In the heart of wine culture – The history and charm of wine caves in Monferrato
If you visit it above the ground, the newly-awarded UNESCO region of Monferrato is a land of charming hills dominated by red-brick churches and castles, lovely vineyards landscapes and historic villages once ruled by a branch of the imperial family of Constantinople, the Palaeologi.
Since the beauty of the Monferrato hills is by now world-known, we would like to guide you for once to discover its underground secrets: the infernòt, the historic wine caves of the Low Monferrato around Casale.
Known as infernòt in the Piemontese dialect, these caves take their name from the ancient Provençal word enfernet, which refers to a narrow prison. As the word suggests, wine caves are small underground spaces that peasants and wine-makers have dug through centuries underneath their houses. But no panic: unlike prisons, these tiny rooms were not used to keep desperate captives away from the sun light, but to store and protect the most precious of all natural produces: wine.
The infernòt were dug year after year, in winter, in a special kind of sandstone which is particularly common in Low Monferrato, the Pietra da Cantoni. Their size could vary between less than 1 up to almost 20 m2 and their use did not include only the storing of goods (wine and salted anchovies in particular: the sea is closer to Monferrato and deeper rooted in its traditions than one would say!): winter storytelling accompanied by wine drinking often took place in these spaces, which provided perfect isolation from heat and cold throughout the year.
Most of the infernòt are spread over the region around Casale and date to the 19th century. They have been recently listed and studied by a collaborative project led by the Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni at Cella Monte (Alessandria: see map). A visit to the infernòt is a must-do for all tourists interested in wine culture, as well as for anyone wanting to discover the material and immaterial heritage of Monferrato through amazing untrodden paths.
The Ecomuseo at Cella Monte is open every morning from Monday to Saturday (from 9 am to 12.30 am), but by booking your visit in advance you may also visit its collections every afternoon and on Sunday.
Guided tours and didactic workshops are available in several European languages. The museum also includes other permanent exhibitions providing an encompassing introduction to the historic rural culture of Monferrato. Since 2010, moreover, the Ecomuseo and the wine caves provide the setting of the International Festival of Classical Music Bacco e Bach, where music and wine combine to offer visitors an unbeatable experience of culture, beauty and taste.
If you want to know more about the Ecomuseo, all publications including the catalogue of the infernotti are kindly available for free on the website of the Museum, at this link.
Do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to ask suggestions or if you want to make the visit to Cella Monte the part of a longer staying in the UNESCO region of Monferrato!