Recently, Vinnie and I were fortunate enough to find ourselves in Puglia in the “heel” of Italy. The flat coastal plains are full of massive olive plantations as Puglia provides about 40% of Italy’s olive oil. Back from the coast lies a high limestone plateau called Le Murge and this is where the Valle d’Itria is located. This is the land of the trullo and Minutolo grape.
The land here is divided into small plots and is intensively cultivated for a variety of crops, but before it can be used the stone has to be cleared, and there is a lot. This means that there is always a surplus of stones available and you will see it in the many thick, drystone walls running across the landscape. It was also used to construct the round conically-roofed little houses called trulli. These were built to avoid property tax as by removing the keystone when the taxman called the whole thing would collapse only to be rebuilt on his departure. Well, that’s the legend and the locals are sticking to it.
Whatever the truth of the story, the Valle d’Itria is a magical landscape, dotted with tiny trulli, and in the midst of this picturesque terrain lies the winery owned by Gianni Carparelli and his family. Gianni has his roots firmly in Itrian soil – he was born in nearby Locorotondo. He left to study enology in Florence but came straight back and since 1997 the family have been running the vineyard.
Named I Pastini after the traditional tool used to plant vines, the winery itself is modern, using the most up-to-date techniques to produce a variety of wines from 15 hectares, with an annual production of around 100,000 bottles. By contrast, across the single track railway that runs through the middle of the estate is the old farmhouse that dates from 1759 with older trulli attached. On a tour with Gianni or one of his team you will see how these unique buildings were constructed, with a stone dome inside and the cone outside.
Whilst the winery is modern, the wines produced use some very traditional ideas. The grapes grown here include a variety called Minutolo which had almost died out because the vine produces grapes that are quite small and therefore less economically viable. However, Gianni has persevered with this and, with the increasing demand for wines of differing character, the white wine produced from Minutolo is proving very successful. Gianni’s wine, Rampone, is 100% Minutolo. It has a beautiful straw colour, and almost has fleeting hints of green. On the nose there is a delicate bouquet of peach and passion fruit and on the palate it is dry with citrus flavours. This is a wine that I would strongly recommend. Try it with seafood, which is a staple of Pugliese cuisine.
Another ancient local variety grown here is Susumaniello. The name means little donkey in the local dialect but how and why it got that name is lost in the mists of time. Gianni’s explanation is that the vines produce a rich heavy crop so that it is carrying a heavy weight like a donkey. Other stories talk of a vine that can be difficult and stubborn, again, like a donkey. Gianni produces a rich, deep red wine called VersoSud which is full of blackberries and cherries with a long finish. This wine is made from 100% Susumaniello. This is a wine to be enjoyed with red meat or mature cheese.
The Primitivo grape is grown all over Puglia, especially on the coastal plain, where it produces a wine with a rich, deep, intense red colour. I Pastini is 320m above sea level, with chalky soil, and the version that Gianni produces, Arpago, is a surprisingly different take on this very traditional Pugliese wine. Paler than the traditional version, with a subtle flavour, it pairs well with ham, salami, pork or lamb but beware it is still 14% ABV!
A visit to I Pastini is guaranteed to provide something of interest to everyone and the traditionally-vaulted tasting room is a great environment in which to sample the range that Gianni has on offer. English is spoken and tours must be booked in advance.
Nearby Locorotondo is a hilltop town clearly visible from the winery and consistently voted one of the most attractive in Italy. Wandering the narrow whitewashed lanes of the centro storico is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two and there are fabulous photo opportunities around every corner. Make sure you do not miss the terrace at the front of the town from where you can enjoy great views over the whole valley, including the I Pastini vineyard.More about this vineyard