Azienda Giacomelli: an estate between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrenian Sea

The area
The province of La Spezia, in the southern part of Liguria and right on the border with Tuscany, is where the Vermentino grape finds particularly favourable conditions and the major production of this variety is in Castelnuovo Magra and in Ortonovo.
There are various schools of thought on the origin of the Vermentino grape, but it seems that the first vines of this white variety were brought from France and the Côte d’Azur to Liguria and to northern Tuscany.
Wine has been produced here for 2,000 years and is mentioned by Pliny the Elder as the best of “Etruria” (an ancient region of Central Italy that included Tuscany and a part of Umbria and of Lazio). The zone of Colli di Luni was an important crossroad during the Roman Empire and marble from the quarries in Carrara, wine, oil and honey were shipped to Rome from the ancient port of Luni.
Furthermore, the “Via Francigena”, an ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome, runs through this zone.

The estate
Azienda Giacomelli is in the commune of Castelnuovo Magra (province of La Spezia) between the Apuan Alps and the Tyrrenian sea. This location has a special microclimate due to the cool winds from the mountains and the influence of the sea. In fact it is cool at night and warm during the day. The vegetation here is luscious, with beautiful flowers and trees including many palm trees.
The composition of the soil varies a lot: sandstone, sand, clay, skeletal soils, red soils rich in iron. This makes the wines particularly mineral, sapid and with hydrocarbon notes also because, when it is windy, the salt from the sea is carried to the vineyards.
The grandfather of Roberto Petacchi, the present owner, established the estate in 1915 where wine, oil and vegetables were produced, it was a typical farm of Liguria. In 1993 Roberto, who has had a passion for agriculture since he was a little boy, took the helm and concentrated on viticulture and wine making. He gradually selected, purchased and replanted 8 hectares of vineyards, mainly with Vermentino, in the best and historical locations of Castelnuovo and of Ortonovo which were added to the existing 3 hectares (planted with Vermentino, Malvasia, Sangiovese and Canaiolo).
In 2015 Roberto was awarded a prize by the Italian Minister of Agriculture for his dedication to viticulture. This prize (“Benemerito 2015”) is awarded every year during the Vinitaly Fair to a viticulturist of each Italian region.

The Staff
The management of Roberto is hands on:  although Giorgio Baccigalupi and his son Davide are the consultant oenologists and agronomists, Roberto prefers to carry out most of the work in the vineyards and in the cellar himself so that the character of his wines can stand out. He is supported by his wife Elena and he will be supported by the new generation (he has three children that are still young). The staff of Azienda Giacomelli is a very motivated: Davide Morachioli follows the warehouse, the shipping and the administration, Andrea Farina is the cellar master and works in the vineyards, Simone Ragaglini and Barbara Scognamillo are the artists of the estate, they look after 50 beehives (the estate also produces delicious honey) and work in the vineyards.

The vineyards
The vineyards are tended like a garden. They are not close together, but they are scattered over the areas of Castelnuovo and Ortonovo. This is typical of Liguria where properties are quite fragmented. Each vineyard has a very distinctive character and the grapes are vinified separately.
The total vineyard extension is 11 hectares, 6 are within the Colli di Luni DOC appellation, five produce IGT/proprietary wines. The vine training system is guyot for Vermentino and cordon spur for Merlot (Pergole Basse vineyard) and Sangiovese (planted in a vineyard next to the farmstead). The vineyard density is 5,000-6,000 vines/hectare in the new plantings and 3,000 vines/hectare in the old plantings.
Respect for the environment is imperative. Roberto intends to start the conversion phase to be certified organic shortly, although the parameters for organic viticulture are already fully respected. No weed killers are used, leguminous plants are sown on every other row and worked into the soil. Only sulphur and copper base products are sprayed. As this area is very airy and not humid, there are very little problems with disease and with insects.
The respect for the environment is not only restricted to vineyard management. A didactic route for children is set up at the farmstead, around a vineyard planted with Sangiovese. Here the children can learn about the insects, spiders and animals that are useful for the vines. There is an “insect hotel” where ladybirds, spiders, wild bees etc can find refuge, a shelter where hedgehogs can hibernate, a pond with frogs and shortly the children will also be able to see earthworms.

The vineyards within the Colli di Luni DOC appellation

Vigneto di Boboli
“Boboli” is the name of the location. This is a historical vineyard right below the beautiful hilltown of Castelnuovo Magra. It is extremely steep, the gradient is 40% and it can be only worked by hand. The Vermentino vines stand on terraces that are 170 meters long. The altitude is 168 meters above sea level.
The vines of the higher part (about 3,000 square meters) are 100 years old and are prephylloxera (they are ungrafted). The vines of the lower part have been replanted (with clones from the old vines) and are 10 years old. The soil is made up of sandstone that crumbles in the sun. The exposure is south-east.
The Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC Boboli is exclusively made from the grapes of this vineyard.

Vigneto Pianacce
This is the highest vineyard, it stands at 265 meters above sea level. The vines stand on terraces. The extension is 3 hectares. It is influenced by the cool winds that blow from the Apuan Alps and it is influenced less by the sea in comparison to the other vineyards. The wines made with the grapes of Pianacce have an excellent acidity. It is planted with Vermentino. The soil is made up of sandstone that crumbles in the sun. The esposure is south.
The Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC Pianacce is made from this vineyard together with the grapes of other vineyards.

Vigneto di Villa Baracchini
The extension is a total of 3 hectares. The vines stand on both sides of a beautiful driveway to a Villa (Villa Baracchini) of the 1700s. At the top of one of the plots there is a stone fountain with crystal clear spring water and the garden in front of the Villa is a beautiful example of the gardens of the Ligurian coast. A magic vineyard.
50% of the vines have been planted with Vermentino three years ago and 50% must still be replanted. The soil is sand and skeletal with sandstone. The exposure is south-west and the altitude is 52-53 meters above sea level.

Il Giardino dei Vescovi (the garden of the bishops)
This is a terraced vineyard that dates back to 1678. It is in the town of Castelnuovo Magra and it is surrounded by a wall. It is important as Luigi Veronelli used to come here together with the writer Mario Soldati to discuss about wine. There are fragments of a fresco of the 1700s in a niche in the wall. An art historian is going to examine it in order to identify the author. The vineyard was replanted last summer with Vermentino. During the work a bomb of the second World War was found. The soil is red, rich in iron. The exposure is south-east. The extension is 5,000 square meters. The altitude is 200 meters above sea level.  Roberto expects that the wine that will be produced will be particularly mineral and sapid.

Vigna del Bello
This vineyard is at the foot of the hill of Castelnuovo Magra. It is planted with Vermentino. The soil is skeletal, rocky. The altitude is 50 meters above sea level. The exposure is south-east. The microclimate is quite special as a stream (torrente Bettigna) forms a gorge in the middle of the hills. The wine made from these grapes goes into the blend of the Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC Pianacce.

A vineyard of the extension of 5,000 square meter is right next to the cellar. The soil is clayey.

Another vineyard is in the commune of Ortonovo, on the border with Tuscany. The extension is 1 hectare planted with Sangiovese, Canaiolo (4,000 square meters of red varieties) and Vermentino.  The soil is made up of sandstone that crumbles in the sun. The exposure is south-west, the altitude is 40 meters above sea level. A stream, called “Bocco”, flows through the vineyard. The Colli di Luni rosso DOC “Canal di Bocco” is named after this stream.

Vineyards from which IGT/proprietary wines are produced.
5 hectares of vineyards stand on flatland at 18 meters above sea level in the area of “I Paduletti” and of “Pergole Basse”

I Paduletti is so called as, before being drained in the 1920s, it was a marshland (called “padule” in this area). The soil is gravelly and the vineyards are planted with Vermentino, Trebbiano and Malvasia. The Vermentino vineyard is 56 years old.

Pergole Basse is planted with  Merlot and the soil is clayey.

This year a new vineyard was planted with Albarola.

The cellar
The cellar is modern and spick and span and it will be enlarged starting from next June.
It is equipped with a closed pneumatic press, with steel vats with temperature control, with large Slavonian oak casks of a capacity of 10 hectolitres and with a bottling and labelling plant.

Harvest and vinification
The harvest is manual and the clusters are selected in the vineyard. The grapes are placed in 20 kilogram boxes and immediately taken to the cellar. No SO2 is added on the grapes nor in the must.
The vinification at Giacomelli strictly follows the minimum handling principle.
The wine is protected against oxidation with nitrogen during rackings so that no SO2 is needed. A very low quantity of SO2 is added only before bottling (in fact the level is well below the European limits for organic wines). The must is clarified by flotation (the principle of flotation is based on the buoyancy of sediment particles of the must, that rise to the top of the mass saturated with air or nitrogen under pressure, the particles are then removed).

The total production per year is 70,000-80,000 bottles.

The philosophy
“A clean environment. To produce excellent wines in the cellar without much handling, we drink them too.” Roberto tells us.

The wines

Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC “Boboli”
Grape varieties: 95% Vermentino, 5% Malvasia
Average production: 7,000 bottles

Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC “Pianacce”
Grape variety: 100% Vermentino
Average production: 32,000 bottles

Colli di Luni Rosso DOC “Canal di Bocco”
Grape varieties: 50% Sangiovese, 50% Canaiolo Nero
Average production: 4,400 bottles

Liguria di Levante Bianco IGT “I Paduletti”
Grape varieties: 60% Vermentino, 30% Trebbiano, 10% Malvasia
Average production: 5,000 bottles

Liguria di Levante Rosso  IGT “Pergole Basse”
Grape varieties: 100% Merlot
Average production: 7,000 bottles

Liguria di Levante Rosato  IGT “Gorgonia”
Grape varieties: 100% Merlot
Average production: 3,400 bottles

Vino varietale bianco “I Campi Bianco”
Grape varieties: 50% Vermentino, 50% Albarola
Average production: 16,000 bottles

Vino varietale rosso “I Campi Rosso”
Grape varieties: 50% Sangiovese, 50% Merlot
Average production: 15,000 bottles