Located in Lombardy, on Italy’s Swiss border, Valtellina is a 68 mile valley of which 25 miles are vineyards, that runs east – west along the banks of the Adda River, a tributary of the Po River. The northern slope is Italy’s largest terraced vineyard area with 2,000 acres of vertiginous vineyards supported by 1,500 miles of dry stone walls. The 2,000 acres of vineyards are cultivated by 2,500 growers. It takes 1,200 hours to work 2.5 acres; all work must be done by hand and harvested grapes are often taken to the winery by helicopter.
All Valtellina wines are made from at least 90% Chiavennasca, the local name for Nebbiolo, which ripens and develops successfully here despite the alpine location. South-facing, slopes at 2,400-3,000 feet see long, sunlight hours; the narrow valley offers protection from cold winds and storms.
The poor, stony and shallow (6 inches to 3 ft.) soils force the vines deep into the mountain rock. The unique terroir lends an almost burgundian elegance and finesse that differs from the big, round wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, yet similar in ability to age gracefully for decades.
Considered to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the terraces of Valtellina date back to over 1,000 years. Nino Negri have been at the heart of winemaking in Valtellina since 1897, championing the DOCG, the Chiavennasca clone of Nebbiolo which makes up 90% of the DOCG wines and specialists in ‘Sfursat’ (meaning ‘strained’ or ‘forced’), a method of winemaking whereby the grapes are dried for 100 days before fermentation. Nino Negri perfectly combines tradition and technology. Overseen by winemaker, Casimiro Maule who has managed more than 40 harvests here, the winery has recently undergone an upgrade in equipment with large, old barrels replaced with 1,500 new French and American oak barriques and new stainless steel vats. Housed in the 15th century Quadrio Castle in the city of Chiuro, all the Nino Negri wines age for at least 2 years in the underground cellars before release. Modernising work has been carried out in the vineyards that are owned directly by Nino Negri too, particularly in the ‘Fracia’ single vineyard where 11 hectares have been replanted with new clones of Nebbiolo.