Another world (Puglia, Italy – Day Two)

The title of this post says it all; the Puglia region may as well be an entirely different country compared to most of the regions that I have visited in the last six weeks. It is a wide-open, fertile yet relatively dry region that has no problem growing a wide variety of crops, including enough grapes for it to rank in the top three largest producers. From north to south it is less than 100 km wide, but is over 400 km long, which makes it diverse not only geographically and climatically, but also culturally as well. There are dozens of indigenous grapes, some barely grown any more, and many others making a comeback. At the highest points the elevation only reaches approximately 400m above sea level, and the aspects of any hills are very gentle compared to their neighbours to the north. The soil types are commonly rich red and brown soils, often including calcareous and limestone based deposits. To try to summarise Puglia in one short paragraph does it a disservice, and it would take many weeks or months to better understand it. Unfortunately I only had three days, and regretfully had a low success rate in arranging appointments. So it was with a little disappointment but also interest that I continued south from Lucera towards Salento, but stopping along the way at Rivera, located in the middle of the region.

Castel del Monte

Rivera was established all the way back in 1952. This may not seem old for Europe, but for regions like Puglia, it makes a big difference. The reason is because most of the general improvements in wine quality have been occurring over the past 30 years. It was also more common to be producing large volumes of very basic bulk wine that was either sold within the region or exported to other Italian or foreign regions and either bottled or blended with others. Much of the fruit was sold/provided to the large cooperative wineries mostly for these purposes, and there were very few medium-large wineries producing commercial wines in this time. From the beginning Rivera intended to produce wine that was of high quality and reflective of the region, but also was interested in exploring introduced varieties. The early quality and success of varieties like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc for Rivera meant that DOC and IGT laws were introduced, and new categories were born. The 85 hectares of vineyards are now planted in various varieties and trellising systems, and are tended using sustainable practices. It was fascinating to see the newly formed bunches on the vines, and determining the size shape and quantity of them for each variety and trelissing/pruning system. In the winery a mixture of fermentation and maturation techniques are used depending on the variety, site and style of wine.

Bombino bianco bunch on the vine at Rivera

There are a range of wines in many tiers, and the wines are distributed around the world to promote Apulia and Castel del Monte, made from a number of important varieties that the winery works with. The most important is nero di troia, a variety native to this part of Puglia, and Rivera was the first winery to make a 100% nero di troia. The second most important is undoubtedly montepulciano, which was introduced from Abruzzo many years ago and contributes to the blend of their icon wine, the Il Falcone. Other important varieties are bombino bianco, bombino nero, pampanuto and moscato realle. With the range of wines they produce, I was interested to focus on the indigenous varieties. Unfortunately I think this was interpreted as only a few wines, and for the second day in a row I wasn’t able to adequately apply what I had learnt on a tour of the winery. Click here to read my tasting notes.

The Rivera range under a picture of the Castel del Monte

Click here to see more photos from Day Two in Puglia, Italy. My final day in Puglia will follow soon, and next week I will be in Sicily.

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