- Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy
Thank you to importer Louis/Dressner for this San Martino profile:
(Click here for Louis/Dressner's profile and winemaker interview on their website)
The San Martino wines came to our attention through our friend Nico at La Stoppa. We weren't necessarily looking for a winery from this area and really didn't know what to expect when we accepted to meet proprietor Lorenzo Piccin at our office. As he points out himself, people think of Aglianico and wines from the south of Italy as big, thick alcohol bombs: not exactly our specialty. But Denyse, Kevin and I were all impressed with what we tasted: deep, structured red wines that still manage to capture the finesse and elegance of a cool climate region. We also very much appreciated Lorenzo, a young, charming, charismatic and clearly passionate guy.
Aglianico del Vulture is unique region in every respect: the exclusive use of the Aglianico grape, high elevation, diverse geology, old vines, a continental climate despite being in the South of Italy... The list goes on. Almost as unique is the story of Lorenzo himself.
He is originally from from Montepulciano. Before he and his twin sister were born, Lorenzo's parents worked as sheep farmers. This proved too difficult with the kids around, so they sold all their animals and focused on making wine from the two hectares of Sangiovese attached to the property. The first vintage was in 1990, and very quickly the winery became one of the most famous in Tuscany. As their star rose, so did the Montepulciano's. By the late 90's, the family estate was surrounded by rich urbanites' vanity projects. It was once again too much to bear.
Lorenzo's parents agreed to sell the winery and start fresh elsewhere. Instead of uprooting the family, it was decided that they would stay in Tuscany and Lorenzo's father would travel back and forth. He'd long been a lover of the Aglianico grape and quickly fell for the charms of Basilicata. After finding some land, he founded the Grifalco project in 2004.
During this time, Lorenzo finished high school, went to university in Turin, got married and started a family there. But his goal was always to make wine, and after studying oenology and viticulture, he felt compelled to create his own estate. He'd already been helping out at Grifalco and felt the Vulture region (yes, it's named after the bird of prey) was a fascinating area, so he decided to rent six hectares and start his own estate. He currently splits his time between Turin and Basilicata, taking a 12 hour night bus every two to three weeks to handle everything in the vines and cantina.
As mentioned earlier, the region is actually quite cool and dry; harvests usually start in mid-october, probably the latest in all of Italy. This is due to San Martino's vineyards being between 500 and 600 meters above sea level and the constant dry winds coming from the Tyrrhenian Sea. In such, working organically is very easy as the steady, cold winds keep illness at a minimum. San Martino has been certified organic since its inception in 2008, and Lorenzo feels is not too challenging: he only treats three or four times a year in a four month period from April to July. The soils are a diverse, ever alternating mix of lava, ash, sand and river stones. Most of the vines are between 20 and 40 years old, with 1.5 hectares over 80.
In the cellar, the wines are made in a gentle, infusion style to avoid extraction. Everything is very instinctive, with pump-overs, minimal additions of S02 and a single racking being the only interventions. Micro-parcels of all ages are vinified separately; after a year of elevage, Lorenzo decides which to blend to produce the estate's three wines. SIIR tends to come from the youngest vines and is meant as an introduction to Aglianico del Vulture. Arberekso is more of a classic expression, with intentionally longer elevage in tonneau and bottle and usually the comes from older vines. Kamai is a tiny riserva from the estate's oldest vines and sees the longest aging in barrel. All three capture the unique set of circumstances that make Vulture one of Italy's most outlying, interesting appellations.