La Fornace

On the way up to La Fornace in the hills above San Giustino Rossana told me that the Adreani family were once featured in a Nutella television ad. Perfect, I thought. When we first visited in 2014, I took this photo of their fun and photogenic family.  But we hadn’t been back in a few years. I wondered what had changed besides those kids growing up.

Some things were the same: they still produce only one wine, a red, made of Sangiovese, Merlot, Colorino, and Petit Verdon grapes, and they bring out a vintage every two years. They still distribute only to towns in the north—Anghiari, Sansepolcro, San Giustino, and Città di Castello. The winemaker is still the father in the family, Alessandro Adreani, a sommelier who has an optical shop in Sansepolcro; his wife Lorenza Caraffini sells real estate.

But there has been a major change: the oldest son Corrado is now running the winery and he is bringing new energy and marketing ideas to a company which began in 1969, the dream of Lorenza’s father Ezio, the guiding spirit of the winery and to whom it is dedicated.

When we asked Corrado how the winery has fared during these pandemic years, he responded that the down time has actually been good for them, allowing La Fornace to expand in ways they had no time for in the past.

Nonno Ezio would be proud!

They bought an old vineyard in the nearby borgo of Sant’Anastasio, bringing the total number of hectares to three. They don’t know what the old grape varieties are and won’t find out till harvest time. Currently La Fornace produces fewer than 2,000 bottles every two years. They want to increase that number in the future so they are looking forward to discovering what they’ve bought!

Corrado has applied to the region for a grant to expand in other ways, too–remodeling the cantina, adding a tasting room, and he has changed the wine label and website. He studied economics at the university in Perugia, and wrote his thesis about the territory. He feels the Upper Tiber Valley is not being correctly publicized and wants to market it more effectively.

Casa Vinicola La Fornace

Loc. Fornace Nuova 3, San Giustino (PG)

340 1166401

The Wine Girls are currently visiting all the wineries in the Upper Tiber Valley for our new guidebook. We hope to have it available by Christmas.

La Soffitta

Vinsanto and hospitality in an old Umbrian farmhouse

It’s such a pleasure, now, to be able to visit with old friends. Rossana and I decided to drop by La Soffitta, known throughout the Upper Tiber Valley for owner Eugenio Bistarelli’s fine vinsanto. Many of you will remember having been to the farm on culinary tours, sitting around his old table on the portico, enjoying Adele’s golden torcolo cake baked in the outdoor bread oven and accompanied by Eugenio’s precious, aged vinsanto.

Vinsanto is made from bunches of white grapes, harvested in autumn, hung from the rafters and dried until they are almost raisins, becoming very sweet. Cooking odors and the smoke from the fireplace downstairs subtly permeate the grapes and in January they are crushed in an old wine press, releasing small amounts of juice. Mixed with a “mother” to start fermentation the juice is then placed in small casks, closed up, and not opened or tasted for at least three years.

I was last La Soffitta a few years ago and Eugenio had been ill, so it was with some trepidation that we drove up the road to the farm. But there he was, out pruning the vines with his son, looking as fit as ever. Whew, a sigh of relief.

Eugenio harvests his white grapes for vinsanto in autumn, 2018.

Eugenio walked up the hill to welcome us. Everything about the property looked the same. Climbing the stone staircase I was reminded that this house has been restored to its original state. It seems to be from another century, an Umbrian casa colonica.

Eugenio lit a fire in the ancient fireplace, the camino, and we settled in to catch up. Adele served a torcolo and vinsanto, and it was like old times.

But the last two years have been hard: a near relative died from Covid early on. And wine producers and farmers will remember April 8, 2021 when harvests from Burgundy south to Piemonte, Tuscany and Umbria were ruined by a devastating freeze. No grapes hang from la soffitta this winter. Usually Adele makes delicious jams from her fruit; that didn’t happen either.

A fire in the old camino is good company on a winter’s day.

But things are looking brighter now. Once again their sons’ families come for Sunday pranzo, and tourists who have heard about La Soffitta are beginning to book visits. Life goes on!

Rossana Ravacchioli and I are writing a series of blogs about how our local wineries have fared during the past two years. At the same time we are working on a guide to the wineries of the Upper Tiber Valley. We hope to have a book in hand by Christmas!  –Elizabeth Wholey

La Soffitta

Loc. Consuma, Via Rosciano, 49

06010 Pistrino, Citerna (PG)

338 852 6456

Chiesa del Carmine

New life for an ancient property

A few years ago, Rossana and I had the ambitious idea of writing a comprehensive book about all the wineries in Umbria. We were on our way to a cantina near Lake Trasimeno when, passing near the Antognolla castle, Rossana pointed out over the hills and remarked, “A couple from London has bought all that land and they are creating a vineyard. We must check it out.”

Eventually, in the fall of 2016, we found the small wine shop of the Chiesa del Carmine in the village of La Bruna, south of Umbertide. We were fortunate that day to meet the owners, Jeremy and Jacqueline Sinclair, along with their estate manager David Lang who introduced us to the wines that they were then producing.

Twelve years earlier the Sinclairs had purchased the property, 125 hectares (309 acres), which included an ancient chapel in ruins, the Chiesa del Carmine. With a love of architecture and good design, their aim was to completely renovate and restore the buildings and the land, bringing the old property beneath Monte Tezio up to its full potential. The neglected vines were pulled out and replaced by healthy new ones–Trebbiano Spoletino, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sagrantino, and Sangiovese–and in 2013 Carmine produced its first wines under the direction of the renowned enologist from Orvieto, Giovanni Dubini.

So. . . fast forward to 2022. We were eager to see what had been accomplished in the last years, especially during this difficult pandemic period.

Well, a lot! The most impressive, physical change is the restoration of an old barn on adjoining property, enabling Carmine to make wine in its own facility, the Vineria. Still being constructed is the barrel room which will be finished in the spring. The wine shop is no longer in town; tasting and the sales room have now moved to the Vineria.

And there have been other changes:  a bilingual sommelier, Mattia Giambattista, presides over the tastings, and an assistant wine maker, Charlene Guitton from a French wine family, has come onto the team. Carmine has kept everyone employed during these past two years.

Rossana and a friend compare vintages on a cold day in January 2022.

In 2016 the winery was producing 8,000 bottles; currently it’s up to 25,000. There are six wines, a white from Trebbiano Spoletino, a favorite of the owners, three reds, and two rosès. See the excellent website below for details. Locals come by for second press bag in box and sfuso, and to check out how the construction project is coming along.

In addition, Carmine has initiated zoom tastings and a wine club to keep in touch with guests who have visited in the past. Guests this year will be able to enjoy truffle hunts, walks, and cooking classes on the property, as well as Carmine olive oil from the property’s 1,100 trees.

Rossana and I never did that big book on Umbrian wines but we are writing one about the wines of the lesser-known Upper Tiber Valley. It’s where we live and what we know. Stay tuned!

Chiesa del Carmine

Strada Castiglione Ugolino 70, 06134 La Bruna, PG

0039 347 864 2310

I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea

Andrea and Pilar make “natural wines”

Pilar and Andrea Gritti pose on old cement barrels, restored for their wines.

During these unprecedented, devastating past two years some local businesses have succumbed; others have seized the opportunity to expand in creative ways, building stronger foundations. Rossana and I have witnessed interesting developments at I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea, in the Niccone Valley near Umbertide, especially a new line of “natural wines” the project of the founders’ children, Andrea and Pilar Gritti.

Vineyards adorn the hills of the picturesque Niccone Valley.

A bit of background: almost thirty years ago Carlo and Ursula Schindler Gritti purchased a casa colonica and 160 hectares of land In the Niccone Valley near the border of Umbria and Tuscany. On forty hectares they planted grapes and in 2000 introduced their first wines. After the untimely death of her husband, Ursula carried on, cultivating crops, raising cattle, running a restaurant, growing grapes and olives (1,000 trees), making wine, and bringing up their two children.

All those years of hard work have paid off.  Her I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea line of wines is well regarded; Andrea and Pilar, now in their twenties, are committed to the wine business to the delight of their mother; the restaurant is a success under the professional guidance of Simone Corsetti; an olive oil mill has been installed; and an outdoor seating area has been built for tastings. Ursula is converting the entire farm to organic.

Most exciting are the natural wines of Andrea and Pilar.  An idea conceived by the siblings in 2019, the wines were finally presented this spring, 2021, via the internet. They feature a striking label, a spiral depicting an abstract sunflower, a girasole in Italian.                 

A natural wine is made the way a farmer would have done it in the past, producing a small quantity using traditional methods, but more hygienic these days!  No pesticides or herbicides are applied in the vineyard. These wines are not blends; they are made 100 percent from a specific grape and faithfully reflect its vintage. Created from Sangiovese, Pinot Nero, Grechetto, Syrah, Ciliegiolo, or Malvasia Nera grapes, the wines of Andrea and Pilar start out as pure grape juice. They are naturally fermented, without temperature control, and must be watched very carefully, a risky situation during fermentation.  No chemicals are added and the wines are slightly less alcoholic than you might expect. 

With the close collaboration of the young enologist Simone Zucchetti, who came to Girasoli in 2017, they are currently producing one pét-nat (naturally sparkling), one white, five reds, and a passito. As Rossana commented during our tasting, “The wines enhance the characteristics of the grape. You taste the grape immediately. And you can feel the energy of Andrea and Pilar, the desire to do well, and to assert themselves.”

A tour and tasting for small groups, lasting 1.5 hours, includes Ursula’s Girasoli wines as well as the natural wines of Andrea and Pilar. Ursula starts with her sparkling Ripole followed by two whites and two reds.  The cost is 15 euros per person. No food is served but, to continue the conviviality, if you like she will book a table for you at the restaurant.

I Girasoli di Sant’Andrea

Loc. Molino Vitelli, 06019 Umbertide (PG)

The Wine Girls emerge from lock down. What’s been happening?

As the tourism season here in Umbria is looking ever more possible, we’ve decided to check in with some of our local wineries to see how they’ve fared over this past year and a half. Though the wine industry was hit hard, we’re hoping that Italian ingenuity found ways to cope and wineries were able to survive the pandemic nightmare.

Things are definitely picking up. In our towns people are venturing out to restaurants again, though for many diners it’s still all’aperto at the moment. We’re beginning to see European license plates on the roads as Italy’s numbers improve, and some special Covid-free flights from the US are arriving. Italians will welcome the tourists with open arms.

The Upper Tiber Valley from La Palerna’s new terrace.

Our first report is on La Palerna where Rossana Ravaccioli, Wine Girl, works as sommelier and marketing director.

The winery, created by by Luigi Merendelli and his wife Paola in 2001, produces Pinot Nero, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on five hectares of vineyards near San Giustino, high above the Upper Tiber Valley. From these grapes they make the blend Cospaia 1441; an all Pinot Nero called Cimento ; a red table wine;  Nudo di Palerna, a VSQ sparkling white wine (vino spumante di qualità); and the rosè, Rosa di Martino.

There have been quite a few changes since I last visited, two summers ago.

So, one beautiful day in early June I drove north to La Palerna. I was met by Rossana who suggested a tour up and down some steep hills in the company’s Land Rover.  We drove past plants at various stages of maturity in 5 vineyards, including three newly planted fields separated by patches of forest and profuse wildflowers, a perfect example of biodiversity. 2021 is the first year that all their wines will be officially organic, though healthy, natural practices have been in place for years. Originally, the land was dense with woods; no other crops were ever grown there, and even now one vineyard is called Il Tartufaio, where truffles flourished. In another area, she pointed out how small favino beans were planted next to the vines then plowed under to add nitrogen to the soil.

A stile was created for hunters. Boars find grapes particularly delicious.
For protection from smaller forest animals
new vines are sheathed in plastic.

Wild roses in June
A wild lily grows beneath a Guyot pruned vine. The design allows the grapes to have more exposure to the sun.

The location of the winery, 650 meters above the valley, profits from its breezy location and thankfully avoided the freeze in April that affected vines in France and Italy.

Grape vines and wine need continual care and La Palerna’s employees worked as usual through this period. A new enologist and a new agronomist came on board last year and all the vines have been pruned to the L-shaped Guyot system, changing the appearance of the vineyards dramatically.

Signora Paola Biagioli

After our tour we met Signora Paola on new terraces being constructed above the expanded wine making facility. A spectacular panorama across the entire valley, from Umbertide to Santa Maria Tibertina and Anghiari, is another asset of La Palerna, and visitors this year will be invited to taste while enjoying the view.


Tel 366 263 4334

On to the next winery: Girasole di Sant’Andrea in the Niccone Valley

The Sportoletti Success Story

As wine lovers are aware, this has been a blisteringly hot summer in Europe, and now in mid-August, weeks early, the grape harvest has already begun. We’ve had no rainfall so the berries are smaller, with yields half the size as in a normal year. Coupled with our late frost in April, it’s been a terrible year for agriculture in general.


So I’m staying inside and taking this opportunity to write about Sportoletti, a winery located between Assisi and Spello, that I’ve enjoyed visiting over the years. Early in the summer, before the heat descended, my friends Jed and Simone proposed a visit. Jed writes the blog Italywise, and Sportoletti are his “house wines”. Rossana was busy working at La Palerna, so I invited my friend Addie to come along for a little holiday.


Remo Sportoletti

Remo and Ernesto Sportoletti inherited the wine making tradition from their father, Vittorio. We met Remo and his nephew Fabio who took us through their pristine cantina, describing the equipment and processes. The brothers have three sons all of whom work in the family business.
Remo says he’s more of a talker than his brother and had a very early stint in radio. He recalled that in the old days making wine wasn’t too precise or hygienic, and his father kept rabbits in the barn along with the wine, though Vittorio did make the boys wash their feet before they stomped the grapes.

IMG_1830 (1)

But since 1979, when they produced their first thousand bottles with handwritten labels, the winery has become a sophisticated endeavor, winning accolades and prizes. Robert Parker called their 2011 Villa Fidelia Rosso “a wine of enormous depth and power”, and gave it a 92+ rating. Their output now ranges between 200,000 and 220,000 bottles each year, much of which is distributed abroad. Their organic olive oil, too, is superb.
Becoming such a success in one generation was a process of education, courage, and hard work. The brothers admired the wines of northern Italy but wanted their own wines to be special, to express the unique qualities of their own territory. They planted sangiovese, merlot and cabernets sauvignon and franc for their two reds, Villa Fidelia Rosso and Assisi Rosso, and grechetto and chardonnay for two white wines, Villa Fidelia Bianco and Assisi Grechetto. A fifth, a passito dessert wine, is made of 100 percent grechetto. Since 1998 they have consulted with the famed enologist Riccardo Cotarella.


Jed, at our tasting. Happy guy!

The vineyards, covering 26 hectares, are planted on steep, south facing hillsides with good drainage and cooling breezes. During the devastating frosts in the late spring, Sportoletti’s vines suffered less damage than in vineyards at lower altitudes where the cold settled.

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When we were there, the rosebushes at the end of each row of vines were in full bloom. We’d always heard that if the roses showed signs of disease, the grower was alerted to potential problems with the grapes. Nowadays, with modern monitoring equipment, roses are unnecessary but are still planted for their beauty.
The winery welcomes visitors, and will provide tastings, but if you can’t make it to Spello, Sportoletti wines are sold in Italy at supermarkets and in wine shops.


Addie, in flower-filled Spello

After our visit, we drove up for lunch to Spello, which must be every tourist’s dream of the ideal, picture book Umbrian hill town, with its open air restaurants, medieval architecture and winding, narrow streets enlivened with riotous color from the residents’ potted flower gardens.
Another perfect day in Umbria with good friends.
Sportoletti Ernesto e Remo
Via Lombardia 1
06038 Spello (PG)
0742 651 461

Beyond Umbria: April in Sicily


Wisteria frames a view of the vineyard at COS winery

Last month Rossana and I travelled in two different directions: she went north to Verona for Vinitaly, and I was in the southeastern part of Sicily, enjoying early spring in the countryside, sampling Sicilian sweets, and with Sicily guide Renee Restivo, checking out two wineries I was curious about, both widely known for their fresh, elegant wines.

IMG_3156The Cerasuolo di Vittoria wine zone is Nero d’Avola country, yet another picturesque and fertile part of Sicily. 10 kilometers from the mountains and the Mediterranean, olive groves and vineyards are separated by low walls of unmortared limestone rock, collected by local farmers from their stony fields. Refreshing breezes from the sea make this an ideal place to grow grapes

I was interested in the first company, COS, because they’re making wine in an ancient way, in terra cotta amphorae, a trend that seems to be growing, and in the second, Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti, because I’d heard that it was a biodynamic farm. The two wineries are located near each other and, it turns out, the owners are related.

head in vase

One of the founders of COS, architect Giuso Occhipinti, led us to a roomful of amphorae, buried nearly up to their necks in the ground. This is a way of making wine that he’d observed on a visit to Georgia in the former Soviet Union, where for centuries terra cotta vessels have been used for the fermentation, storage and transport of wine. Ten years ago, weary of working with barriques, of having to replace them after a few years and not fond of the oak flavors they imparted, he switched to amphorae. The porosity of terra cotta allows the wine to breathe and the amphorae don’t wear out; they just need to be thoroughly cleaned every year. (They smelled delicious!) Burying keeps them at a steady temperature.  

cos owner serving wine

Tasting COS wines and olive oil with the dynamic Giuso Occhipinti

Giuso likes to say that the amphorae give the wine a sense of freedom. Half his production is still made in the traditional way, but the wine he calls Pithos, amphora in Greek, designates what comes out of terra cotta.

cartella for Occhipinti (1)

Just down the road is the winery of Giuso’s niece, Arianna Occhipinti. She also comes from a family of architects and like COS she has created a beautifully designed workplace.


Collars on the new vines protect them from hungry rabbits

Her assistant, Damiano Buscema, showed us around and explained that her winemaking is not strictly biodynamic (followers of the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner) but like many Italian farmers she works her land in accordance with the phases of the moon. 

Arianna’s wines are organic, she uses no chemicals, plants green manure, tills and harvests by hand, and cherishes what she has been given:  the soil, the slopes, the climate, the other plants in the fields, all the elements which make up “the originality of the vineyard”. We walked across a lawn that turned out to be a roof over one of the buildings, a natural insulation.

Elizabeth with Arriana

With the young winemaker Arianna Occhipinti at the end of our tour

These owners are not only masterful and successful winemakers, they are also wonderfully poetic about what they are doing. Arianna writes eloquently about her farm and Giuso plays classical music in the cantina. Their wines are available in the United States and worth seeking out.

S.P. 3 Acate-Chiaramonte, Km. 14,300

97019 Vittoria (RG), Sicily
tel. +39 (0) 932 876145

Azienda  Agricola Arianna Occhipinti

Contrada Bombolieri

S.P. 68, Vittoria-Pedalino, Km. 3.3

97019 Vittoria (RG), Sicilia

Tel. +39 (0) 932 1865519

Check out these articles for more about amphorae, as well as biodynamic wine making in Italy. (One producer is right here in Cortona.)

Reinventing a life: Azienda Agricola Preggio

preggio-street-sceneelena-and-dogLast 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.elena-opening-wine-1

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

Elena Vezzoli

39 334 395 1747

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Morami winery on Lake Trasimeno

Morami 13On a wintry day in December we drove down to Panicarola, a village near Castiglion del Lago, on the south shore of Lago Trasimeno. It can be foggy and mysterious around the lake and that day was no exception, but we were greeted with warmth by Sabrina Morami, the dynamic and personable young entrepreneur whose winery bears her name.


Handshake in an Umbrian bar

Though her ancestors had moved away long ago, the zone has been known as “Morami” since the 1700s, and mention of the farm appears in documents dating as far back as the 1500s. In 1998 Sabrina’s Milanese father learned that Morami was for sale and, wishing to return to his family’s roots, he struck a deal, wrote out an agreement in a bar on a piece of newspaper, and followed it with a handshake. The family was in shock; they weren’t farmers, and suddenly there were farm buildings to repair and 120 hectares (297acres) of farmland to make productive.

Morami 12Young Sabrina’s degree was in political science but with the encouragement of her mother and father she changed gears and took on this new venture, first restoring eight apartments to create an agriturismo and modernizing the farm buildings. Next she renewed a thirty year old vineyard. Currently the farm produces vegetables, fruit, olive oil, walnut and cherry woods for furniture making, and on 11 hectares (27 acres), wine.

Developing the winery

At first Sabrina sold her grapes to the local cantina sociale but in 2007 she decided to make wine and created her first offering, Renaia 2007 (50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc), which was an immediate hit, recognized by the Danish wine magazine Vinulen.

Morami three bottles

In 2009 she added white Pratolungo (70% Grechetto and 30% Viognier) and red Podicerri (70% Sangiovese and 30% Alicante), and in 2011 the precious Cardissa of which she is especially proud. For the first three years she utilized another cantina but in 2010 she opted to vinify her own wine. In just fifteen days she built a state of the art wine making facility, then doubled its size in 2012. Her neighbors bring her their grapes too, and she produces ten other wines for them besides her own four. She is working on a fifth, a pure Sangiovese, that will reside two years in tonneaux and two years in the bottle. In fact, Sabrina declares that she participates in every phase of the process except the pruning of the vines.

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CardissaCardissa, Chardonnay for a celebration

Her golden Cardissa, 100 percent Chardonnay, was created for her fortieth birthday. Only 400 bottles were produced, and only magnums. After harvest the must is placed in tonneaux and the lees are stirred daily, then at six months it goes into stainless steel before bottling. To Sabrina the word Cardissa expresses femininity, character and elegance and is related to cardio, heart in Latin. There is also a heart shaped cockle shell called cardium cardissa that can be either yellow or red.

Her wines are designated IGT Umbria and are “biologico”, the vines treated only with copper and sulphur. She avoids organic certification, preferring to be free to intervene with curative measures if necessary. Production is still small, 12,000 bottles per year, which are mostly sold in Italy, Denmark, at the Morami farm, and in local enotecas like Umbertide’s Wine Club.

Morami, Vocabolo Morami, 06060 Panicarola (PG) /

 Stay tuned! Rossana will be reporting on two important winter wine events: the new releases of Vino Nobile previewed in Montepulciano last weekend, and the upcoming Benvenuto Brunello at Montalcino.

The Lost Vines of Montegabbione

Vicciuta forest

The Alto Orvietano



A discovery in the forest


As all wine lovers know, the ancient vineyards of Europe were devastated in the late 1800s by the phylloxera vitifoliae aphid which attacks the roots of grape plants. A huge sector of the economy of Europe was affected. The only solution was to graft plants on to American rootstock which had grown resistant to the pest, and replant.

Now, remarkably, ancient pre-phylloxera vines which escaped destruction have been found hidden in a forest near Orvieto, including six varieties that have never been identified before, true Umbrian natives.

We Wine Girls had to investigate!

Renato with vine by roadSo in September we drove south to the hills above Orvieto where we met up with Renato Montagnolo, the former mayor of Montegabbione. We wanted to see the centuries-old vines which have given impetus to a reclamation project begun in 2012, “Terra della Vicciuta”, Land of the Vicciuta, the climbing vines. If all goes well, the fruit of these precious plants could give a boost to the local economy of the Alto Orvietano.

What is La Vicciuta?

Vic list (1)Renato explained that “vicciuta” is the term chosen for vines which farmers in the past abandoned at the edge of their property, often near a ditch, perhaps because they were no longer productive. These vines were not pruned or treated to produce grapes for wine, and so they grew as Mother Nature intended: climbing everywhere, creating lots of leaves and little fruit, returning to their wild state, “marrying” with nearby trees. However, they continued to live in a marginal way as part of the economy of the property. Some produced white grapes, some black. In the last century landowners still gathered them to make a sweet, alcoholic wine. Renato told us that old people who had the opportunity to taste this wine said that it was very good.

How old ARE these vines?

Vic group on the pathRenato, still a dynamo in retirement, explained that for some time it was known that very old grape vines existed in the forest outside of Montegabbione, on the slopes of Monte Arale. He had seen them when he hunted in the forest. The collection of testimonies by hunters and truffle hunters was the first step in locating them, and just the beginning of a fascinating scientific project which we learned about as the day progressed.

Piling into a four wheel drive, we began our ascent of the mountain, eventually turning onto a rough track leading into dense growth. At a certain point we disembarked and continued the rest of the way on foot, clambering over boulders and streams. Renato, in the lead, hacked through the underbrush with his sharp falce sickle and before long we were there.

Noting the huge size of the trunks and how high the branches have climbed, Renato observed that the vines must date from the latter part of the 1800s. We wondered how it’s possible to find an ungrafted grapevine, more than 100 years old, living in the middle of a forest? He explained that seeds may have been disseminated by birds, deer or boar, or possibly an isolated farm once existed here, eventually abandoned by impoverished share croppers. Nevertheless, to be out of range of the dreaded aphid, for once Umbria’s isolation was a benefit!

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Taming the wild grapevines

Along with his friend Luciano Giacché, professor of food anthropology at the University of Perugia and a lover and promoter of the Alto Orvietano, Renato began a project which encompasses the five communes and two provinces where the vicciute were found: Città della Pieve, Piegaro, Montegabbione, Ficulle, Parrano, Fabbro, Monteleone di Orvieto and San Venanzo. Now four years later, two experimental vineyards are being established to save these old varieties and discover if they will produce good wine.

But before planting, endless research was required. Genetic testing on 40 examples involved scientists in Arezzo and Conegliano and their findings were a surprise. Along with local varieties Drupeggio, Trebbiano Perugino, Nocera, Sangiovese, Trebbiano Toscano, Morellino del Valdarno, Verdicchio, Famoso delle Marche, and Montonico Bianco, they found a Cabernet Sauvignon! How did that end up here? Even more astonishing was the discovery of six unknown, never before catalogued varieties. These were named for the places where they were collected; for example Montarale testa 1 because it was found on Monte Arale.

castle (1)

The count’s vineyard

Leaving the forest Renato took us to meet Conte Lorenzo Misciatelli who is, along with nine other wine makers, a participant in the project. The count has rooted 1,300 cuttings, 50 plants of each variety and the minimum needed for microvinification, in a field below his imposing Castello di Montegiove, where he produces wine under that name. count (1)(Near Città della Pieve, the second vicciuta vineyard will be created in 2017 by Paolo Bolla of Podere Fontesecca.) The little plants are growing slowly. In 2018 the first vinification will probably take place, and the wine assessed as to its potential.

experimental vineyardIt is a fascinating experiment and the whole of this territory bordering Tuscany and Umbria may benefit, a tribute to Renato, Professor Ghiacchè, his fellow scientists, and the seriousness of today’s Umbrian wine makers.

We can’t wait to try it!

We dedicate this blog to the memory of our beloved friend, Ann Burbank Nelson.