Vinnie and I were driving down the motorway listening to one of the myriad of FM music stations with which Italian airwaves are awash. The Italians are a very musical people and I was musing about what would have happened if rock ‘n roll had been born in Italy rather than the USA. Instead of singing about the delights of Route 66, an Italian Chuck Berry would have been eulogising about the autostrada del sole, “Well, it winds from Milano to Napoli,” and so on. The autostrada del sole really is an important economic artery for the country.
Along its 750 kilometres it links Bologna, Florence, and Rome as well as many other smaller but important towns. Just south of Florence it enters Umbria, the region known as the green heart of Italy and it was here that we left the famous road and headed east. Passing Lago Trasimeno, where Hannibal routed the Roman army in 217 BC, and onwards past Assisi where the body of St. Francis sleeps the sleep of the just, awaiting the call to the Final Judgement, we followed the valley towards the Apennine mountains and the ancient city of Spoleto. Just before Spoleto we took off into the rich, fertile hills and found the tiny hamlet of Terzo La Pieve. The countryside here has an air of quiet, verdant timelessness. It is not so much a land that time forgot as a land that ignores time and in the midst of this peaceful fecundity is the Cantina Collecapretta.
Vinnie and I were here to sample the local DOC Spoleto wine and we were shown around by Annalisa. The simple statistics of this winery – 18,000 bottles per annum from six hectares – conceal a much more interesting history and Annalisa was happy to tell it. Vinnie and I have visited many wineries that are either exclusively producers of wine or perhaps wine and olive oil but in Cantina Collecapretta things are very different and the traces left on the land by succeeding generations tell part of that story.
It all began with Annalisa’s great-grandfather who was a forester, and whilst most of the land is now cultivated, the Barbera vines that he planted still remain. Sadly, how he came by these grapes that are normally found further north in Piedmont, the family cannot recall. His son, Annalisa’s grandfather, shifted production to cereals and he also produced wine, mainly for the family, and he also left behind a grape variety, Greco, one that is normally found much further south in Campania.
Annalisa’s father, Vittorio Mattioli, and his wife, Anna, have built on the foundations laid by his forefathers and continued with cereal production and they also now have 2,300 olive trees. But their focus on wine production is where the biggest changes have taken place. From modest beginnings, where it was just produced for family consumption, to selling it sfuso or loose to the local community through to their first bottled offerings in 2006, wine has become a major part of the family enterprise.
Whilst their approach to making wine is strictly organic, using spontaneous fermentation, sitting in the winery we could see abundant evidence of their willingness to experiment. All around us were fermentation vessels of different materials namely wood, steel, and cement. The family produces a range of wines both red and white but we were there for the Spoleto DOC which is a white wine made from the Trebbiano Spoletino grape.
There are two Cantina Collecapretta DOC Spoleto wines and they are very different from each other. The first is called Vigna Vecchia or Old Vineyard and there is a good reason for the name. The vines were planted around 85 years ago by Annalisa’s grandfather. The wine is fermented and matured in steel and has a rich gold colour with a bouquet of red apples and passion fruit. The contrast on the palate is remarkable – here there is strong acidity and salinity with a full structure that Annalisa suggests is an ideal pairing for prosciutto, pork, or pasta with wild asparagus.
The second Spoleto wine is called Terra dei Preti or the Priests’ Land because the vines – which are 40 years old – were planted on a piece of land her father purchased from the church. Again, this is both fermented and matured in steel but after pressing the must spends four to five days on the skins which results in a strong golden orange colour. On the nose there are apricots but in the mouth again there is strong acidity and salinity with hints of citrus. This is a wine that will pair well with rabbit or chicken or, as Annalisa suggests, dishes with white truffle. These are both wines that would benefit from maturing for a couple of years in the bottle before drinking and will certainly age well.
Leaving Collecapretta behind and returning to the hustle and bustle of our modern existence we were left with the memory of a place that does not ignore the modern world but prefers to keep it at a safe distance. It is a part of our world but at the same time apart from it and all the better for it.