Fontanafredda: A Jewel in Piedmont’s Langhe

Winemaking is a way of life in Italy. On many occasions, Italian vintners have commented that their homeland is “one massive vineyard.”

Nowhere is the “wine life” taken more seriously than in the northwest province of Piedmont, in the foothills of the Italian Alps. There, one of Italy’s most celebrated wines is produced, one that enjoys the same status as fine art: Barolo.

For more than a century and a quarter, Fontanafredda has provided a benchmark for authentically styled Barolo and other Barbera-based wines—bottlings that deftly balance intense aromas and deep fruit concentration with elegance and finesse.

Fontanafredda was founded in 1878 in the heart of Piedmont’s Langhe region. Among its most prized vineyard sites are those in the Serralunga d’Alba commune, a hub of distinctive and intriguing Barolo wines. While the hillsides are evenly contoured, the texture of the calcareous soils can vary widely within the space of just a few dozen yards—some quite loose, some with a high proportion of silt, and much of it dominated by clay.

The climate is considered “continental,” which equates with wide variations in air (and ground) temperatures from season to season. This is fairly typical for winegrowing regions. The main factor that differentiates Langhe vintages is the amount of rainfall received during the spring and fall months.

Like many Italian wine estates, Fontanafredda’s is steeped in history. In 1858, when Lincoln and Douglas debated for the first time and Macy’s opened its first store in New York, Vittorio Emanuele II made an important real estate deal. The first king of Italy purchased the Fontanafredda estate, and began transforming the former hunting preserve into a country home.

Grapevines already dotted the landscape, and before long, Emanuele was producing fine red wines from the indigenous Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo grapes.

Today, Fontanafredda is the largest contiguous wine estate in Piedmont, with more than 305 acres devoted to grapevines, including 210 acres in the Serralunga, Barolo and Diano d’Alba communes. In addition to its estate-grown fruit, Fontanafredda has access to many of Piedmont’s other great vineyard sites, a key to maintaining consistently high quality from year to year.

In addition to its Barolo and other traditional Piedmont table wines, Fontanafredda has gained a reputation as an exceptional producer of sparkling wines. But Barolo will always be the estate’s star.

Nothing is left to chance by lead winemaker Danilo Drocco, who utilizes ultra-modern equipment while embracing traditional cellar techniques. As an example, Fontanafredda’s single-vineyard Barolo completes its fermentation and begins its maturation in 4,000-liter French oak barrels before being transferred to huge, ancient (read: traditional) Slovenian oak vats for extended aging.

As Drocco likes to say, “Barolo should reveal itself little by little, rather than all at once.”

That is the Italian way, and that is the Fontanafredda way.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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