Introduction to the territory
Valtellina is the largest terraced area in Europe. The dry walls that support the terraces are made of granite rocks, arranged by hand with professional craftsmanship by subsequent generations throughout the centuries. It is estimated that the Valtellina walls cover an impressive overall distance of 2,500km. Furthermore the total area cultivated on the terraces amounts to about 1,000 hectares. Close to the northern part of Lake Como is Traona, a village whose name can be traced back to the expression “terra bona”, a nod to the fertility of the land and healthiness of the climate. Right here, in a south-facing position, is the Cudé vineyard, of over 1 ha.
When, last March, I started organizing my move to Valtellina to work full-time at Cudé, I knew very little about the territory that would host me and with a certain uneasiness, I wondered what it would be like for me and my partner to renounce the Mediterranean climate in favour of a severe and somewhat unappealing mountain environment. But it took me only a few days to seize upon the unexpected, but reassuring elements of the Mediterranean climate right here in the Alps: agaves, olive trees, palm trees and … even an orange tree in my neighbour’s garden! And all because the Valtellina is not your usual alpine river valley located from north to south.
Sliced by the upper course of the Adda River, it develops longitudinally in relation to the Alpine ridges and runs straight between the Bergamasque Alps to the south and the Rhaetian to the north. It is precisely on the southern slope that viticulture has developed since a pre-Roman era as the vineyards benefit from a favorable mesoclimate. The Rhaetian side (with its average slope of at least 30 degrees) is like a huge solar panel that reflects the sun’s rays onto the vines at an ideal inclination. As a result, the solar radiation produces a sum of calories equal to that of regions located much further south.
But the Rhaetian Alps contribute to the success of the Valtellina vineyard also because they act as a barrier to the cold northern winds.
The granite stones of the walls accumulate the heat of the day, releasing it gradually during the night. This phenomenon, combined with the mitigating influence of the nearby Lake Como, limits the spring frosts (especially in the lower valleys of Morbegno, Traona and Dubino).
The favourable climate is completed by the so-called “Breva”: a thermal wind which, in the middle hours of the day, blows from Lake Como and expands across the valley, reducing the relative humidity and dampening the excessive summer heat. It is the thermal gradient difference between the lake and the mountain that generates this periodic wind (generally between March and September) that blows into Valtellina in a west-easterly direction.
The fully terraced Cudé vineyard was planted by Eng. Armando Torri in the late ‘70s with mainly Chiavennasca vines, a biotype of the better-known Nebbiolo, and whose name probably derives from “Ciuvinasca”. There are also some Rossola vines, an autochthonous Valtellina variety. La Maliosa acquired management of the vineyard in June 2016, when it had been in a semi-abandoned state for some time. The recovery work required, among other things, cleaning the walls of the weeds that had sprung up. Therefore, to compensate for the dead areas, approximately 900 rootstocks were planted this first year, awaiting future grafts from the vineyard itself. In the 2017, the first harvest took place.
“… For those arriving from the lake road, six o’clock in the afternoon, from June to September, is the triumphal hour in the Valtellina! If I could have turned around, I would have seen, in the frame of the rear window, the sun on the blue mountains, far away, beyond the great emptiness of the Lario. The sun was almost set, but it still seemed high … tucked in the canyon of the Adda. It beat on the face of the terraced vineyards, on the walls, on the rocks, on the plateaus, on the woods, on the ridges of the Rhaetian side to my left. It adorned the fields of corn, the river, the villages, the small industrial plants, the mountain spurs, the crests of the Bergamasque side to my right”.
Words taken from L’avventura in Valtellina (1985) by Mario Soldati.
These are the ingredients that make up the environment in which the Cudé vineyard is immersed. I know them well… I often find myself driving along the main road that from the lake, along the Adda, heads east, and many elements of the Italian writer Mario Soldati’s description of Valtellina lead me to believe that, at the time of viewing through that rear window, the his car was heading right past the village of Traona… and, who knows, maybe up to the very young ‘Vigna Cudé’.
The months in the vineyard
A very mild month, with the prevalence of high pressure that guaranteed many days of good weather, in particular in mid-March. Temperatures were above the seasonal average, with peaks above 20°C. A total of 24.8mm of rain fell. Towards the end of the month, the first budding occurred.
Warm and dry in the first half, with maximum temperatures that even reached 24°C. It was, however, rather cold in the second half and also decidedly rainy towards the end. On the 19th, a rapid and incisive irruption of arctic air caused the minimum temperatures to fall around zero for three nights. Fortunately, the frost damage on the vine shoots in the Lower Valtellina was negligible (unlike in Media Valtellina, where frost heavily influenced the year). A total of 85mm of rain fell. Towards the end of the month, the floral clusters formed completely.
The first decade saw frequent instability with abundant precipitations in a rather cool temperature (maximum sometimes only 16°C). In the second decade, the weather stabilized and in the final one, hot and sunny days were recorded, guaranteed by a solid field of high pressure (maximum temperatures reached 30°C for several days). A total of about 100mm of rain fell. Towards the end of the month, the fruit set had almost completed.
Summer arrived with several days of maximum temperatures of 33°C and minimum of 20°C. There were also intense storms at the end of the first decade and towards the middle of the month. At the end of the month, a cold Atlantic front moved in accompanied by strong thunderstorms and a temporary drop in temperature. A total of about 300mm of rain fell.
During the first week of June, powdery mildew manifested mainly on the more vigorous vines in the lower half of the vineyard. Furthermore, from mid-month, there were downy mildew symptoms on many of the terraces. Timely defensive interventions exclusively with copper and liquid and powder sulphur allowed us to contain the above described diseases.
A typical summer month with high pressure from the Azores fed by North African winds. Hottest phases between the first and second ten days. Towards the end of the month, up to a maximum of 33°C. The storms came mainly in the second third. A total of about 60mm of rain fell. Towards the end of the month, the veraison was well under way.
In the first and last dcade the high pressure and temperatures were up to 36/37°C for several days. The heat abated with strong thunderstorms. A total of about 170mm of rain fell. Observations: already after the first days of high heat, some grapes showed burns. In the last third of August, we began the careful selection and cleaning of bunches partially damaged by acid rot . This problem was more invasive in the terraces with more vigorous plants and with berries previously affected by powdery mildew.
A purely autumn month, fresh and sometimes rainy, with temperatures below monthly average compared to historical reference points. The cooler days in the second third recorded maximums sometimes lower than 20°C and minimums below 10°C. A total of about 115mm of rain fell. The climate of the month was particularly favourable for frequent ventilation and low relative humidity, which contributed to the favourable health of the grapes. Furthermore, important day/night temperature excursions favoured a regular maturation including that of polyphenols.
The beginning of the month was characterized by a humid climate (with low rainfall), low clouds and stagnant air. But between the 5th and 6th (a few days before our harvest!) wide temperature excursions promptly wiped out low clouds and humidity. A total of about 5mm of rain fell.
2017 in Lower Valtellina will be remembered as a good year.
Except for the month of September, temperatures remained above average and with significant thermal peaks in the middle of summer. Overall rainfall followed a historically consolidated average trend, unlike other Italian regions affected by drought. At the same time, the much feared long rainy periods (which are common in the Valtellina, especially near the harvest) fortunately did not occur. 2017 recorded a total of about 1,115mm of rain.
Sprouting took place 10 days ahead of time and the phenological phases continued until early ripening. The subsequent they returned to regularity, thanks also to a fresh September. Until the end of August, there was widespread differences in ripening in the bunches, probably due to the frequent thermal changes in the summer.
Harvest at ‘Vigna Cudé’ took place on October 9, within the normal period for the area. Intense storms (more and more the norm in recent years, according to local winemakers) have regularly highlighted the problems of a mountain territory, due to the slope of the mountainside and the rather loose nature of the land. The grassing across the entire Cudé vineyard has been providential against heavy rains, providing stability and protection to a soil that is rather vulnerable.