What’s the difference between pergola and tendone? The answer may be the key to viticulture in the age of climate change.

The notion that tendone and pergola training systems could represent one of the grand solutions for winemakers facing the wrathful challenges of climate change was first suggested to me many years ago by the writer, publisher, and in-demand vineyard manager Maurizio Gily.

The topic came up following a call he had received from a winery in Texas asking him to consult on a new vineyard planting. The ancient training technique, which can trace its origins to bronze-era trellising used by the Etruscans, could be ideal, he said, for protecting the plants and their fruit from extreme weather events including severe storms and late-spring frosts (while high temperatures are a major problem for Texas wine growers, it’s the late-spring frosts — remember the 2021 freeze? — that can cause a farmer to lose their entire crop).

But there’s a bigger element in play, I learned recently when Chiara Ciavolich, legacy grower at her family’s farm in Abruzzo, took me on a tour of her estate together with her longtime vineyard manager Guerino Pescara.

The first question they answered was what’s the difference between pergola and tendone training?

Where pergola is a patchwork of small square structures that support the vines, tendone is a continuous and seamless series of pergolas, as it were. (To better get a sense of the system, keep in mind that a tendone in Italian means big tent.)

And here’s where that difference, a seemingly small divergence but actually extremely impactful, comes into play.

Beyond protecting the vines and fruit from severe weather, the canopy formed by the tendone mitigates or facilitates solar radiation. That’s why tendone is so important: because the canopy covers the entire parcel and not just the earth where the vines have their roots.

Guerino spent the better part of an hour that day explaining to me how solar radiation, beyond being a key to photosynthesis, also determines water retention and drainage. And in years like 2022 when prolonged drought and extreme summer temperatures represented existential threats to growers, solar radiation mitigation is an increasingly important component in vineyard management.

To the layperson, the first photo above may seem like an abandoned vineyard. But professionals will discern how the vegetation between the rows and canopy vegetation create a balance in solar radiation and water retention.

The art of managing the vegetation, Guerino explained, is not only the key to making great wines (and man, are the wines of Ciavolich great!). But it also may be the key to mitigating the effects of climate change.

The wines tasted at Caivolich were among the best during my early September harvest tour of central and northern Italy.

Beyond being a keeper of one of Abruzzo’s most important flames, she is also a intellectual winemaker whose thoughtfulness and deeper sense of history and legacy are reflected in her extraordinary wines.

Her “Fosso Cancelli” line floored me with a clarity and focus of fruit that spanned the entire flight. As much as I loved the whites, including her opulent interpretation of Pecorino, it was her Montepulciano that stopped the show. The freshness, vibrant fruit, buoyancy, and nuance of this wine make it a stand-out Italian red — no matter what the appellation.

It was such a treat for me to meet Chiara and Guerino. And it didn’t take long before my conversation with Chiara veered into 20th-century and contemporary literature (my kind of winemaker!). I highly recommend her wines and if you ever get the chance to taste and interact with her, take the opportunity. I really enjoyed visiting with her and came away inspired by our chat.

I also have to give a shout-out to her village’s most popular restaurant, La Bilancia, a legendary and top wine and food destination. Those are the peppers they bring to spice up your primi. I didn’t have time for a proper meal there but I can’t wait to get back (thanks again to Aburuzzo consortium marketing director Davide Acerra for hooking everything up!).

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