Blink and you will miss Donnas, it is a tiny village on the SS44, the first that is completely in the Aosta as you drive north out of Piemonte. The vineyards cling to the rocky valley walls, the viticulture is dramatic, ancient and hard. The vines grow out from the rock onto trellises that are raised and supported by stone pillars. Words can hardly do justice to the labour of generations of vignaioli (vine-growers), who have created a city of vines that is serviced by a mono-rail carrying the workers up and the grapes down from the slopes, the slopes are too treacherous to walk, too steep for even Italy’s bravest Ape drivers.
The village of Donnas lies at an altitude of over the 300m and the vineyards quickly climb to over 500m. There are a few vines on the more easily worked land of the valley floor, but not many as flattish land is a scarce commodity in Aosta.
The Cave (cooperative) was set up in 1971, the same year that Donnas achieved the Aosta’s first DOC, it is now a subzone within the Aosta DOC. Donnas has only one producer, the Cave, whose total output is just 150,000 bottles year. Their wines bear more than a passing resemblance to their more famous Piemonte neighbour Carema. Both villages specialise in Nebbiolo, known locally as Picotendro or Picutender and whilst there has been an outbreak of new small producers in Carema, in Donnas they are standing with their cooperative. When cultivating such extreme vineyard it makes sense to work together and the team at Donnas, led by Mario Darbar has taken advantage of a run of excellent vintages, hiking up the quality of their wines to way above the simple skiing fuel that they were making for so many years.
The wines of Donnas are noteworthy, historical Nebbiolo wines, ethereal fine and honest.