Driving on winding hills, our guide Anna tells me and the Dutch couple (my companions for the day) that we’re headed somewhere special. It’s the one part of the itinerary that I don’t know in advance, but I trust Anna to show us the way. Having just come from an incredible vineyard, we all wonder out loud about our next destination. We’re deep in the Roero countryside—in Monteu Roero, to be exact—surrounded by the “rocche,” or sandy cliffs, on what feels like all sides. As I take in the beauty of this wild region just northwest of Alba, I find myself questioning, “Isn’t this all so special?”
We pull up the driveway at Azienda Agricola “Bajaj” di Moretti Giovanni, park somewhat precariously (a theme in Italy), and walk up to a beautiful winery that can hardly hide its dumbfounding views of Roero. At this moment, I realize that there is indeed something special in store.
Adriano Moretti, son of winemaker Giovanni and host Mirella, quickly and excitedly greets us with a casual yet contagious energy. Wearing a graphic t-shirt, mesh shorts, and trainers, Adriano points out the estate’s luscious vistas, shows us ripe strawberries that have just been harvested at the family farm, and proudly explains his new amphora and clay egg vessels. We learn that Adriano loves to experiment, being one of the first to introduce different fermentation and aging vessels in Roero. He also appreciates nature, and while he looks to the future, he doesn’t forget the importance of tradition either. There’s an excitement and passion for wine that I haven’t felt in a while. The experience already feels… special. And just like that, Adriano announces that he has “something special” to show us. I’m now thinking, “Well, perhaps people here just overuse that word ‘special’! Surely it can’t get more special than this.”
Adriano takes us to a small door in the ground with a ladder leading to a brick cellar underneath. I’m not great with heights (even small ones) or ladders, but I know that something interesting is down there, and at this point, I have to find out what. Underground jutting off of the brick cellar, the special thing reveals itself: a small sand cave filled with moldy bottles of wine given to time. It is amazing! And yes, special. (Also, again somewhat precarious? When the Dutch gentleman asks how the cave doesn’t collapse, Adriano replies with uncertainty but confidence. As I said, a theme in Italy. Just go with it.) The sand cave is an intimate look at the soil that produces Roero wines, but that’s not why the cave was created. According to Anna and Adriano, caves like this were the original refrigeration units for families in Roero. Many have closed theirs up in favor of modern refrigerators and wine cellars, but Bajaj’s little sand jewel box remains in use.
As we climb out, Adriano tells us that he has one more thing to show us before lunch. This turns out to be a second sand cave that was formed naturally and discovered by the family when they built the newest building on the property. After another adventure into that one, we sit down to an antipasto spread and warm lunch prepared by Mirella. At the meal we finally enjoy Bajaj’s wines. Not to sound trite, but what the heck: they are special.
We start with Adriano’s first amphora experiment called “Prometheus” made from 100% Arneis. Adriano shows some shyness as he explains that it was his first try and claims it didn’t turn out exactly the way he wanted. This is funny to me because Prometheus exudes the specialness of the winery—whether Adriano sees it or not. His own innovative, energetic spirit beams through every aspect of the wine. It has a round body, high acidity, delicate fruit flavors, and savory minerality. It’s clean, balanced, and expressive of place. Not bad for a first try, huh? (I leave with a bottle, of course.) After we taste some racy Favorita and complex Nebbiolo, Adriano disappears and reappears with a pitcher of bright, deep orange wine. This is the second iteration of Prometheus and he seems much happier with it. It is more concentrated and fruiter, and pairs perfectly with some of the fresh strawberries that we saw earlier.
Adriano spent most of our visit showing us things and places around the property that he feels are special. And they are. But the most special part of Bajaj? Adriano himself. Like the Roero, he has a passionate and untamed spirit that excites and inspires. To others, sand caves are no longer useful. To Adriano, they are unique pieces of the region’s heritage. To others, orange wine from amphora might be a passing fad. To Adriano, it’s a different way to showcase the characteristics of one of the most classic grapes from Piedmont. Adriano infuses energy into everything he touches—new and old. Leaving the property, I know that Anna was right: we went somewhere special.