When I think of vineyards, I think of rolling hills covered with vines as far as the eye can see. But, recently, as we were driving through the city of Torino, in Piemonte, Italy, we crossed the Po River and drove up a hill and entered a park. There in the park was a large chateau and just to the side of it was a vineyard. This vineyard, Vigna della Regina, is located in the city of Torino and is one of only a few vineyards located in urban settings in Europe.
As I did a little research, I was able to find only a few other urban vineyards in Europe. Historically, there is Montmartre in Paris, the world’s most famous urban vineyard. And there are 1,700 acres of vineyards in the city of Vienna, Austria. More recently, urban vineyards were planted in Thessaloniki in Greece, London in England and the island of Mazzorbo in Venice in Italy.
Vigna della Regina, the vineyard in Torino, has a history of 400 years, dating to the 1600s. Located in the center of Torino, the vineyard is next to the Villa della Regina, a former residence of pleasure for the royal family. Bombing during World War II resulted in the vineyard being abandoned for 50 years. Then, in 1994, the Ministry of Culture began rebuilding the home. It took them 10 years and then they called on the Balbiano family, a famous wine producer in the Torino Hills.
The Balbiano family, beginning with Melchiorre Balbiano, started producing bulk wine in 1941. Melchiorre’s son, Francesco, shifted to bottling wine in the 1970s, making a name for the local grape Freisa in Italy. The Balbiano family has eight hectares of vineyards on their property in the town of Andezeno, within the province of Torino, as well as 22 additional hectares. Third-generation Luca Balbiano now works with his father and shared the story of how his family started the crazy project of Vigna della Regina.
The Balbiano family was contacted by the Ministry of Culture and as a result, they rented the vineyard. After years of abandonment, it was a forest. They took out trees and reshaped the hills, which took six months. They replanted in 2005 and today are following an organic system. Their lease on the vineyard will continue until at least 2021.
Vigna della Regina is a five-hectare property but only 0.81 hectares are planted. “Perhaps it is not a big vineyard, but it is for an urban vineyard,” explained Luca Balbiano. There are 2,700 rootings of Freisa, the most historic grapes of the area. Of these rootings, there are three historical clones and two experimental clones of Freisa. The soils are calcareous based white soils and the vines are planted with rows closely together, the same way they were planted in the 16th century.
The first bottling of wine from Vigna della Regina was in 2009. We got to taste the Balbiano Freisa di Chieri Superiore Vigna Villa della Regina 2013 DOCG (13 percent alcohol), a wine with a garnet red color and hints of orange. On the nose, the wine has aromas of licorice, lavender, raspberry, violets and saffron. On the palate, it is delicate with soft tannins and balanced acidity. In many ways, this wine is similar to an older Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir.
Balbiano produces approximately 4172 bottles (750ml), 60 Magnums, 16 Double Magnums and 2 Balthazar’s annually from the Vigna della Regina, and each bottle produced is numbered. Of the wine they produce, the winery donates 12 Magnums, 6 Double Magnums and 1 Balthazar to charity each year to raise money for children’s causes.
By replanting the Vigna della Regina, the Balbiano family has given the city of Torino back its only vineyard. The property site is an UNESCO heritage site and in 2011 the vineyard was included in the DOC Freisa di Chieri. In fact, Vigna Villa della Regina is the only “cru” in the DOC Freisa di Chieri.