A trip to Irpinia: Azienda B. Ferrara, Cantine Caggiano, Azienda S. Molettieri, Azienda Colli di Lapio
A trip to Irpinia is to be highly recommended: you will get to know a beautiful part of Italy with lots to see, with very few tourists, where you can experience delicious food and wine, but where, above all, you can experience the wonderful hospitality of the people!
This article is quite long as four estates were visited: we hope that this will not be a problem and that it will be pleasant to read.
I. Irpinia: some info on the region
This hilly-mountainous region, within the province of Avellino, is named after a tribe that inhabited this area 3,000 years ago whose totem was the wolf (“hirpus”). Viticulture and the production of wine are an ancient tradition in Irpinia. In the XIX century sulphur deposits in Tufo were discovered and viticulture thrived as the sulphur from the quarries was used to spray the vines. The quarries were then closed in the 1970s. The wines from this area were exported to France and to Europe and to other Italian regions. For this purpose a railway was built (the first in Irpinia) and it was called “ferrovia del vino” (railway of wine). Many small enterprises for the production of viticultural and cellar equipment were started up. In 1878 a school of viticulture and oenology (“Regia Scuola di Viticoltura e Enologia” now “Istituto Agrario De Sanctis”) was established in Avellino. In 2006 a graduate course for viticulture and oenology was opened in Avellino. Professor Luigi Moio, one of the major wine makers of Campania, is the President and Coordinator of the course. Professor Moio consults for Cantine Caggiano and for Cantina del Taburno that are part of our portfolio.
Irpinia is particularly suited for viticulture, due to the altitude (the vineyards of the estates of our portfolio stand at between 350 and 600 meters above sea level), due to the climate with winters that can be quite cold with snow, but with mild summers, due to the good ventilation which defends the vines against disease and due to the good rainfall. It is cool at night and warm during the day from July till September/beginning of October and this greatly favours the flavour of the wines. This area is protected by the colder eastern winds while warmer and humid winds blow from south/south-west. The harvest takes place later here in comparison to the rest of Italy: Aglianico grapes are often picked at the beginning of November with snow.
The majority of the grape varieties that are grown in Irpinia date back to the ancient Greek and Roman period (Aglianico, Greco, Fiano) and three of the four DOCG appellations of Campania are in Irpinia: Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo and Taurasi. The estates of our portfolio that we visited offer wines from all three of these appellations.
Traditional food and cuisine of Irpinia: the food in this part of Italy is an experience and certainly not suitable for anyone on a diet! Tradition is very much alive and here it is possible to still find dishes that have not been influenced by the modern ways. The cuisine is mainly based on meat, vegetables, cured meat and cheese. Dairy products are a specialty in this area and so is home made pasta (fusilli, cavatelli, tagliolini etc.). The “pizze” rustiche are really delicious, these are pies stuffed with vegetables or with eggs and pork.
Some specialties that were served at the estates: Angela Molettieri (Salvatore’s wife) made tagliatelle mixing the flour with Aglianico wine (instead of using water) and served them with a delicious meat sauce, Gabriella Ferrara made pasta with zucchini (strictly home grown) that were dried in the sun, cut up in chunks, fried and served with pasta together with fresh herbs (fantastic!), Clelia Romano made mouth-watering fresh fusilli (a type of short pasta) with fresh tomatoes, bacon and provola cheese, Pino Caggiano made tagliolini with local truffle that he found together with his two truffle dogs and the fresh mozzarella (here mozzarella must be eaten on the same day it is made or within three days maximum) that was served at all the estates was simply divine!
II. THE ESTATES
II. 1. AZIENDA AGRICOLA BENITO FERRARA – SAN PAOLO DISTRICT, TUFO
Gabriella Ferrara and her husband Sergio, who own and manage the estate, are the fourth generation of viticulturists of their family. Gabriella’s great grandfather planted vines on his property and he used to bring vegetables and wine on foot and with a donkey to the town of Tufo. The first vintage that was bottled was 1991. Salvatore Molettieri introduced Marco de Grazia to Gabriella in 1995. The vineyards are managed by Gabriella and by Sergio and they are supported by the well know oenologist Paolo Caciorgna in the cellar. Lucia and Antonio, the fifth generation, help their parents. Antonio is attending the Agricultural Institute in Avellino.
The total average production is now 50,000 bottles/year
The first vine of Greco was planted in this area in the 1800s. This grape variety was grown on the slopes of the Vesuvius and was brought to Tufo by an engineer. Here Greco found the ideal soil and climate conditions for the production of wines of a superior quality.
The altitude of San Paolo district, in the commune of Tufo, is 500 meters above sea level, the excellent exposure is east/east-west. The soil is white, clayey and mixed clayey. When the soil is tilled, now and then sulphur rocks come to the surface as there are sulphur quarries (now closed) nearby. These hills are surrounded by higher mountains which protect this area. During the summer months it is warm during the day and cool at night and this, as you know, favours the aroma of the wines. It is also very airy here so that there are no problems with disease or insect attacks to the vines.
The total vineyards extension is 12.5 hectares: 8 hectares of Greco, 1 hectare of Fiano, 3.5 hectares of Aglianico.
The Greco vineyards are really beautiful, some are bordered by woods, and they are all in the district of San Paolo. The vine training system is guyot which makes the grapes ripen approximately 15 days earlier in comparison to the traditional systems. The harvest here starts around the 8-10 of October. The spacing of the vines is 0.8 meters x 2.50 meters. The yield of each vine is 1-1.5 kilograms of fruit, the vineyard density is 5,000-6,000 vines/hectare. The grape yield is approximately 10 tons/hectare.
A future project is to use the clones of a vineyard with 60-80-90 years old vines to plant the new vineyards.
The Ferrara family has recently purchased 3 new hectares planted with Greco and 0.6 hectares have been replanted. The age of the vines is from 5 years to 40-60 years. Each year small plots are replanted.
Vigna Cicogna, a vineyard of 1.5 hectares, is the cru if the estate. The vines are between 15 and 60 years old.
The viticultural practices are naturally environment friendly: no weed killers are used, grass is left on the aisles, only sulphur and copper base products are used. The declivity of the vineyards is quite high so that most practices are carried out by hand.
The Aglianico vineyards are in Montemiletto, within the Taurasi DOCG appellation. The altitude is 500-700 meters, the exposure is east, the zone is very airy. The soil is white and mixed clayey. The training system is guyot with a 2.50 x 0.80 meter spacing. The vines are between 10 and 15 years old.
The Fiano vineyards are in the zone of Lapio. The altitude is 500 meters above sea level, the exposure is east. The vine training system is also guyot with a 2.50 x 0.80 meter spacing. The vines are approximately 20 years old.
The old part of the cellar dates back to 1860, a new part was added in 1998. The cellar equipment is very modern as Greco grapes and must tend to oxidize. In fact the press is pneumatic and it works in absence of oxygen. The stainless steel tanks all have temperature control.
The red wines mature in new and second use French oak barriques depending on the wine.
The wines produced are: Greco di Tufo DOCG, Greco di Tufo DOCG “Cicogna”, Campania Aglianico IGT “Passo del Lupo”, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Campania Greco IGT “Due Chicchi”, Irpinia Aglianico DOC “Quattro Confini”, Taurasi DOCG “Vigna Quattro Confini”.
“When the wine is fermenting” Gabriella tells us. “we can foresee the quality of the wine that will be made. Il buon giorno viene dal mattino (a good day can be seen since the morning). We want to maintain the characteristics of the terroir and of the grape variety. Greco di Tufo must be made only here!”
II. 2. CANTINE ANTONIO CAGGIANO – Contrada Sala, TAURASI
A brief history of the estate
The estate was established in 1990 by Antonio Caggiano with the help of Professor Luigi Moio, who is one of the major experts on Aglianico. Antonio is also a professional and very talented photographer. Antonio used to have a building enterprise and he decided to build a cellar, in 1990, that was supposed to amaze. The cellar, which is hewn in rock and built underground, is really amazing and was completed in 1995. In the meantime vineyards from the finest crus were bought and plots of land were purchased and planted with selected clones of Aglianico.
A modern part of the cellar with very modern equipment was designed by Pino and Lorella, both architects and son and daughter of Antonio, and was completed in 2008. Pino, who has a real passion for wine, is now at the helm with the support of Antonio. The estate could potentially produce one million bottles/year, but Antonio and Pino have chosen to keep production at 150,000-160,000 bottles/year.
Professor Luigi Moio has consulted for the estate since 1990. Pino Caggiano is the on premise oenologist. Antonio di Pietro is the agronomist.
The Taurasi wine is named after this town in Irpinia which is an important centre for viticulture and wine making. The hilly landscape is typical of central Irpinia, the Calore river flows in the middle. The historical centre of Taurasi is beautiful with a Longobard castle, medieval palaces and its many churches.
The Aglianico grape grown in Taurasi has an ancient history. The Taurasi wine was awarded the DOC status in the 1970s. The production area was extended to 17 communes. In 1993 Taurasi acquired the DOCG status. Before the 1970s there was great request of Aglianico wine from this area in Italy and in Europe. Unfortunately many historical vineyards were lost when Aglianico vineyards with modern criteria were replanted.
The zone of Contrada Sala is airy, the altitude is 350-450 meters above sea level. The exposure is south-west. The great Aglianico grape finds ideal conditions here. What makes the difference is the soil which is clayey-calcareous. The microclimate is particularly favourable: it is cool at night and warm during the day so that Aglianico, which is harvested at the end of October, can ripen slowly and well. In the autumn the colours are wonderful as stated by the photos of Antonio Caggiano which one can admire at the estate.
The total vineyard extension is 26 hectares, 23 hectares of Aglianico and 3 hectares of Fiano. The vineyards of Aglianico are all in Contrada Sala, while the Fiano vineyards are in Lapio. Vineyards of Greco (located in Tufo) and vineyards of Falanghina (in the area of Benevento) are contracted. Disease and pest control is carried out following a programme of the Campania region for the respect of the environment and for the care of vines. The vines are sprayed with copper and sulphur base products. The aim of the agricultural practices is to make it possible for the vines to defend themselves. This is obtained by making the roots of the vines grow deep into the soil, so that the plants are not affected by rain and by high temperature, and by keeping the canopy and the fruit of the vines well balanced. Spontaneous cover crops are left on the aisles or the soil is tilled depending on the vineyard. The average grape yield is 6 tons/hectare.
There still are a few prephylloxera vines. The age of the vines varies from 10-15-30-40 years. Over the years the hectares of vineyards were increased by carefully studying the characteristics of this zone.
The most recent part of the cellar has a surface of approximately 3,000 square meters and it is equipped with stainless steel tanks of a capacity of 80-50 Hl. A part of the tanks have temperature control. The red wines mature in French oak (Tronçais, Centre and Vosges) barriques. Each vineyard is vinified separately. The cellar is also equipped with a bottling and labelling line.
The wines produced are: Taurasi DOCG “Vigna Macchia dei Goti”, Irpinia Campi Taurasini DOC “Salae Domini”, Irpinia Aglianico DOC “Tarì”, Fiano di Avellino DOCG “Béchar”, Greco di Tufo DOCG “Devon”, Irpinia Bianco DOC “Fiagre”, Campania Falanghina IGT, Passito VDT “Mel”.
“We are not interested in quantity, but in quality” Antonio Caggiano tells us. “Micro per macro. One must read how much work, suffering and love are in a glass of wine”
II. 3. AZIENDA VITIVINICOLA SALVATORE MOLETTIERI - MONTEMARANO
A brief history of the estate
The Azienda Vitivinicola Salvatore Molettieri was established in 1983, but viticulture and wine making have been a tradition of the family for four generations.
The work in the ancient family vineyards and thirty years of experience at the estate are part of the knowledge of Salvatore, vigneron and wine maker and, thanks to this, the estate now has an important position on the national and international markets.
Salvatore is supported by his four sons, Giovanni (the oenologist and agronomist of the estate), Giuseppe, Luigi and Paolo in the management of the estate and by his wife Angela, the keeper of the family traditions, and a fantastic cook!
The average total production is approximately 66,000 bottles/year
The vineyards of the estate stand on the hills of Montemarano, one of the seventeen small towns which are part of the Taurasi DOCG appellation. This area is surrounded by mountains which offer protection against winds and hail. It is one of the best areas for the Aglianico grape variety. The altitude is 500-550 meters above sea level. There is an excellent temperature range between day and night. It is also an area with an optimal ventilation that prevents disease. The soil is semi-compact clay with gravel (called rapillo in the local dialect).
The Aglianico vineyards extend for approximately 13 hectares. Vineyards of Greco in Montefusco (within the Greco di Tufo DOCG appellation) and of Fiano in Lapio (within the Fiano di Avellino DOCG appellation) are contracted.
The “Cinque Querce” vineyard (of approximately 9 hectares), the cru of the estate, stands in the Iampenne district of Montemarano. A selection of local Aglianico clones is grown here, some vines are pre-phylloxera and they are ungrafted. The vine training system, previously the traditional “raggiera” (also called “Pergola Avellinese or “Tennecchia”), is now a double modified guyot in order to ensure a good ripening of the clusters. In the other vineyards the training system is double modified guyot and single guyot. 4.5 hectares were replanted in the “Cinque Querce” vineyard between 2014 and 2015.
Apart from the “Cinque Querce” vineyard, the estate owns a vineyard called “Ischa Piana” (0.5 hectares) from which Irpinia DOC Rosso is made.
Grapes have been produced in the “Renonno” vineyard (of an extension of 1.7 hectares) for over seventy years, a part of the vines has been replanted five years ago and a part is being replanted at present. The rooted cuttings are taken from old vines some of which are ungrafted.
The “O’ calice rosso” vineyard (2 hectares) was added recently and planted with vines obtained from cuttings of old plants.
There is great attention to the environment: no weed killers are used, grass is left on the aisles and only copper and sulphur base products are sprayed. Only organic fertilizer is used every 6-7 years.
The spacious and modern new cellar, a large part of which was built by excavating rock, was completed in 2005. It is equipped with 100 and 150 hectolitre steel tanks with temperature control, French oak barriques and large oak casks. A part of the large casks is made of Slavonian oak (50-80 hectolitres) while a part are made of mixed Slavonian and French oak (60-70 hectolitres). The cellar is also equipped with a bottling and labelling line. Above the cellar a tasting room and a professional kitchen has been built.
The wines produced are: Taurasi DOCG “Vigna Cinque Querce”, Taurasi DOCG “Vigna Cinque Querce” Riserva, Taurasi DOCG “Renonno”, Irpinia Aglianico DOC, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Greco di Tufo DOCG.
“Quality” is the word that defines the philosophy of this estate. Salvatore has reached his aim which is to bring the name of Montemarano out of the boundaries of Irpinia with his wines.
II.4. AZIENDA VITIVINICOLA COLLI DI LAPIO – CLELIA ROMANO – ARIANIELLO (LAPIO)
A brief history of the estate
The estate was established in 1994 when the first harvest took place. The Romano family have been viticulturists for four generations. Before 1994 the grapes were sold. Clelia Romano and her husband Angelo lived in Boston for 12 years and their daughter Carmela and their son Federico were born in the US. Clelia returned to Irpinia in 1980 when her father in law died. This is a family run estate: Angelo takes care of the vineyards, Carmela and Federico manage the vinification and the marketing, Clelia helps where needed. Angelo Pizzi is the consultant oenologist and Maurizio Petrillo is the consultant agronomist.
The average total production is 50,000-60,000 bottles/year.
The estate is in Arianiello, a small district located in the higher area of the town of Lapio. Lapio is also where most of the Fiano DOCG wine is produced and it is one of the few areas with two DOCG appellations, in this case Fiano DOCG and Taurasi DOCG.
The altitude in Arianiello is 600 meters above sea level. There is a wide temperature range especially in the summer, it is cool at night and warm during the day. The soils are calcareous-clayey with a good drainage and this zone is very airy. The exposure is a full south.
The 8 hectares of Fiano vineyards are located in various subzones of Arianiello, which are Scarpone, Stazzone and Masseria. Each plot has definite characteristics. The wine made from the various plots is blended. The agricultural practices are integrated/sustainable, leguminous plants are sown on the aisles, the cover crops are then mowed in May-June and worked into the soil and this is the only mean of fertilization. This practice maintains the micro-organisms in the soil and keeps the soil “alive”. The training system of the vines is guyot with a vineyard density of 2,500 vines/hectare. The spacing is 2.50 x 1.50 meters. The vines are 10-15-20-25 years old. Fiano is a very vigorous grape variety.
The Romano family have a small vineyard of 0.5 hectares of Aglianico, where the vines are 15 years old, right next to their house and they have just planted one additional hectare of this variety. The family also contracts 4 hectares of Aglianico vineyards in Venticano (a town within the Taurasi DOCG appellation).
The new cellar was completed 10 years ago. The oldest part dates back to 1994. Two years ago a building with a tasting room was completed. The cellar is equipped with a pneumatic press that works in absence of oxygen, stainless steel vats with temperature control, a bottling and labelling line. The reds are matured in French oak tonneaux and barriques.
A minimum quantity of SO2 is added to the wines.
The wines produced are: Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Taurasi DOCG “Andrea”, Irpinia Campi Taurasini DOC “Donna Chiara”, Greco di Tufo DOCG
“Poco, ma buono (a little, but good)” Carmela tells us. “We want to grow our own grapes and maintain a high quality”