Surprisingly, only 15 hectares (37 acres) of land are devoted to viticulture in Aosta. Much of the land is more than a kilometer (.6 miles) above sea level. Morgex, Europe's highest vineyard at 1,225 meters (.7 miles), is located in Aosta [source: Tango Italia].
Raising grapes here has been described as "difficult and heroic" [source: Tango Italia]. The average farm is smaller than an acre, and because of the slopes the grapes must be harvested by hand. Local viticulture is so challenging that some vintners planned to abandon their vines until the mid-20th century, when the efforts of Abbé Alexandre Bougeat helped restore the Aosta Valley to prominence [source: Wein-Plus]. His work led to the formation of six cooperatives of wine growers in the early 1970s. In 1985, after his death, his work was rewarded with the designation of DOC certification to the entire valley [source: Tango Italia].
Aosta Valley grapes are grown on terraces, stairstep-style levels cut or built into the sides of the slopes. Pergolas (overhead trellises) support the vines. In general, reds are grown lower and whites higher -- higher elevation produces greater acidity.
The region's greatest challenge -- the steep Alps -- is also one of the vintners' greatest boons. Though some slopes are exposed to frigid winds, others are actually protected by the mountains. The rocky peaks create tiny, temperate microclimates where grapes can flourish [source: Tango Italia]. They also keep precipitation low, which means the grapes have higher concentrations of sugars, and therefore of flavor.
Can you taste the mountains in the wines of Aosta? Some say so. Read on.