Inside all of us there is that small seed of self-sufficiency, that desire to be independent, not to be reliant on the anonymous organisations that today dominate our world. As our transatlantic cousins so succinctly put it, ‘to stick it to the man’. The very fact that I am at this keyboard writing is evidence of it. If this seed is allowed to grow, it blossoms in different ways; in we repressed English it may be growing vegetables on our allotment plots, whereas in our less restrained American cousins it may manifest itself as a desire to head for a log cabin in the hills and go ‘off grid’.
Somehow, the Italians understand that these inner instincts are part of who they are and seek to accommodate them in their lives and so defuse any potential mid-life crisis. They may not have any olive trees but someone in the family will, and when the time for the harvest arrives their help will be warmly welcomed (and rewarded with sufficient olive oil to last a year). However, even in this self-aware nation you will find those in whom the urge for self-sufficiency has proven irresistible and Vinnie and I met such a man in Giulio Maurizi.
Giulio’s world may be physically small – he has five hectares of carefully-tended land and produces only 12,500 bottles of wine per year – but it is perfectly formed. This is a man who, with the help of his son, Morgan, will take on any task. He has a long history in wine; his first harvest was in 1967 when he was working with his grandfather who sold wine sfuso, or unbottled, to locals who would drop by to get their containers filled. By 1978 he was working in a cooperative that sold its grapes on to one of the large producers but then in 2015, when his son graduated in oenology, he decided it was time for them to branch out on their own.
Walking through his vineyards it is easy to understand what motivates Giulio. At 250 metres above sea level and 10 kilometres from the sea this is prime grape-growing country. However, what really takes your breath away is the beautiful vista of the Apennine mountains 12 kilometres away with the twin peaks of Montagna dei Fiori and Montagna dei Campi. Behind them the mighty snow-capped peak of Monte Gorzano stands 8,000 feet above the sea. As you admire this beautiful view Giulio will tell you of the legend of the nymph Maia who buried her son, Hermes, in the mountains leaving his profile, the sleeping giant, as his monument.
Giulio’s vineyards vary from 55-year-old Montepulciano vines through to two-year-old Pecorino that will grow for another three years before producing a crop and take 10 to 15 years to produce a quality harvest. Giulio told me that an astonishing 35% of the Centroguerra area is now under vines, as interest continues to grow in these native varieties. Walking back through his olive grove that has been there for 45 years he took great pleasure in showing us the shoots from a Passerina vine that was resurfacing amongst the olive trees from what was, many years ago, a ploughed vineyard. These local vines are tough.
Back in the cantina everything is there but in miniature, even down to the small tray used to freeze the necks of the bottles of spumante metodo classico; this allows the final disgorging of the block of frozen wine containing the lees before the wine is topped up and the traditional cork and cage inserted.
However, the real test of all this effort is in the tasting room and here we were treated to a vertical tasting of his Passerina, i.e. different vintages of the same wine. This is a wine that is produced naturally using a spontaneous fermentation in a stainless steel vat before being matured in cement for around a year. The 2017 was a rich golden orange colour with mandarins on the nose and on the palate a rich acidity with lemons and a hint of honey. For Giulio this is the age when his wine has reached its peak.
The 2018 is rich and golden in colour with less orange and a bouquet with more lemon. In the mouth there is a tingling acidity with lemons. The 2019 spent two years in cement before bottling and has a perfume of lemon and sage whilst in the mouth there is a light acidity and the taste of lemons is still sharp for this is a wine that has still to mature. The colour is still relatively pale and Giulio assures me it will darken with age.
Giulio insisted on pouring some of his 2021 from one of the cement vats where it was still maturing so I could savour the young wine. The colour was a straw gold with mild lemon and herbs on the nose with a pleasant acidity and lemon and rosemary on the palate. I look forward to coming back in a few years to see how this has developed when it reaches maturity.
Accompanying these lovely wines Giulio and Morgan served up another aspect of their self-sufficiency. Using recipes from Giulio’s grandfather, they make some very traditional Abruzzese delicacies. There were two types of salami, one made with liver which is a treat produced only in the north of the region. But the star of the show for me was again a very local dish called Ventricina. This is made from pork with a high fat content and a selection of herbs and peperoncini. You can have it sliced and served on warm bruschette so that the fat, infused with the flavours of the herbs, melts into the bread leaving the meat on top. Giulio’s version was insanely good. Everything on the tasting table from the Ventricina to the lardo to the salami and olive oil was produced by Giulio. The only things he didn’t make were the Pecorino cheese and the bread.
Giulio and Morgan are hugely generous and welcoming people. While we were there several of Giulo’s friends – and Morgan’s teacher from university – dropped by and soon the tasting had become an informal get-together of old friends with some seriously good food and very good wine. We could happily have spent the rest of the afternoon in such convivial company but unfortunately we had to drive back to Ortona. I cannot commend Azienda Agricola Maurizi highly enough; a visit to this beautiful area of Italy will not be complete without a trip to their little piece of heaven.