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, http://italywise.com/sportoletti-cantina-umbria-makes-amazing-wine/ 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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