The vineyards are completely unique in that they are located on extremely steep hillsides and terraced. Wineries have to send their staff nearly mountain climbing at harvest time!
Nestled in the northwest of Italy, Lombardy is situated just below Switzerland and to the northeast of Piedmont. The main center of commerce is Milan. The region has an array of beautiful "art cities" including medieval Bergamo, Cremona and Mantova. Lombardy is blessed with spectacular lakes, from Lake Como to Lake Garda. Landscapes range from lakeside Grand Tour villas and lush gardens, to the Alpine scenery of the Valchiavenna and Valtellina.
Without a doubt, Lombardy's best and most important red wines come from Valtellina, in the far north. Valtellina stretches from the west to east along the Adda river near the town of Sondrio and the spa town of Bormio. Here we are surrounded by Switzerland which borders the entire length of the valley. The main grape cultivated is Chiavennasca (90% minimum), the local name for Nebbiolo (which makes Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont). The vineyards are completely unique in that they are located on extremely steep hillsides and terraced. Wineries have to send their staff nearly mountain climbing at harvest time! A UNESCO World Heritage site. Wine making here is done on small artisan scale and is quite high-end and high quality. Wine tourism as a concept is only starting to take off and the region is a delight for wine loving tourists looking for "undiscovered gems". Valtellina vineyards are mostly worked by hand. They put long stakes next to the vain to aid in minimizing the effects of soil erosion and landslides.
There is no question of mechanization, all the viticultural practices carried out by hand (it is generally thought to take around 1,300 to 1,600 hours of work per hectare per year). Even the soil required for earthing up is carried by the vineyard workers. Some of the slopes are so steep that little teleferiques (cableways) have been installed to ease the arduous task of carrying the grapes down in to the valley at vintage time. In recent times it has garnered international attention for being the only major Italian region to focus on the Nebbiolo grape, locally known as Chiavennasca, outside of Piedmont region. The vineyards of the region are located on the south-facing slopes along the Adda River. The nearby mountain peaks provide for protection from cold, harsh winds and help to trap heat in the valley. The stony vineyard soil also retains heat and releases it during the night to warm the vines. This creates an optimum situation which allows Chiavennasca grape to fully develop its flavors during the long growing season it needs. Heavy winter rainfall poses the hazards of landslides and soil erosion.
The regular Valtellina Rosso DOC includes the basic level wines while the Valtellina Superiore DOCG includes wines from the more premium locations and must be aged a minimum of 24 months. The Valtellina Superiore Riserva is reserve-style wines that must be aged for at least 36 months. Valtellina also produces an Amarone style DOCG wine known as Sforzato (or Sfursat, Sfurzat as alternate dialect names) made from dried grapes with a minimum alcohol content of 14%.