01 Apr UNESCO, wine and Monferrato: the Infernot
Update: check the complete list of public UNESCO’s Infernot below.
I’ll start with a sort of ‘coming-out’: I didn’t know what Infernot were, until about a year ago. One afternoon a council member of my village, Casorzo, asked me if I wanted to be a guide during an opening of the local Infernot. I was too shy to say no and curious at the same time: here is what I found out.
That experience opened a world to me: or more precisely it opened a world beneath my feet! I discovered what the Infernot are – in a nutshell: one or more underground rooms hand carved into the stone and intended for storing wine.
So why did these underground buildings become a UNESCO site? First of all, let’s be more specific: in 2014 UNESCO recognised the presence of an “Outstanding Universal Value” in Piedmont, in the territories of Langhe, Monferrato and Roero. Reasons being the entrenched culture of wine (this is a wine region since Ancient Rome times!) and the extraordinary landscape shaped by human labour, related to the grape growing (viticulture) and wine production (viniculture). It is the first wine area in the world to have received this award.
This UNESCO site is not a single landmark, but is spread-out through the territories of Langhe, Monferrato and Roero and consist of six different components:
- Langa of Barolo: the vineyards hills area around the villages of Barolo, La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba
- Grinzane Cavour Castle: The Castle and the vines of Grinzane Cavour village.
- Hills of Barbaresco: vineyards hills around the villages of Barbaresco and Neive
- Nizza Monferrato and Barbera: vineyards area around Nizza Monferrato
- The Underground Cathedrals: the big cellars where the sparkling wine ageing in Canelli
And, of course, the:
- Monferrato of the Infernot: the Barbera vineyard area near Casale Monferrato, where the Infernot have been dug into the hills.
So, Infernot are just cellars? Not exactly. Or rather: not only. Infernot collects the material and immaterial culture of Monferrato. At the end of 1700, when the wine began to be bottled, many local farmers started to dig these rooms by themselves, at a depth of around 4 meters under the topsoil, to keep the best selections of bottled wine.
All Infernot are dug by hand in Pietra da Cantoni, a soft limestone. If you look closely at the stone you can discover shells, animals fossils and traces of water in it. The farmers dug the Infernot during the winter, over several years, using only picks: slow and steady work which opened manifold caverns underground.
Infernot are results of an almost forgotten mastery, a local farmers know-how, wisdom of experience of those who had no formal training in geology or architecture, and still managed to dig by hand solid and complex structures, extending tens of cubic meters.
The farmers created these underground rooms to achieve an environment with consistent temperature and humidity: perfect conditions for storing bottled wine. These rooms also became meeting places: it is not uncommon to find tables, also carved out of stone, around which they played, they talked. And of course, they drank delicious wines!
Infernot are a unique type of construction that are found only in the surrounding vineyards between the villages of Rosignano Monferrato, Cella Monte, Camagna, and Vignale Monferrato, where the cultivation of the Barbera grape-variety has been going on for centuries. In this area were the ancient quarries for the extraction of the Pietra da Cantoni, which characterises the architecture of the villages.
The origin of the word “Infernot” is Provençal: it means “tight place”, and in the Piedmontese dialect it sounds like “little hell”, maybe because to reach them often you have to overcome narrow underground corridors. But when you find yourself admiring antique bottles in the middle of a room hand-dug into stone, with a wort-like aroma in the air, I’m sure you’ll think of something much sweeter.
Nowadays all these UNESCO sites is under the governance of the Association for the Heritage of the Vineyard Landscape of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato. The visits are managed by the Eco Museum of Pietra da Cantoni in Cella Monte: over the years the eco-museum continues the census of the Infernot (currently there are almost 100 surveyed Infernot) and manage the openings.
Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni
Below there is a list of public Infernot, divided by municipalities. All the visits must be booked in advance. There are many others located in private estates, some of them opens in special occasions: the best way to visit the Infernot is contact the Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni.
Infernot in Cella Monte
1 public infernot
Info: Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni (contact above)
Infernot in Terruggia
1 public Infernot
Info: Town Hall
Address: Via Guglielmo Marconi 9, 15030 Terruggia AL
Phone: +39 0142 401400
Email: [email protected]
Infernot in Vignale Monferrato
2 Infernot in winefarms
Info: Azienda Agricola Buzio Oreste
Address: Via Piave 13, 15049 Vignale Monferrato AL
Phone: +39 0142 933197
Email: [email protected]
Info: Azienda Agricola Zavattaro Modesto
Address: Cascina Vallone 5, Frazione San Lorenzo 15049 Vignale Monferrato AL
Phone: +39 0142 933254
Infernot in Ottiglio
1 Infernot run by an Association
Info: Associazione Terra & fuoco
Address: via Mazza 23, 15038 Ottiglio AL
Mobile: 340 735 4885
Email: associazi[email protected]
Infernot in Sala Monferrato
Infernot in Grazzano Badoglio
Infernot in Ozzano Monferrato
1 Infernot in a winefarm
Info: Azienda Agricola Angelini Paolo
Address: Cascina Cairo 10, 15039 Ozzano Monferrato AL
Phone: +39 0142 487857
Mobile: +39 346 854 9015
Email: [email protected]
Infernot in Rosignano Monferrato
Infernot in Olivola
1 Infernot in a Restaurant
Info: Ristorante Ai Cedri
Address: Via Vittorio Veneto 23, 15030 Olivola AL
Phone: +39 0142 938885
Written by Costanza Gaia | Edited by Fiona Scull | Photography by Paola Berra and courtesy of Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni