Cristina Scarpellini likes a challenge. She came to Valtellina, an outsider, a lawyer from Milan, and knew she wouldn’t leave. This valley had her under its spell.
Starting with a 1-hectare vineyard, she created her winery Tenuta Scerscé, the name honoring the hard work and labor that make the grapes of this region so precious. Scerscé is the name of the 2-pronged pitchforks used to tend these vineyards.
It would not be easy. Valtellina is filled with challenges. But just taste her wines, and you will know that she has risen to each of those challenges.
Valtellina is steep. The vineyards are planted on terraces created by the dry stone walls called ‘muretti’ that the people of Valtellina began building over 1000 years ago. Even with these terraces, the climb to the vines is steep and difficult, and there is no way to get tractors or other mechanical devices to the vines for tending.
All of the pruning, tending, and harvesting must be done by hand.
In addition, when you are starting a new winery, there is no empty space to plant on the south-facing slopes that gather all the sun. So, you must find someone looking to sell either grapes or land.
Coming in as an outsider, well, that’s another hurdle. Many wineries and vineyards in this valley have a long history; some vineyards have been in families for many generations.
Add to that being a woman. Being a woman is tough in any industry or field, yes, even in this day and age. These family vineyards are handed down from father to son. Yes, the daughters are included, but the son often becomes the winemaker and leads the family business.
Once you have found a vineyard and spent time getting to know and be accepted by the people, there is the challenge of getting your wine out to the world. People know Nebbiolo but think of it as Barolo or Barbaresco, from the Piemonte, not the ‘Chiavennasca’ grown here in the Alps!
A visit to Valtellina and getting to know Cristina Scarpellini
Upon our arrival in Sondrio, the city in the center of the Valtellina Valley, we were ushered into the Grand Hotel della Posta. I happened to stroll in with Cristina Scarpellini, whom I met earlier at the Wine Media Conference in Desenzano del Garda. The owner and winemaker at Tenuta Scerscé, she was on the panel for the ‘le Donne del Vino: Women Wine Stories of Creativity’ session at the conference. (more on that later)
After gathering in the back garden to hear from Danilo, the President of the Valtellina Consorzio, we made our way inside the 1862 Café for lunch.
Cristina joined us at our table. She took the time to explain the 5 sub-zones of the Valley – Valgella, Inferno, Grumello, Sassella, and Maroggia from east to west.
The vineyards for Tenuto Scerscé are spread over 4 areas:
- Valgella sub-zone in Teglio, where she has 3 hectares
- Tirano is east of the Valgella sub-zone. Here she has 2 hectares.
- Inferno sub-zone where she has 1 hectare
- And Sassella, where she has another hectare
Cristina does micro vinification, choosing several terraces for each vinification. Having all these wines vinified separately allows her to blend a wide array of wines.
Tenuta Scerscé produces 45,000 bottles annually, with about 18,000 imported into the US. The average price of her wines is 18 Euros in Italy. In the US, after importing costs, the average price is about $28, with the Sforzato (the passito style Nebbiolo) running about $50 per bottle.
These prices are really affordable, considering the labor-intensive nature of these wines. She explains that due to the steep vineyards that must be manually tended, what would take 250 hours per hectare in Tuscany, takes 1500 hours per hectare here in Valtellina.
The Wines of Tenuta Scerscé
Rosso di Valtellina DOC 2021
At the tasting in the cellar in Sondrio later, we tasted her Nettare Rosso di Valtellina 2021. The name means ‘nectar’ in Italian. The grapes for this wine are grown in sandy loam soil and are pressed immediately after harvesting. The grapes ferment with pump-overs and macerate on the skins for 15 days before aging in concrete for about 6 months and further aging for at least 4 months in bottle before release.
Nettare is her flagship wine in the United States. It sits at a moderate 12% abv (alcohol by volume.) it is fresh, easy to drink, and works for almost any meal. I found notes of cherry and red fruit with bits of baking spice. In the US, this wine retails at $38.
Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2018
The vinification of this wine is different. It spends 30 days macerating on the skins and is aged 50 hectoliter French Oak for 27 months. It then spends another 10 months aging in bottle. Cristina finds Nebbiolo needs more time aging in bottle than in oak.
The vines for this wine are in Tirano, within the Valtellina DOCG but east of the subzones. These vineyards at 450 to 650 meters above sea level grow in sandy loam soil.
The Essenza is richer while still retaining a fruit freshness. You find a mix of fresh fruit and jam with light spice notes on the nose. Heftier than the Rosso, it lands at 14% abv and retails at $47 in the US.
Valgella Riserva 2018
This wine has a beautiful label with an artist’s interpretation of Cristina. This wine reminisces on her beginnings in Valtellina. The fruit for this wine comes from the municipality of Teglio from Tresenda, Castelvetro. Again, the soil here is sandy loam soil at 450 to 650 meters above sea level. This wine ages in 25 hectolitre Slovenian oak for at least 1 year, followed by 13 months in bottle before release.
There is more mineral on the nose of this wine. Michael mentions pickles, and suddenly we are craving a big juicy burger with this wine. It has finesse with long elegant lines and could easily go with lighter meats or even some fish (I think I would like it with seared ahi tuna.)
This wine sits at an elegant 13.5% abv.
Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG 2018
This last wine is her Sforzato. She likes to preserve the fruit. Usually, when you dry the grapes, the wines can become heavy.
They harvest for this wine at the end of September from vineyards in Teglio and Villa di Tirano that sit between 550 and 700 meters in sandy loam. The fruit dries until the first of December and then is pressed. It macerates on the skins for 20 days and does a slow fermentation. It ages in tonneaux for at least 1 year, followed by 1 year of bottle aging.
The Infinito Sforzato is a more concentrated wine (of course, due to the drying method.) Warm, spicy with warm cooked berries, anise, pepper, and spices. There is even a floral note like rose petals drying. While this would be terrific with food (rich food), it is also a wine I would enjoy by the glass in front of a fire.
Retailing for around $69 in the US, this wine is at 15% abv.
Rising to the Challenge
I mentioned that Cristina spoke at the ‘le Donne del Vino: Women Wine Stories of Creativity’ session at the Wine Media Conference in Desenzano del Garda.
Cristina is a member of ‘Le Donne del Vino, ‘ an association established in 1988 to promote and support the role of women in wine in Italy.
She came to the Valtellina Valley because she enjoys a challenge. After working in Paris for a few years, she returned to Italy to study law in Milan. But she needed something more. One of her projects with the law firm brought her to Valtellina. Once she arrived, she knew this was where she was meant to be.
As a female entrepreneur from outside the region, she was not welcomed with open arms. But as she said, she likes a challenge. She kept a low profile at the start. She had a client in the area with an estate and began with 1 hectare of vineyard, making her first vintage in 2008
It took time to learn about the area and gradually get the hectares she needed to start her winery. This area is fragmented with tiny vineyard blocks tucked into the terraces on the mountains. It took time to get to know people.
Lucky to have colleagues supporting her, women with families with a long winemaking tradition, she took the time, year after year, to continue to learn.
She began working with Fondazione Provinea, which protects the territory and landscape of Valtellina and promotes research into this mountainous region. She is a Chairperson for this organization.
With its history and ‘muretti’ (dry stone walls), this valley is a UNESCO site. There are 890 hectares of vineyards with 2,500 kilometers of these dry-stone walls. She found as people learned the history of the culture of where these wines were made, they saw the value and were willing to search them out and spend more on them.
She finds that the effort you put in is rewarded in the market, and interest in Valtellina has increased.
Rising to Challenges
So those challenges – steep vineyards and heroic agriculture, a region that has been off most people’s radar, being an outsider and a woman…Cristina has risen to each of these. Her wines prove that she has risen to the challenge of viticulture and winemaking. Our visit there and this region becoming more and more recognized by wine lovers around the world proves that working to promote the uniqueness of this region and its heritage is paying off. The challenges for women? They still exist, but Cristina is blazing a trail in Valtellina and other regions in Italy for other women to follow. I look forward to seeing the next challenge she takes on.
Where can you find Tenuta Scerscé wines?
Her wines can be found in the US, imported by Dalla Terra
They can be found at Wine.com (You will find links to Wine.com here on our site. If you use the link here on our website, we may receive a small commission, which helps to keep our site going.)
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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