The freisa grape variety has always been grown in the area, but it became the leading local variety during the 20th century thanks to the variety of ways it can be vinified. Since freisa is very rich in colour and body, it has always been in demand to boost other wines deficient in these qualities. But by the same token it has often been relegated to a secondary role.
Cascina Gilli, however, has always regarded freisa as a complex, noble grape capable of yielding impressive wines, providing it is vinified and matured in an appropriate manner. The “Freisa vivace” and “Freisa Vigna del Forno” versions won popularity right from their first release, and Gianni Vergnano earned immediate respect as an outstanding master of this style.
Vergnano’s high opinion of freisa was bolstered by recent research published in 2004 by Prof. Schneider and her colleagues at the Istituto di S. Michele all’Adige and at the University of Davis (California USA), which pointed to the extremely close genetic relationship between freisa and nebbiolo, Piedmont’s most celebrated red grape.
Such a relationship had already been proposed by the Department of Oenology at the Università di Torino, and in particular by Prof. Gerbi in 2002.
That was the first year in fact that freisa grapes from several outstanding vineyards in the Castelnuovo area, among them Cascina Gilli’s Cornareto, underwent analysis for polyphenol content, in order to gain a better idea of the variety’s winemaking potential.
The results were a pleasant surprise, although they underlined difficulties often encountered in vinifying freisa. The wines show great polyphenolic concentration; on the one hand, this means that these wines are sturdily structured and capable of long cellaring, but on the other, if they are not given adequate maturation and if great care is not paid to vinification, one runs the risk of making wines that are awkward and fairly rough.
Vergnano’s intuitions enabled Cascina Gilli to launch its Arvelè project (revelation), which led to an ambitious Freisa that spends at least 18 months in 225 – and 500 – litre barrels. We are only in the first stages of this experiment, but we have already succeeded in amazing those who thought that freisa was capable of producing only “light, fizzy wines.”
Our task now is to consolidate the results we have achieved, to introduce Freisa to the international market as well, so that it will finally be accorded the standing it deserves.

Over the years, Cascina Gilli has carried out important projects in collaboration with the Crop Sciences Department at the Università di Torino, and in particular with Prof. Schneider and Prof. Mannini with the goal of identifying true clones of the historic Malvasia di Schierano grape.
Our relationships with Castelnuovo-area growers are also valuable, since they are enabling us to learn more of the hidden qualities of this local area and of its wines, which only experience can reveal.
Our research has made possible the planting of vineyards with selected plant material that are capable of yielding great wines. Clone selection was not guided by quantity concerns but by locating those vineyards which, in the memories of local growers, yielded the most interesting wines.
Once the first clonal selections of malvasia had been made, and the vineyards planted, we turned our attention to other grape varieties traditional to the area, such bonarda piemontese and barbera.
Bonarda piemontese has grown on these hills since the 19th century, but its use was declining, due to the variety’s sensitivity to adverse weather and to vine diseases. But local producers still loved the wine, since it possesses a particularly rich bouquet and ages very well. Barbera is widespread in Piedmont but marginal in our own area, since it is a thin-skinned grape and the heavy rains experienced up until the 1990s did not favour it. The lesser amounts of rain in the most recent decades have made the Castelnuovo area an exceptionally fine zone for barbera.
Putting into practice the fundamental rules of good oenology meant that even in our early years Cascina Gilli was able to produce wines that earned top scores by experts. Improvements in winemaking practices in the 1990s were put into effect by small producers as well and led to even better wines. That required greater commitment and more intense research, requirements that Carlo Feyles first and then Bruno Tamagnone fully met.
A great deal of effort must be expended to transform the grapes into wine, including appropriate maceration time, fermentation temperatures, the correct amount of oxygenation during the winemaking process and ageing: all of these parameters are refined by continuous, applied experimentation, which continues unabated today.
Whereas the “Freisa brand” had almost disappeared in the 1980s and consumers regarded it as a difficult and sometimes off-putting wine, today we can be proud of having contributed to the development and improvement of this magnificent grape.