Not what you think (Avellino, Italy)

One of the many things I’ve learnt on my journey has been to not make assumptions about things, wine or otherwise, the best thing is not listen to white noise or demons and angels on shoulders. This is one major reason I prefer to ignore a lot of wine critics and marketing hype as they can tend to cloud my judgement and enjoyment of things, in essence by not reading ‘professional’ assessment of wines or wineries, nor by reading much on wineries’ websites. What I have preferred to do is to visit a winery and establish my own impression and feel for the philosophy, approach and practices and then determine what I feel is important and good about the winery whilst avoiding the negative and generally unimportant things. A perfect example of an assumption I made was about the region of Campania, which I didn’t have the chance to visit when I was here previously, simply passing through from Puglia on the way to Sicilia when I stopped for a night in Napoli before boarding the ferry to Palermo. Not unlike every other region in Italy Campania has it’s own wine history, traditions, grape varieties and styles which it is deservedly proud of, but I was very wrong in my generalisation of this region as being warm and Mediterranean like much of southern-Europe. In fact it has a more continental climate thanks to the elevations and weather patterns provided by the mountains so close to the coast. On the only occasion that I had to visit wineries in Campania I chose to do so in Avellino which according to Jacopo Cossater is where some of the best white wines of the south come from, and I met with the two largest and most important representatives of the entire Campania region; Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino.
A model of the only thing to survive the 1980 earthquake in a nearby village, the abbey

Much of the development in Campania has been in the last 30 years as the market for Italian wine, and more importantly different Italian wine, has increased all around the world. With newer consumers in North America and Europe becoming familiar with the classics further north in Italy, they craved new wines to discover and impress their friends with. This not only fuelled an increase in production but also an increase in wine quality and understanding of the indigenous varieties of regions like Campania. One of the most devastating setbacks to occur in the 20th Century for Campanians was the 1980 earthquake which not only destroyed a lot of buildings but also agricultural land including vineyards. The preceding years of rebuilding were a chance to modernise and refurbish to capitalise on the growing interest in wines of the area, and in this climate Feudi di San Gregorio was established. The mission of the winery was to champion the native varieties of the region; falanghina, fiano, greco and aglianico. With drive and finances a great deal of progress was made in the following 25 years and the winery became synonymous with both Campania and its grape varieties. Not content they still strive to know everything they can about producing unique premium wines in this unique premium part of the world, and they are doing this in a number of ways.

The modern Feudi winery, with a rose garden planted next to it

I was welcomed by Emanuela Supino who I actually met back at Vinitaly 10 months ago, who is now responsible not only for all of the hospitality to the winery but also for the far eastern markets, having had experience living in Japan. Emanuela showed me around the very modern facility built on a number of levels, incorporating everything from vinification, maturation, packaging and administration. The winery now owns about 300 hectares of vineyards and purchases grapes from a further 100 hectares of grower-controlled vineyards. This makes them the largest single producers in the region, not something to be sniffed at considering their relatively young age in Italian wine. As much as possible grape varieties, origins and quality levels are kept separate through the vinification process before very careful selection and blending before maturation (when applicable) and subsequent bottling. Fruit comes from vineyards in many of the key viticultural areas including IGT, DOC and DOCG areas such as Greco di Tufa and Taurasi. The only white wine to see any oak here is the fiano which is due to its structure and weight. In an experimental process they utilise oak barrels from a great number of provenances and coopers to attempt to find the best partnership between the oak and the grape. The wines are generally of an excellent quality but lack a strong and defined personality, perhaps a combination of the youth of much of the vines and the inexperience in the production. They are certainly poised to become increasingly important in wine production not only in Campania but also in Italy and the world. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Part of the cellars underneath the rose garden

The second winery I visited is of a comparable size but is significantly older than the first. With records dating back to the 18th century, it wasn’t until 1878 that Mastroberardino officially registered itself as a business to produce and market wine. This was about ten years after the unification of Italy, and previously this part of Italy had been part of the kingdom of Naples. The same family have owned the business with the eleventh generation at the helm today. The Mastroberardino family have long been connected to wine in the region, long holding the traditions of production and the varieties native to the area, both of which they continue today. In excess of 200 hectares are owned by the business with a further 100 hectares under lease which they manage. These vineyards are focused on the Irpinia areas of Avellino, Tufo and Taurasi. The vineyards range in age from pre-phylloxera to recent plantings due to expansion. Thanks to the length of time in wine production they have an extensive wine library dating back over 100 years. Recently they opened some very old bottles of fiano which were apparently looking quite amazing.

One of the paintings in the historic Mastroberardino cellars

The original cellars are located in the town of Atripalda, still used for the storage of wine. The cellars have of course been expanded to account for the increased production. I was lucky enough to have four hosts at the winery; two winemakers and two from the marketing department. With none of the white wines having any barrel maturation less oak is required, and this is split between barriques and larger format barrels made from Slavonian oak coopered in Veneto. In the older parts of the cellars a number of artists were invited to paint their interpretations of wine-related subjects, including the marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne. The winery is working hard to better understand their sites by conducting geological tests to determine soil composition, which influences their planting decisions. In the spirit of tradition they are working closely with the governing body of the archaeological site at Pompei and have planted original rootstock vines on-site to produce wine as they would have 2000 years ago, a very exciting project and one which I would love to see more of. I would also love to return to better understand the nuances of aglianico, a grape which seems to only express itself after a certain amount of time, and I need to see the wine at various steps a long the way to see how it develops. The wines are fantastic and represent not only quality but also the region and varieties. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Some of bottles of fiano from my birth year, recently sent back as a gift from one of the importers in the United States

Click here to see more photos from my day in Avellino.

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