Grape Harvest at the Ninni Winery in Spoleto. In only a few years an unexpected success: today one of the most appreciated niche wine makers of natural wines in Italy.
by Filippo Benedetti Valentini
When you are devoted to the earth and your efforts turn into wine, your passion ends up in the glass. And you can taste that. Sice a few years ago Gianluca Piernera used to work as an eletrician and never dreamed about becoming a wine maker. Today, on a small hill only a few kilometers from Spoleto, you can find the Winery Ninni, one of the Umbrian businesses most genuinely inspired by natural philosophy.
Where, if not from nature, bring out the ancestral wine tradition of a territory, without strategems either in the vineyard or in the cellar? The vision, some say, is extreme: no chemical fertilizers, no herbicides, only those pesticides allowed in organic farming. These are some of the rules dictated by the Consorzio Vini Veri, an association that promotes balance between human action and cycles of nature, which is an inspiration to Gianluca. Something that this winery does successfully year after year.
Gianluca bought terrain to build a house in the small location of Terraia in 2006 and found a 40 year old vineyard, which he decided to extirpate. He seeks advice from a childhood friend who happens to be a winemaker and fellow wine enthusiast, who tells him: “Are you crazy, you have to cultivate it.” Thus he begins to work the land and, with the help of oenologist Andrea Pesaresi, after two years he uses the first grapes to make wine for himself and friends: only 400 bottles. The year 2012 is great year for winemaking: it is hot as hell, but the vines on his property are well ventilated. So he decides to produce the first two labels commercially: Misluli and Diavolacciu.
Misluli – from the name of his daughter whom he calls Miss Lucrezia – is a blend of Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia. After a very delicate pressing of only healthy grapes, the juice is fermented for 7 days with its skins, as if it were a red wine. Then, without being clarified, it rests in steel. The result is a golden yellow wine, loaded and veiled, which converges the typical features of two varieties: the freshness and fruit scents (especially peach and grapefruit) as well as those salty tastes reminiscent of iodine. A perfect accompaniment for raw fish or rich cheeses. And a remarkable value for the money: € 10 at the wine cellar.
The Diavolacciu, on the other hand, is a red Merlot, Barbera, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Aleatico and a bit of ‘Ciliegiolo’. The fermentation takes place in large oak barrels for 10 days then after a month of rest in steel, passes in barrels whereupon it is bottled and matures for at least four months. “All these vines produce wine together” – explains Gianluca – “it is difficult because each grape has its own ripening times.” And the winemaker, just like a chef who mixes ingredients that have different cooking methods, must be able to seize the moment. The wine is ruby red in color, with a structure and aromatic richness of predominantly red fruits and undergrowth. The taste is pleasantly warm. A perfect accompaniment to grilled meats or stews, the price in the cellar is 15 €.
Two and a half hectares of vineyards, with a total annual production that does not exceed 15 thousand bottles. The only nourishment of the earth is given by foliar fertilizer and an extract from orange peels that, among other things, is also a valuable fungicide. The plants don’t produce a lot, but they do not undergo any production stress. The grapes are picked and selected by hand, and those deemed unhealthy are excluded. In the cellar the rules of “natural” production are strictly observed: the added sulphites never exceed 80 milligrams per liter (in conventional production more than twice that amount is allowed). Fermentation occurs spontaneously, using only yeasts contained in grapes themselves, and the temperatures are not checked. No filtration. “Because” – says Gianluca – “why collect healthy grapes and then change them in the basement? I prefer to let nature do its work, as did farmers once upon a time. “
Another gem of this winery is the Trebbiano Spoleto Superiore Doc – Poggio del Vescovo, made with grapes native to the area: a late-season white grape, full of sugar and acids, which makes a wine with notes of citrus that is fruity and very fresh. In the mouth it pleasantly whets the appetites, inviting to drink more, especially if it accompanies first courses with truffles and saffron. From this year on, Gianluca will also propose a new sparkling wine (Bianco Spoleto IGT) called Edoardo, in tribute to his 8 month old son.
The winery also produces Sanbastiano, a pure Sangiovese from rougher tannins that, after at least two years of aging in bottle, presents its austere character accompanied by a good softness. The Poggiolacciu, a 100% Merlot, has a deep red color, is medium-bodied and lively. Very drinkable and balanced, it lends itself to be coupled with cold meats and cheeses. Finally it produces Pilurusciu, a sparkling rosé made from Sangiovese grapes following the “ancestral method”, a cross between the classic and Charmat Method, to be drunk young like a Lambrusco, to cleanse the palate from oily and fatty meats (sausages and boiled cuts) .
These wines are given dialectical names from the hills Gianluca observes every day from his window. A land that has long remained overshadowed by the most famous wine-growing areas and now, with this enthusiastic and stubborn manufacturer, authoritatively claims its space in Umbrian wine production. A territorial niche that despite its low production volumes is increasingly gaining national prominence thanks also to mentions by some of the most important Italian wine guides.
Foto by Filippo Benedetti Valentini