A confluence of events such as National Chianti Day on Friday and an #ItalianFWT group focus on sustainability brought to mind my experiences in Arezzo years ago. Here’s a book I worked on, called Buon Giorno Arezzo,where I wrote a chapter about wines from Arezzo Wines from Arezzo are not that well known in the United States nor for that matter is the city of Arezzo. Both are a shame in my view. Arezzo, it is a beautiful city with many wonderful churches and bell towers, a flourishing antiques market on the first Sunday of every month and a strong jewelry business. They also make delicious wines. You’ve probably seen a scene set in their cathedral as part of the movie The English Patient. It is one of the most beautiful and romantic gestures I remember. Up there with Robert Redford washing Merly Streep’s hair in Out of Africa.
The fresco in the bottom right corner painted by Piero della Francesca is one of the only frescos that paint a night scene and is one of my favorites. This circle of Frescos is known as the Legend of the True Cross which is located in the choir of San Francesco at Arezzo. Arezzo is only 90 kilometers away from Florence on the highway and you can get there in one hour. The landscape changes a bit and it gives you an idea of the wilder side of Tuscany with many forests. Forests in Tuscany always make me think of Wild Boar or Cinghiale. I was told by a dear friend that eating Cinghiale makes you have wild hallucinations. Be that as it may, Tuscan pappardelle al Cinghiale is one of my all time favorite dishes.
Like many foreigners before and after me, I fell in love with Italy through my adventures in Tuscany. I lived there for many years before moving up North – to Milan. To this day, whenever I go to Tuscany, I feel like I am coming home. Time is a bit slower and it always brings me back to that first love feeling that is truly unique.
I remembered my visit to Tuscany’s Paterna winery and how proud of they were of their certified organic status, but even more proud of their commitment to working with people with special needs. They call the practice Agricoltura Sociale where those with disabilities are given a place in a rural setting. This philosophy also applies to their visitors, having made their Bed & Breakfast (or agriturismo) wheelchair accessible – a milestone in Italy where being physically disabled can be a true issue in terms of movement within the countryside.
Paterna, located near the city of Arezzo, has a very low-key vibe – no television sets for visitors. Rather they encourage visitors to take vegetables from the garden, cook outside with friends and share the outdoor spaces. They are also friendly and open to campers. They grow a host of indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and Malvasia. The winery has been organic for over 25+ years.
The idea for this winery began in the 1970s, according to Marco Noferi, one of the founders. The terroir is a mixture of sand and fine clay, where Sangiovese flourishes. The area is located near the Pratomagno mountain which serves as a barrier from the winds from the Northeast. Marco told me they have considerable temperature shifts between day and night at the winery.
We spent a considerable amount of time talking about how much the countryside around Arezzo had changed. In the past, they had the culture of the Mezzadria where families would work the land for a “boss.” Sometimes, up to 200 families lived on the farms, working for the landowner. This system mostly ended by the 1960s, and there was an exodus from the countryside to the city. Some two-thirds of the population left and took with them the many skills needed to run country properties. During the 1980s, however, there was a return of interest in the area with people from Milano and from Switzerland looking to buy properties and using well-known consultants.
Paterna was also founded in this period of time, but with a different philosophy. They are interested in recouping indigenous varieties, such as Pugnitello, and are one of the few wineries that grow this ancient grape.
I love their focus on the social aspects of the winey as well as the economic and taste profile of the wines. It was one of the first and only wineries I’ve seen where they really take sustainability and it’s social component seriously.