New Releases from Castello Conti: Benchmark Boca

Posted on Posted in Castello Conti, Producer Spotlight, RWM Contributor

The story of the Conti sisters in Boca is a twofold triumph: as ultra-committed winegrowers who are reclaiming and replanting old vineyards in this difficult-to-farm zone, they are part of a larger effort to restore the Alto Piemonte to its pre-phylloxera glory and productivity; and, as visionary, trend-bucking women in a deeply conservative rural area, they have gradually overcome the skepticism and resistance of the local old timers, establishing themselves as undeniable leaders in the region. Elena, Paola, and Anna Conti are no newcomers, either; their father Ermanno, from whom they took over between 2002 and 2003, was one of the founders of the Boca DOC in the late 1960s, persisting in eking out wine from his single hectare there even as total production neared extinction during its nadir in the 1980s and ‘90s. Today, the sisters farm three total hectares in the zone, including a hectare and a half they cleared and replanted beginning in 2015, and their rigorous, biodynamically informed viticultural practices and extreme non-interventionism in the cellar place them squarely in the region’s vanguard.

Elena, Paola, and Anna Conti
Elena, Paola, and Anna Conti

These women, and the cellar in which they ply their trade, radiate a certain undeniable joy; we always leave a visit with Conti restored and rejuvenated, vibrating with excitement and marveling at the evolution of their craft. Elena is unfailingly warm and engaged, with an ear-to-ear smile that’s almost impossibly infectious; the patient trek to visit her Boca vineyards—which involves fording a stream and navigating vast expanses of spiky rocks and sliding sands, all in her heroically overworked 4×4—has provided plenty of opportunity to hear about her perspective and the history of the estate. And Paola is the calm center of the operation, exuding a patience, wisdom, and serenity that provide a wonderful counterpoint to Elena’s boisterous enthusiasm. Visiting the Conti sisters’ holdings and looking out at the steep, rolling hills of this sub-Alpine hamlet, one sees a vineyard here, a vineyard there, but the overarching theme is one of forests and scrub. A century and a half ago, these slopes, with their laboriously carved-out terraces (which are still there), were covered in vines, producing wines whose grandeur was acknowledged to rival easily that of the Langhe. Now, one must flex his imagination to see the possibilities at hand. But, with people as committed and talented as the Contis stewarding a bona fide renaissance here, the future of Boca is indeed very bright.

We have just received a round of new releases from the Conti sisters, including the 2015 Boca, a thrilling, career-making wine that announces with authority the potential for absolute greatness—not just greatness “for the region,” but a greatness on par with any Nebbiolo-based wine from anywhere—in this exciting place. See below for details, and do not hesitate in laying claim to your share of these scant quantities while they remain.

2015 Boca “il rosso delle donne”
Conti’s spellbinding 2015 Boca “il rosso delle donne” (“the red from the women”) presents an apparent paradox: how can a wine so charming, so exuberant, be simultaneously so majestic? The sisters’ fruit, supremely healthy and unfettered by over-extraction or excessive sulfur, evokes wild mountain berries—the kind you want to consume by the handful, bellyache be damned—and ripe, sappy black cherries that stain the mouth and hands. The acidity is wide-eyed and playful, bracing without being nerve-tweaking. At the same time, the complexity of the zone’s soils (volcanic porphyry, iron-rich clay, quartz, limestone, sand) brings to bear a finely wrought, multilayered minerality that is both detailed and imposing—like classical sculpture in its equilibrium of heft and subtlety. Rarely will one encounter a Nebbiolo-based wine that so deftly combines such harmonious drinkability with such a tightly structured elemental latticework, and this wine should drink beautifully at every stage of its long life (it is exceptionally accessible even now). It represents the clear pinnacle of the sisters’ work to date, and it is one of the most monumental young wines we have ever encountered from the Alto Piemonte. Compositionally speaking, Conti’s Boca comprises 75% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina, and 5% Uva Rara, from vines averaging 35-40 years of age. The sisters oversee fermentation in stainless steel without added yeasts or temperature stabilization, and the wine passes three years in a combination of previously used 500-liter Slavonian oak casks and assorted larger barrels, with sulfur added only just prior to bottling and in homeopathic amounts (around 30 milligrams per liter in total).

2016 Spanna Colline Novaresi
Spanna, of course, is the local term for Nebbiolo, and Conti’s is as proudly regionally distinctive as the word itself—a wine that could only come from within the reach of Monte Rosa’s long shadows. The vineyard from which this wine is produced belongs to a friend of Elena and Paola; it is farmed organically, according to the sisters’ specifications, and harvest is overseen and conducted by the Contis themselves. The Spanna (pure unblended Nebbiolo), like the Boca, is aged in a combination of smaller and larger used wood—in this case, for two years—and sulfur here, too, is kept to a bare minimum and applied only at bottling. If the Boca is driven more by its titanic minerality, the Spanna is built on a sense of kinetic energy—a wine of lift and drive rather than power. Fruits here are pitched higher and complemented by a more vertically oriented layering of spices and mountain herbs, and its tannins, while certainly not shy, serve to augment this impression of verticality with their lip-smacking freshness. This is mountain Nebbiolo at its finest and most articulate.

2016 “Origini” Vino Rosso
Several years ago, the sisters acquired a very old parcel—around 80 years—of vines planted in the traditional maggiorina trellising system which is unique to this zone. In maggiorina, four vines are planted in a tight square and trained in the four cardinal directions, forming a goblet shape. While it facilitates winter pruning and allows for notable old-growth wood on each vine, maggiorina also renders mechanical work impossible, and all vine maintenance must be performed manually—a painstaking effort on this steep south-facing slope, and one which stands in stark contrast to the wine’s exceedingly modest asking price. “Origini” (meaning “origins”) is a true field blend, comprising roughly 50% Croatina, with smaller amounts of Nebbiolo (around 30%), Vespolina, Croatina, Uva Rara, and Dolcetto di Boca (no direct relation to Dolcetto), with a stray vine of even more obscure local origin here and there. Everything is harvested and fermented together, and the wine is aged in fiberglass tank for a year before bottling—with an even smaller amount of added sulfur than the Boca and Spanna above. To avoid bureaucratic hassle from the often-conservative regulating authorities and to keep prices down, the sisters bottle “Origini” as a “Vino Rosso”—and, although it is always from a single vintage, the label bears no obvious vintage designation (a lot number on the side of the front label indicates the year of origin). In a way, however, it is the most Alto Piemonte wine the Contis produce; with Nebbiolo playing only a minor role, and with a training system so specific to the area, it speaks with a certain boisterous patois whose wildness evokes a bygone era and takes the mind even farther from the Langhe than do the Boca and Spanna. The 2016 presents a nose of great purity and lift, with a thickness of fruit and sappy thwomp which speaks to the high proportion of Croatina. As with all of Conti’s wines, it offers a certain scrumptiousness alongside its vivid evocation of terroir, and the spicy succulence here, along with a relatively underplayed minerality, makes it the most playful and accessible wine in their lineup.

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