For over a century, Nadia Verrua’s family has been making wine in the hills of Monferrato, around the village of Scurzolengo, in Piemonte. Cascina Tavijn is comprised of 10 hectares of hazelnut groves and vineyards, farmed organically and with very little intervention. As a child Nadia worked alongside her parents Ottavio and Teresa, today they work alongside her and provide endless inspiration for her clever wine names and striking labels.
I visited Nadia in November, at a time when harvest was over, and the majority of grapes were comfortably in various states of fermentation and resting. An artist and a scientist, Nadia’s passion and resoluteness for crafting low intervention wines radiates through immediately upon meeting her.
Her vineyards are 300 meters in elevation, with calcareous limestone and sandy soils. Below the calcareous layers is compact sand and marine fossils, a reminder of the sea that covered this area during the Pliocene period.
It’s easy to see why chemicals and manipulation are so prevalent in commercial wine manufacturing. Once you have harvested, risk of loss is considerably diminished; the winemaker is guaranteed a marketable product in known quantities year to year. Low intervention, and/or natural winemaking is filled with risk, from too much humidity during bottling, quick fermentation, too much sugar… the list is infinite. And for small winemakers, a loss in the cellar can be devastating.
But when nature smiles, or you can coax respect from her, the result is extraordinary. Willing to take the risks, in fact it’s part of Nadia’s driving winemaking force. She bucks conventional wine practice, saying “why can’t it work?”. She sees the potential of her fruit, and applies her cellar box of tools to craft wines that express the distinct place from which they’re from.
One of her principle tools is the pied-de-cuve, a French term, famously used by pioneering, visionary winemaker Frank Cornelissen in Sicily. It’s one of the methods a natural winemaker can employ, rather than resorting to chemical yeasts and stabilizers. A small amount of grapes are collected a few days before harvest, these grapes are pressed and fermentation begins. This is then added to the main harvest grapes. This ancient winemaking technique stabilizes natural yeast fermentation, preventing undesirable strains of yeast, ensuring purity of aroma and flavour, without the addition of chemicals.
Nadia uses pied-de-cuve for the majority of her wines, observing the fermentation process, making sure it isn’t too fast, or the wine will be too acidic. Fermentation is generally done in cement tanks from 1960, built right into the walls of the cellar. She also experiments with the pied-de-cuve, using it as a seal, preventing oxidation and trapping Co2.
She combines grapes and techniques such as a Barbera and Ruchè blend in ‘68’ and Moscato, Cortese, and Chardonnay made with a red wine process in the ‘Bianca’. She bottles Grignolino in nearly every conceivable way, from pet-nat to ripasso. She crafts a traditional sweet Ruchè that sees some oak ageing, and a rosé Freisa. She utilizes all manners of material for ageing vessels; cement, fiberglass, plastic, wood and glass. Her unique approach is a true synthesis of indigenous Piemonte grapes with traditional, ancient techniques.
Paralleling her creativity in the cellar, she pushes the boundaries with her wine names and labels, such as ‘Ottavio Funk’, ‘Communist G Par Tout’, ‘G Punk’, ‘Teresa La Grande’, to name a few. Her names are non-traditional, but they are personal, humorous and even funnier when you are in on the joke. Her eye-catching labels are a collaboration with Giancluca Cannizzo of My Poster Sucks. Simple imagery and text that invoke pop art sensibility, the labels are striking and unmistakable. An inventive, decorative impression of the wines they accompany.
Below are the wines Nadia shared with me.
Cascina Tavijn ‘Bianca’ Vino Bianco 2018
Winemaking: Moscato pied-de-cuve starts it off, made like a red wine with the stems crushed in with grapes. 4 day maceration, fermented in steel then fiberglass. With its own mind, it naturally refermented in the bottle.
Tasting Notes: An agile synthesis of slightly sparkling lemon, lime, orange zest, wildflowers, minerality and trace of spice with a squeeze of citrus acidity. Saline minerality and hazelnut linger between each bright sip.
Moscato, Cortese, and Chardonnay
Cascina Tavijn ‘Ottavio Communist’ Vino Rosso 2018
Winemaking: This is her ‘traditional to the area’ Grignolino. 10 days of carbonic maceration in fiberglass, followed by time in plastic tanks.
Tasting Notes: Racy, spunky, with wild berries and bramble entwining with spice and fresh herbs. Ceylon tea tannins compliment the savoury finish.
Cascina Tavijn ‘Ottavio’ Vino Rosso 2018
Winemaking: 2 months skin maceration, fermentation in concrete, ageing for a couple of months in steel.
Tasting Notes: Supple and juicy, with morello cherry, pomegranate, red currant, black cherry and bramble supported by fresh acidity and black tea tannins. Raspberry, hazelnut and earthy minerality linger between each silky sip.
Cascina Tavijn ‘Teresa’ Vino Rosso 2017
Winemaking: The historical sweet Ruchè of Monferrato, traditionally made to go with the village cake. 2 months fermentation in cement, aged in steel.
Tasting Notes: A play between sweet and sour, with concentrated cherry [black and red], wild strawberry, a drizzle of honey, spice, wildflowers and summer woods.
Cascina Tavijn ‘Teresa La Grande’ Vino Rosso 2016
Winemaking: Fermented with the skins for 2 months, aged for 1 year in concrete, followed by 1 year in oak.
Tasting Notes: Dense and plush, with juicy raspberry/strawberry/cherry pie, nutmeg and ginger melding into the velvety, spice driven finish.
Cascina Tavijn ‘Rosetta’ Vino Rosato 2018
Winemaking: Aged in demi john.
Tasting Notes: Lively and bright, with sweet apple, cherry, raspberry framed by green tea tannins and fresh acidity.