During each of my visits to Italy, winemakers generously offer to give me wine to bring home to Texas.
It’s always a bit of a Sophie’s choice: with so many great wines up for grabs, which wine to pack in my bag, which is otherwise filled with books?
During each stay, I always chose just one bottle and it’s always a bottle that I know that Tracie P will truly enjoy.
On my last trip to the bel paese, I finally made a pilgrimage to the land of Saint Francis to visit the Paolo Bea winery in Montefalco, a quasi-spiritual experience for me.
I’ve known Giampiero Bea for many years now and have tasted with him on a number of occasions and we once had dinner in Houston on one his rare visits to the U.S.
He’s a larger-than-life personage in my world and I have to admit that I’ve always been a little intimidated (in a positive way) by his powerful presence. To see and taste with him at the Vini Veri festival in Italy, where he presides over a group of winemakers that includes some of my favorite estates (Rinaldi, Cappellano, Zidarich, and so many more), is to interact with a true cult figure in the world of Italian wine.
A charismatic and handsome man, he is as outspoken as he is histrionic and he is as true and faithful to his natural wine cause as he is passionate about the wines he makes.
But when I met with him tête-à-tête at his winery, I found him to be one of the sweetest and down-to-earth grape growers I’ve ever encountered in the often holier-than-thou world of Natural wine (with a capital n).
He told me a most moving story about his father Paolo (whom I had the great fortune to meet that day). Before the advent of the current winery and line of wines, his father was a modest farmer and rancher, he explained. Returning one day from Giampiero’s brother’s swearing in ceremony as a conscripted soldier (military service in Italy was mandatory until recently), the family came across another rancher that was having problems calving a cow.
“My father, who worked every day in his life, who never took a day off,” he recounted, “helped them deliver the calf even though this was the only day he had allowed himself a day of rest and celebration.”
That spirit, said Giampiero, was why he abandoned a prosperous career in architecture and took over the family’s winemaking.
“There is a spirit among people like my father,” he told me, “that we must give something back to the community.”
And that’s what’s always impressed me the most about Giampiero, his wines, and his fanatical devotion to the Natural wine mission. Whether you like them or not, whether you believe that the “Natural” label is a mere marketing campaign or a higher calling, there’s no denying that Giampiero and his followers believe wholeheartedly that these wines make the world a better place to live. I believe that, too.
It was fascinating to tour Giampiero’s vineyards and get a better grasp on the altitude, exposure, and soil types of his growing sites for his top Sagrantino.
But even more thrilling was seeing the Etruscan-trained Trebbiano Spoletino that is used to make his Arboreus (which is pronounced ahr-BOH-reh-oos).
Many farmers still train these plants on trees, as the Etruscans did. It’s a form of vine training that you still find in Campania and central Italy in places still left untouched by the new age of Italian wine.
Basically, the Trebbiano grows with no human intervention, the way it has for generations. It’s important to remember that in another era, grape growing was not a priority for farmers in a time when the notion of fine wine hardly existed beyond the great appellations like Burgundy and Barolo etc.
A local clone of Italy’s ubiquitous white grape, Trebbiano Spoletino (Spoleto is about forty minutes by car from Montefalco) grows in enormous, dense clusters, some 40 centimeters in length. Because of their density and size, the bunches are more resistant to disease than other clones. And they require little care when trained high on the tree trunks.
When Giampiero offered me a bottle to take home, I knew this was the one that Tracie P would want. And so I accepted.
We opened the wine last night with dinner and as it warmed up a little in the glass, it revealed layers and layers of stone fruit and mineral flavors. But its aroma was what really captivated me: gentle white flowers offset by attenuated notes of eastern spice.
A special wine to share only with my wife…
Thank you, Giampiero, for a wonderful visit and a wonderful bottle!