Emilia-Romagna and Umbria seen through the lens of sustainability
By Francesco Saverio Russo - Photographs: Courtesy of the estates, posted on 27 February 2023
Only the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Umbria are missing from our journey through Italy's wine-growing regions. We visit them and place particular emphasis on their sustainability efforts.
Emilia-Romagna - A region with two souls, but both dedicated to sustainability
Tenuta Pederzana grows a particular clone of Lambrusco Grasparossa, namely Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, which lends its name to the local DOC.
As its name suggests, Emilia-Romagna is a region with two souls, characterised by plains covering the upper half and the Apennine mountains in the lower half.
The climate is mostly continental, with cold winters and hot summers, and becomes almost Mediterranean as you approach the coast. On the plains, the seasons are characterised by high humidity (which becomes fog in winter), while the Adriatic side, thanks also to favourable sea breezes, enjoys milder temperatures on average.
Viticulture develops in a long strip that starts from the Piacentini hills, bordering the Oltrepò Pavese area in Lombardy, and reaches the border with the Marche region, following the famous Via Emilia.
In terms of the grape varieties cultivated in the region, Emilia-Romagna is also divided in two. In Emilia, in the Piacenza area, the most widespread grape varieties are black grapes such as Barbera and Croatina (Gutturnio DOC) and white grapes such as the aromatic Malvasia di Candia and Moscato bianco, as well as the indigenous Ortrugo. International varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italico and Müller-Thurgau are also widespread. The Parma area is more white-wine driven. The provinces of Reggio-Emilia and Modena are home to Lambrusco: Salamino, Maestri, Marani, Montericco, Sorbara and Grasparossa (Ancellotta is also very present in these areas). In the Bologna area we find Pignoletto, giving rise to the local DOCG Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto. In the Ferrara area, we find the black grape Fortana (Bosco Eliceo DOC).In Romagna, the most important grape variety is, of course, Sangiovese, which is flanked by Trebbiano Romagnolo, Pagadebit and the noble Albana, which gives rise to Albana di Romagna DOCG.
As evidence of the variety of Emilia-Romagna production and the focus on sustainability, here is a selection of wineries in the region.
Branchini 1858 - 160 years of history
The story of this winery began in 1858 when the Branchini family moved from Siena to Toscanella di Dozza (Bologna) in the industrious Emilia Romagna region.
It is precisely here that multiple generations of the family have continued to follow a shared vision and today the company is run by the fourth generation, Marco, the family oenologist, and Angelo, an agricultural expert.
All stages of grape production and vinification are carried out on the estate. The agronomic approach is geared towards maintaining the balance of the vines, avoiding any forced biological processes.
In the cellar, the use of modern technologies allow vinification in full respect of the fruit, aiming to highlight the identity of the vines in this territory.
Branchini adopts integrated pest management, searching for solutions with the lowest environmental impact every year. The grapes cultivated are Albana, Sangiovese and Pignoletto. From these three grapes, sparkling, still and reserve wines are produced, as well as passito wines. Albana is the queen which produces four different wines: a classic method, a dry white wine and two passito wines.
The balance that is sought in the vineyard is the philosophy behind the production of their wines. Each vineyard is vinified separately using different techniques depending on the grapes and the result to be obtained, with the aim of unleashing the natural potential of each variety.
The key markets in addition to Italy are Germany and the United States.
In 1858, the Branchini family of 'Galavolta' chose to move from Tuscany to Emilia-Romagna. Thus began the history of this historic winery.
Branchini's vineyard management techniques focus on maitaining balance in the vines, whilst avoiding too much forced intervention.
Azienda Celli - Over 50 years of history of two families devoted to quality
Founded in 1963, Azienda Celli has been owned by the Sirri and Casadei families, nicknamed BRON & RUSÈVAL, since 1965. In 1985 the facilities underwent a renovation which sparked the adoption of a new philosophy geared towards the constant search for quality and typicality.
Mauro Sirri runs Azienda Celli with Emanuele Casadei, following in the footsteps of their two families, nicknamed bron and rusèval, who founded the company.
In 1995, the company acquired and planted new vineyards and the company now boasts 35 hectares of vineyards located around the village of Bertinoro. Production consists of the most representative types of Bertinoro terroir: Sangiovese, Albana, Pagadebit, Trebbiano and a small production of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Today, the company is run by Mauro Sirri, who looks after the agronomic and commercial side, and Emanuele Casadei, who looks after the oenological side. Together these owners represent a rare and excellent example of generational continuity in Bertinoro wine production. Thanks to their experience with more than 55 vintages, the company distinguishes itself through its wines. The "La Massa" vine gives more body and structure, "Cellaimo" produces more savoury wines, "Maestrina" gives great elegance and balance and "Campi di Fratta" produces fresh and mineral wines.
A determined love for the land resulted in the conversion of all the vineyards to organic farming in 2018, while in 2020 the company achieved BIO certification for the grapes and the winemaking processes in the cellar.
The company exports its wines to Asia (Japan, China, the Philippines), North America (Canada and USA) and throughout Europe.
Settecani - Almost 100 years as a model of Italian cooperation
Cantina Settecani was founded in 1923 in the hamlet of Settecani, on the border of the Modenese towns of Castelvetro, Castelnuovo Rangone and Spilamberto. Here, almost 100 years ago, 48 farmers decided to join forces to give rise to what is now considered one of the most significant cooperatives in Emilia-Romagna and Italy.
Today there are 180 members and they work 400 hectares of vineyards from which approximately 1 million bottles are produced each year.
The vineyards of Cantina Settecani's members, where Lambrusco (mainly Grasparossa) reigns supreme, are mainly located in the hilly area of Castelvetro (the town that gives its name to the DOC). The presence of sandy clays rich in limestone, together with permeable and lean soils, create perfect areas to enhance the varieties and types produced by the winery.Cantina Settecani is committed to a path aimed at achieving sustainability that involves all its spheres of operation. In order to do this, it has decided to join the VIVA project, created with the aim of measuring and improving the sustainability performance of the vine-wine supply chain, and the Minerva project, which intends to implement sustainability practices and protocols in the integrated wine supply chain of the Lambrusco and Pignoletto hillside district.
In addition, an improvement programme has been implemented that envisages the reduction of environmental impacts and the improvement of the outcome of the VIVA sustainability indicators, in a project that starts from the countryside and involves the entire supply chain, up to the winery itself. The winery has also implemented measures to improve energy performance, selected packaging that is less heavy and has less impact on the environment, and implemented occupational safety for its staff. From 2019 Cantina Settecani has extended the VIVA certification to the entire company. Lambrusco (Grasparossa, Sorbara and Salamino) and Pignoletto wines, as well as a small production of Trebbiano dell'Emilia and Sangiovese are sold in Italy to the hotel and restaurant sector, as well as through direct sales both physically and online. Approximately 30% is exported to Japan, the USA, Norway, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, China and Taiwan.
The name "Settacini" dates back to the 12th century and is name after a legend where seven workers were turned into dogs as punishment for swearing in front of religious procession.
Cantina Settecani's soils are mainly clay and sand wich is rich in limestone and ideal for enhancing the main grape varieties, including Lambrusco Grasparossa and Pignoletto.
Tenuta Pederzana and its unique plant heritage
Tenuta Pederzana is located in the Emilian hills of the medieval village of Castelvetro di Modena. The winery was founded after the war by winegrower Franco Simonini and specialises in the production of Lambrusco. Tenuta Pederzana, in particular, cultivates and produces a unique clone of Lambrusco Grasparossa, which gives rise to Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro.
The vineyards enjoy optimal exposure and, at the same time, are cooled by currents favouring considerable temperature ranges that enhance the aromatic profile and phenolic maturation of Lambursco Grasparossa.
Today, Tenuta Pederzana is led by Francesco Ghibellini (the third generation of winemakers) and can be described as a modern winery that respects traditions. Full respect is also paid to the territory with great attention in the vineyard and the use of modern winemaking methods that transport the truest favours of the grapes into the bottle, including an experiment linked to the production of wine without added sulphites.
In addition to Italy, the main market for Tenuta Pederzana wines is the USA, where they are very successful.
Francesco Gibellini is the third generation of winegrowers and is now the owner of Tenuta Pederzana.
Umbria - 'Green' by nature
This small region nestled in the centre of the Italian peninsula is called the 'green heart of Italy' for its lush landscapes of alternating vineyards, olive groves, arable land and forests. The region is a rare example of the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of the territory that sees wineries at the forefront in the valorisation of this natural wealth.
This area has been a pioneer in the development of organic farming since the 1980s. Today, most wineries operate organically or use integrated pest management, implementing low-impact agronomic actions.
The territory is 71% hilly and the remaining part mountainous. The area enjoys relatively mild winters and hot, dry summers, with wide temperature ranges, well-distributed rainfall and rare late frosts, and is therefore suited to viticulture.
The white grapes grown in the region include Malvasia Bianca, Trebbiano Toscano, Verdello, Canaiolo Bianco, Procanico and Trebbiano Spoletino (rediscovered a few years ago.) The red grapes grown include Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo Nero, Montepulciano, Barbera, the Gamay del Trasimeno (Grenache) and, in particular, Sagrantino. There are also some international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.
The main DOC wines of the region are Assisi, Colli Altotiberini, Colli Amerini, Colli del Trasimeno, Colli Martani, Colli Perugini, Lago di Corbara, Montefalco, Orvieto, Rosso Orvietano and Torgiano. The most important denominations are Torgiano Rosso Riserva Docg and Montefalco Sagrantino Docg, with the latter being a true reference point for the entire region.
We have therefore selected four sustainable companies in the Sagrantino area which give added value.
Mevante - Sustainability and stylistic precision
The Mevante winery, established in the 1990s, is located in the hills of Bevagna, in the heart of the Sagrantino di Montefalco production area.
The estate, owned by siblings Paolo and Antonella Presciutti, is a single body of 10 east-facing hectares. The winery’s name is taken from a combination of the ancient name of Bevagna (Mevania) and from the "Levante" exposure.
The vineyards are managed in a sustainable and 'organic' manner with the use of green manure to nourish the vines without the use of chemical synthesis fertilisers. Pruning is done strictly by hand, while the selective work done in the vineyard reduces the need for oenological interventions. The wines also have very low levels of sulphur dioxide.
The cellar is spread over two floors and takes advantage of this conformation to be able to carry out racking, putting less stress on the wine and enabling the aromas to be better preserved, as well as using less energy.
The wine ageing rooms are underground and consequently the temperature and humidity are naturally controlled, which favours slow and natural ageing and a lower environmental impact due, again, to lower energy consumption.
To date, annual production stands at around 60,000 bottles between Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, Montefalco Rosso DOC, Grechetto DOC and an IGT from 100% Trebbiano Spoletino grapes.
Mevante's key markets are the USA, northern Europe, Canada and ultimately the Italian market with a particular focus on Umbria.
In the Mevante vineyards, the grape harvest usually begins in the last week of September which is unusual for the area.
At Mevante the maturation cellars are underground, allowing natural temperature and humidity control and favouring slow, gradual ageing with very low energy cosumption.
The Mevante wine cellar, built to a modern and sustainable concept, is on two floors and uses this configuration to conduct racking.
Montioni - Tradition and innovation in Montefalco
The Montioni family has been producing wine and oil in the Montefalco area of Umbria since 1978. This region has a long history of wine and olive production, and at Montioni the team makes use of these traditions blended with modern innovations to improve the quality of the company's products.
Today, the company team is young and dynamic, with an average age of only 39.
The company cultivates Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Merlot and Grechetto grapes, and with these it produces Grechetto in purity, Montefalco Rosso and 3 types of Sagrantino, one of which is a passito wine, the second is a 'classic' one obtained from the grapes of all the Sagrantino vineyards, and the other, selected from the company's best vineyard, is dedicated to the children of Paolo Montioni (the owner of the company) and his wife Sara. The wine is called Ma.Gia after the initials of their children Matteo and Giacomo.
The vineyards are managed organically, with a great deal of mainly manual work in the vineyard. Zoning and geological analyses have been completed across the whole site to ensure that any agricultural and agronomic operations are carried out in accordance with the needs of the individual area.
The company exports 95% of its products to markets such as the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Ireland.
The Azienda agricola Montiono was established in 1978 in umbria and is now run by a team of young people who look to the future while respecting tradition.
The Montioni farm's vineyards are managed organically with most tasks performed by hand.
La Veneranda - A female-run winery
La Veneranda is an exclusively female-run winery led by Eleonora Alessandrelli and Anna Rita Scarca, who continue the work started by their families of enhancing the wines of Montefalco and cultivating 20 hectares of vineyards with passion, dedication and respect.
Grechetto and Sagrantino grapes are cultivated in a 2 hectare plot in the Spoleto area, which are used for the production of IGT wines. Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Merlot and Grechetto are mainly cultivated in the Montefalco vineyards and used to produce Montefalco DOC Grechetto, Montefalco DOC Rosso, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG Passito wines.
The awareness that nature's resources are not inexhaustible, and the desire to give future generations an environment which hasn’t been ruined by immoderate consumption, have led the family to focus on a sustainable form of agriculture that respects the environment and uses a combination of preventive measures to protect the grapes and strict control measures. These include maintaining the̮ integrity of the soil, pruning and managing leaf cover to achieve the right balance between plant development and yield, better light penetration and effective ventilation of the grapes and the presence of a wooded area around the vineyards providing an important green lung for the protection of biodiversity. The company also makes use of renewable energy.
In the cellar, animal products are avoided in favour of mineral and vegetable clarifiers, no plastic is used for wine tastings and all the machines are powered by renewable energy.
La Veneranda wines are mainly sold in Italy, both to the hotel and restaurant sectors and to private buyers, while a small number of bottles are exported to countries including the United States, Puerto Rico, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
La Veneranda is located adjacent to the medieval town of Monfefalco.
The origins of the founding family of La Veneranda are rooted in Montefalco where they have lived and worked the land since 1568.
Arnaldo Caprai - The rediscovery of Sagrantino
It was 1971 when Arnaldo Caprai, already an Umbrian entrepreneur in the textile sector, decided to invest in wine production in Montefalco. He paved the way for the true rediscovery of Sagrantino, with the current CEO Marco Caprai later ensuring this winery became the absolute leader.
A profound knowledge of viticulture and love for the territory are the common thread running through the entire production, which produces wines which stand out for their finesse, quality and class that remain constant over time. Caprai was among the first wineries in Italy to adopt a territorial sustainability protocol (New Green Revolution) and is now certified as an Equalitas Sustainable Organisation. Since 2020, a Sustainability Report has been published on the company website, documenting all the initiatives adopted over the years for the environmental, social and economic management of the company.
In addition to Sagrantino, the company cultivates Sangiovese and Grechetto grapes (and small parcels of Merlot, Pinot Nero, Chardonnay and Sauvignon) as the basis of the DOC Montefalco Rosso and Colli Martani Grechetto respectively. Their top wine is Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and most of their 36 vineyards, set in six different mesoclimates, are dedicated to its production.
The company has been advised by Michel Rolland since 2015. Since 1989, it has been working with the University of Milan in the field of agronomic and oenological research focusing on experimentation with the Sagrantino vine. Since 2008, this collaboration has led to the development of 'sustainable agriculture 4.0', based on the use of technologies to reduce the environmental impact and the impact of increasingly variable weather conditions, and thus improve the productivity of the company.
70% of Caprai's wines are sold in Italy, mainly in the hotel and restaurant sector. The remaining 30% is mainly exported to the United States and the European Union, but small quantities are also exported to China, Switzerland, Canada, Thailand and South Korea.
Marco Caprai decided in 1988 to focus entirely on Arnaldo Caprai Società aAgricola S.R.L., of wich he is now managing director.
Sagrantino grapes are historically suited to drying for the production to excellent sweet red passito wines.
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