Oltrepò Pavese has an ancient tradition of wine-making, with the first written documents dating back to Pliny the Elder and Strabo who, in 40 BC, passed by with a Roman Legion and wrote ‘fine wine, friendly people, and large wooden barrels’. The 13,500 hectares of vineyards in Oltrepò Pavese are equivalent in area to 18,900 sports fields the size of Rome’s Olympic Stadium. Putting the 54 million grape vines of Oltrepò in one long row (each separated by 1 metre, as customary in our vineyards) would circle the world 1.3 times. The mission of the Consortium for the Protection of Oltrepò Pavese Wines is to safeguard and promote one of the top five historical Italian Wine Denominations, with its 13,500 hectares of vineyards. The most representative varieties of the Pavian hills are: Croatina, Barbera, Pinot nero, Riesling and Moscato. Our flagship wine is ‘Cruasé’, a collective brand exclusive to Consortium members which identifies Oltrepò Pavese traditional method DOCG rosé sparkling wines made with Pinot Noir grapes. The traditional local wine is Bonarda, reaching production peaks of 20 million bottles. The most characteristic white is our Riesling. The most international red is our Pinot Noir while the most evocative name is Buttafuoco. The Consortium for the Protection of Oltrepò Wines has two points of focus: the full spectrum of colours of Pinot Noir, with emphasis on traditional method and Charmat method sparkling wines-making; and Bonarda, an evergreen wine to be enjoyed year-round, a surprisingly pleasant and versatile wine of warmth and cheer.
What is the history of grape-growing and wine production in the Oltrepò Pavese? It was probably the Barbarians who gave this name to the lands they encountered after having crossed the River Po, descending from the North. Inhabited by Ligurians and Insubrian Gauls, the Oltrepò passed under Roman dominion following the famous battle of Clastidium (present-day Casteggio), which took place in 222 B.C.
Under the Romans the area underwent considerable development, due in part to the construction of major communication routes. At that time, as we learn from the chronicles of Pliny the Elder, viticulture was practised successfully and, as Columella relates, good wines were available for drinking. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it was the Barbarians who occupied this area. In the Middle Ages, famous noble and clerical families took turns in holding sway over the region.
The Malaspinas, Viscontis, Beccarias, Dal Vermes and Sforzas controlled the area and wrote the story of the Oltrepò, also leaving a trace of their long-held power in the watchtowers, castles, churches and splendid mansions that one can still admire in the towns and villages around Pavia.
For centuries the Oltrepò was a much fought-over zone. As a result of peace treaties, it passed into the hands of the great powers of the time: France, Spain, and then Austria which, under the reign of Maria Theresa, ceded the Oltrepò to the crown of Sardinia under the Treaty of Worms (1743).
The early studies on ampelography and cadastral censuses carried out towards the end of the 18th century bear witness to the area’s important vocation for wine production and for the significant diffusion of viticulture. At the beginning of the 19th century, after a brief return to French dominion under Napoleon, the Oltrepò once again became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and it was in this period that the vine-growers of Piedmont began cultivating the Pinot Nero variety in the lands to the east of the historic Langhe, Asti and Monferrato zones.
It was only in 1860 that the Oltrepò became part of Lombardy.
Oltrepò Pavese, the agricultural soul of Lombardy
What is Oltrepò Pavese? It is the extreme point of the region of Lombardy, in the Province of Pavia, lying south of the river Po. It is roughly triangular in shape, like a kind of compact grape bunch attached to a cane, represented by the great river. The 13,500 hectares of vineyards make Oltrepò Pavese one of the most Italy’s largest appellation. In this infinite sea of vineyards there are several different varieties but the unquestioned prince is Pinot Noir: with a surface area of about 3,000 hectares it is the largest area in Italy dedicated to this variety.
Over a century of traditional method white wine making
Already at the start of the twentieth century in Oltrepò, Pinot Noir was being made into large quantities of sparkling white wine, the most common wine type in the world using the traditional method. The result was a product that stood out from the spectrum of bubblies for the backbone and austerity of the variety, much appreciated by connoisseurs and more or less intensely softened by the contribution of yeasts during the long years of lees contact (vintage wines).
Cruasé, the flagship brand of the region
The creation of the Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Clasicco DOCG led to a debate which identified rosé as a real strong point. This wine is emblematic of the region, the grape variety and the noblest sparkling wine making method, all at the same time. The decision to make a rosé united the very individual nature of this bubbly together with the value of naturalness (lightly crushing Pinot Noir naturally generated a pinkish-coloured must), therefore the Consorzio Tutela Vini Oltrepò Pavese decided to reinforce it by endowing it with an immediately recognisable brand for the consumer, ‘Cruasé’. ‘Cruasé’, (from ‘cru’ and rosé) defines the traditional method rosé made from Pinot Noir grapes in Oltrepò Pavese and today this product distinguishes the area from other traditional method sparkling wine-making areas, both in Italy and abroad. It is made as ‘Brut’, ‘Extrabrut’ and ‘Brut Nature’ and rests on the lees for at least 18 months; ideal with all courses of a meal, excellent with appetisers and finger food or as an original and seductive aperitif.
Pinot Noir as a red, a noble but difficult choice
Optimising the fermentation of Pinot Noir on the skins, done by some wineries at the start of the 1950s, led to the creation of the ‘Pinot nero dell’Oltrepò pavese’ DOC in 2010, wholly dedicated to this still wine. Vinification of Pinot Noir with skin contact, as winemakers all over the world know well, is beset with tensions and often disappointment, but heralds the most amazing successes when all the elements of the suitability of the winemaking area are expressed. A difficult challenge that allows Oltrepò to compete with areas of the world where bottles epitomise the legend of the wine itself.