What do donkeys have to do with wine-making? In north-west Italy's famous wine region of Piedmont, they help to eat up pesky weeds and grass at Ceretto's organic vineyards.
The family-owned Italian wine company has 160ha of vineyards and an annual production of 1.2 million bottles. It began implementing organic methods for grape cultivation in 2010 and obtained European Union (EU) organic certification for its wines produced from the 2015 harvest onwards.
In the EU, Italy is among the top three countries with the largest organic vineyard area. According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, as of 2015, Italy has 83,643ha of organic vineyards.
Ceretto's signature Langhe DOC Arneis Blange (white wine) and Barbera d'Alba DOC Piana (red wine) are among its first wines to be certified organic. Both are available for order on the ST Wine online site. They are rated JS 90 and above by wine critic James Suckling.
Organic wines are grown without the use of chemical fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. The aim is to protect the vineyard and the surrounding environment.
Ceretto also adopted a biodynamic approach to grape cultivation. It is similar to organic farming in shunning chemical fertilisers, but it also takes into account astrological influences and lunar cycles, with an emphasis on nurturing the land.
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Chief winemaker Alessandro Ceretto, 42, says: "The land is important and we want to preserve it in the best condition for future generations. Another reason to go organic is so our customers can drink wines without any residual chemicals."
The Ceretto winery was founded in Alba in 1937 by two brothers, Bruno and Marcello Ceretto, who started acquiring vineyards in Langhe and Roero in Piedmont.
Mr Alessandro Ceretto belongs to the third generation of owners who decided to implement organic and biodynamic methods in the vineyards.
At present, the company owns four wineries with a portfolio of 17 wines. It also has two restaurants on its property, one of which is the three-Michelin-starred Piazza Duomo. The winery has 150 staff.
The estate also produces hazelnuts and has a natural source of white truffles in the forested land surrounding the vineyards.
Mr David Fletcher, 39, a winemaker at Ceretto who has a degree in oenology and is from South Australia, says: "Biodynamics requires more effort as it involves a higher respect for the land and agricultural practices that are in harmony with nature."
The effort put into the land has paid off as the winery has won numerous awards and accolades from wine critics. The Langhe Arneis Blange 2012 was listed in Suckling's Beach Wines: Top 30 for Summer 2013 Piemonte.
Ceretto began producing the Langhe Arneis Blange in 1985. The Arneis grape is native to the hilly area of Roero in Piedmont where the sandy soil results in fantastic minerality in the white wine. The Arneis produced by Ceretto is fresh and lively with acidity, yet has a hint of sweetness that makes it easy to drink and versatile in food pairings.
Mr Fletcher, who was recently in town for a Ceretto wine dinner, says: "The Langhe Arneis Blange was the wine of choice in the Italian Riveria. It was regarded as an aperitivo, something you drink before lunch or dinner.
"It is aromatic, floral, citrusy with melon notes. It has acidity, but also a sweetness that will pair well with spicy food, especially seafood. It will go well with fried oysters, chilli crab or fish head curry."
For those who do not want a white wine or a heavy red, the Barbera is a light red that goes well with dim sum, pork and chicken dishes, and spicy food such as fish head curry.
The Moscato d'Asti is the wine to accompany a sweet dessert or cake. Match it with longan, lychee or Nonya kueh that contains coconut.
Ceretto wines are now available in bundle deals at stwine.sg/ events-promotions.
The Ceretto Special is priced at $199 nett for two bottles of Barbera, one bottle of Langhe Arneis Blange and one bottle of Moscato d'Asti. Or get the Ceretto Quadruple priced at $208 nett for two bottles of Barbera and two bottles of Langhe Arneis Blange. Prices include delivery.
• For inquiries, e-mail STWine@sph.com.sg or call 6319-5076 during office hours.