NEXT STOP BARBARESCO

An Aus­tralian cou­ple en­am­oured with neb­bi­olo has opened a win­ery and cel­lar door in a cen­tury-old train sta­tion in Pied­mont. ALECIA WOOD climbs aboard.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - OCT - Pho­tog­ra­phy PAUL BARBERA

An Aus­tralian cou­ple has opened a win­ery and cel­lar door in a train sta­tion in Pied­mont. Climb aboard.

Aheavy haze drapes the hill over­look­ing Barbaresco’s old train sta­tion. It’s a warm, misty morning – such morn­ings are com­mon dur­ing spring and sum­mer in the Langhe wine district of the Pied­mont re­gion, in Italy’s north-west. By au­tumn the mist trans­forms into lin­ger­ing, blan­ket­ing fogs. So dis­tinc­tive is this fog – “neb­bia” in Ital­ian – that the area’s most prized wine grape, neb­bi­olo, is said to be named af­ter it.

South Aus­tralian wine­maker Dave Fletcher re­calls his first taste of Ital­ian neb­bi­olo, back in 2000. He was study­ing oenol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Ade­laide at the time. “It was the first time that a wine re­ally hit me,” he says. “It re­ally in­vig­o­rated an in­ter­est in some­thing new.” Cu­rios­ity about the na­tive Pied­mon­tese grape turned into fas­ci­na­tion, and a new life. Dave and his wife, Eleanor, opened their own win­ery and cel­lar door, La Stazione, this year in the derelict train sta­tion that served the town of Barbaresco for nearly 75 years.

Grown com­mer­cially in the re­gion as early as the 15th cen­tury, the neb­bi­olo grape pro­duces wines with high acid­ity and tan­nins, the abil­ity to age well over many years, and a com­plex nose of­ten fea­tur­ing cherry, tar and rose. The cov­eted DOCG (Denom­i­na­tion of Con­trolled and Guar­an­teed Ori­gin) Barbaresco and Barolo wines are made from 100 per cent neb­bi­olo – aged for a min­i­mum of two and three years, re­spec­tively – and grown and pro­duced ex­clu­sively in the Pied­mon­tese zones of the same names. Oth­ers, such as Langhe Neb­bi­olo and Ghemme, must be made with mostly neb­bi­olo and can be blended with other lo­cal grapes such as barbera, dol­cetto or vespolina.

Be­yond Pied­mont, neb­bi­olo has reached vine­yards in Cal­i­for­nia, Ar­gentina, South Africa and Chile; Aus­tralian winer­ies have also adopted the grape as their own, mostly in the Yarra Val­ley, the Hill­tops re­gion in south­ern New South Wales, the Vic­to­rian Mur­ray Dar­ling and the Ade­laide Hills.

Dave’s fas­ci­na­tion with neb­bi­olo led him to this foggy val­ley in Barbaresco. With more than six years’ ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing wine at Tin­lins Wines in McLaren Vale, O’Leary Walker Wines in the Clare Val­ley and, in the Yarra Val­ley, at Trea­sury Wine Es­tates, Mad­dens Rise and Sticks, he re­wound to the be­gin­ning, start­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship in 2007 at Ceretto Wines, a renowned Langhe pro­ducer of bio­dy­nam­i­cally grown Barolo and Barbaresco.

“Af­ter the 2007 vintage, it was like, this is where I want to con­cen­trate, on neb­bi­olo,” he re­calls. “I felt to be a suc­cess­ful pro­ducer of neb­bi­olo, you re­ally need to prove your­self here [in Pied­mont].”

In 2009, he launched Fletcher Wines as a vir­tual win­ery. With­out his own land or equip­ment, he bought grapes from Pied­mon­tese grow­ers and ne­go­ti­ated the use of wine­mak­ing equip­ment at Ceretto, al­low­ing Fletcher Wines to pro­duce strictly

con­trolled Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as a Langhe Rosso blend (equal parts neb­bi­olo, caber­net sauvi­gnon and mer­lot). At the same time, he started mak­ing two neb­bi­olo wines in Aus­tralia from sin­gle-vine­yard grapes grown in South Aus­tralia and Vic­to­ria. “I chose to make an ex­pres­sion of neb­bi­olo that’s in that youth­ful phase, with a fruit-driven style, be­cause it com­ple­ments the ex­pres­sion of ter­roir,” he ex­plains.

In 2012, Dave was ap­pointed as an as­sis­tant wine­maker at Ceretto. He and Eleanor moved to Pied­mont with their baby daugh­ter, Ge­orgina; their sec­ond child, Emily, was born in Alba in 2013. “Land­ing where I have, I’m in­cred­i­bly lucky,” he says. “The op­por­tu­nity to take on a wine­mak­ing role in such a his­tor­i­cal, fam­ily-ori­ented wine pro­duc­tion area is one in a gazil­lion.”

One af­ter­noon over drinks, a lo­cal wine­maker men­tioned that Barbaresco’s old train sta­tion was on the mar­ket. “He’d said it half in jest,” says Eleanor,

“but we went down to have a look and in­stantly fell in love with it.”

The cou­ple bought the sta­tion in 2014. Built in 1917 and un­used for some 20 years, the build­ing was struc­turally sound but in need of ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion. “It’s in an amaz­ing lo­ca­tion among the best vine­yards of Barbaresco,” Dave says. “Elle fell in love with the façade and the way it was struc­tured in­side. I fell in love with the idea of how I could turn it into a win­ery.”

Winer­ies in Pied­mont typ­i­cally re­quire ad­vance book­ings for vis­its, and tast­ings and tours aren’t al­ways avail­able in English. The Fletch­ers wanted to in­tro­duce a more ca­sual, trav­eller-friendly wine and food ex­pe­ri­ence at the sta­tion. “We had this vi­sion of the sta­tion be­ing a hub, en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to en­joy wine tast­ings while also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the re­gion gen­er­ally,” says Eleanor.

The restora­tion of the her­itage-listed build­ing took longer than they’d ex­pected. “I’d say we were highly naïve, but I would also say we were both born op­ti­mists,” Eleanor says with a laugh. Ex­ca­vat­ing the cel­lar, for ex­am­ple, en­tailed painstak­ing re­moval, stor­age and check­ing of piles of dirt and rub­ble.

The Fletch­ers opened La Stazione in May this year. They’re now in the mid­dle of the vendem­mia, the har­vest, from which they’ll make their first wines on the site – a chardon­nay, a Barbera, a Barbaresco and the Langhe Rosso blend – un­fil­tered and lim­ited to 15,000 bot­tles. (Fletcher Wines’ Barolo will con­tinue to be pro­duced at Ceretto to com­ply with zon­ing reg­u­la­tions.)

Five wine tanks are housed in the sta­tion’s for­mer wait­ing room, while oak botti (bar­rels) and bar­riques are stored in the un­der­ground cel­lar. The old sta­tion mas­ter’s of­fice has be­come a light-filled tast­ing area bor­dered by the orig­i­nal wooden ticket booths, and stor­age rooms have been con­verted into a bar and a kitchen.

The cou­ple of­fers vis­i­tors guided flights of up to five wines and tast­ings, and char­cu­terie and cheese­boards to en­joy along with a bot­tle or wines by the glass. Eleanor will ex­pand the truf­fle tours she’s been run­ning for the past few years with a lo­cal hunter, and La Stazione is now host­ing laid-back cook­ing lessons on Sun­day af­ter­noons, run by two Pied­mon­tese women who own the nearby butcher and pasta shop. There are also plans to turn the up­per level of the sta­tion into a bed and break­fast.

Meanwhile, Dave’s love af­fair with neb­bi­olo con­tin­ues. “It’s such a com­plex va­ri­ety to work with,” he says. “It’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to be some­thing I’ll ever get my head around in my lifetime.”

Clockwise from above: tast­ing area at La Stazione; cheeses and pro­sciutto; Fletcher Barbaresco “Recta Pete”; Dave Fletcher with his C15 Langhe Chardon­nay; Eleanor Fletcher tak­ing a pri­vate tast­ing; agnolotti del plin from a cook­ing class.

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