The last time I found myself teeter-tottering on terraces in the middle of nature, it was beneath the Sagada sun.
Below me were the steep rice fields of Sagada. John was miles ahead of me, eager to reach the giant waterfall in the distance.
Six years later, I’m clinging to stacked rocks again, in a maze of terraces.
John is still ahead.
But this time, I’m last in the single file. Our two-year-old daughter sits merrily on his shoulders, and our 5-year-old son skips behind him. We’re headed for a medieval castle, also visible in the distance.
These are the terraces built by hand for the Chiavennasca grape, and we are traipsing under the Valtellina sun.
At least I wore the right shoes, I thought.
Earlier in the day, I’d tossed between good-looking leather boots or jogging shoes. Easing myself over the narrow bit of rocky slope leading to the terrace below was relatively easy. But after two hours, I was lagging behind my travel buddies.
The Valtellina area is abundant with vineyards, and in real life, they look exactly as beautiful as in the picture above.
This weekend, we drove to the Grumello sub-region and checked into (what else) the Wine Hotel. It was perfect. Tiny village homes clung to cliffs, connected by winding roads to the lower valley communities.
It all shone with a late October light, each church steeple rising serenely between hills. Vibrant autumn colors blended into green, lush lands leading to the river Adda below.
And above, contrasting white sheets of snow from the Alps.
Since coming to Lake Como three years ago, I’ve been biased to the Valtellina Inferno wines. But this was my first time to see the exact vineyards where these particular grapes are cultivated.
The dark blue clusters growing on these steep slopes are named Nebbiolo (also called Chiavennasca).
The five main Valtellina Superiore wines are:
Some labels will have the “Superiore”, and this means that they have been aging in oak barrels for 12 months. A proper “Riserva” must be aged for a full three years!
I asked Isabella Pelizzatti Perego, fifth generation winemaker and grower of the ArPePe wines where we were hiking, to clarify this.
“Grumello, Inferno, Sassella, Maroggia and Valgella” are the Valtellina Superiore subzones, ” she told me, “but you could find Valtellina Superiore also without one of the five subzone names since grapes are coming mainly from Valtellina Superiore area. Since it is a mix of different subzones, the wine is not allowed to keep the single subzone name.” (Read more about their family’s delicious and traditionally-grown wines here.)
To see the terraces is to revisit a remarkable, ancient tradition.
Perfectly stacked rocks were built by hand to form the terraces, much the way our rice terraces in the Philippines were built.
The difference, however, was the extreme weather temperatures those in the Alpine regions had to deal with. The grapes are also harvested by hand, so you can imagine the sheer amount of manual labor involved, the painstaking work to produce such a luscious wine.
“The vineyards were built 1000 years ago of dry stone, rocks on top of another,” says Paolo Canclini, US importer of ArPePe Wines. “You work all the four seasons. It’s important to go to the Valtellina and see these people. What they can do takes three to five times more amount of time and money, than any other area.”
Grumello’s terraced vineyards reach 2,200ft (670m) above the Adda river. Standing there, we could see Castello Grumello in the distance, ruins of an old medieval castle.
It took just over an hour to reach it by foot, and the reward of a view so remarkable as this was one that was worth the hike.
A few runners were powering up these same slopes, perhaps practicing for the Valtellina marathon happening next weekend.
A couple of days in the Valtellina was hardly enough time to learn all there is to know about the local wines. But for us, it was a wonderful way to enjoy nature together.
Whether chasing castles or waterfalls, lagging behind or being the first one to the top…whether as a couple on a romantic holiday, or a family with kids who leave you exhausted by the end of it all…
What matters is that you journey together, and just have fun.
Wearing the right shoes also helps.
If you love both wine and art, be sure to check out my Wine Art Gallery where I paint with wine!
Thanks for stopping by, Salute!
Valtellina Holiday Tips:
Where to Stay: The Wine Hotel Retici Balzi
Wine-themed rooms, a spa, a cellar for private wine-tastings, and direct access to the vineyards make this hotel a perfect place to spend the night. The hotel itself is built right on the terraced slopes, with easy entry from the main road. A bonus for kids is their play and reading corner equipped with toys, puzzles, board games, and a variety of books about the region and its wines.
Address: Via Panoramica 2, Poggiridenti
Tel: (+39) 0342 38.20.92)
Where to Eat: Il Poggio Ristorante
Traditional food from the region plated abundantly in a cozy setting with a full view of the Grumello vineyards.
Via Panoramica 4, Poggiridenti