Dino Masala from the picturesque medieval village of Airole in the Roya Valley of Liguria had an unusual vision. He wanted to slice 10 metres off the peak of a mountain to build his dream vineyard: A Trincea.
After turning what feels like 1,000 serpentine bends, I arrive on a plateau at 580 metres above sea level on the Franco-Italian border of the Mercantour national park. Dino Masala has invited me to explore his vineyard with him as my personal guide. The view is breath-taking. On one side is the romantic Airole, on the other side are imposing mountains. As we sat in this dramatic place, Dino explains his personal philosophy of his vineyard’s cultivation: preservation of traditions and the protection of the nature and landscape are paramount. It goes without saying that there isn’t a chemical or pesticide in sight. From the excavated rocks gained by taking 10 metres off the mountain’s summit, Dino rebuilt 80,000sqm of dry-stone walling, terraces and walkways around the ancient dwelling. The vineyard has the look of an upside down amphitheatre.
“The vines need little,” says Dino. “They are cultivated and harvested according to the old traditions. The roots are sunk into the ground during planting and once a year they are raked by hand to remove surface roots thus become very deep rooted and can supply the vines with all the water and nutrients they need. Only on extremely hot summer days do they need extra watering. We fertilise with horse or goat dung - not cow because it encourages rot and insects. It’s a method that dates back to around 1200AD when the first Roccese wine was produced in Liguria.”
Caring for the authentic nature of the area is of prime importance to Dino. He sees his vineyard not only as a place for producing wine, but also as a habitat for a rich array for flora and fauna. He proudly points out characteristic Ligurian biodiversity such as medicinal plants and herbs, butterflies and bees, snails, snakes, partridges and even eagles.
Even in this glorious environment, the colours of the leaves cannot be truly described: vivacious reds with delicate speckles. Dino draws my attention to the different varietals that give Roccese wine its flavour. The name Roccese is not to be confused with Rossese wine and comes from its special method of cultivation between rocks. He explains his work with such expertise that it is difficult to think of Dino as ever having done anything other than be a wine maker, but it wasn’t in fact until 2000 that he began cultivation. Prior to this he was a builder, although wine was always his passion. In 2013, Dino received the prestigious Gran Medaglia di Cangrande for his wine at the annual Vinitaly event.
After visiting the vineyard, Dino invites me to his cantina where I learn more about the varietals grown there and their production. White, rosé and red wines are pressed in different qualities and quantities, but almost all of them are Roccese. The finer A Trincea wines are stored for two years in oak barrels - the special feature being that the barrels are washed thoroughly beforehand so as to avoid the oak becoming the dominant flavour. The bottles for other wines are similarly handled. Dino’s wooden barrels are marked simply with legno (wood) so it is worth taking a close look at the labels of the bottles.
The quality of his wines is convincing and Dino knows it. For him, excellence is all he asks and he has renounced the more familiar titles of D.O.C. and an organic seal in favour of a simpler label.
It isn’t surprising that he also offers a first class olive oil. Below his vineyard lies his olive grove, which his grandfather established with just one tree. Dino has also set up a museum on his estate dedicated to his village of Airole, to which he has always remained faithful. The memory of the past and the structure of village life form the basis of his life’s work. Modesty and pride go hand in hand, he explains. “If you drink a glass of my wine, remember that you are helping to preserve the heritage of nature.”
If you would like to organise a visit to the estate or purchase Dino’s wines, please call +39 (0)184 255503.