communicating essential information to the client–useful knowledge to help in choosing products that reflect his or her taste as well as ideas about responsible, sustainable production.
We can no longer make excuses–we now know that we are what we eat and drink.
What can Piedmont contribute to satisfy this thirst for knowledge?
Here are some activities we recommend you try:
- Guided visits to wine estates, with tastings accompanied by local products.
- Spa and beauty packages using products derived from grapes, with their anti-oxidising and anti-inflammatory properties;
- Visits to local vineyards, as well as exploring and trekking in them to enjoy nature and the area’s magnificent panorama;
- Cellar and vineyard lunches that pair traditional local cuisine with typical wines of the area;
- Scooter tours with stops in various cellars and wine shops;
- Harvests open to tourists, so that they can participate in this unique experience firsthand;
- Bicycle and electric bicycle tours for exercise that respect the surrounding region;
- Truffle hunts with a truffle hunter and his dog, to discover all the tricks of the trade and observe a trained dog in action;
- Artistic and cultural activities such as installations and design-oriented cellars, many of them built with environmental considerations in mind.
- Yoga in the vineyard, to relax and exercise in the midst of breathtaking scenery;
- Vineyard picnics.
For this last activity the first picnic booking site, Picnic Chic, has been established.
This platform helps picnickers to find restaurants, gastronomy shops and cellars that offer special experiences, such as picnic baskets with local products ready for tasting outside.
A simple solution to the job of organising a day out.
These experiences combine the discovery of new places, both close to home or further afield, with support for small Italian businesses that now more than ever are in need.
It’s also the rediscovery of small villages and the beauty of Italy envied the world over.
I remember being little on cold winter afternoons with my grandmother recounting stories of the Piedmontese witches or
I was half-afraid and half-charmed by these stories that had women as heroines with magical powers. My grandmother told me about these women who lived alone, and had black cats and nocturnal animals accompanying them out at dusk to mutter curses and spells.
These women and their rites could influence the harvest of crops and grapes and even the health of people in the village.
They were blamed for drought, sick farm animals or unfortunate accidents in the fields. They could make things disappear and reappear in strange locations; how often did I hear “aj sun le masche!!”, or ‘it must have been the witches’! whenever my granny couldn’t find her glasses. And I laughed, ‘but Granny, they’re on top of your head!’I don’t want to recount the stories people told here, but rather how I looked at it, growing up. As I said before, most of the women who were considered ‘Masche’, were solitary women who had had a misadventure in life, or simply preferred to live as they pleased, without giving importance to what people around them thought.
These women, who frightened “normal” people, I would consider anticonformist, free and courageous.
Independence and choices that go against the grain often scare people who are afraid of the unfamiliar. All the more so if the anti-conformist was a woman. Irrepressible women who made bold choices, choosing to ignore the dictates of fathers, husbands or whomever else to keep them happy.
And instead, who followed their own desires even at the price of being viewed as a malevolent witch. I’m inclined to think that the legend of the witches came about because of limited knowledge in the areas of medicine, veterinary medicine and agronomy. Without a rational explanation of events, someone to blame was needed to explain the ‘why’ of each misfortune. The easiest and most efficient solution was to find a scapegoat, so much the better if it was a solitary woman with an unusual, if not wholly outlandish lifestyle.
Women have always had to work twice as hard to obtain freedoms that we take for granted today: choosing which clothes to wear, who to marry or if to marry at all, which job to do–in short to make choices regarding their own lives. Perhaps it is in some way thanks to these ‘Masche’ that we can now live our lives as we wish, and make alternative choices that in the time of the witches would have been looked at askance.
So hurray for the women with superpowers like courage, tenacity and a revolutionary spirit, ready to challenge any prejudice or superstition!
Here in Piedmont, we agricultural and winegrowing families have a unique word that immediately conveys a very precise meaning, a word that doesn’t exist in the rest of the world. It might not mean much outside our regional boundaries, but inside my head it conjures up the sound of the voices of my grandparents and parents.
That’s what we say here in the Langhe. In the Monferrato area they say casot, but it’s just a different name for the same thing.
For those who don’t speak Piedmontese dialect, a ciabot or casot is a tiny little house set in the middle of the vineyards, almost as though to protect them or to watch over the grapes. In actual fact, the ciabot has always fulfilled a much less poetic purpose than it might seem from the outside: it was merely a glorified tool shed, used to store the equipment used in the vineyard, inhabited by spiders, insects, the occasional field mouse and all kinds of birds.
The ciabot was created to meet the daily needs of those who worked in the fields every day and needed to take their tools with them every day, or as a place to take shelter from a sudden summer storm while they were working in the vineyards.
The natural solution was a little brick building that could also be used to store drinking water and food, as well as providing shelter for people.
Some of my childhood memories are of hot spring or summer days, running around barefoot and carefree among the vines, and then sitting down at the table of the ciabot to eat bread and jam, bread and sugar, or fruit. Those tables were also used at the end of the days during the grape harvest, when everyone would have dinner together in the vineyard, tired and dirty, but happy about the grapes that had been harvested to give birth to a new wine.
You can find ciabots everywhere in the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato.
Every vineyard has its own brick guardian which, if only it could speak, would have an endless stream of stories of generations of family to tell. Happy stories and sad ones, stories of arrivals and departures, of good harvests and bad ones, of drought, of years of hardship but also years that were sunny and serene, of children’s voices and the memories of the elderly.
And the ciabot has become UNESCO World Heritage.
Something that we’ve always had right under our noses has become a treasure, precious not only to us but to everyone. Things of simple beauty that tell the tale of a time when man’s pace matched that of nature, the two entwining in a strong and crazy love story.
Ciabots are so important to the people of Piedmont that a project called “Banca del Fare” (The Bank of Doing) has been created by the non-profit organisation Parco Culturale Alta Langa, to teach people the theory and practical techniques for the conservation of Piedmont’s heritage of stone buildings. A manual and tangible project to reconstruct the ciabots and restore the social dimension that characterised them in the past.
That’s just the way we Piedmontese are: we keep our heads down and work hard, concentrating on the fruits of our land, while building or work with invaluable treasures, like our ciabots, tiny houses full of life and the energy of the vineyards.
If you have the chance to pop in to see me, I’ll take you for a walk in the vineyards to learn about the ciabots of the Langa!
Ph credits: Franco Bello Fotografie
Luigi Veronelli used to say “you have to walk the earth”. Walk to learn, to live in perpetual movement and for the joy of progressing step by step.
So that’s exactly what we did a few weeks ago, with my kids Clara, 8, and Giovanni, 7, in the village of Murazzano: 749 metres above sea level, woods, animals and an impressive medieval tower which rises 33 metres above the houses. The village is known as the “shield and key of Piedmont” due to its strategic position, and is part of the Strada Romantica of the Langhe and Roero.
Have you ever been to Alta Langa?
I’m in love with it. I love that wild feeling that the part of the Langhe where Barolo grows has lost. If I close my eyes, I feel as though I’m breathing in the sea air. This is where my I’m going to plant my new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards, to make my Alta Langa docg.
Together with Clara and Giovanni, we walked and learned about the history of Murazzano, as though it were a fairy tale.
The village was once devoted almost exclusively to goat herding and is home to a much-loved DOP cheese named Murazzano after the village. Half way between a robiola and a toma, it’s made in small quantities using Langhe goat’s milk. It is also a Slow food presidio.
There is a legend about this cheese and I told it to the children, who like stories that are a little bit scary.
A young boy from Murazzano, called Giovannino, had been given the job of watching over some Murazzano cheeses but he became distracted and a big black crow swooped down and stole some of them. Frightened that his mother would be angry with him, Giovannino followed the crow as fare as Ceva, known as a meeting place for witches and devils. Giovannino was tired and hungry, so he decided to rest in a hut. When he entered the hut, he found a surprise: a table laden with all kinds of delicious things to eat. So the boy ate! All of a sudden the devil appeared and accused him of stealing his lunch. He ordered Giovannino to follow him to hell. The crafty young boy asked the devil to grant him a last wish: to drink some cool water from the well. Upon reaching the well, the devil leaned over it to see whether there was any water and Giovannino pushed him in. He promised to help the devil out but only if he returned the stolen Murazzano cheeses. The crow was actually the devil. And this goes to show how valuable this cheese was, so valuable that even the devil loved it (source: DOC cheeses of Italy, pp. 71-72).
Murazzano is a village known for its food and wine too.
Cafe Gianduja does excellent aperitifs (tel. +39 0173 798013): they have a list of very important and well-selected wines, including some very rare native grapes. If you want to have lunch or dinner in Murazzano, I can highly recommend Trattoria da Lele (tel. +39 0173 798016), a welcoming restaurant with a family atmosphere and a strictly Piedmontese menu. A great place to eat!
I’m going to close with some words from Veronelli: “Those who walk the earth know that the important thing is not to arrive, but to progress, step by step. Walking the earth is about expressing our lives in constant movement. Sometimes you have to stop to rest or think and to rejoice or cry, and then start walking again. Stop also to remember and relive the road you have travelled”.
Have you ever seen a vine “weep”? It really does happen. If you find yourself driving past a vineyard in March, stop the car and get out.
Walk up to a vine that’s been pruned and observe it carefully: every 30 seconds, a little teardrop forms on the incision where the vine has been pruned, and drops. This extraordinary phenomenon is something not everyone is aware of. We call it «weeping of the vine». Not tears of sadness, but a proclamation of life.
Let’s see what happens.
The plant reawakens from its winter sleep and recommences its lifecycle. The “tears” are little droplets of sap, rising up the stalk of the vine and seeping out. This happens when the roots start working again, when the sap begins to rise up through the wood. It’s as though the vine is taking a deep breath before the birth of the new buds.
But what happens to the vine to make it weep?
The vine is explained clearly on the website www.agraria.org: “The budding phase is preceded by a typical phenomenon of the vine called “weeping”, which is actually the release of fluid from the xylem vessels where they have been pruned. This is due, on one hand, to the reactivation of the sugar metabolism – the transformation of starch into simple sugars – and the consequent reactivation of cellular respiration, and, on the other, the high level of absorption that characterises the roots, which peaks during this phase”.
But what are the “tears” made of?
This varies from one grape variety to another, but as a general rule they are a combination of mineral elements, organic compounds, sugars and acids.
How do we know when a vine is “weeping”?
Good question! It’s impossible to know for certain but, according to some agronomical studies, it always happens just after the middle of March. Fortunately, it lasts a few days. Don’t miss it this year: it’s an emotional experience! This is another aspect of life as a winegrower!