AR.PE.PE.

The Pelizzati’s are lucky. Their grandfather was one of the important negociants in the Valtellina. Their father Arturo developed the winery further. You might say they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Certainly the cellar under the Grumello grand cru has enough space to work well, and room to mature wines in large 40-50 Hl barrels for 3-5 years, and facilities to store bottles another 2-8 years. This is a blessing, because it’s one of the few top wineries that I know in Italy that can release wines onto the market which are more ready to drink.

The philosophy is to work as naturally as possible in the vineyards.

Valtellina lies in northern Lombardy on the border to Switzerland. I began working with Isabella and Emanuele Pelizzatti a few years ago. They are the children of the late Arturo, and they have continued their family wine traditions. They are both delightful and profound people, not to mention Isabella’s husband Enrico. Enrico is an architect and doesn’t work in the winery yet he created the new offices and tasting room at the estate, as well as being instrumental with regard to various company designs.

The Pelizzati’s are lucky. Their grandfather was one of the important negociants in the Valtellina. Their father Arturo developed the winery further. You might say they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Certainly the cellar under the Grumello grand cru has enough space to work well, and room to mature wines in large 40-50 Hl barrels for 3-5 years, and facilities to store bottles another 2-8 years. This is a blessing, because it’s one of the few top wineries that I know in Italy that can release wines onto the market which are more ready to drink.

Story

In the late spring of 2013 I stopped off with Ondřej Pokštefl, Pizza Nuova for a whole day of hiking in the vineyards and tasting, primarily in the cellar, on our way to Barolo. One of the greatest pleasures I experience in a winery is when the wine producer, in this case Emanuele, tastes with me in the cellar. This is a very important process for understanding the winery and where it is headed, especially in the case of AR.PE.PE., whose current release of complex wines such as Rocce Rosse is the 2001 vintage. When I taste 2012 from the barrel I’m in a time machine traveling into the future. Rocce Rosse 2012 will probably be released in 2020, what a thrill!

Emanuale is only 34 years old, yet his calm composure, wisdom and focus are astonishing. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, Emanuele and Isabella have kind hearts (they’re also a hell of a team), and kindness is one part of the complex holistic equation that I use to convince myself that a winery is not merely good but great.

I travel to Italy more frequently now because I feel it’s important. I want to learn more, go more in-depth, and really know the people I am honored to be associated with. I now only take serious wine trips, since time is a valuable and a seemingly shrinking commodity. If possible I try to calibrate my organoleptic faculties at the beginning of the trip, so that I am maximally tuned into the grape in question. This is what we ended up doing at AR.PE.PE. We tasted perhaps 15 barrels and then bottles, and it worked! The next day at the Barolo tastings in Monforte d’Alba we had a hard time with most wines on offer, because AR.PE.PE. was, pardon my French, kick ass. Is that unfair? Not at all, first who would have said that Valtellina could compete with the Holy of Holies, second if a wine isn’t up to scrutiny I’m frankly not interested.

Which brings me back to AR.PE.PE. Until this trip opened my eyes to how special the wines of AR.PE.PE. I am embarrassed to concede that I had them slightly on a back burner. I love their wines, enjoy their wines, but Valtellina, and then their delicate or austere character, as Luca Gardini describes them below.

Fortunately for my Barolo and Barbaresco producers they are stars. Unfortunately for me there is no chance of ordering enough wine to last the year, not even Langhe Nebbiolo. In this case I am constantly on the outlook for the next big thing coming out of the Langhe. On this trip I visited especially one young estate, which I think bears great promise in the future, but if their vintage 2012 from the barrel is truly splendid it can mean waiting another four years before introducing it.

In the meantime I need Nebbiolo, but I’m too spoiled to compromise. That’s where the light bulb came on after revisiting AR.PE.PE. Over the last 1-2 years our clients have been placing more trust in our wine recommendations, even if they require more attention. Whether in the case of cloudy Prosecco on the lees, Pinot Grigio with character, Carmignano that doesn’t taste of vanilla pudding, or Chianti which isn’t tannin-free, we’re seeing great results. Thank you to all of our clients who like wine.

AR.PE.PE. is the solution I have been searching for. They produce a Rosso di Valtellina which is a cuvée of younger vines and lower vineyards, all part of the grand cru positions that they own, all pure Nebbiolo. The vintage is 2011, a hotter year which in this case helps to promote it more widely, since the wine is fuller with a good ripe fruit note and less present acidity. It’s our new “Langhe” Nebbiolo, the perfect introduction to complex Nebbiolo wines. I have more bottles to work with and the wine is luxurious. AR.PE.PE. makes delicate or austere wines, because they respect Valtellina and mountain Nebbiolo, as well as carrying the grace that Emanuele imparts on them, similar to what Giuseppe Mascarello does to Barolo. I know that clients sometimes have problems identifying with these wines, because they are sophisticated, subliminal and extremely elegant. Wine drinkers have been brain-washed with big-bodied wines for so long that they don’t have many alternative examples to follow. It is similar with Il Paradiso di Manfredi in Montalcino. Elegance rather than power, terroir rather than cellar work. If in doubt think to the great Bourgogne reds. Then open a bottle of AR.PE.PE., Giuseppe Mascarello or Il Paradiso di Manfredi. Forget you’re in Italy and enjoy. And don’t worry, you have more of the real Italy in the glass than most people ever experience.

Winery Stats

The estate comprises 15ha of which 12ha are under vine. The annual production is 60,000 bottles.

The philosophy is to work as naturally as possible in the vineyards, which is not a laughing manner in context of the extreme steep terracing necessary to cultivate a sufficient amount of vines. The training system is Guyot and they work according to the principles of Simonit & Sirch. Manual harvest is done in small cassettes so that the grapes arrive in the cellar in perfect condition.

Fermentation takes place in 50hl tronco-conical wooden vats, with very long macerations in great vintages destined for Riserva classification.

It is important to underline that Arpepe does not release all labels every vintage. According to the quality of the vintage (the skin thickness is of paramount importance) shorter or longer macerations are decided, which then determines the relative aging time. In practice: vintages with thin skins become “small” Riservas in Bordeaux bottles, vintages with thick skins “grand” Riservas in Bourgogne bottles.

The current estate was founded in 1984 by Arturo Pelizzatti Perego, who shared the precious heritage of values and knowledge from four generations of vintners with his children. Today, Arpepe is a young and non-conventional winery, run by children Isabella, Emanuale and Guido, and projecting itself enthusiastically into the future. Products with traditional methods, no concessions to passing trends, all wines in the cellar exalt Nebbiolo characteristics, the extraordinary grape variety which, other than the Langhe, finds its maximum expression in the heart of Valtellina.

The uniqueness of the estate is also respected in the cellars, which dug out from the base of the mountain just below the grand cru Grumello, at the gates of Sondrio city. Outside the cellars, above the botte, the vineyards are protected by famous stone walls that climb right up to the Castello De Piro, the medieval fortress that still today dominates the largest extension of terraces in Europe.

The grape variety Nebbiolo is locally called Chiavennasca, alluding the the nearby city of Chiavenna. The vineyards are planted with a massal selection for their own vineyards for the last 50-100 years, as well as a clonal Valtellina selection from the Fojanini Foundation.

Arpepe has the following vineyards, all in grand cru terrroir:
8.5ha in Sassella
2.5ha in Grumello
1ha in Inferno

At the moment our producers, being “traditionalist”, are in vogue. It is flattering to see the press and mass consumer body increasingly acclaim this list of producers as top of the league. However I have seen wine trends come and go, and the ratings are not what counts. Important is how these people work day in and day out, their sacrifices, how great their vineyards are, long-term focus on what’s best for the wines, and certainly the character of the person also plays a part in the equation. Whether because the wine is rude, dirty, over-priced, all of these human attributes lend their weight to the final product which is wine. Lately it is no longer enough for me that the wine is natural or extraordinary, the holistic picture of the winery that emerges must make sense. I am not a star chaser and I pride myself slightly narcissistically on having a pretty good nose for the next wine revelation. It’s really not that difficult. It’s a sum of parts that, if they come together, create magic. If any nascent wine producers happen to read these remarks, please don’t be put off. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s the overall methodology of trying to reach for the stars that separates the wheat from the chaff.

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