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An Afternoon at VioBio

It’s quite possibly the most aesthetic front yard I’ve ever seen.

Hanging ivy dangles from the exposed wooden awning in front of the red doored entrance while pots of lime green succulents and geraniums in cotton candy pink vases decorate an antique table out front. Citrus in wicker baskets and tiny bonsai in repurposed soup vessels are propped on another table by the window. A cheeky garden gnome with blue overalls smiles at me as I continue scanning the scene. Crates of freshly picked peppers all colours of the rainbow are stacked by the cantina entrance next to a pink vintage bicycle and a curious cocker spaniel wandering around the yard. This is the VioBio, a natural powerhouse in Albenga that soon steals my heart.

Focused on preserving locality and tradition, VioBio is a place that makes visitors feel like they’re amongst family, which isn’t much of a surprise considering that the business is run by Aimone Giobatta, his wife Chiara and their three daughters, Caterina, Camilla and Carolina.

Whether its winemaking in their cantina, pressing olives for their oil, harvesting local herbs for sale or welcoming guests to their agriturismo, visitors can learn and most importantly, taste the difference that organic makes.

Certified organic in 1989, family patriarch Aimone believes that since chemical intervention wasn’t a part of local tradition, it should remain as such. He explains that, “Organic farming is not a technical or economical choice, it’s simply a question of culture.”

Along with multitudes of speckled grape vineyards, forests of green olive trees and rows of neatly planted carciofi spinose, are wildly growing herbs of the Albenga plains like parsley, laurel, rosemary, thyme and sage. Embodying the soil, sun and sea, the harvests capture the aroma that is Liguria.

As we walk through the cantina, Caterina shows us the steel vats where the pigato ferments, before bringing us into another room where four wooden barrels hold different wine, at different stages of aging and with different characteristics. Though all of VioBio’s wines are organic, recently, the troupe added a zero sulfite wine to their batch of wines, which has been both a challenge and a blessing, given the exciting but unpredictable nature of a sulfite-free wine. Remember that it’s the presence of sulfites—which can also naturally occur in a blend—that help wine to maintain its structure and quality.

After a tour, Caterina guides us through the ruby red door of the agriturismo into a classic Ligurian kitchen that somehow reminds me of home. With that antique aesthetic reminiscent of my childhood home (we had a butter churner...don’t ask), I was immediately swooning. Fresh veggies are scattered on the marble countertops and a pot of boiling water on the old fashioned chiminea-turned-stove, glass jars filled with dried herbs and salts line the countertop next to a basket of fresh eggs.

I take my place at the large wooden dining room table next to the girls. On the table, an old tin jug filled with tangerine tulips and five bottles of wine: a rosé and four whites. As Caterina begins to fill our wine glasses for the first tasting, Chiara begins cleaning a spiny artichoke. I watch as she peels back the layers, before dunking the slices into eggs and breadcrumbs. I try to concentrate on the first wine, but the kitchen smells like an incredible fritto misto and I find myself slipping in and out of Caterina’s presentation of 4C.

Unlike some other rosés that use a blend of white and red wine, 4C Rosato IGT is a rosé made entirely from rossesse grapes. For VioBio it’s all about letting the wine do the work and allowing the beauty of the grape variety shine through. Pink like an onion skin, this wine pairs perfectly with the freshly fried artichokes Chiara prepared. The combination is heavenly, but I also can’t help thinking how lovely a fresh ricotta crostini and a glass of 4C would be on evening night by the Ligurian coast.

Though VioBio also makes a red wine with granaccia grapes, we didn't have the opportunity to taste that on our visit but, given the lighter fare found within Liguria, Caterina explains that it’s a red that can withstand white meats like chicken, but also pairs seamlessly with white fish. Interestingly, she also shares that Ligurian whites are better when aged but red wines should instead be enjoyed almost immediately.

With that, we move onto white wine, starting with the Aimone Vermentino DOC. With hints of sage and thyme on the nose, this dry wine was excellent when paired with Chiara’s frittata with fried onions, zucchini and wildflowers.

Of course, what would a wine tasting in Liguria be, without some representation of the region's best known grape, pigato? Starting with Marène Pigato DOC and then it’s sibling, EsSenza Pigato DOC that was created without any sulfites whatsoever, Chiara instructs us to taste the difference between a wine aged the exact same time (roughly two years). “The presence of sulphites changes the taste of the wine,” Caterina explains, “Less sulfites mean a less conformed wine.”

Though all the wines (as well as oil and herbs) crafted at VioBio are organic, they can still technically have a certain minimal percentage of sulphites which help to maintain the structure of the wine, safeguarding taste and deterioration. While Marène is a fresher wine with a fruitier bouquet and flavours of apricot, EsSenza is much warmer in its aromas and flavours that almost tastes like vanilla.

Moving on, Bon in da Bon Pigato DOC was a dry wine with a distinct almond flavour that lingered on the mouth and nose as we munched on olive oil drenched bread between sips. Grown in the Arroscia Valley, organic taggiasca olives are harvested and then pressed to make VioBio’s signature extra virgin olive oil. Subtly sweet, it’s gentle on the palate, making it the perfect companion for fish and drizzled on top of raw salads.

Liquid dessert, the golden Grand-Père Pigato DOC with it’s aroma of honey and toasted vanilla scent, ended the degustazione. Branded as wine to thoughtfully drink, it’s ideal for a simple aperitivo with aged cheese. The perfect end to a great visit, this last wine embodies all that is VioBio—warm and friendly. Year round, the family runs their agrotourism where couples and families can stay in one of their many rooms on the property and learn about the wines and share in the rich enogastronomic culture that the Ligurian coast has to offer. I know I can’t wait to bring my family and friends here when travel restrictions loosens!

Packing up the car with a bottle of 4C Rosato IGT and another of Bon in da Bon Pigato DOC, we drive home, blasting Taylor Swift and comparing notes on how we all enjoyed our day and of course, how much we all loved the aesthetic little cantina that is VioBio.

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