Nestled in the hills around Marano, the northernmost great wine village of Valpolicella Classica, the wine traveller might be astonished by an extraordinary sight: in the middle of a small, working farm, a 15th century palazzo sits calm and aloof, as if no time had passed between when it was built and now. This is the home and headquarters of the Vaona family, custodians of Novaia for an extraordinary 300 years, one of the great guardians of the Valpolicella tradition among the boutique wineries that dot this landscape.
Brothers Cesare and Giampaolo Vaona now run this most ancient of family businesses, where the farming is considered the most important part of making the wine.
They have several key advantages in their location: first, the angle and altitude of the valley makes the vineyard an unusually fog-free zone; second, the amount of sunshine gleaned from their southwards exposure; and third, the great diurnal temperature variation, crucial for retaining acidity in ripening grapes. This allows them to get every ounce of quality possible from all of their mere 7 hectares of vine cover.
The farm is organised in a rather interesting way, split into three ‘crus’, as Novaia call them, each of which covers roughly the same area of vineyard: Le Balze, I Cantoni, and Le Novaie. Le Balze is south-facing and relatively steep, with soils composed predominantly of clay and fine-wine-perennial limesone. I Cantoni, by contrast, is slightly less steep, with southeast exposure and volcanic, tuffa soils. The eponymous Le Novaie is steeper and angled southwards again, with more varied soils. This system allows Novaia to control the range and style of their production, giving them great versatility and flexibility.
Tradition is vital to the Vaona – as well as the mansion, which houses the bottaia for barrel-ageing, a new cellar built in 2011 houses a traditional fruttaio for grape-drying and tinaia for bottle ageing, while the vineyards contain not only the major grapes of Valpolicella (corvina, corvinone, rondinella and molinara) but also historically important plantings of oseleta and turchetta. With only 50,000 bottles produced per annum, Novaia wines aren’t always the easiest to find, but it’s a treat well worth it – like drinking a piece of living history.