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Vineyards that produce quality wine grapes tend to be located nowhere near glaciers.

Small mountains? Yeah, sure. Active volcanoes? Yep. But it registers a bit incompatible to envision a place where the textbook example of a frozen semi-permanence would exist only a few miles away from vines that produce delicious wines. But Val d’Aosta is not a usual place.

Simply, the Aosta Valley hugs the Alps in northwest Italy, north of Torino and the Piemontese, and snakes up to Mont Blanc on the border. The Dora Baltea River, with a gray-green, alluvial richness, zig-zags underneath the motorway that connects the land of big mountains, with the foothills to the south.

The Alpine view overlooking Morgex.
The Alpine view overlooking Morgex.

Its ski country, no doubt. But as the elevation change sneaks up on the northbound drivers, the vines never really disappear from view.

Clearly, there are barely a few plots of land in Val d’Aosta that could be considered vast. Most vineyards only seem to exist as a passion project, local farmers who’ve jammed in vines in what few hectares they own that are positioned with good sunlight and little erosion.

Tasting in Morgex with Milena Pavese
Tasting in Morgex with Milena Pavese

Ermes and Milena Pavese are formidable for their production in one of the trickiest of valleys, both from their grapes and from other nano-farmers. Clearly, whatever grapes people grow have to have a short growing season. Frost will decimate late in spring, and early in fall in these high elevations.

Just how high are these vineyards, anyway? 4,000 feet. When one considers that their home base of Morgex (just 10 miles from the tunnel separating Italy from France) is NORTH of the 45th parallel, this production becomes even more unbelievable.

The workhorse is PriƩ, a grape almost entirely cultivated in Aosta, with some very minor use in Switzerland, and oddly, southern Spain.

Fittingly PriƩ is reasonably frost-resistant, and it gets outta dodge quickly in harvest, a necessity when the ambient temperature in early September is only 53 degrees.

The lineup nurtured and molded by the Pavese team is exciting, with balance, with savory notes alongside stone and tree fruits. The clear winner is also their most well known, the Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle.

This will be a mainstay on our menu for many reasons: The story, the great people, the unique profile of the wine, fitting somewhere between a chenin blanc and a Australian semillon…all of these lead to a fan favorite. The labels are completely rad, as shown on their fermentation tanks here:

Labels from a local artist that became fan favorites. These fermenters are not so large, and neither is the Pavese production.
Labels from a local artist that became fan favorites. These fermenters are not so large, and neither is the Pavese production.

 

We had the great fortune to visit at the estate right at harvest last year. Their passion is both impressive and contagious.