Ghemme is one of the oldest towns in Piemonte and is known for the DOCG wine that bears its name and its native son, the renowned architect Alessandro Antonelli. The town of Ghemme also has one of the province’s best preserved medieval sections and the Rovellotti winery is on, what was centuries ago, the main street.
Antonello Rovellotti, who owns the winery with his brother Paolo greeted us and immediately on our arrival and was pleased to see the Italian surname on my business card. He began our visit with a tour of his neighborhood and its history.
“This area was surrounded by a wall with a moat in front of it,” he explained, “to keep out the invaders from Lombardia. There were frequent wars but we always won because the Piemontese are superior, of course,” he added with a grin. At the end of our tour of the street, Antonello stopped at to one of the houses across the street from his office and pointed up.
“This was my grandfather’s house. Actually, my family has owned it since 1540 at least. That’s when they started using surnames in records in Piemonte, so we’ve probably been here longer,” he said as my eyes widened, to think a family could live in the same place, even the same street, for five centuries. The Rovellottis make most of their wine right on this street of their ancestors, the former medieval homes now housing large oak barrels, winemaking and bottling equipment.
Although I, from mobile America, was astonished, such attachment to place is not unusual in Italy and for wine, place is a defining element. DOC and DOCG wines must be grown in specific regions and under conditions prescribed by law. Antonello’s family had farmed the land around Novara and grown grapes and made wine for themselves, just as had another winemaker I visited, Alfonso Rinaldi. Antonello still owns his family’s vineyard, growing the native Nebbiolo grape among others.
The Grape of Piemonte
Nebbiolo is the most renowned grape of Piemonte, and the chief component of its famous Ghemme wine. It produces a rich red wine, with high acid and tannic, and rich flavors, often described as having a taste of berries or roses. It has a very intense red hue that varies according to age.
While there are different ways to make Ghemme, Antonello mostly follows the traditional way, aging the wine for two years in oak barrels before moving it for longer storage in stainless steel. Many Rovellotti wines are also bottled right on the same medieval street.
With our tour and description of the winemaking process at and end it was time to try some. We entered the small office across the street where Paolo was working and Antonello laid out nine bottles of wine he produced in order of their richness and complexity, a wine flight.
We tried four or five of the wines, starting with erbaluce, the only white wine Rovellotti produces. Antonello next described his rosé—a popular substitute when the limited erbaluce ran out, and then moved on to a blended wine he called Colline Novarese, to a Nebbiolo, and ended with Ghemme and his Ghemme riserva, the king of the winery.
I enjoyed them all, and even convinced Antonello to open a couple of others he hadn’t planned to show me. But my favorite turned out to be the Vespolina. An offspring of the Nebbiolo, the Vespolina grape, also native of Piemonte (and perhaps Novara) is often used with blending with other wines–it makes up 15 percent of Ghemme DOCG. The Rovellottis are renown in the area as the parents of Vespolina, largely responsible for the local popularity of enjoying it on its own. I found Vespolina to be unique. Tannic with a rich dark red color, it had an unusual flavor of black pepper, without the hot.
I was going to buy a bottle or two of Vespolina but Antonello had mentioned he had only 15 bottles left. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it. So I settled for a picture of the fratelli Rovellotti, with Cristina, my guide from ATL Novara, who had worked very hard for over almost two hours, translating a very loquacious Antonello. “But you are Italian, you must speak it!” Antonello said firmly to me shortly before Cristina and I left for the Agriturismo La Cappuccina, stopping first for café lungo at the nearby bar.
Next stop: Agriturismo La Cappuccina