Posted by Keith Wallace

The geographical presence of the Slarina vine is primarily identifiable in the plains between Alessandria, Novi Ligure, and Tortona. Alessandria is located in Piedmont, Italy, and is also the capital of the Province of Alessandria. Therefore, as evident by the cited locations, the Slarina vine is primarily found near the Piedmont region of Italy

According to Agricola Sulin, harvesting the grape was ultimately abandoned, reaching near-extinction sometime during the 20th century due to inconsistent and unreliable production rates. Per the same source, the Piedmont Region of Italy led an initiative to study older Piedmont vines bordering on abandonment and extinction. This study encompassed the Slarina vine, among others, thus contributing to its resurfacing in the last century (Slarina). As a result, the Slarina grape was added to Italy’s National Register in 2007 {Dickerson).

According to Schneider and Raimondi, a growing and pruning method that is lucrative in terms of productivity and efficiency is the Espalier system, in conjunction with the Guyot method. The Espalier method is a slower process that attempts to force the vine to grow upward and flat against vertical structures. The Guyot method, mainly applicable to vineyard usage, encourages the vines to grow in rows, often supported and held in place with small, thin wires. According to Schneider and Raimondi, using these methods to grow and harvest the Slarina vines provides a highly effective production rate per hectare relative to other lucrative Piedmont vines.

Per Schneider and Raimondi’s article, the Slarina vine has a moderately strong stature with pointy stems. The Slarina grape’s physical attributes include small size and durable, protective outer skin. According to Schneider and Raimondi’s article, the grape’s growth process produces exceptional sugar levels. Nicole Dickerson’s blog suggests that the grapes take on a size similar to that of a blueberry. The grape’s pigment seems blue on the outer cover and red on the surface beneath the outer covering, discernible by Schneider and Raimondi’s image of the bunch. 

Additionally, the grape has higher levels of tartaric acid than malic acid. Bunches from the Slarina vines are “medium-sized,” vertically longer than average, with loose grapes. Along with the grapes’ protective outer covering, the grape effectively deters parasites, is less susceptible to fungal attacks such as gray mold, and has a slower-than-average rotting speed once detached from vines. 

Regarding the vine’s phenology, Slarina is relatively average compared to other grape vines (Schneider and Raimondi). Such phenological processes of an average grapevine include budburst, flower cluster initiation, fruit flowering, fruit set, berry development, and fruit maturity, ultimately transitioning to harvest (Grapevine). Following the data illustrated by Agricola Sulin’s slide presentation, who planted roughly a hectare of Slarina in 2016 and harvested in 2018, this phenological process takes approximately two to three years. Even with reliable growing methods, the vine has a lower-than-average yield, at one-thousand bottles per four• thousand vines planted, according to (Dickerson).

In early 2010, searching for older grape varieties, Agricola Sulin stumbled upon the vines growing in the Piedmont Region of Italy. The two most eye-catching grapes were the white grape, Baratuciat, and the red grape, Slarina. They planted roughly a hectare of each to research the varieties of these grapes and identify their unique compositional properties. The Slarina grapes were planted in 2016. They initially discovered the grape variety through the Piedmont Region’s vineyard database, containing a comprehensive record of many past and present grapes preserved throughout history. Images of the hectare growing the Slarina grape can be found in Agricola Sulin’s slide presentation.

Following Agricola Sulin’s research and experimentation on the Piedmont Region’s grapes, 2018 was the harvest year for the Slarina variety. To record more data about the grape, rather than selling the vintage fruit, they elected to encase the produced wine in wooden and steel barrels. This research aimed to determine which processing methods could prove most enabling of the Slarina grape’s underlying latent properties. There has yet to be further data on the results of the later stages of the research, but more conclusive data may be published in the future.

Ultimately, Slarina is a very obscure grape variety. Dating back to its roots in the early 1900s, and possibly even further back, it is undoubtedly a vintage fruit with premium flavor and balanced acidity. Despite the history of its decline, many wine enthusiasts have helped to reignite the grape’s presence back to fruition, and today, there are several wines on the market of the Slarina variety.

Robin Watts

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