Soil: Wine’s X Factor

When we think about all the factors that shape our experience of wine – climate conditions, sun exposure, irrigation, yeast selection, vine treatments, natural and chemical additives – it is easy to conjure up an image of vineyards, barrels of wine fermenting in a cellar, a winemaker testing for quality and deciding when to bottle the latest vintage.

What is harder to imagine is another factor, literally millions of years in the making, determined long before wine – or even humans – existed on the earth: soil.

How much impact does soil really have on a wine, and how can we understand that impact?

Luiz Alberto, writer behind The Wine Hub blog and founder of the #winelover virtual community, explains it this way: “Arguably, the 2 most important factors of a soil, for the purpose of growing grapes and making wine, are its structure and texture. These two components will cause a vine to grow and produce grapes differently. In principle, the percentages of clay, sand, silt, loam, and rock present in the soil will determine the grape varieties that would be well suited to produce grapes of the best quality for that specific site.”

According to Alberto, the composition of the soil determines which wines are best suited to a specific sites, which is why certain regions and even certain plots of land come to be closely associated with a specific grape variety.

Soil may be one of the reasons why Le Marche is the ideal home of the Verdicchio grape – and one of the factors that makes Pievalta’s San Paolo Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG so exquisite.

The San Paolo vineyard is located on Monte Follonica in the town of Cupramontana, in the province of Ancona, indicated in light blue on this map:

Mappa_delle_Vigne draw2

The soils there are rather loose, characterized by sandstone that dates back to the Pliocene era – 2.5-5.3 million years ago. In antiquity, the area was covered by the Adriatic sea, and the currents of sand that formed these soils came mostly from the Alpine range.

According to the “Strada del Gusto” website of the comune of Cupramontana, the grapes of this zone maintain a bright freshness and intriguing salinity. This helps explain the principal characteristics of Riserva San Paolo; these soils yield extremely complex wines, with a long finish and deep notes of ripe fruit and honey.

While there are some who dispute the importance of soil in shaping the profile of a wine, others, like Alberto, agree that the uniqueness of each plot of soil is that certain X factor that makes great wines truly one-of-a-kind:

“Even if some specialists will argue that the influence of the soil is not as dramatic in wine quality as those presented by the climatic conditions of a region … to a certain extent soil can influence wine quality with its own positive or negative characteristics and the viticultural practices used to optimize the positive ones, and reduce or even eliminate the negative traits,” Alberto writes.

In the case of Pievalta, nature and culture combine in a remarkable way: methodical biodynamic winemaking principles put into practice on a territory characterized by ancient, high quality soils perfectly suited to Le Marche’s native grapes.


Italian Wine List 101

We’ve all been there – you sit down to enjoy a meal at a new restaurant with a group of friends, and the waiter hands you all menus and fills your water glass. He then sets down on the table a hefty wine list – a binder full of sheets in plastic sleeves, a booklet of absurdly fine print, an oversized laminated card of indecipherable names, places, and prices. Your dining companions nudge it in your direction. “Pick whatever you want!” they say with cheerfully feigned innocence, happy to pass off the work to you as the wine enthusiast of the group.

You crack open the booklet and start to scan the list, and realize the enormity of the task before you. Somehow, you’re expected to quickly digest pages of information, and make a choice that will satisfy a group of individuals with different tastes, who will be eating different meals, all without missing a beat in the conversation.

And for all its merits, Italian wine can often be the most complex of all to understand. Italy has at least 550 native grapes – and by some estimates, up to twice as many more that haven’t yet been documented – which is more than the number of grapes native to Spain, Greece, and France combined. Add to that 20 different regions, innumerable microclimates, and a dizzying number of denominations, and the result can be difficult for even a seasoned wine pro to digest.20-italian-wine-regions

Dr. Ian D’Agata, arguably the worldwide expert on Italian grape varietals, has spent years exploring all those layers of Italian wine complexity; his research is compiled in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014). “I think when it comes to Italian wines, the best thing to know is the grape varieties and what kinds of wines they can make. Everyone is comfortable with Merlot and Chardonnay because they know, more or less, what the wine they are buying will be like. It’s a comfort thing,” says D’Agata. “So you need to know the general characteristics of some of Italy’s best and most common varieties, such as whites like Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio, and Arneis, and red grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Nero d’Avola.”

Familiarity with various grape varietals comes with experience, which can be enhanced by wine tasting classes. D’Agata teaches seminars on Italian native grapes as part of the Vinitaly International Academy, an educational initiative aimed at increasing understanding of Italian wine around the world.

But for a basic introduction, Wine Folly has created a handy guide to deciphering an Italian wine list, by breaking down the four pieces of information contained in a typical menu description of a wine: producer, wine type, region, and vintage.Pievalta 2 draw

Producer – Knowing who the producer is – or even just what type of producer it is – will help you understand if the wine is rare, easy to find, organically produced, etc. In this case, Pievalta is the first and only biodynamic producer of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, so you know you’ll be getting a wine made according to the strict Demeter standards.

Type of Wine – A producer can give his or her wine its own unique name, but Italian wines are often named for a region, or a sub-region, which is classified according to certain production rules. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi must contain a minimum of 85% Verdicchio with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes rounding out the rest.

Region – Italy has 20 regions, and each one specializes in certain grapes or wine types. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a traditional, and highly prized, wine of the Le Marche region.

Vintage – Like all produce in Italy, the climate conditions of each year affects the wine; and for red wines, generally the tannins mellow with age.

Mastering the rich complexity of Italy’s many wine grapes, styles, and regions would take a lifetime; luckily there is an Italian wine for every occasion along the way!

@volta_boulder, the newest entry in one of America’s leading food & wine cities

best greek restaurant colorado

Above: as the owners of Volta write on their Facebook, “food is love made visual.”

In the minds of many U.S.-based food and wine professionals, Boulder, Colorado is one of the nation’s leading food meccas and one of its epicenters for gastronomy.

Outside of Las Vegas, this easy-going, green-leaning university town has more Master Sommeliers per capita than any other U.S. city. And the concentration of fine dining restaurants is arguably higher than anywhere else in the country.

Late last year, Boulder food scene veterans Jon and Eleni Deering launched Volta, a Mediterranean restaurant inspired in part by Eleni’s Greek origins.

As their press page reveals, the restaurant has been a huge hit, even in a town where restaurant-goers are spoiled by a wealth of great options.

Perusing Jon’s superb list, it’s clear that he has a penchant for thoughtful wines that have been raised free of chemicals.

We proud to share the news that the Pievalta sparkling Veridcchio, Perlugo, is included.

And we can’t recommend the restaurant highly enough.

2480 Canyon Blvd
Boulder, CO 80302
(303) 938-8800
Google map

Image via the Volta Facebook.

Pievalta San Paolo Riserva sweeps Italian guides with top ratings

alessandro fenino silvano brescianini

Above: Pievalta grape grower and winemaker Alessandro Fenino (left) and Barone Pizzini-Pievalta general manager Silvano Brescianini received their “Three Glass” award from the prestigious Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy yesterday in Rome.

With wine guide season in full swing in Italy, we are thrilled to report that the Pievalta 2010 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva San Paolo has received both the coveted “Three Glass” award from the Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy and the “Prize for Excellence” from the L’Espresso Guide to the Wines of Italy, obtaining the highest score of any wine in its category.

Not a bad week for the little winery that could!

Congratulations to Alessandro Fenino and Pievalta for a superb job! And congratulations to the entire team at Barone Pizzini-Pievalta for a much deserved accolade!

Pievalta is Castelli di Jesi’s first Demeter-certified biodynamic estate.

Harvest in Castelli di Jesi has begun!

A note from Pievalta manager Silvia Loschi:


On Friday, we sampled the grapes for a third time and decided that the moment had arrived to begin picking.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. (Tuesday, September 3, 2013), we assembled the whole team (Alessandro, Gianlcua, Mitico, and Roberto) and began picking in the “Veranda” vineyard.

These grapes will be vinified as the base wine for our sparkling wine.

It was planted in 2009 and it’s called “Veranda” because it lies just below the veranda we use as our tasting room.


Here at Pievalta, the harvest is done exclusively by hand.

The grapes are picked by hand and then placed in small crates. The size of the crates allows only for a maximum weight of 18 kg.

There are 16 workers in the vineyards who do the picking. They prepare the crates, which are then loaded on to a cart that we bring to the press.


Tomorrow we also plan to begin picking the grapes in our young vineyard in San Paolo di Iesi, also planted in 2009.

You can feel the excitement of harvest in the air!

—Silvia Loschi

A classic harvest expected in Castelli di Jesi


A note from Pievalta winery manager Silvia Loschi:

Here’s a photo [above] of Verdicchio grapes taken today in our Moie vineyard.

We’ve been preparing for the 2013 harvest this week.

We started by checking and cleaning the press, tanks, and pumps.

On Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., we began sampling berries in the Moie and San Paolo vineyards.

The grapes are still ripening and the analysis tells us that we still need to wait for for the beginning of the harvest.

Finally, after two early harvests in 2011 and 2012, we’re looking forward to a more classic date for harvesting our Verdicchio.

Pievalta at @LArtusi leader in the new wave of Italians TY @JoeCampanale

joe campanale karen campanale

Above: New York restaurateur Joe Campanale (right) and his mother, the lovely Karen Campanale in a photo taken at L’Anfora, Joe’s wine bar concept, in 2010.

Even when you see it “on paper” and peruse his bio, it’s spell-binding to see Joe Campanale’s meteoric rise in the New York restaurant scene. In the 2007, as he was completing a Master Degree in Food Science at New York University, he opened his first restaurant, dell’anima. Today, he and his partners own and manage four of New York’s hottest restaurants: L’Artusi, Anfora, and L’Apicio are the others.

Joe has appeared on numerous television cooking and food shows and he is widely considered one of the top authorities on Italian wine in the U.S. today (he is also working toward achieving his Master of Wine degree from the Institute of Masters of Wine).

joe campanale apicio

Above: L’Apicio is the newest entry in Joe’s restaurant empire.

But it is L’Artusi — perhaps more than any other (and Joe ain’t done yet!) — that has become an icon and benchmark of the Italian gastronomic scene in New York.

Earlier this year, Zagat named L’Artusi one of New York’s “best Italian restaurants.

And it’s just one of those restaurants that you don’t want to miss when dine your way through Italian New York.

We are very proud that the Pievalta 2009 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva San Paolo appears on L’Artusi’s list.

Thank you, Joe, for supporting our wines and thank you for all that you have done for Italian wine in the U.S.

A lighter and “greener” bottle for Verdicchio

best bottle format wine

Earlier this year, we bottled the 2012 Pievalta Verdicchio at the winery in Castelli di Jesi using a new bottle format that weighs significantly less than one used for the last vintage.

The new bottle weighs only 460 grams, 90 grams less than the previous (which weighed 550 grams, a reduction of 17 percent).

The new format will help to reduce greenhouse gasses, particularly carbon dioxide, because it reduces the amount of energy needed to produce the bottle and it also reduces the energy needed to transport it.

It’s a small step but an important one for people like us, who have always made the environment and its well-being a priority in our daily work.

Terroir Marche: a new group of organic growers in Jesi

best verdicchio jesi

Above: The village of Maiolati Spontini is home to the Pievalta winery (one of the houses in the Barone Pizzini group). Castelli di Jesi is rapidly becoming one of Italy’s epicenters for organic and biodynamic farming practices.

In May of this year — on May 1, to be precise, a date with great symbolic and historic significance for many Italians — the Pievalta winery became one of the founding estates of a new group of organic wine growers: Terroir Marche.

In its own words, the group’s mission is to “promote awareness of organic farming in the Marches [Le Marche], to defend the territory and its resources, and to share the culture and practices of a sustainable and humane economy.”

Pievalta is one of the self-financed group’s five founding estates and it shares its belief that “the farmer is the primary source of our daily nourishment and is a pillar among those who safeguard the environmental landscape, the true but neglected patrimony of Italy.”

The group held its first official event on June 24 (a presentation of the association and a tasting of its members wines) and we’ll be looking forward to future events (and will post them here on the Barone Pizzini blog).

@InsideIWM Italian Wine Merchants NYC recommends Pievalta

best verdicchio castelli jesi

“This 26-hectare estate is split between two vineyards located about an hour inland by car from the coastal city of Ancona, in Le Marche region. The estate focuses solely on the Verdicchio grape and utilizes it in several styles, from sparkling to sweet to dry wines. This is their ‘flagship’ if you will, and this vibrant, well-structured white has plenty of zip, and it will accompany any of your summertime dishes off the grill.”

—Garrett Kowalsky
Italian Wine Merchants
New York City