The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Paradiso. Walking around Borgo Moncalvo. Water.

This is a story about an awesome walk in the wilderness that almost did not happen. Luca Elegir had the flu. I learned this distressing news moments after we shook hands. Yikes. I should have known something was wrong: he was green. He seemed wrung out, muted, diminished. Luca reported two previous bouts of the same illness this winter. The man was shaken. Pierluigi entered, clearly suffering the same malady. His farmer skin was somewhere between yellow and beige, not the picture of rude health I’d grown accustomed to from this man of the mountains. This was not to be a typical gregarious tasting at Borgo Moncalvo. But we tasted wines: good as always, actually steadily better. Andrea Elegir (the winemaker, Luca’s brother) is exceptionally talented, his talent is beginning to unwind; he is stretching out even in this early stage of his career. I get a sense he is about to blow past the pack of talented young winemakers thriving in southern Piemonte today. Amazing wines will come from Borgo Moncalvo one day soon.

Luca’s mom was a tolerant nurse during my visit. The men of the house were pathetic, needy. As the tasting sort of wimpered to its shaky conclusion, I made an off-hand comment about how beautiful the vineyards are on a sunny spring day. Really, Borgo Moncalvo’s fields must be seen to be believed. I’ve never visited another site like theirs in the southern Piedmont. Fantastic. Steep, remote, high above sea level: they look down on everything, a big part of why the wines are elegant even in the warmest vintages. The soil is stony, calcerous, visibly infertile. My out-the-door remark sprung Pierluigi into action. Suddenly the man is up, and wants to go for a walk! I couldn’t believe it. Luca looked flabbergasted. His father had influenza. The duo were taking industrial doses of prescription medication.

Our walk was spectacular. Maybe to vanquish his demons, Pierluigi seemed determined to go up and up and up, past nearly vertical vines, up narrow stone steps carved into rocky infertile fields planted between 1940 and 1945, through small stands of oaks planted as a catalyst for black truffles (Pierluigi’s semi-retirement hobby/job), and eventually to an old empty farmhouse above their top vineyard. Paradiso. This was the original dwelling of Pierluigi’s family. When his father died, Pierluigi’s wife who is from Rome (and therefore a city lady not down with living in a hermitage) refused to occupy it. I’d move there. I could write novels in a place like that. Nobody would pester you, that is for sure.

The views are truly stunning. The only sounds were water running in ancient cisterns, birds, and the rustle of a forest in late winter. Residents of Paradiso live life among the wild boar, a truly ascetic, remote existence.

The Elegir’s current home is only barely less removed. Maybe views of the hamlet of Loazzolo across the valley ease isolation. In reality you wind down one-lane switchbacks through vineyards for many kilometers to reach the farm. Wandering back down from Paradiso to the cellar we passed the family’s vegetable garden and traced the route of the modern aquifer that supplies their home. Their water is a real treasure, still pure. It passes through many strata of calcerous rock and then down the colline through their organic farm to the house and cellar. Few people have water like this, and it surprises me that its value is not widely recognized. The stuff of life, after all.

 My visit was switched to spring this year, and I think I’ll keep it that way in years to come. The farm really comes alive in March. And I can happily relegate to history concerns of getting stranded on the snowy tiny road to Borgo Moncalvo midwinter. I hope the guys are feeling better: the real heavy lifting of the viticultural cycle starts soon!


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