Selvadolce is no ordinary winery, and the owner Aris is no ordinary winemaker.
As you drive up the road from Bordighera, a sleepy seaside village, you get a view over an incredible bit of the Ponente side of the Ligurian coast, a stone's throw from the French border. Upon entering the gate, Aris welcomes you with open arms and a couple of friendly collies. There he stands, a down-to-earth farmer yet king of a spectacular place, uniquely nestled between the Italian Riviera and the Alpi Marittimi (Ligurian Maritime Alps), overlooking the village belltower and endless light blue sea. On a clear day, Aris explains, you could see Nice in France and even all the way to Corsica. I'm completely enamored and can't get my eyes off of it as it is. I'm thankful for the haze.
I've visited more wineries over the past twenty years than I could possibly count. As time has gone by, I've realized that the wine tasting in itself is not my favorite part of the visit (unless of course there's nothing to see), but what gives me the most satisfaction is the human connection and the link between them, the farmers, and us, the consumers. Understanding their personal interpretation of this fascinating world of wine.
The collies are happy and seem to know the drill. We take a walk through the windy vineyards and Aris explains how the family property once had been a flower farm. This part of Liguria was for centuries known as the flower garden of the Mediterranean "la Riviera dei Fiori", but business went downhill in the 80'ies as Southamerican flower growers outgrew them as competitors. Many had to turn the key on their small farms or reinvent themselves.
Aris had trained as a horse veterinarian (yet is allergic to horses) and is not a wine drinker, so it was by pure chance that Selvadolce became a winery. In an attempt to understand agriculture during a visit to Le Langhe, he ran into the modern father of Biodynamic agriculture, Nicolas Joly, and after the philosophical encounter, he came back home and told his father that he would make Selvadolce into his own winery. His father responded; you are a horse vet, you don't drink wine, you have no clue about farming - it's a good start!
2007 was the first harvest and since then Aris' experience has grown with his vineyards. The grapes are Vermentino and Pigato for the whites and Rossese and Granaccia for the reds. All four varieties are traditional to Liguria and by letting nature care for the vines, each variety expresses a personality that is typical to the region.
As if he couldn't care less, Aris doesn't talk about grape varieties, winemaking techniques, nor numbers or scores. His goal is to bring wine back to its origin, to be a convivial element that brings friends to spend time together. Away from smartphones and other distractions. He continues with a sparkle in his eye, there is no perfect wine as there is no perfect woman, for example. No one tells you when you fall in love, "well done, that woman is perfect". That woman might be perfect for you, and that's all that matters. The same goes for wine. You must taste wine with your own palate and compare it to your own experience and taste. Don't listen to others.
We walk towards the winery, or rather a couple of big converted flower fridges that tell the story of this western part of Liguria. I find it totally charming and hope it won't change. Seriously, the whole winery fits into a couple of fridges - so cool, literally!
During our walk, we talk about life in Italy, the beauty and the beast in one. How the quality of life in Italy is unique in the world that we live in today, yet the relentless bureaucracy makes it insufferable. I cry a quiet tear. Don't I know, after 25 years...and now with this crazy world situation, what will happen?
At this point, when Aris asks if I want to taste, how could I not?! Even if it admittedly is a little odd to be tasting in the company of a non-drinking winemaker. But I need to clear my head and taste the fruits of this beautiful land. We go from a full, fruity Vermentino to a more delicately perfumed Pigato, a light smokey Rossese to a rough-edged Granaccia that leaves your mouth fully satisfied with its dark fruit and spices.
I'm thinking about how it's good I don't have my own winery...I would not be so disciplined and probably drink all my own wine. Hours have flown by, and I depart with some wine and a beautiful bottle of Taggiasca olive oil, perfect for fish, and a delicious bottle of Selvadolce wine!