Polarising (Umbria, Italy – Day Three)

I have had the pleasure of meeting a great many people who work in wine over the course of my journey who have all imparted wisdom to me, and I hope that I have given some small amount in return as this is the essence of wine communication, that in travels in two directions. Most of the people have been hosts at wineries that I have visited, but a few of them I either met also visiting wineries or simply in unconnected situations, like a woman who consults business strategy and communication to small wineries in Italy whilst having lunch in Beaune, France. Someone I met whilst in Sicily was a wine journalist and blogger originally from Verona but now living with his recently married wife in Perugia. At the time he was making a much smaller version of my own journey in the south of Italy, including Campania, Calabria, Molise and Abruzzo. His name is Jacopo Cossater and he not only contributes to the most important wine magazine in Italy and the most visited wine website in Italy, but he also regularly writes on his own site enoicheillusioni. We met whilst visiting one of my favourite winemakers in Italy, Arianna Occhipinti, and shared some discussions over several meals whilst in Sicily. I was thrilled to catch up over dinner with Jacopo and his lovely wife Laura with my parents when we visited Perugia, and even more so when he invited me to visit a few of his favourite producers around Perugia in Montefalco and Spoleto. Regretfully I forgot to bring my camera so the images in this post have been taken with many thanks from the websites of the producers in question.
Vines are only outnumbered by olive trees here

The first winery we visited was in Montefalco where I had previously spent a day in back in April and visited the largest and most important producer Arnaldo Caprai. The winery’s full name is Antica Azienda Agricola Paolo Bea, and Jacopo’s passion for it stems from their status as one of the best known natural producers in Italy. Giampiero Bea runs the estate his father established back in 1980 and is the president of ViniVeri, the association of natural wineries in Italy which runs several presentations each year including one simultaneously with Vinitaly. Before we arrived Jacopo and I had a discussion clarifying what natural wine is in our opinions. In his opinion (or perhaps the understanding in Italy) natural wines are those that use no chemicals in the processing and have no additives including yeasts for the fermentation. My understanding goes a little further, that natural wines are made in a very old method using no temperature control and often with skin contact through-out, and in most cases have no sulphites added to preserve the wine at bottling, the best known examples coming from the Jura region in France. In the case of Paolo Bea, they fall into the full definition with the exception of the addition of sulphites, vital if you would like to ship your wines as far away as the United States of America where they export almost half of their production.

Artichokes are planted under the vines, partly to introduce iron into the soils

The vines are not only handled without the use of any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides but are also worked in a very old style. They have some vines of the ultra-rare trebbiano spoletino that are trellised on trees, a practice introduced into most of Europe by the Romans 2000 years ago. The attention and care taken to their soils, vines and subsequently fruit are outstanding but far from rare. We were introduced to the almost complete new winery that has taken many years to finish, designed by himself with the utmost respect for engineering, environmental sustainability and efficiency. Although they utilise much technology in the winery (such as a modern lighting system and security cameras throughout), the techniques used are centuries-old. After the very carefully selected fruit arrives in the winery it is placed straight into stainless-steel vats where it will start fermenting with no added yeasts or temperature control on the skins. The white wines are left on skins for, and the reds for. After pressing they are placed mostly in large-format oak casks and in some cases small, kept there as long as the style and vintage determines, then bottled and kept for an additional amount of time until they are deemed ready for release regardless of market pressures.

Bottled wine ages in closed crates in the cellars

In my limited experience with natural wines like this I have found that they are quite extreme; they can be exhilaratingly bright, intense and unique, or they can be faulty wild and non-commercial  Faulty and unstable wines are what they are, and no amount of argument about their complexity or uniqueness can defend this. This was certainly the case with the wines of Paolo Bea, with the wines in tank mostly being not only sound but also delicious and full of life, whereas the wines in bottle mostly suffering from volatile acidity and aldehyde faults. I cannot fault the passion and uncompromising commitment to this method of wine production, and I applaud him for being such a great ambassador to the cause. It was a little difficult to engage in a meaningful dialogue with regards to some of the issues I had with not only the methods but also the packaging of the product, as the response was basically ‘my way is the best way and I know what I am doing’, which was a little bloody-minded if I am brutally honest. This kind of attitude is not uncommon in relation to wines produced like this, and it can also be found with wines produced bio-dynamically or organically. As these wines have a particular niche and a dedicated consumer base, and they are produced in such small quantities it matters little what critics may think as they have no problems selling their wines. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Sagrantino grapes are dried naturally for passito wine

Jacopo was even more enthusiastic about the second winery, almost like they were family, and they have a similar attitude to a harmonious relationship with the land but a different approach to the wines. Collecapretta is owned and run by Vittorio and Anna Mattioli , whose family have lived on the property for three generations. It is a true fattoria in the sense that they not only tend vineyards but also grow olives for the production of olive oil, raise pigs for the production of salami prosciutto and capo collo and have free-range chickens. It has only been recently that they have made the decision to bottle and label their wines for commercial sale, as before this wine was sold from the cask into damigiana as most wine was sold in the last century. When Jacopo and I visited we not only had the chance to taste several of the wines but we also got to taste some of their other production which was astonishingly good. All of the produce is sold direct to customers without the use of distributors, and they have just sold some wine to an importer in the U.S.A. who came to the winery personally. As such the kinks are still being knocked out, particularly in terms of packaging where the syntax and grammar hasn’t had enough attention paid to it. This does add a certain charm to the wines but as a language and literature graduate it always irks me. During the tasting we were kept company by several cats and a very enthusiastic dog that was tormenting one of the cats.

Vittorio and Anna Mattioli

The conversation between the couple and Jacopo was entirely in Italian and I didn’t get much of it, and thus this information is taken from their website which is also only in Italian. The choice of varieties is very traditional and does not conform to any modern trends, and as such most of their vines date back to before the Second World War. Some of the vines are barbera, a variety native to the Piedmont region and one of the oldest examples outside of this region. The viticultural and oenological practices are completely natural and no sulphites are used including bottling. Cement fibreglass and steel are all used for fermentation and the ageing is only in large-format old casks. Like Paolo Bea they also champion the trebbiano spoletino variety, making it in two methods; one in a conventional way and one in the traditional way in an open fermenter on skins. The red wines are undoubtedly old world in nature and quite rustic, but for the most part are still very fresh, fruitful and accessible wines albeit on the warm side which is in large part due to climate change. I enjoyed the wines here much more and understand why the 2007 reserve sangiovese was one of Jacopo’s favourite wines of last year. Click here to read my tasting notes.

One of the Collecapretta vineyards

I highly recommend visiting Jacopo’s blog, as long as you can read and understand Italian, you’ll get some amazing insights into Italian wines you have probably never heard of but are wonderfully unique and amazing.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Polarising (Umbria, Italy – Day Three)

  1. Just discovered you through Twitter – good luck with your ongoing wine travels through Europe and writing this blog too.I simply want to pick you up on something you mentioned here about Jura wines. Only a tiny number of Jura wines are made without sulphites and deemed 'natural'. It's a myth that all Jura wines are organic (about 12% are, with a tiny number of these being without sulphites) – simply that some of the few, but increasing number of Jura wines that are exported and talked about in the English-speaking media, are indeed those that are organic and sometimes without SO2!

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  2. Much appreciated for taking the time to visit my blog and also for making comment, I love to get a dialogue going.You are right that my claim about Jura wines was anecdotal and based on previous experience in Australia where as you say there is a bit of noise being made about natural wines from Jura. I wasn't aware of the proportions of natural wines in relation to 'conventional' wines.In my defence I was simply stating that the Jura is the most famous region for wines of this nature, rather than most or all wines from there being natural. I don't know any other region or country that is famous for natural wines, but as I say my comment was anecdotal.Many thanks again for the best wishes, regretfully my wine excursion is finished and I return to Australia in a few weeks. I'm looking forward to continuing my blog with more focus on wines from Australia and New Zealand.

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  3. Ciao James and thak you very much for your kind words. I really hope to see you soon again, Australia I'm coming! ;)Best from Perugia, you will always be welcome here.

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  4. Ciao Jacopo, once again I am so glad to have had the chance to meet you on my trip and share some experiences with you. I really look forward to your visit to Australia, you will be very well taken care of. Until then, James.

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