Standing on a hilltop in Gattinara, with the heart of the Nervi estate spread before you, one can see why Roberto Conterno, the owner of the Giacomo Conterno estate in Barolo, fell in love with this property. But the purchase of the majority of Nervi by Conterno in the spring of 2018 may also be a huge boost for both Gattinara and the Alto Piemonte region.
When I asked Conterno in May 2018 why he chose Gattinara, he responded that the real question was why he waited so long. He had been interested in Gattinara for some time. "I know Nebbiolo well and, in terms of landscape, it's a fantastic place," he told me. Gattinara DOCG wines are required to be made from at least 90 percent Nebbiolo grapes, known locally as Spanna.
Conterno purchased Nervi from a group of Norwegian investors who bought Nervi in 2011. Erling Astrup, a collector and client of Giacomo Conterno's wines, and who represented the Norwegians in that deal, is also a friend of Roberto Conterno's. He retains 10 percent of the property.
Nervi was founded by Italo Nervi in 1906. After 85 years of ownership by the family, it was sold in 1991 to the Bocciolone family, whose fortune came from the steel industry. After a period of neglect, Astrup was determined to revive Nervi's fortunes.
Nervi's vineyards spread over 70 acres of slopes alternating with steep valleys that offer numerous exposures. The heart is the amphitheater of Vigneto Molsino, 12.35 acres facing full south and rising to 1,385 feet. This is the filet of the 32-acre Molsino parcel; Valferana, another vineyard just to its east, occupies 20 acres. These are bottled separately, while the third wine, a Gattinara, comes from a mix of estate parcels.
Astrup had sought Conterno's advice at Nervi, and the latest releases have new labels with Conterno's name as a subtle addition on the bottom. In a move to improve quality, there were no single-vineyard bottlings in 2015, only the Gattinara, from a barrel selection of the best lots. In a recent blind tasting, it received 94 points ($56), while the Valferana 2014 and Molsino 2014 earned 95 ($125) and 93 points ($125), respectively.
The wines are traditional, the Gattinara aging in large casks for three years, Molsino and Valferana for four years. Lighter than Barolo in body and high in acidity due to the volcanic soils, Gattinara is capable of long aging.
Conterno told me last spring that he doesn't plan on changing a lot, although he is expanding the cellar adjacent to the original. He retained longtime winemaker Enrico Fileppo, who has been with Nervi since 1984, augmenting the Nervi team with his crew from Giacomo Conterno.
Quality is already on the rise, and tastings from cask of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Molsino show fine potential. However, the biggest beneficiary may be Gattinara itself and the entire region of Alto Piemonte.
Gattinara's vines once covered nearly 1,500 acres; today, there are about 235 acres dedicated to Gattinara DOCG and an additional 25 acres for Costa della Sesia DOC. Lorella Zoppis, president of the Consorzio Tutela Nebbioli Alto Piemonte and co-owner of Antoniolo, another of Gattinara's leading estates, told me another 25 acres of vineyards are about to come into production, and the Gattinara region is growing, albeit slowly.
Nonetheless, Conterno is a superstar whose Barolos are highly sought-after, especially the Monfortino Riserva. Nervi's wines have already significantly increased in price. His arrival in Gattinara may fuel greater interest in Alto Piemonte and its wines, an interest that is already gaining momentum in the United States.