Freisa is a native and traditional variety from Piedmont that has had the unfortunate history of being misunderstood. For one thing, it is almost totally absent from restaurant wine menus and wine bars, making it almost impossible to find and taste. Plus, its own producers have often undervalued it and limited themselves to using it in blends—it is excellent for giving some oomph to weaker wines with its pleasing raspberry aroma. Finally, the all-too-common bottles of unrefined Freisa have condemned it to playing second (or even third) fiddle to many others; it has often been vinified as vivace, or fizzy, for popular and nearly exclusively local consumption.
A marginal fate
Today in Piedmont, Freisa is planted in just about 700 hectares (less than 2% of all vineyard-cultivated land), most of which is on the hills of Chieri or Asti. A small amount remains in the Cuneo area of the Langhe and around Tortona, Pinerolo, in the Canavese, and the hills of Novara (Colli Novaresi).
Freisa is genetically very close to Nebbiolo, but it’s more rustic and resistant. For this reason, many producers have planted it in the marginal areas of their land that are unable to support other grape varieties; and they make the plants over-produce while not giving this late-maturing variety sufficient time to ripen. In these conditions, Freisa starts to give mediocre wines that are not displayed alongside the noble reds of Piedmont. Today, even with a foreign market open to Piedmont wines, Freisa is rarely found abroad.
Chance, intuition, and passion: the story behind Mondaccione
For us, however, Freisa represents a very important wine, created from courage, intuition, and authentic passion for this wine made from such a unique grape variety.
As happens with many things in life, the chance to produce Freisa just fell into our laps. It was in the mid-1980s when we found two bottles in our cellar, from 1933 and 1952. When we tasted them – a mysterious, almost euphoric moment – they demonstrated this variety’s incredible potential: able not only to resist time, but to exalt characteristic aromas and flavors over the years.
We might have met Freisa by chance, but we were utterly convinced in our decision to produce it. With a bit of daring and just as much intuition, we decided to experiment with producing a traditional yet innovative wine. We had a distinctly dry wine in mind. It would detach itself entirely from the popular bubbly, sweet, and young Freisa, a production style that contributed to the variety’s decline
We wanted a wine that tied it to its noble ancestor, which was included in the great Ampelographic Exposition of 1881 as one of the “best wines of Italy.” In fact, Ernest Hemingway wrote about his tasting of Freisa in A Farewell to Arms.
Even the vineyard went against the trends. We selected the hills of Valdivilla located in Santo Stefano Belbo. The zone produced excellent Freisa in the past, but in recent years the vineyards were uprooted in favor of planting the more profitable moscato. In fact, the name Mondaccione comes from “Mundaciun,” a curse uttered by vineyard workers who toiled in these steep, difficult vineyards from which this wine is produced.
A noble, characteristic, and territorial wine
The first vintage in 1987 repaid us all our hard work. We tasted it in the presence of Gino Veronelli, Cesare Pillon, Aldo Conterno, Nichi Stefi, Mario Mariani, and a television crew from RAI. In that moment, Freisa vinified in purity was recognized as a fine wine of excellence, a decisive expression of the territory with a noble and unmistakable character. It was no longer considered the son of some “minor god.” The shedding of its old identity perhaps led to the wine becoming even more well-loved and recognized in the world.
Its success led us to plant more vineyards. But in 2004, we abandoned this path because we wanted our “little jewel” to be obtained solely from historical vineyards; its label carries the denomination “Vigne Vecchie,” “Old Vines.”
From that point, Mondaccione remained our most unique product. It is meant to be tasted slowly and with attention; not an easy wine, but demanding and complex with a restive, unexpected character. It was produced with toil, dedication, and endless effort. But it is surprising and exhilarating, seducing us as only important wines and great passions know how to do.
The Mondaccione collection, a tribute to Freisa
Today, sadly, those “Old Vines” that gave us such wonderful wines have reached the end of their productive cycle, and we had to uproot them. It was a painful but necessary task, but our goodbye to Mondaccione is not a farewell so much as it is a celebration of its character. It will patiently wait for time and trends to pass again until we return to plant Freisa grapes and make its wine.
In honor of Freisa, we decided to create a limited edition Mondaccione collection, a case that includes the last three vintages: 2007, 2008, and 2009. They are precious and rare bottles, because they are expressions of a Freisa wine that has no equal and will not be available for at least some time on the market. A glass of Mondaccione holds a bit of the Coppo tradition, our research, our innovative spirit, and our work. But above all, it holds the will to believe that even unsung wines can give overwhelming passions, like those that pushed us to return to Freisa and fall in love with this incredible wine.