Old Vines & Hard Work Up in the Piacenza Hills
Owner & winemaker: Barbara & Paolo Pulliero
Vineyard area: 5 ha (=12 acres) of old vines, estate-owned or in long-term rental
Vineyard management: certified organic
Soils: clay-silt, limestone
Main varieties: Malvasia Aromatica di Candia, Ortrugo, Barbera, Bonarda (also called Croatina)
Annual production (app.): 10.000 bottles
Winemaking: skin-contact white, red. Concrete, fiberglass vats. No fining or filtration. No sulfur added
- “Filarole” means “a couple of rows, a small vineyard” in the local Piacenza dialect – a very fitting name for this small-scale family project
- This self-taught husband & wife team has chosen to work with old vines only, saved after years of neglect, and complanted, as was the traditional custom in the area
- The wines are made from traditional local grapes: Malvasia Aromatica di Candia and Ortruga for the skin-contact white, Barbera and Bonarda for the red
- Barbara’s background is in theater and online communication and Paolo used to be an engineer; together, they left their city lives to pursue the dream of rural life and clean wine.
The Tidone Valley, home of Filarole, lies just 90km from Milan, but the thought of the polished hustle and upscale skyline of this Italian financial metropolis feels almost surreal here. During our October visit, we are greeted by rolling hills, dreamily covered in fall colors and fluffy mist, disturbed only by an occasional stone house or village: a rural area overflowing with calm and beauty. Serene and pleasing as it is, it has recently suffered from a loss of population and biodiversity, something that Barbara and her husband Paolo have decided to change by living out their own dream of making clean, honest wine from old local vines. “Wine respectful of the vintage, the consumer, and, above all, ourselves, as we’re the first to drink it. A good wine sold at a fair price, a win-win for all parties involved, including your health,” Barbara summarizes.
The couple caught the natural wine bug the way most of us do: by drinking it, enjoying its vivacity and diversity, and falling for the freedom and charm of its creators. As their contacts with local natural wine growers grew more and more frequent over the years, they finally decided to leave their city life (Barbara has a background in theater and communication, and Paolo used to work as an engineer) and move to an old, rustic stone house up in the hills in the 2000s. They started to make their own wine in 2009, learning on the go with grapes purchased from friends; finally, in 2017, they took a step further and bought a neglected, more than 50-year-old vineyard surrounded by organic fields and forest. “An oasis of organic farming,” as Barbara says, allowing them to finally start their own sustainable, nature-respecting small agricultural project that strives to revive these picturesque yet sleepy slopes.
It was a perfect spot for those two who see old vines as natural heritage, something absolutely worth saving for its biodiversity, resistance, and remembrance of things past. Each vine in Filarole’s vineyards is an individual, and their age is evident in all their twists and knobs; working with them is quite a feat, rewarded only by a low yield. Both the first Gabbiano vineyard and their newly acquired Ca Nuova Pisani plot are a medley of local varieties, including some unidentifiable vines of other varieties and even a dash of table grapes, spicing up their wines with true local wildness. The most present grapes are Malvasia di Candía, an aromatic local kind of Malvasia that makes it perfect for their pleasantly floral skin-contact white, accompanied by Ortugo and Trebbiano; their reds are a blend of Barbera and Bonarda (the latter also called Croatina or Corvo, Italian for “raven”, because of its very dark skin and juice).
The local DOC honors this field-blend tradition by requesting the two red grapes to be harvested together as well, but Barbara explains that due to the significantly different ripening times, they opt for picking them separately, each at their optimum maturity; it’s better for the wine, and they don’t care about getting the DOC stamp anyway. The harvest here takes quite a long time, with vineyards located from 150 to 400 meters above sea level, and so the grapes are naturally blended in the fermentation tanks, as they keep on arriving during the vintage. “We have a very ‘precise’ measuring method called cassette,” Barbara laughs when asked about the proportion of Barbera and Croatina used in their Rosso, referring to the small crates they use for the manual picking. “But there’s always roughly 80% Barbera and 20% Croatina. Barbera is the light, amusing part, and Bonarda the strong and tannic one; we want our wine to be a fruity, pleasant, everyday table companion, hence we stick with this ratio.” After tasting the wine along with some typical charcuterie from a local butcher and delicious capsicum & cheese pie, prepared by Barbara and Paolo on their vintage stove for our lunch, we can’t but support this approach.
The couple does basically all the work in the vineyards themselves, helped by their two teenage kids and an occasional Wwoofer (more about the initiative here). And hard work it is: their current Wwoofing helper George recalls how difficult the harvest can get, especially in the wetter years when you spend a lot of time sorting the grapes during picking. “Yes, but this work saves you 80% of potential problems,” Barbara explains: “If you want to make the wine the way we do, without any additions, you need to have the best raw material you can get. But we’re quite lucky here in the sense that our fermentations always go rather smoothly, and we’ve also never needed to add sulfur. Not that we’re so bravi, or skilled, but probably because this is a historical winegrowing area with the appropriate conditions.”
It’s touching to hear such a humble approach to natural wine, to meet someone this down-to-earth and bound to their local community (Barbara also co-organizes a small natural wine fair nearby). After spending only a couple of hours with them, we find ourselves rooting for this hardworking family and wish them the best of luck in making their plans for greater autonomy a reality soon, like planting a new Trebbiano plot. Or turning the now derelict barn next to their house into a proper cellar of their own, so that they don’t have to make wine in their friend’s space in a nearby village anymore. The good news is you can do your part in making their dream come true too: by simply enjoying their tasty, friendly, unpretentious wine.
Fatto Coi Piedi, which means “made with feet” features the stunning Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, a grape variety found only near Piacenza and a few other areas close by. It is a thick-skinned, very aromatic grape, which turns out to be perfect for a skin-contact wine.
Varieties: 35% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, 35% Ortrugo, 25% Trebbiano, 5% mixed indigenous varieties
Age of Vines: 50 years on average
Winemaking: Grapes are hand-picked in small crates, selected, then crushed, and fermented using only indigenous yeast. Maceration takes 21 – 30 days with frequent punch-downs. Aged in fiberglass tank until bottling in spring. No fining, filtration, or sulfites added (total SO2 under 10ppm).
Personality: a sunny, outspoken orange wine with an intense aroma of flowers and grapes. Delicate tannins, nice salinity. Lovely with saffron risotto, carbonara, or other non-tomato-based pasta dishes; also cured or raw fish, or Asian cuisine (curry chicken, spicy stir-fries, laksa soup…)
Varieties: 80% Barbera, 15% Croatina, 5% mixed indigenous grapes
Age of Vines: 40 – 100 years
Winemaking: Grapes are hand-picked in small crates, selected, then crushed, and fermented using only indigenous yeast. Maceration takes 20 days with frequent punch-downs. Aged in fiberglass tank until bottling in spring. No fining, filtration, or sulfites added (total SO2 under 10ppm).
Personality: Easy-drinking red with distinct acidity, typical of the Barbera grape. Medium body, dry tannins. The perfect everyday wine going well with snacks, cold cuts, tomato-based pasta dishes, savory pies, or lasagna. And, of course, pizza.