As yesterday was Earth day and I now write for the Organic Wine Journal, I have been thinking a lot about organic products, what we can do to help our planet and the like. A winery that I met at Vinitaly has been thinking about those issues for over 20 years. They come from an unlikely part of the country as well: Calabria. Calabria brings to mind many things but organic winemaking has never been one of them. In fact this winery, Azienda Vinicola di De Luca Vincenzo, is one of only two or three organic wineries in that region. The winery began producing wines in 1994. They are located in the province of Crotone in the town of Melissa. They work in the Ciro and Ciro Classico denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) areas of Calabria. Wines from Ciro and Ciro Classico are typically made with Gaglioppo, a grape thought to be of Greek origins. The Greeks, in fact, played a large part in the early settlements in Calabria. This region, as we know, is one of the most Southern Italian regions located in the “toe” of the Italian boot. I never think of Italy that way but I know it is a shorthand way to look at the country.
The core of the Ciro production is located in the towns of Cirò, Cirò Marina and Melissa. These ancient towns are located near the Ionic coast and benefit from wonderful sun and cooling breezes. They are not completely flat areas but instead have gentle rolling hills. The soil is a mix of clay, sand and calcareous deposits. The winery was founded by Abramo De Luca and is located at 300 meters above sea level. The vineyards have a wonderful microclimate with noticeable thermal excursion that allows the grapes to mature to full phenolic ripeness without becoming fruit bombs, not an easy feat in the hot clime of Calabria. Their winemaker is Giuseppe Liotti.
I tried a number of their wines at the fair, including a white, a rose and two reds. The white was called Donna Cristina and was made from Greco Bianco, a grape brought to Calabria during the period of the Magna Grecia. It works well in times of drought, perfect for this region. The wine was floral with citrus and stone aromas and flavors. It was rich and full-bodied thanks to lees stirring and this particular grape’s attributes. I also tried a rose, Donna Antonietta, made from Gaglioppo, the signature variety from Calabria. It had aromas and flavors of cherry and strawberry and an earthy, marine quality to it otherwise known as sapidity. Gaglioppo, they told me, is hard to work in an organic fashion because the grape bunches are so close together. Their Donna Caterina Ciro DOC made with Gaglioppo was a beautiful expression of the Gaglioppo grape with a cherry, strawberry, pepper, tobacco nose and similar palate. The wine macerates on its skins for 10 days and then spends two years in wood, followed by 4-6 months in the bottle before being released into the market. The final wine I tasted was called Melissa Ciro Superiore DOC and was also made from the Gaglioppo grape. This wine had more of a toasty, oaky aroma and flavor to it with the classic spice and vanilla notes and flavors associated with barrique aging.