Valmaggiore is a project that took years to fully realize and is further evidence of the Sandrone winery’s complete commitment to the expression of great Nebbiolo-based wine. Sandrone’s Valmaggiore is a distinct site of exceptional terroir that was assembled over 8 years from almost 40 different previous owners. Luciano believed so passionately in the qualitative potential of this site that he was willing to wait years for parcels of this hill to become available. The last holdout sold in 1994, and at the end of that year the vineyard renovation and drainage projects (which had started years before) were completed. Now completely replanted and organized for maximum potential quality of fruit the resulting wines show the unique terroir characteristics of one of the best Roero sites.
The Roero is a different world from the Barolo: it is a wilder and less developed place when compared to the orderly rows of vines that blanket the Barolo. Deep forests hug the northern sides of the steep hills, and game runs wild, including foxes, boar and rabbit. The flat narrow valley floors are planted to fruits and vegetables. Typically the Valmaggiore is 2-5°C warmer than in Barolo, and spring arrives a week or two earlier.
The Valmaggiore hill itself is incredibly steep: a 100% grade (45 degrees) in places. The soil is comprised almost entirely of sand from shallow sea and beach deposits – fossils are common. There’s almost no organic matter in the soil and the vines have to grow deep down for nutrients. As the sandy site is so well drained, in dry years the vines may suffer.
The steepness of the site prohibits any mechanical work – everything must be done by hand. The single-lane road that winds up through the vineyard allows access for a tractor to the top, but work in the rows on the plants is entirely done by hand. Spraying is done by helicopter. At harvest, a specially designed “sled” which holds 10 picking crates at a time is winched up in the aisles between sections of the vineyard to haul up the just-picked grapes.
Plants are closely spaced (50 cm apart) for competition and to help hold the hillside up. During winters of excessive rain landslides and slips are common, most recently in 2009 when a small portion of the upper hill came loose and blocked a part of the access road. The sand/soil that slid down was hauled back up the slope by hand! Fertilization is every 4-6 years with well-composted cow manure, dug in (again, by hand) between the rows.
A walk through the vineyard is an incredible experience. Because it is so steep, you can often see over the plants in the row below you, affording magnificent views of the vines and, on clear days, of the snowcapped Alps. The Sandrone Valmaggiore vineyard is a magical, special place and the wines that are made from these vines show all the uniqueness of the incredible terroir.