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After several years working for more conventional wineries, Chiara Penati and her husband Michele Conoscenti started Oltretorrente in 2010. Both agronomists from Milan who had worked all over Italy, they had several ideas about where to create their own reality and decided on the sleepy village of Paderna, set in the hills of the Tortona region (Colli Tortonesi) in southeast Piedmont, where there are only 30 estates bottling wine. The name Oltretorrente means “Beyond the Stream,” in reference to the Scrivia, a tributary of the Po River, but it could be interpreted as “Countercurrent.” The estate covers only 4 hectares, planted with vines that range from 15 to 100 years old at an altitude of 300 meters, with slopes so steep that when it rains too much, their small caterpillar tractor is useless and they have to do the vineyard work the old-fashioned way. Current total production is 15-19,000 bottles, but they’ve planted an additional 2.8 hectares which will come online by 2018.
They farm their land organically at present, but are in the process of converting to biodynamic agriculture. Since they acquired the vineyards, they have worked to restore natural soil fertility by planting grass in soils that were hoed for many years; they are currently in the process of analyzing the soils of their 10 different parcels to determine which plants are the most beneficial to these sites. They harvest the fruit from each of their parcels separately to preserve the characteristics of each.
In the cellar, macerations and aging are not standardized and change depending on what the vintage gives them. In general, however, for the white wines they put whole bunches into the pneumatic press instead of destemming before pressing; there is no skin maceration and no malolactic. For the reds, they harvest late to ensure full ripeness, and long macerations follow. For both whites and reds, aging is always on the lees to increase the complexity and stability of wines in a natural way.