The Antoniotti family has been making wine in their town of Casa del Bosco (Sostegno) in northern Piemonte for generations. Today Odilio, along with his son Mattia, work the vines and make the wines in the same traditional manner.
They currently work six hectares in two of Italy's smallest DOC's, Bramaterra and Coste della Sesia. Bramaterra is truly microscopic, with only a handful of vignaioli producing it. Coste della Sesia, while still small, is a broader 33 hectare appellation that overlaps with Bramaterra, Gattinara, Lessona and many others: usually the wines that are deemed of lesser quality will receive this appellation. A good example: four of the Antoniottis' six hectares fall within the Bramaterra appellation but only two are vinified as such.
Both appellations are Nebbiolo dominant, but the wines are always blended with various amounts of Croatina, Vespolina and Uva Rara depending on the vintage. Bramaterra needs to be aged at least 22 months in barrel before bottling but the Antoniotti do 30 months. Their Coste della Sessia ages for 18 months before bottling.
The soils here are volcanic porphyry, a type of granite rich in minerals. The vineyard work is done using guyot training, only sulfur and copper treatments at minimal levels, organic compost but no fertilizers. Grapes are picked by hand, de-stemmed, fermented in underground cement tanks for about 12-14 days, racked into stainless for malo and put into barrels around the end of December (or left in stainless in the case of Pramartel). There is no fining or filtration. Sulfur use has lowered over the years, and the Antoniotti currently only add some on their harvest before vinification in order to block any insects or leaves to interfere with the fermentation.
This visit with Odilio Antoniotti took place in May, 2014.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Jill Berheimer, Josefa Concannon and David Norris.
When you've travelled all the way from another continent to visit an estate, the last thing you want is getting rained out. It really dampens the mood!
This was unfortunately the case as we pulled up to Casa del Bosco to visit father/son team Odilio and Mattia Antoniotti. In the winter it's not the end of the world since the vines are hibernating and it's cold as shit, but when you've just landed in Italy in early May and the vines bursting full of vigor and life, you definitely want to spend as much time outside as possible. Alas, the rain was coming down hard, and it looked like it was going to be an "inside only" visit...
Luckily, the Antoniottis have some nice inside stuff to visit. For example, their really old cellar:
The cellar is directly under their family house, divided in two parts and dates back to the late 1700's. What you see here is the vinification area.
Grapes come in through this window:
All of the wine ferments in these large concrete vats from 1910.
There used to only be a single huge vat, but Odilio split it in 2 to focus on more precise vinifications. The grapes are de-stemmed, and fermentations take about 3 weeks, with 2 to 3 remontages a day. The wine then clarifies (decants) in stainless steel before being racked to barrel about a month later to age. Many of their barrels are made from oak chopped down on their own land.
The Antoniotti family produces two D.O.C wines: Bramaterra and Coste della Sesia. Both are micro-appellations, with 8 producers bottling Bramattera and 20 for Coste della Sesia.
"And each producer has a tiny annual production."
Factoid: the tiny village of Casa del Bosco was originally built as a lord's hunting resort. The historical reason vines were planted in the area is because the lord and his crew naturally needed wine to celebrate after the hunt!
Moving on, Mattia showed us their labeling room, which is literally just a room where they hand label EVERY SINGLE BOTTLE ONE AT A TIME WITH GLUE AND A PAINT BRUSH!
That's what I call attention to detail!
From the cellar, we trekked upwards to the Antoniotti's semi-formal tasting room. Old bottles were proudly on display, including this 1964 produced by Odilio's grandfather.
From the tasting room, a large window faces a large hill right by the house.
"50 years ago, this entire hillside was planted in vineyards."
Before getting to down to business, Mattia busted out some local cheeses.
There was also some Prosciutto thrown in for good measure.
Finally, there was some wine to taste!
We started the tasting with a first time experiment, a delicious Rosato made from 24 hour saignée. It follows the same blend as the Bramaterra: 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina (also known as Bonarda in Emilia-Romagna) 7% Vespolina and 3% Uva Rara (which literally translates to rare grape). My notes said it was "super good" with "super purity".
Next up was the Coste della Sesia 2011, which is always 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Croatina. It was dark and fully bodied but super fresh, with bright acidity and nice finish.
"This is the best Coste we've ever made."
Conditions were perfect in 2011: cool winds, no illness, no hail.
We ended with the Bramaterra 2010, which is aged 3 years in barrel before release. It showed more structure than the Coste della Sesia, and even though there is less Nebbiolo in it than the Coste, I felt the wine to be more marked by the Nebbiolo than the rest.
Someone asked about the lesser planted and known grapes used at the estate, and Odilio answered:
"Having many grape varieties balances the vineyard and ensures that if something goes wrong (with one of the grapes), you have the luxury of a back up plan."
By the time the tasting was over, the rain had majorly subsided and we decided to brave the elements to visit some nearby vineyards. Incredibly, Odilio had eight million umbrellas handy and was able to lend one to each of us.
Well, everyone but me. I actually got a broken parasol.
The first vineyard we visited is 450 m elevation and produces Coste della Sesia.
In better weather conditions, you can clearly see the Alps and the Sesia river in the background.
The vineyard is and isolated clos, exposed full South and is planted in Nebiollo and Vespolina. The soils here consist of volcanic Porphyry, which is a type of granite. Odilio decided to grab a huge chunk of it to break it down.
"Every different color you see is a different mineral, which adds much complexity to the wine."
Here's another, smaller piece to give you an idea.
The next vineyard we visited took us through a slippery and very uneven road that you can only access with a 4x4 truck.
This is their main vineyard; the current vines were planted in 1978, but the Antoniotti family purchased the land in 1860 (Odilio still has the contract papers stashed somewhere!) The soils are also Porphyry, but much finer and pebbly.
The Antoniottis have never used herbicides.
"We till the grass, and that becomes a natural compost."
The site is a proper viticultural amphitheater, and as such the exposition spans from South to South-West.
Basically the younger version of the "Bramaterra" with the same blend: 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina, 7% Vespolina and 3% Bonarda, partially aged in stainless and partially in botti.
Nebbiolo with 12% of Croatina. Odilio uses the same vinification but then ages it in 500-liter barrels (no new wood) for 18 months. The vineyards are in a southwest-facing terraced amphitheater where the soils are sandy and limey.
From their oldest vines, in a high elevation vineyard on porphyry soils that drain extremely quickly and are full of minerals and nutrients. The vinification is the same as the last two wines. The wine is aged in large botti of at least 1250 liters in underground cellars for at least 30 months, then in bottle for 6 months before release. It is 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina, 7% Vespolina and 3% Bonarda.