Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa was founded by Antonio Scarpa* in 1854. Scarpa’s reputation was made beginning in the 1960s and 70s by Mario Pesce, whose father purchased the winery some years earlier. Mario was one of those souls who, while respecting the traditions and history of his region, was ambitious enough to think that they could do better – and specifically that the Monferrato could produce complex, age-worthy, and elegant wines. He spent time in Burgundy and Alsace studying French techniques in the vineyard and the cellar and used what he learned to experiment and develop more careful techniques in his own vineyards and cantina in the Monferrato. As a result of his uncompromising “innovation within tradition”, he came to be widely respected among wine producers throughout Piemonte, including by winemakers as diverse as Bruno Giacosa and Angelo Gaja.
Among the examples of Mario Pesce’s importance: The Monferrato had been known for Barbera for a long time, but no one treated it as anything other than an everyday wine until 50 years ago. In fact, the old tradition was to vinify Barbera as an everyday white wine! Mario Pesce and Giacomo Bologna were the first two producers to make an “important” Barbera d’Asti, starting in the 1960s. They each chose to do it in a different style, Pesce using essentially traditional vinification and aging techniques, and Bologna modern ones. Out of their parallel efforts came Scarpa Barbera d’Asti ‘La Bogliona’ and Braida Barbera d’Asti ‘Bricco dell’Uccellone’.
The estate vineyard is in Castel Rocchero, in the province of Asti, 10km southeast of Scarpa’s cantina in Nizza Monferrato, or 30 km due east of Alba. The vineyard is on the border of the two parts of the Monferrato: the Monferrato Astigiano (i.e., around Asti) to the west and the Monferrato Alessandrino (around Alessandria) to the east. The total area is a contiguous 50 hectares, of which 27 hectares are planted. The rest is forests (including truffle forests!) and fields, which Scarpa deliberately leaves unplanted in order to maintain biodiversity and healthy vineyards.
Total annual production is 90,000-100,000 bottles – that’s of 14 wines and 10 different grape varieties! Scarpa sells off a lot of fruit each year. 40% of the production is Barbera and 80% is from old vineyards. All of the wines except for the Nebbioli (Barolo, Barbaresco, and Nebbiolo d’Alba) come from the estate vineyard.
Since the early-mid 1900s, Scarpa has been purchasing grapes from growers in Barolo and Barbaresco and bringing them to their own cantina in Nizza Monferrato for vinification and aging. In fact, Scarpa was among the first to bottle and label Barolo, in 1949, and they were among the founders of the Barolo and Barbaresco Consorzio. Because of Scarpa’s historical importance in the wines of these areas, the DOCG rules give them special permission to continue purchasing grapes and make Barolo and Barbaresco in their cantina in the Monferrato.
The Barolo, Barbaresco, and Nebbiolo d’Alba each comes from a single grower with whom Scarpa has a long-term arrangement and whose farming Scarpa directs. The Barbaresco vineyard, Tettineive (2.5 hectares), is outside of Neive, near the cru of Cottà. The Barolo vineyard, Tettimorra (1.0 hectare), is near La Morra, between the crus of Bricco San Biagio and Roggeri. The Nebbiolo d’Alba vineyard, Bric du Nota (2.5 hectares), is in Monteu Roero, the highest of the Roero wine-producing villages.
Farming in the estate vineyard as well as the other three vineyards is lotta integrata, with only sulfur and copper used in most years (i.e., uncertified organic). A pest-born disease called flavescenza dorata has unfortunately become common in Piemonte, and the regional government requires treatment against the insect in some vineyard areas during some years. (This requirement applies to all producers.) In addition the Barolo vineyard sometimes requires an insecticidal treatment against tignola, another insect-born disease that’s common in the Barolo zone.
The current winery in Nizza Monferrato dates back to 1880. The aromatic and semi-aromatic red wines (Brachetto, Dolcetto, Rouchet), Barbera ‘Casa Scarpa’, and white wines (Moscato, Trebbiano blend) are fermented and aged in stainless steel. All of the other wines are fermented either in truncated conical wooden casks or stainless steel and then aged in large wooden casks (botti grandi) ranging from 2,000 to 10,000 liters and from three to 12 years old. Mario Pesce performed tests using botti made from different kinds of wood and discovered that large French botti resulted in the most elegant Scarpa wines. As a result, he gradually transitioned away from Slavonian barrels, which he found to be too strong for his wines. Since 2000, all of the botti have been made from French oak.
Scarpa has two winemakers: The chief winemaker, Carlo Castino, has been at the winery since the 1960s – for over 50 vintages now, and almost since the beginning of Mario Pesce’s era! Assistant winemaker Silvio Trichero started helping Carlo in 2004.
Scarpa’s practice through the late 1990s was to use native yeasts exclusively, and they continue to do so whenever they think that the wines’ elegance won’t be compromised. Starting about 15 years ago, the hotter summers resulting from global warming have caused fermentations to last longer, which in some cases can result in marmalade-like flavors. To avoid this problem, the winemakers now let the fermentations begin spontaneously, monitor them, and add yeast using the pied de cuve technique when they think the fermentations otherwise would be dangerously long.
All of the red wines, including the “everyday” Barbera ‘Casa Scarpa’ and the ‘Rosso Scarpa’ Dolcetto blend, undergo extended bottle-aging in the cantina before release. This aging is part of Mario Pesce’s legacy and part of what lends all of the Scarpa wines their special elegance. In addition, Scarpa continues to hold back quantities of each of the age-worthy wines (Dolcetto, Brachetto, Rouchet, Freisa, Barbera ‘I Bricchi’, Barbera ‘La Bogliona’, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Nebbiolo d’Alba) in excellent vintages and release them slowly over time. The Scarpa library currently comprises 45,000 bottles dating back to the 1960s.