Last week Rossana and I got together for lunch and decided to start writing about local wine again. For her, 2016 was a year of travel and work, selling wine for La Palèrna—in Burgundy, Finland, England, Luxembourg, and up and down the Italian peninsula. I stayed close to home here in Umbria, converting my stable into living quarters, and now it’s done.
So a few days ago we were back on the road, this time it was the road through the Niccone valley, “my” valley, partly in Umbria, partly in Tuscany, where in the 24 years since I moved here, the agricultural landscape has changed quite a lot. To the west new fruit and olive orchards have been planted, a lavender farm is up on the hill behind my house, I buy vegetables and fruit from a stand down the road, and look out onto hillside vineyards where previously wheat and alfalfa were grown.
We were on our way to Preggio, the tiny, ancient hilltown which rises above the end of the valley along the route to Lake Trasimeno. Almost deserted in these winter months, in the summer Preggio draws music lovers to its high quality concerts and a yearly, locally produced opera held in the church garden. Later, in mid October, people arrive from all over Umbria to sample mosto, the new wine and roasted chestnuts at the popular chestnut festival. I first came to Preggio in 1990, to the delightful La Castagna restaurant, which offers traditional, local dishes like game, truffles and porcini mushrooms–forest fare–and spectacular views. It’s still the only eatery in the village.
We drove up the winding chestnut tree-lined street to the piazza, passed by the bar and church, then headed down the slope, taking the paved road for 500 meters before hitting a bumpy , unpaved strada bianca. After 2.5 km we arrived at the Azienda Agricola Preggio and were greeted by three friendly white dogs, honking geese, and the charming Elena Vezzoli, sommelier, wine maker and bee keeper.
Last fall I visited the farm with the guide Martin Daykin and photographed the vineyard, so on this rainy day Rossana and I relaxed in Elena’s cozy dining room, admired precious old photos of the family who lived there in the past, sampled Elena’s wines, nibbled on pecorino cheese and her excellent homemade bread, and talked about how she and her husband, Bruno Piarulli, had come to Preggio.
Originally from Bergamo in the north of Italy, the couple were drawn to country living after selling a high tech business ten years ago. They travelled around, even visiting Australia, looking for a piece of land where they could have animals and try their hand at farming. Eventually they found this property (“love at first sight”), an old contadini farm at 500 meters elevation with south-facing slopes, a vineyard of mixed vines, a cantina, and most importantly, a natural spring which produces water of superior quality.
Elena became a sommelier, and hired an agronomist. On 2.5 hectares, about 6 acres, they planted Sangiovese, Grechetto di Todi, a few Trebbiano and Malvasia, and surprisingly, Incrocio Manzoni, named for the professor who developed it in the 1920s in Conegliano, and usually grown in the Veneto. Being from the north Elena and Bruno were familiar with this grape.
She produces 3,000 bottles of white wine and 6,000 bottles of red. Elena says she has had the best luck with her white grapes, as the faster maturing Grechetto vines are robust. 2014 was a hard year with fewer grapes due to the rain, but the ones that struggled through that year were of very good quality. I liked her 2014 white Deèlena and wound up buying several bottles. By contrast, the glorious weather of 2015 made for an easy year all over Italy. Turning to the subject of red wine, Rossana agreed that thin skinned, late harvested Sangiovese can be difficult. I think that Elena’s light red wine is would go nicely with pasta. Her wine is biologico but as vinification takes place at another winery that is not, it can’t be labelled as such.
Another passion for Elena is bee keeping. It all started with the capture of a swarm on the property. Local people gave her advice early on, she then took courses, and now has 22 hives. She welcomes visitors who are curious to learn more.
She sells her honey and wine directly from the Azienda, but also from the bar and La Castagna restaurant in Preggio, at Bellona restaurant nearby, and in Perugia at the enotecas Gio and Storie Perugine.
Her wines average at around 10 euros per bottle. We recommend a visit if you are staying in the area; be sure to call in advance.
Preggio Azienda Agricola
39 334 395 1747