Wine Additives? No, Thanks! Discover Pievalta Winery’s Biodynamic Viticulture

Many winemakers use chemical additives to create a more complex structure to their wines. When done correctly, the results can be excellent. But there is another way. The Pievalta winery uses biodynamic viticulture that its founder, Alessandro Fenino, adopted from his experiences as an organic farmer.

Working exclusively with natural preparations including organic and vegetal compounds, Fenino says that he is able to encourage the growth of a fertile humus that will help revitalize plant growth. He does this by changing the way that he treats the soil, tilling between every other row and then ploughing it at the end of the harvest season. The rows are then planted with legumes that are worked back into the earth in the spring as a cover crop. Using “horn manure”, the humus is formed, which gives fertility to the soil using microorganisms. The vineyards are also sprayed with horn silica, and only copper and sulfur are used to protect vines from disease.

The result of Pievalta’s efforts is a certification by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture that the wines are free of pesticides, fungicides and insecticides. There are many ways to grow wine, and this return to the earth and soil is a special way to celebrate the particular flavors of the Verdicchio grapes.

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Credits: Wine Folly

Minerality in Wines: What Does it Mean?

Lettie Teague’s wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal on minerality in wines is a must-read.

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Credits: Wendy Macnaughton – “Minerality”: Drilling Down on Wine’s Buzzword

A new go-to word in the world of wine, “minerality” in wine for Teague is a wine that has flavors of slate or wet stone, even a slight bitterness. Sometimes minerality refers to the soil of the terroir, others say it is not a scientific term but an artistic term.

Teague gathers several “minerally” wines together and finds that she can describe them as fresh, lively with lots of acidity and “even possessed of an energetic buzz.”  

Indeed, the wines from the Pievalta winery capture just these same qualities in their bottles. As founder Alessandro Fenino says, “we don’t transform grapes into wine. We simply accompany the fruit as it becomes wine. We let the grapes express themselves freely.”

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Tasters new to Pievalta’s wines will find that their best selections follow Teague’s advice to the letter- fresh, with hints of citrus, herbs and the almost chalky taste from the limestone-rich soil where the Verdicchio vines are grown.

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:

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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!

Despite challenges, 2014 a promising vintage for Verdicchio say Slow Wine editors

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Above: “After 25 days, 11,529 crates of grapes, and 600 cups of espresso and meals sitting around the wine press,” wrote Pievalta general manager Silvia Loschi on the winery’s Facebook on October 8, “harvest 2015 is over!”

“The cold, rainy 2014 vintage posed many challenges” for Verdicchio growers write the editors of Slow Wine in a blog post published last week.

“But when it comes to the Superiore category, despite the difficulties of the harvest, there were many worthwhile results.”

Pievalta’s Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore Dominé was one of them.

“The wines have high acidity and deep minerality but they are also very complex.”

The Dominé was one of the wines tasted and cited recently by the editors in a report published on their blog.

And they also named it one of their 2016 guide’s “best everyday wines.”

Pievalta: Vineyard and Winery Tours

To book a vineyard and winery tour at Pievalta, please email general manager Silvia Loschi by clicking here.

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A journey from the vine to the glass.

Visiting the Pievalta winery means experiencing our hospitality and the beauty of our appellation. It means “breathing in” our winery, the first in the appellation to embrace biodynamic farming as a means to achieving high quality. We will take you for a walk among vines that are farmed biodynamically. We will visit the cellar, where the grapes become wine. And lastly, we will visit our veranda where you can look out onto our vines and taste our wines. They are the expression of the same earth where you will have walked just minutes earlier.

Winery tour options

“Terroir in the glass.”

Perfect for those who want to learn more about Verdicchio and understand its wonderful versatility.

Vineyard tour with winery history and a description of the soil characteristics in our vineyards.

Guided tasting of three wines made from Verdicchio grown in three different soil types (clay and limestone, sandy, and a mixture of the three).

Tour time: 30 minutes (in Italian or English).

“Full Immersion Biodynamics.”

Ideal for those who want to understand how biodynamic wine is made.

Vineyard tour with a talk on biodynanmic farming and a description of the soil characteristics in our vineyards.

Guided tasting of five wines made from Verdicchio.

Tour time: 1 hour 30 minutes (in Italian or English)

Pievalta: Biodynamic farming practices

Our new Pievalta profile series continues…

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Biodynamic Viticulture

“Balance and beauty, harmony and dynamism, luminosity and warmth. These are adjectives that can be used to describe the Marches (Marche) countryside. But they can also be used to describe the Marches’ favorite son, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. After being bewitched by the ancient rapport between this grape and this place, we decided we would begin farming Verdicchio using biodynamic practices.”

“We don’t transform grapes into wine. We simply accompany the fruit as it become wine. We always stay one step behind and we don’t intervene or use shortcuts that would interrupt its harmony with the place where it is made. Instead, we let the grapes express themselves freely. Anyone who travels through these hills will see and taste this.”

—Alessandro Fenino
founding partner
Pievalta

Biodynamic viticulture means bringing life into the vineyard by helping it to reactivate the forces that put it in relation with the sky and the earth. We work exclusively with natural preparations and organic and vegetal compounds so as to facilitate the formation of fertile humus and revitalize plant growth. This is the only way, in our view, to create a wine that truly expresses the unique character of the place where it is grown and the vintage.

Biodynamic practices

We till the soil between every other row and then plough it again at the end of the harvest. We plant these rows with essences (mostly legumes) that will be mowed and worked back into the earth in the spring (cover crop).

When we plant and then later when we mow, we spray the vineyards with preparation 500, which is one of the fundamental tools of biodynamics, the so-called “horn manure.” It gives the soil the impulse to form its humus, the layer of soil colloids that teems with microorganisms and imparts fertility to the soil.

Before flowering, and in any case before the summer solstice, we spray the vineyards with preparation 501 (or horn silica).

In order to protect the vines from disease, we use only sulfur and copper and the latter is used only in a maximum dosage of 3 kg per hectare per year (half of the maximum amount allowed in organic farming.

Organic certification

Organic farming is certified in Italy by entities that have been accredited by Italy Ministry of Agriculture. Our wines have been recognized as “organic agriculture” products by CSQA. This is why we freely share the results of the analyses of our wines. They prove that our wines are free of pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides.

We encourage you to take a look at the chemical analyses of our wines.

Top ranking for Pievalta in Slow Wine Magazine Verdicchio mini vertical

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Above: Pievalta landed in the Slow Wine editors’ “top ten” wines from 2004 and 2006 in a feature devoted to Verdicchio and its ability to produce fine, age-worthy white wines. That’s Pievalta general manager Silvia Loschi in one of the photos that accompanies the piece.

“Who says that Italian whites can’t stand up to the test of time?” ask the editors of Slow Wine Magazine in the current issue of the magazine (October-December 2014).

“A strong showing from the Marches certainly wasn’t unexpected from those who truly know Verdicchio.”

For this superb profile of Verdicchio and the two appellations that produce it (Castelli di Jesi and Matelica), the editors parse the various subzones and soil types, the traditional and newly emerging styles for the wines, and the top producers working today.

Out of 24 wines tasted from 2004 and 25 wines tasted from 2006, Pievalta landed in the editors’ top ten for both vintages (number 2 and number 3 respectively).

It’s a wonderful piece and we highly recommend it to you (in Italian and subscribers only, unfortunately).

Here’s what the editors had to say about the wines (English translations by our blogmaster):

Pievalta 2004 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico San Paolo Riserva

RANKED NUMBER 2 IN THE TOP TEN WINES TASTED.

There is a vibrant nose hiding behind the rich amber color of this wine. It’s markedly vertical in character, with notes of minerals, herbs, and anise that sing in harmony with the rich fruit flavors.

In the mouth, the wine is lean, fine, and reactive. It shows how fleshy Verdicchio can be extremely dynamic in fresh vintages.

The salty finish leaves lingering notes of candied fruit and anise.

Pievalta 2006 San Paolo IGT

RANKED NUMBER IN THE TOP TEN WINES TASTED.

One mustn’t be confused by the label: it reports a “table wine” classification, a designation owed to mere bureaucratic issues.

There’s a lot of Verdicchio packed into this bottle. And it’s the kind of Verdicchio that’s hard to forget.

An initial thread of aromatic evolution endows the yellow fruit, anise, and almond fabric of this wine with great appeal. The seductive mouth doesn’t weigh it down thanks to a salty weave that cohesively holds it together.