LA MORRA, A LAND FOR VINES
FROM A GEOLOGICAL POINT OF VIEW, LA MORRA HAS UNIQUE SOILS. READ ON TO FIND OUT HOW THEY WERE FORMED AND HOW THEY INFLUENCE THE WINES THAT ARE PRODUCED HERE.
Tell me where you were born, and I’ll tell you who you are. A wine’s origins and the soils in which it has had the fortune to grow are a fundamental element that define its character. Great wines are always made from great vines. And great vines grow in soils that have been blessed by their geological history, one factor of many—along with climate, microclimate, sun exposure, altitude, and the work of the growers—that creates the mysterious and fascinating concept of terroir.
Our winery has the good fortune to cultivate some of the best vineyards of the Langhe. Today we’re going to concentrate on the vineyards in La Morra, the historical productive heart of one of the most famous reds in the world: Barolo DOCG.
What are the soil characteristics in this area? How were they formed? And how do they influence the wines? We’ve summarized the complex answers to these questions in a few fundamental concepts below.
The geological history of the Langhe begins almost 30 million years ago. Its valleys and hills were once a deep seabed that reached up to 800 meters of depth. This “Langhe sea” collected river deposits originating in the Alps, which had formed when the African plate pushed against the European plate. The Tertiary Piedmont Basin was formed after a build-up of 20 million years of these fluvial deposits. The basin was an enormous gulf that eventually became the Langhe and the Padana Plains and, depending on the period and distance from the Alps, formed diverse geological formations in structure and composition.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE LANGHE
A phenomenon happened between seven and five million years ago that is still discussed today. During the Messinian period, the tectonic movements between Africa and Europe closed the Gibraltar Strait. The Mediterranean Sea experienced a period of massive evaporation, allowing the Langhe to emerge and simultaneously creating stretches of saline rock called evaporites made largely of Messinian gypsum, that still today characterize the river zone of the Tanaro, an area that stretches from Cherasco to Magliano Alfieri, including La Morra, Verduno, Guarene, and Castaglino. Then, five million years ago during the Pliocene, the Mediterranean re-submerged Piedmont and the nearby Roero hills, which at the time formed one plateau. It left out the Langhe and Monferrato, which became a tropical coastal zone.
From that period on, the Langhe began a slow, gradual process of rising. Over the course of millions of years, the land has reached its highest point at 890 meters above sea level in Mombarcaro. The Langhe can be divided according to age and geological formation based on the vicinity to the Alps: from the most ancient Alta Langa (with Molare, Monesiglio, Cortmilia, and Murazzano Formations), to the youngest Lower Langa between the Tanaro River in the north and Belbo River in the south (with Lequio, Sant’Agata Marl, and Diano Sandstone Formations).
I suoli per la vite
Viticulturally-speaking, the most interesting zones are those located in the Lower Langa, or in the hilly arc that generally follows the course of the Tanaro River. It goes from Dogliani to Neive and rarely rises above 500-600 meters above sea level, the elevation limit for healthy vine development. The soils located here are the best for vineyard cultivation:
- Lequio Formation, the oldest soils from the Serravalle period between 13 and 11 million years ago. These soils are grey marl alternating with sandstone.
- Sant’Agata Fossil Marl, created during the Tortonian period of calm, open seas between 11 and six million years ago. Clay mixed with sandstone and a rich presence of fossils.
- Diano sandstone, from the Helvetian period 15 to 13 million years ago. These soils are grey-brown or yellow with grey sandstone (compact sands cemented by carbonates).
Sede dell’azienda Marcarini e delle nostre vigne più prestigiose è La Morra. Un territorio particolare perché geologicamente diviso in due versanti collinari, rispettivamente a Est e a Ovest del lungo un crinale che, partendo da Monvigliero (comune di Verduno) termina a Novello.
The eastern side of La Morra is historically more heavily cultivated in vineyards, almost all of which are nebbiolo for Barolo. Here, too, some of the most prestigious Additional Geographical Mentions (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive, or cru) are located for Barolo. We cultivate vineyards in the Menzioni of Brunate and La Serra. On this side, the hills vary greatly in elevation, from just a few hundred meters at Bricco del Dente to the highest point in the Barolo zone at 553 meters.
The eastern hillside can be subdivided into three zones:
- Vineyards surrounding the frazione of SantaMaria to the southeast
- Vineyards surrounding the frazione of Annunziata to the east
- Vineyards of LaMorra to the north and northeast of the town of the same name
The terrain of La Morra has Miocene origins from the Tortonian period, or from between 11 and six million years ago. The soils are blue-grey marl, mixed clay, and very fine sands, reaching great depths. The soils are poor in nutrients, composed of limestone and rich in magnesium and manganese—the profile of Sant’Agata Marl, or the geographical formation of this hillside.
How do these soils affect the wine? Not just soils but also the microclimate (there’s a substantial difference between a Barolo Brunate and one from Santa Maria), sun exposure, and choices made in the winery affect the wine, but the soils of the eastern hillside of La Morra lend an unmistakable elegance to the wines. They’re distinguished by aromatic finesse and balance while maintaining good longevity and structure.
The western hillside faces the Tanaro River, and overall is very atypical for the Barolo zone. It is more homogenous than the eastern hill, with gentle hills between 300 and 450 meters above sea level, and fewer cultivated vineyards but more forests and hazelnut trees. In addition to nebbiolo, you can find barbera and white grape varieties.
The soils of this isolated and wild terrain make its wines unique. Remember when the Mediterranean closed up? Well, the western side of La Morra has terrain from the Messinian period, with veins of gypsum from the evaporation of the seawater. At the foot of this hill, you can find the famous crystal sands of the Tanaro, chunks of sparkling gypsum that the river carried to this spot. The soils of the western side are also unique, with more sand that is closer to the surface.
Soil, isolation, and biodiversity have also created a unique terroir that form a little enological miracle. At the end of the 19th century, phylloxera nearly destroyed European viticulture, but in Berri (3 km southwest of La Morra), there are still rare examples of pre-phylloxera vineyards, vines that are hundreds of years old from which we make a truly unique wine: Dolcetto Boschi di Berri, whose incredible story you can read about here.