Above: brilliant, energetic, and super cool, Giulia Cataldi Madonna isn’t the winemaker that most people expect to find when they visit Abruzzo, one of Italy’s most undervalued wine regions. The work people like Giulia are doing there might just hold the key to the future of Italian viticulture.
Last month, I headed to Italy just as the red grape harvest was about to begin in the country’s central and Adriatic wine growing regions.
And thus began my journey in search of the 2022 harvest.
So much has already been written about this vintage: the winter drought that lasted nearly all spring and summer, combined with the record high temperatures in July and August, had a lot of people predicting genuine financial catastrophe. Even where emergency irrigation was allowed this year (and it was allowed throughout the country), there sometimes wasn’t enough water to feed the thirsty plants.
Gentle rainfall in mid-August — deus ex machina — was just enough to save this year’s harvest. But growers are coming to terms with the fact that extreme weather events are going to become more frequent and (excuse the pleonasm) more extreme.
On September 6, I landed in Milan very late, caught some shut eye in a sordid hotel near the train station, and then got on an early high speed train to Rome the next morning. From there, I picked up a rental car and headed straight to Abruzzo.
Above: Pecorino grapes at Cataldi Moadonna in Ofena commune were healthy and ready to pick despite the hot conditions. Ofena growers like Giulia have been dealing with extreme weather for generations. Their strategies offer clues into how Italian winemakers will need to face the challenges of climate change.
My first stop was Cataldi Madonna where the unstoppable Giulia Cataldi Madonna gave me a great tour of her family’s vineyards.
I’ve enjoyed her family’s wines for years and have often included them on wine lists I’ve managed. Their quality-price ratio can’t be beat.
But I had no idea how soulful and thoughtful this family is and why their wines matter so much — especially today.
And that was the first of many things I got wrong about Abruzzo. Gloriously wrong.
Above: I’m going to get into trouble for saying this but Giulia told me that she agrees with me 100 percent when I say that Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is not a rosé wine. It’s a red wine. More on that later.
Maybe because of the way the wine has been marketed in the U.S., it was always my perception that Cataldi Madonna was just another huge producer that made extremely restaurant-friendly wines in large quantities.
What I learned was that Giulia and her family have been pioneers of organic farming and — more importantly in my view — of smart, healthy, sustainable, and forward-looking farming in their region.
The work they are doing with pergola training alone is going to have legacy impact on how Italians grow grapes in future.
Giulia like the other winemakers I met on my trip are forging a new “climate change era” path by showing how canopy management and — as I later learned — solar radiation are going to be two of the keys to dealing with increasingly warm and arid vintages.
Half way into my conversation and tour with Giulia, it was abundantly clear that everything I thought I knew about Abruzzo was wrong.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my notes from visits to three different wineries there (and a restaurant note or two). I hope you’ll join me on my journey of discovery. Thanks for being here.
Can you tell us if what your reviewing is represented in the US? Where to get the wines in the US?
Hi Jeremy, I hope all is well and your travels continue to go smoothly. I was excited to read your current missive about going to Abruzzo. My two visits to this often overlooked region, visiting locals there, were outstanding and so very memorable. The cantina I visited that stood out for me was Valle Reale. The tasting experience and vineyard walk-through were both absolutely tops. PLUS, with tasting we were served freshly baked bread from Niko Romito…that part I will never forget! I figure you will probably dine at his restaurant if your time permits. I was fortunate this year to have been able to spend most of the summer in Sicilia and am now writing from Paso Robles area (you mentioned that you are overdue for a visit out this way!) and will be returning to Houston in a few weeks. I would enjoy another visit whenever it works with your (and my) schedule…I think it my turn to treat and you mentioned being curious about Light Years. Buona permanenza in Abruzzo! a presto, Jerry Baiamonte