In honour of Olivio Cavallotto (and other Barolo producers) who passed away due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
When tasting the battery of wines produced by Cavallotto you know there is something unique which cannot be repeated anywhere else in the world. This small plot, in an enviable position on a prominent Castiglione Falletto hill called Bricco Boschis, is where the Cavollotto family has been producing outstanding Nebbiolo grapes for many generations. But it was the young Olivio Cavallotto, one of the unsung pioneers in Barolo, who first bottled his Barolos immediately after WW2. However, it was not for this reason, in my opinion, that he was a pioneer, nor for the fact that he was one of the first to make single plot Barolos such as Vigna San Giuseppe and Vignolo, at about the same time when the Barolo boys were stealing the limelight with their barriques and judicious blending of various components. He was a pioneer due to the quiet way he introduced organic farming methods, sustainability, grass between the rows and eliminating altogether insecticides and herbicides when the whole agricultural world was gearing up for a chemical spraying frenzy which continues to this day.
Since 1976 the Cavallotto estate has been farming organically. Alfio Cavollotto states this was primarily to protect the people who were working in the vineyards from the dangers of chemicals. Alfio points out that the vineyard workers are in the vineyard 10 months a year and in contact with the vine, often with bare hands. However, he also notes that it gives a more “genuine” wine, from grapes with little contact with any product outside of the Bricco Boschis plot. Is this perhaps one of the primary reasons Cavallotto’s wines are so unique?
The trade-off is that there is more work to do in the vineyard and Alfio points out that yields are always around 10-15% less than conventionally farmed vineyards. In the days when Olivio introduced these practices his colleagues and neighbours viewed themselves as evolved farmers using science to beat nature, rather than understanding nature, respecting it and working with it. A man, surely, ahead of his times. Alfio continues his father’s philosophy evidencing the dangers of chemicals in agriculture, not only for farm workers but also for consumers. He explains that the chemicals find their way into the fruit at a molecular level and hence into the wine we consume which build up and accumulate in our bodies along with all the other toxins from pollution and water. Furthermore, these agri-chemicals, ubiquitously used in all non-organic farming, build up in the soils, wash off into catchment areas of our streams and rivers and end up in the water we drink. Alfio states that these chemicals, he believes, are having devastating effects on our health contributing to severe allergies and chronic illnesses, all of which seem to be increasing in numbers.
The Cavallotto method of vineyard cultivation, furthermore, embraces the notion of continuous improvement and so they never rest on their laurels but strive to further improve their farming techniques. For example, organic farming allows for the use of copper in the form of copper sulphate which is essential in the struggle against fungal attacks, especially Peronospora. However, with the aid of alternative methods and natural preparations, the use of copper has been minimalised to as low as 10% of what is allowed even in biodynamic farming.
We pay tribute, therefore, to the memory of Olivio Cavollotto, his family and his legacy, for the world-class wines produced and the respect you have had for our environment and our health.
Nick Bielak MW