During Vinitaly, I met with Francesco Monchiero, president of the Consorzio Tutela Roero. Like Barbaresco and Barolo, the two famous regions located on the right bank of the Tanaro River in Piedmont's Langhe hills, the Roero area, on the river's left bank, has now delimited its crus for its Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes.
"The goal is to demonstrate that Roero has a long historical production," he explained. "Arneis memories go back to 1400, even earlier for Nebbiolo," he added, referring to a time when Roero was an important viticultural area, "but most important for us is to place Roero in those very few regions in the world able to create a map of quality vineyards, like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo and Barbaresco."
Barbaresco's Menzione Geografiche Aggiuntive (MGA) have been enshrined in legislation since 2007; Barolo's since 2013. The MGA's in the former are large, while Barolo, whose individual communes organized its boundaries, has some large MGAs (Bussia and Bricco San Pietro in Monforte) and smaller, tightly defined ones in Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d'Alba.
These lessons weren't lost on Monchiero. He began proposing the idea of mapping Roero's top sites to its growers eight years ago (the Consorzio was founded in 2013). He wanted strict rules to give the crus integrity. Roero's Nebbiolo-based reds don't have the same reputation as its neighboring Barolos and Barbarescos and Arneis is better known as a fruity white enjoyed in its youth.
Monchiero felt only the best areas for growing grapes designated on the labels would improve the image of the region. The crus must have historical significance as areas of grapegrowing and a minimum of 50 percent devoted to Arneis and Nebbiolo. There must be at least three growers in any MGA and only the middle and top parts of the slopes were allowed. Finally, wine must be produced from the designated crus. "It was very important to have strict rules, but also to apply them homogeneously across the region," Monchiero told me.
For example, the Renesio cru was known for its wines in the 1400s and is reputedly the source of the Arneis grape. Three surrounding crus are allowed to append their names to Renesio (think Cannubi in Barolo, or Montrachet in Burgundy). However, they must use both names. They cannot simply use Renesio.
The Consorzio assigned one grower from each commune to reach consensus with its growers. Still, the process was difficult. Monchiero recalled a heated evening with the growers of an area called Occheti. The meeting began at 8 p.m. By midnight, one grower told Monchiero he owned a gun, he knew how to use it and he better not see Monchiero near his house. Monchiero suggested making the map without Occheti on it. By 2 a.m., they had an agreement.
Monchiero conceded that the new map isn't perfect. The Valmaggiore cru, a steep hillside known for its Nebbiolo, is too large, in his opinion. But the fact that Bruno Giacosa and Luciano Sandrone make Nebbiolo there attests to its significance.
The designation of Roero's crus is a big step forward for the area. It remains to be seen if it can garner greater recognition for its wines.