Making wine with Danilo Marcucci

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Late last night I got back from a ridiculous trip through Umbria.  A primry reason for the visit was to hang out with this guy pictured above: Danilo Marcucci.  Here's how it went.

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I wanted to do Italy right so I rented a Fiat Abarth 124 Spider: a loud, rear wheel drive, turbo charged convertible with lots of flat black on it.  I pulled up to Danilo's winery (a 400 year old stone warehouse) at about Noon and he couldn't get enough of the car!  That was the plan, that aside from being super fun to drive, the Abarth 124 would certainly help make me memorable to all the wineries I was visiting.

Danilo grew up in the hills outside Spoleto where he started making wine with his Grandfather at 6.  He didn't stick with it and became a wine salesperson instead.  He sold a lot of super expensive Burgundy and Bordeaux until after a multiple Bordeaux tasting left him really sick.  He had a physical and blood work found traces of pesticides in his blood.  Knowing haw industrial grapes are grown and how many chemicals get into mass produced wine Danilo swore wine off and became an architect.  But a chance tasting of a no sulfur wine from a nearby legendary farm winery (Collecapretta) changed his life.  He dropped architecture and started learning how to make wine, reviving the early lessons his grandfather had tried to impart.  

Danilo started out working with Collecapretta and soon at an old vineyard way up in the Appeninnes called Campanino.  Danilo sought out other older traditional farmer wine makers to discover more old traditional ways of making wine and solving different problems that may arise as wine ferments and ages.  He's a very passionate, driven, and charismatic guy. 

It wasn't long until Danilo had learned a lot from a lot of people and was starting to make waves in Umbria.  Making wine without sulfur, pesticides, additives like tartaric acid or coloring, avoiding even temprature control in the winery is pretty revolutionary and challenges the very large industry of modern conventional wine.  A generation of wine makers across the world had been taught that they couldn't make wine without expensive equipment and chemicals.  Generations had learned in Oenology school that the old ways of farm wine making were dangerous and would only result in wines with flaws.  The idea that you could make great wines with out all that expensive equipment and education makes wine making accessible to smaller lower capital family farms who always thought exporting wine was out of reach, but it also challenges a huge industry.  

Danilo makes wine himself at Della Staffa using only ancient technology that wine makers from a hundred years ago would recognize.  Those wines are great and shock people when they learn they're made with no modern technology.  But that's not what makes Danilo so noteworthy. Danilo is a noteworthy figure in the wine world because he actively wants to pass on and share all this knowledge!  At this point he's working with about 10 wineries including Collecapretta, Tiberi, Campanino, Rabasco, Ceppaiolo, Ribela, Furlani, etc.  That's a lot of other people who are now making wine in a very natural no chemicals way and it exponentially increases the spread of these ideas.  It's a kind of a revolution and it's amazing for me to be able to see it in real time.  

Back to actually working with Danilo

Danilo pretty much immediately put me to work:

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That's me stirring a vat of fermenting Colorino grapes with a 100 year old tree branch that his grandfather had used and passed on to Danilo.

Tangentially, here's a video of Danilo and I driving around in an Abarth 124 Spider.  It's not too relevant but it shows more of what Danilo is like out of the cellar.  In the cellar he's all business.


Making wine with out using any chemical additives, sulfur, or temperature control, takes a lot of manual labor on the part of the wine maker and constant attention to detail.  In this kind of wine making there's no safety net.  In addition to fermenting with wild yeast and using no additives Danilo defines true natural wine making as wine making in which the wine maker invests a piece of themself and their soul in each wine.

Here's a video of Danilo opening up a 150 year old cask to clean it from the last vintage that aged in it and prepare it for the new vintage. 

 The analogy we both kept coming back to is that having a small natural winery like this is very similar to having a whole lot of kids.  Danilo was very focused and quiet all the times we spent in the winery.  There were always 5 or 6 things happening at once.  We would be cleaning and preparing a barrel while at the same time aerating some fermenting wine and at the same time transferring wine from one tank to another.  If you put all your attention on one of your children you run the risk of another one making some kind of trouble while you're distracted!  They all need to be watched all the time so that you can do each wine making step at exactly the right time.

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We pressed all the colorino grapes that were in the primary fermentation and it was a whole afternoon of slowly scooping them into that ancient wooden basket press until it was full, pressing them down enough to make more room, scooping more in, then pressing, and repeat over and over until all the grapes were pressed and we had the wine in two open vats.

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Here's a super attractive pic of what fermenting grapes in an old wood press looks like.  It's not too pretty but let me assure you, at least it smells great!

 

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As we pressed the grapes the fermenting juice drained out of the press and through a metal colander to catch any large solids and we then pumped it off into the open vats to keep fermenting for a couple days.  

After the wine had had a couple days to continue fermenting we put it into a pair of old wood casks to finish fermenting and to evolve.  Wooden wine casks have to be kept and treated in very particular ways to make sure the bacteria you want stay active in them and keep any other bacteria from colonizing them.  A trick he told me about was to leave behind a few litres of the wine you had most recently aged in the cask so that the yeast stays and has that wine to live off of until the next vintage when you put more wine in.  Generally you don't want to leave a cask empty for too long anyway.  

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After you take the door out of the front of the cask you have to clean it thoroughly with water, scrub it, and then remove all the water.  Once it's all cleaned out you need to re-install the door.

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First you clean all the putty from around the door.

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Then you clean all the putty from around the inside of where the door will seat.

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Then you prepare the door by putting fresh putty holding in some kind of long vegetable fiber (I don't know my Italian isn't that good), and some waxy lubricating substance around the edges of the door.  Also, check out that shot of my mustache!

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Once you fit the door back in as much as you can, you re-install the yoke that sits over a bolt protruding from the front of the door.  With the mechanical force of the nut on the bolt you can draw the door back up into place.  The door gets larger on the back side so that it wedges tighter and tighter as it is drawn forward.  

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Once you get the door seated you start putting wine into the cask.  Then it's a process of waiting and watching to see what leaks develop. Like an old wooden boat taken out of the ocean casks dry out when there isn't wine in them and then they take some time to re-expand and seal once you put wine in.  But you don't want to let them leak too much, so Danilo and I spent a good hour watching, and then sealing small leaks with bits of more fibre and putty until he was satisfied.  

I have pretty good video footage of all this and will eventually get it all edited and up on Youtube.  

Danilo has had a huge impact on natural wine making in central Italy and I'm super lucky to have been able to go spend that time with him and see some of how he works.  Look out for more info and videos as I get organized now that I'm back!


Arriving in Italy

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I landed in Rome at about 7 Saturday morning.  It took over an hour to go through customs and then almost another hour to pick up my rental Abarth spider with just 3500 km on it.  Sure I'd reserved it in advance, but still, I was surprised when they gave it to me.  I immediately put the top down and hit the road!  

It took me about 2.5 hours to drive over to Danilo's by lake Trasimeno but my GPS worked well and I had no trouble.  

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Danilo had to run out to am appointment so we toasted my arrival quickly and then I had about an hour to try to not pass out from lack of sleep.  

Danilo got back and it was into the winery!

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It was tine to press all the Colorino grapes after their initial fermentation on the skins. 

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It was a long process of scooping up buckets of fermenting grapes and dumping them into the ancient basket press.  Then we'd press them enough to make some room in the press and add more.  At the end we were almost totally out of room but we managed to press it all without having to empty the must from the basket press.

 


Running across Umbria to Montefalco and Moretti Omero

Sunday I woke up at 7 after staying up too late and drinking too much wine with Danilo.  I was supposed to be in Montefalco that evening and I'd told everyone I was going so I strapped on my running back, said goodbye to the Abarth spider and hit the road.  Or hit the trail was more like it because Google sent me on some crazy dirt tracks through private property at the start.  

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How did Google even know that was there!?

Anyway eventually I got onto more believable roads.  It was a lot of fun for the first couple of hours.  Umbria has beautiful rolling hills, cool little valleys, and beautiful old palazzos and monasteries.  

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This gravel road was at least a mile long!  Somewhere around four hours into running I started to feel pretty sore and my knees hurt a lot.  Whatever, that's not important to wine.  So I kept running as best I could and then a classic car rally passed me! That was cool.

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Here's a beautiful Lancia Fulvia passing me!

Anyway, it took me 7 hours to run 33 miles.  

 I was really happy to stop.  I hadn't run or trained at all.  The only running I did over the summer were three different races.  So I was very happy to get to Moretti Omero!  

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And here's Omero!  It's too late at night to edit this picture on my phone and deal with the monumental hassle type pad makes that do Omero is sideways.  

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Here's the Moretti Omero Vignalunga Sagrantino vineyard. 

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Here's a Sagrantino leaf beginning to change color.  It's early this year because it was so dry.  Not as fry as up in Montemelino, but in Giano they'd gone at least a month without rain.  

Moretti Omero founded the winery in 1992 on his parents property.   They had ground grain and he started out farming pigs, but apparently the neighborhood complained too much to the authorities about the smell,  and anyway the property was too small to raise enough pigs to really be successful.  So in '92, just after the Montefalco DOC was created Omero decided to go into wine and olive oil.  He was certified organic that year and set about slowly establishing the Domaine by planting vines and trees and also buying old olive orchards.  Today they have about 30 ha split between olives and grapes.  

Omero's daughter Giusy grew up in the vineyard does most of the sales.  However that night she had to host a cooking class about an hour away.  So it was just me and Omero out for a night on the town!  It was pretty awesome. Omero is a serious old school paesano farmer, always working, always looking to see how things work, and how he can learn to do what he does more efficiently.  He didn't speak any English, so I got to practice my Italian.  That's ok: sometimes jokes are even funnier in broken Italian!  We talked about cars, kids, life, business, etc.  He gave me an Italian wine dictionary to help me learn Italian.  

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 I got up the next morning, sore, and wandered downstairs into the cantina to find Omero already at work racking wine so that he could rake out the left over fermented grapes in the bottom of the tank (la feccia in Italiano), re-press them, and then ferment and make more wine from that rougher and more concentrated must. You never waste anything on a farm! I watched and tried to help.  Not too much.  

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Once the transferring of feccia was under control we went upstairs and bottled olive oil for a while.  Eventually it was time to go.  Omero had to take a pallet to his distributor in Perugia so we hopped in his utility van and took care of that and then he ran me over to Danilo's. 

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Check it out!  Here's an award he won for helping to study and improve the use of natural yeast! 

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Omero is an example of an OG farmer working naturally because it actually just works better.  He's down to earth and cares about the bottom line but also he cares about leaving the world a better place and finding satisfaction in doing the best job he possibly can.  I really admired his work ethic.  Organic farming and natural yeast help him make better wine so that's how he does it.  


Clos Massotte Vie

Clos Massotte is a small 8 ha winery in the Roussillon, up against the Pyrenees and very close to the Spanish border.  Pierre Nicolas took over his family domaine in 2004 and started converting to natural farming and fermenting.  He describes it as having been an unintended journey of personal discovery!  

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60% Syrah and 40% Cinsault

Aroma: mmmmm wild, furry, a bit spicy.  There's lots of black raspberry/blackberry here.  It also smells spicy; a bit like hemlock or wet wool.  I quite like it.  It smells alive and wild and exciting.  It smells like somewhere I want to be: somewhere real with manual labor and a bit dirty but also an amazing view and a nice breeze.

Palate: dark and juicy, pretty smooth and restrained tannins.  medium bodied-dark fruit but lively and dancing acidity.  This is a fun slightly boney wine.  It's not soo lush and not so big.  It's alive with all kinds of ripe and dry end of summer flavors but still so much verve.  so so delicious!

This is one of my favorite really wild tasting wines.  When you drink it, it's obviously wild, but it's very fun and thirst quenching and satisfying!


Friday I'm off to run and drive across Italy!

The big news is that on this loosly planned solo adventure through Italy I'm taking a couple video cameras! So check back to the Devenish YouTube channel, Facebook, devenishwine.com, and this blog to follow along and see what I discover on this adventure.

 

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The 124 Spider

I'll be picking up a Fiat 124 Spider in Rome and then driving up through Lazio and Umbria to meet up with Wild Wine Guru Danilo Marcucci at his place by Lake Trasimeno. 

 

Danilo talking about the first time he had the natural wines of Collecapretta and how it galvanized him to make natural wine himself.

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I'm planning a 50+ K run south to Montefalco to see the Moretti Omero winery, maybe make a guest appearance on an Italian cooking show for Montefalco's pasta festival, and then run back up through Umbria to spend some more time with Danilo.  I'll do a bit more dynamic driving with the 124 Spider in the mountains and then head back to Rome and try not to miss my flight home.

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It seems like every time I go on one of these running adventures through Italy I have some kind of injury that makes journey running seem like a bad idea.  First time I had recently broken my ankle.  This past spring I just hadn't been running much, and now this time I have a bum left knee.  So the only running I've done this summer to prepare have been a 5 mile road race, a 10K road race, and now the 5K at the Common Ground Country Fair.  Oh well, I'm sure it'll be fine.


Luigi Giordano Langhe Nebbiolo

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Vintage 2015

Luigi Giordano is a 4th generation family winery in Barbaesco, Piedmont, up in northern Italy.  Giovanni Giordano founded the vineyard in the 1930's, but then it was his son Luigi Giordano who built his own winery in the early 60's.  At this point they have old vine vineyards through some of the great Crus of Barbaresco including Asili, Montestefano, and Cavanna.  This Langhe Rosso is made from a selection of grapes that are hand harvested and sorted in the vineyards, the wine has an 8-10 day maceration and then after racking it spends 3-4 months in neutral oak casks.

Aroma: At first it was more floral and particularly rose smelling when I opened it, but now that I've had the Luigi Giordano open for a while it's opened up into more fruit.   It's such beautiful cherry, raspberry, and a bit of black cherry too.  There's just a hint of dark woodsiness lurking in the back ground.

 

Taste: On the palate the Giordano Langhe is salty and juicy.  There's ripe (but not over ripe) cherry and raspberry which are the basis of the taste but then behind the mid palate there's this awesome tasty saltiness.  The tannins are there....but they're totally in balance.  It's so clean and balanced!  I wouldn't call it thirst quenching but it's so beautiful and accessible that it's very easy to drink, seductive, and....romantic...like Bach sonatas. 

This wine is so pure and beautiful, the flavors are so clear and harmonious, it makes me think of the purity and beauty of a perfect June sunrise in Maine when the light is perfect, there's no humidity, and the temperature is exactly right.

 

This will be under $20 retail and it's a steal at that price.

 


Moretti Omero Terre di Giano

I don't know what the significance of this name is, but I'm going to maraud across Umbria running and driving a turbo Fiat in early October so I guess I'll just have to ask!

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Moretti Omero is an organic family farm in Montefalco Umbria.  I think it was 3 years ago now, but they won best single varietal olive oil in Italy from the Italian olive oil producers guild.  That's about as serious as Italian Olive oil gets.  So yeah, they take farming pretty seriously here.  This is a blend of a local blending grape called Ciliegiolo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and most likely some merlot and or Sagrantino, but those other three grapes are the ones that it's really based on.  

This is a farm wine in the best sense.  It's a wine that's delicious, satisfying, and thirst quenching, and part of why it's satisfying is because it's not so polished that it's character is lost.  

Dark cherry and raspberry.  The Terre di Giamo smells like fresh berry fruit.  It smells fun and alive, not dried out or overly ripe. It's hard to pick up because of all those fruit aromas but there's also an undertone of earthy dark aromas int the Moretti.  It smells a bit like dark farm soil or maybe some pipe tobacco.  

Pallate: This is just such a satisfyingly rich and rustic thirst quenching wine!  The tannins are soft-there just enough to keep the Terre di Giano on track- but not so much that they tke attention away from the core character of this juicy satisfying wine.  It lingers on the palate, it's not light, but it's also not rough.  The rustic character that this wine from Moretti has is more just that richness and flavor than anything really outright structural or textural in the wine.  

This is an awesome hand made wine that tastes like where it came from for about $16!


Victor Sornin Beaujolais Villages

Frédéric Sornin makes this wine in conjunction with his 13 year old son Victor.  Frédéric is a super talented and established wine maker, but makes this wine under his son's name because he makes it in conjunction with Victor; basically it's like Victor is apprenticed in making this Beaujolais.  the grapes come from vines that are 50-60 years old in the vicinity of Morgon.  The vines are farmed naturally, they graze sheep in the vineyards, the grapes are hand harvested and wild fermented, and only a tiny bit of sulfur is added at bottling.   The soil is a lot of sand and granite.

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Vintage: 2016

Aroma: Sornin's Beaujolais smells like red fruits-wild cherries and some black raspberries.  There's a little bit of cranberry, currant, and a tiny bit of a beeswaxy aroma.  There's some black pepper and woodsey walking in a wood kind of aroma too.

Taste: The primary taste is rich bright berry fruit and almost no tannin.  It's a neat balance between having vivid red fruit but not a heavy body.  The Sornin Beaujolais has a slightly angular kind of body and a crispy kind of texture from all the granite soil the Gamay grows in.  The wine starts with lots of dark wild fruit, then there's some woodsey black pepper on the mid palate, and the finish is very clean and just kind of washes away.  This is an absolutely excellent example of what Gamay can do when it's really treated well in the vineyard and a talented wine maker shepherds it through fermentation.

 

The Victor Sornin Beaujolais retails for about $18 and really, I think it's an awesome deal for that kind of price.  Most Beaujolais is either really cheap and crappy or priced up in the $20s.  The Victor Sornin Beaujolais is a great expression of Gamay that I'd confidently recommend to someone that wanted to get to know the grape better for less than what top tier Beaujolais normally goes for.  Drink this with a chill over the summer and you'll have the perfect refreshing summer red.

 


Collecapretta Vigna Vecchia

Vintage: 2014

Collecapretta is an old family winery in central Umbria in the little town of Terzo la Pieve.  It's close by the slightly less obscure town of Spoleto which lends it's name to the particular version of Trebbiano that is grown here; Trebbiano Spoletino.

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This wine made me throw out all my preconceived notions of what Trebbiano is and can taste like.  I'd never had a Trebbiano like this before; it has almost nothing in common with other mass produced expressions I've had.  The Mattioli pretty much lays it all out of the label.  This is Trebbiano Spoletino from vines over 40 years old, farmed without chemicals, in a vineyard 600 m above sea level, harvested at the end of September, fermented with natural yeast in Cement tanks without temperature control.  It was only racked once and then bottled without any added sulfur, at the beginning of June and in accordance with the lunar calendar.  Wine's don't get much more up front than that.

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The Vigna Vecchia is a bit hard to write about because it is such an interesting wine and so many of the flavors just aren't similar to many things that are common in Maine, but that just makes it more fun!  This wine saw about 5 days of skin contact.  Interestingly the family makes another bottling under a different name that is essentially the same selection of grapes, but without skin contact.  

Aroma: The first thing that hits my nose is actually bees wax; then I smell honey, orange peel, marmalade, and cooked peaches.  There's a lot of tropical fruit to the aroma, but there's also a lot of earthy rich waxy aromas too.  Beeswax and cooked fruits that have peels to them were the closest I could get.

Palate: The Vigna Vecchia is definitely a bigger white with some serious texture to the mouth feel.  It's personality comes across as relaxed, but it has good acidity that makes it lively and fun on the palate.  There are tastes of peach and also papaya in the way that papaya is tropical but earthy at the same time.  

This is just a brilliant delicious wine to drink.  It's awesome that this has so much presence and flavor but is only 12.5% alcohol.  Collecapretta made just 3527 bottles of the Vigna Vecchia and I really highly recommend trying it.

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Ribela in Frascati

Ribela was the very last stop on our trip.  We drove through the Appenines from Abruzzo into Lazio and to Rome.  Danielle and his wife bought a teenie tiny 3 hectare spot in a little pocket sized valley in Frascati.  They have 2 ha of vineyard and 1 ha of olive trees plus assorted other fruit bearing plants like cherries, apricots, apples, and peaches.  The previous owner was retiring and had owned the vineyard his whole life.  He never sprayed it or used pesticides so as far as Danielle knows the vineyard has never ever been sprayed.  

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 Danielle talking about training the vines on the old traditional over head pergola system.  He said that Although it can make the vines more productive with proper pruning yields are still low.  And working upright with a canopy over your head instead of bent over all summer in the Roman sun is a huge plus when you spend all your time in the vineyard like he does!

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 This is the view from the slope on one side of the tiny valley looking across.  Vines are planted down in the center with fruit trees here and there.  Then the olives are up on the tops of the valley sides.  

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Over the winter Danielle intentionally hadn't pruned this vine back so much because the vines on either side had died.  So in a few weeks he will take those long branches he left and bend them down into the ground on either side of the vine.  Those branches will put out roots and eventually hell be able to cut the stalk connecting it back to the original plant and in this way hell have two new vines to replace the old ones.  This is the ancient way of Replanting a vineyard called Massale in France.  It gives you vines genetically identical to the original plant.  That preserves the unique varieties of Trebbiano and Malvasia that he has in his vineyard as opposed to buying vines from a nursery which would be more common bred clones.

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Danielle uses no pesticides.  But he doesn't own all the valley.  An old woman owns about another ha and she farms conventionally.  Her's is the brown vineyard patch with no other plants.  Danielle's are all the green living ones.  

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 An old apricot tree propped up with another branch.  

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 Danielle and his wife have only been here for 3 years.  So they don't actually have a winery yet.  This coming week though they're breaking ground on building a little winery and house for themselves here in the vineyard.  Danielle used to be an architect before getting fed up and deciding to become a farmer so at least it was easy to lay out the building.   You can see volcanic sand in the excavation here.  It's rich rocky soil with volcanic matter mixed in.  

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Another view across the valley.  Maybe 1000 years ago it had a little stream through the bottom but over the centuries the stream has sunk and is now a subterranean flow about 100 m down.  

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Danielle pouring the 15 and 16 vintages of his sparkling Ribolie

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He only had a tiny one room building to work out of but the food he had put together was amazing.  

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This is his Cesanese red.

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I climbed up onto the very top of the hill side above the vineyards and into the olive trees.  It's a quite, sunny, tranquil little hidden spot.  It was crazy to be in such a beautiful peaceful space and still be able to look out over the hills and see the craziness of Rome in the distance!   In the olive grove up on top of the hill all you could see was more olive trees and the vineyard below.  It was easy to imagine it could have been this way 2000 years ago.