The Langhe and Roero regions are among the world’s most generous for the quantity and quality of wines produced.

The origins of their outstanding bounty can be found in a micro-climate particular to the area, their geographical position, and the richness of soil types to be found there. All these factors contribute to the region’s biodiversity – also illustrated by the richness of other plant species, such as the 39 species of wild orchids native to these hills.

The Langhe hills are situated in the southern part of the Region of Piedmont, between the Maritime Alps and the Apennines of the Italian Riviera. The name ‘Langhe’ is believed to be of Celtic origin and signifies ‘tongues of land’, describing the shape of these steep-sided elongated hills which run parallel to one another and are separated by high, narrow valleys.

 

The Langhe’s largest river is the Tanaro, which separates the northern part ( the Roero, from the name of the medieval family’s feudal property), from the Langa in the south. Both of these areas are hilly, although the Roero’s hills possess a different geology and shape, with steeply rising and rocky inland cliffs being a prominent feature.

 

The Apennines protect the hills from currents of air arriving from the sea. Masses of air from the Mediterranean meet those coming down off the Alps and prevent cold currents arriving from the north from hitting the hills.

Natural fluctuations in climate are frequent and can be appreciated in the glass: every vintage is different, in fact, producing an endless variety in flavors and perfumes.

 

The various micro-climates created by the hills and valleys of the Langhe, influenced by the continental climate of the entire area, stimulates particularly fine and aromatic nuances in the wines. During the summer, the difference between the heat of day and cool nights increase the aromas in the skins of the grapes and ensure the superb variety which is the hallmark of this region’s structured and complex wines, perfect for aging. The tannins typical of these grand wines also contribute to their constant fascination.

The soil of the Langhe is the result of the Padano Sea, which withdrew from the area around 16 million years ago, leaving behind it a substrate of clay, calcareous marl, blue marl, tufa, sand and sulphur-bearing chalk. These substances are to be found in alternating layers, giving the area’s wines their structure and finesse. The clay-chalk terrain of the Langhe tends to produce fullbodied reds, whereas the softer and sandier soil of the Roero is perfect for fruity whites.

 

The geological structure of the Langhe originated during the Miocene period, 15 million years ago, resulting in a compact and solid terrain. The Roero is more recent, having been formed during the Pleiocene of the Tertiary era, five million years ago. As this part of the earth was once under the Padano sea, it is still extremely rich in marine fossils of all kinds.


 

The foolowing description offers a view of the Langhe from a travel writer’s perspective who came to know the area during the 1950s: “ These are hills where magnificent vineyards flourish, where castles dominate from their hill-tops in feudal splendour. The hills greet the visitor with a gentle air, but this is entirely deceptive, for they soon reveal their true character as the violence of their geology, with its harsh white erosive nature, becomes apparent. And the visitor is entirely captivated by these sweet slopes with their hard, hidden soul.”

From ‘Viaggio in Italia’ (Journey Through Italy) by Guido Piovene, Milano, Mondadori, 1957.

 

This is how journalist Guido Piovene described the Langhe of the ‘50s, when the people of South Piedmont still suffered the effects of that rural poverty described so well by writer Beppe Fenoglio, who gave it the name ‘malora’.

The ‘malora’ was an inevitable, generational condemnation to a life of want, hunger and servitude which had afflicted the area for centuries. Local ‘contadini’ – subsistence farmers - eked out a living on the hillsides with nothing to save them from ruin if the harvest was destroyed by the rain or drought, typical of the capricious nature of these ‘harsh hills’.

The unexpected arrival of industry in the ‘60s was a siren-call that proved irresistible to many young people and the hills emptied as they flocked to local cities to work in the factories.

However, the economic boom was also to arrive in the countryside: during the 1970s and ‘80s. In fact, wine making became a prestigious and profitable enterprise in itself, shaking off the old image of vineyard drudgery.

 

Many of the sons and daughters of those ‘contadini’ who had escaped the hills to work in factories returned to their father’s vineyards and made their fortunes by replanting forgotten hillsides with vines and designing new, modern wineries.

The economic and social conditions of the Langhe were rapidly changing as Mario Soldati noted in 1975, in his book ‘Vino al vino’ (‘Wine to Wine’). Everything here 

revolves around wine. But it is not the inhabitants of the area who monopolise their product, it is their product that monopolises them.”

 

In the Langhe, wine isn’t just one of life’s pleasures, a drink among many – it is the society’s very foundation, the region’s history poured out of a bottle. Here, concentrated into a perfumed liquid, are the people’s beliefs and values.

 

In the Langhe, there has always existed a kind of symbiosis between man and vine, illustrated over and over in local lore, art, poetry and sculpture. One of the most touching examples of this devotion are the “standing stones” that were once placed to ‘guard’ rows of vines in the vineyards – a tradition still present in some areas right up until the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Only two of these anthropomorphic vineyard ‘menhirs’ remain, discovered in Regione Paroldo near Vesime, although in this particular vineyard there were originally more than twenty pairs. “The standing stones” testify to a heartfelt devotion to the land, reverence for its fertility, and the tendency to keep alive a certain pagan religiosity.

 

Stone carvers of a distant past used rocks turned up during ploughing to create virile male and plump female figures that the ‘contadini’ then placed in their vineyards perhaps with some kind of fertility ceremony.

 

The intensification of viticulture in the area has also meant a change in the landscape, with woods and hazel groves gradually disappearing from the Low Langhe hills to make way for a vine monoculture. Obviously, this is not an entirely benign phenomenon and has been the cause in some areas of soil erosion and a reduction in biodiversity.

 

Compared to the past, the physical strain of working the steep-sided hills of the Langhe has been mitigated, but not entirely eradicated, by modern farming methods. Much work, including pruning and harvesting, still has to be done by hand owing to the gradient of the slopes, although this is also a hallmark of the grower’s skill and a factor guaranteeing quality.

 

That the hills of the Langhe and Roero in Cuneo Province are a top quality wine-growing region is immediately obvious if one considers some simple statistics: nearly 90% of vineyards are contained within the official list of Doc and Docg denominations – a percentage which is the opposite of most other Italian wine growing areas, where 60% of vine cultivation is of generic varieties. In 2008, of Italy’s 325 Doc wines, 44 (13.5%) were from Piedmont, with twelve out of 41 – nearly a third - Docg wines being Piedmontese. The importance of viticulture in the Langhe is also indicated by

the number of people employed in the sector: 12,000 of which 4,500 are grape growers and 1,200 are wine producers.

  

One of the Langhe wine world’s greatest riches is its variety. Here, grand and powerful reds for lengthy aging and special occasions are produced, alongside others that are consumed early and can be enjoyed during any meal.

Perfumed whites also have an important place on the list. All of these wines, when compared to the offer even at an international level, are full of personality and subtlety and, in addition, offer excellent quality for the price.

 

The Langhe’s so-called ‘triangle of quality’ comprises its unique combination of climate and soil, called ‘terroir’, the presence of native vine varietals producing, in turn, a rich variety of wines, and the passion of local wine producers who have dedicated their lives to developing the fruits of their land.


 

© 2014 Azienda Agricola Flli. Massucco - All the images,text and logos present in this website are of rispective owners. - Privacy Conditions