It might be obvious based on the selection at Heaven's and past Wine Clubs that I have a strong preference toward French and Californian wine. Everyone has an area of strength and expertise (and preference), and those two would be mine. But this month I am bringing you wines from two of my favorite Italian producers: Maria Ernesta Berucci and Cascina degli Ulivi. Two bottles members will get one of each wine, while four bottle members will get two from each.
The format of this month's write up is going to be a little different. First, we'll start with an Italian wine map so everyone can place themselves. We'll be drinking wines from Lazio in central Italy, as well as Piemonte, or Piedmont in English, in the north.
Maria Ernesta Berucci
Piglio, Lazio, Italy
In 2008 Maria Ernesta moved from Rome to Lazio to follow in the footsteps of her pioneering father, Manfredi Berucci of the Massimi Berucci Company. She began by taking a deep exploration of the grape Cesanese (which everyone will be drinking in the 'Raphael Rosso'), and vinified her first wine 'L'Onda' with her brother in 2009. L'Onda 2019 is the first cuvee I tried of hers, which inspired my love of her wines. Besides the quality of the wine and its intensity, I was also interested in the type of farming that Maria Ernesta practices.
In all of my time working in natural wine and sustainable agriculture, I'd never heard of "Homeopathic farming", and to this day have not heard of anyone else doing it. I'm going to do my best to explain it without bias, just so far as I understand the practice has been described by practitioners and skeptics alike. The basic principle of homeopathics is twofold: First, that water has memory, and second that effective drugs produce symptoms similar to the symptoms caused by the diseases they treat, called "the law of similars" (this conclusion is not based in the scientific method). Basically, to treat Malaria, you need to invoke symptoms similar to that which you'd experience if you had malaria. You do this through dilution. aIn essence, she is applying these principles to her vines' needs.
Here's what she has to say:
Holo-homeopathy, a term coined by Radko Tichavsky, is nothing but homeopathy applied to plants, or agro-homeopathy, but with a systemic rather than symptomatic view of agronomic problems. In fact it refers to the concept of “holon”, coined by Arthur Koestler in 1968, intended as a complex system that has its own individuality, composed of subsystems and at the same time being part of a higher order system.
As developed by Radko Tichavsky, the homeopathic method is based on the concept of metabolic similarity, or secondary metabolites used in various ways by living organisms (both vegetable and animal) to communicate among them, thus defining their degree of interaction inside the farm.
The holo-homeopathic method allows the control and management of vital processes in agriculture through the application of highly diluted natural substances.
Parasites and plant pathologies of various origins and nature are managed by stimulating the natural resistance already present in the agrarian system through the use of homeopathic treatments.
This methodology allows us to meet the three pillars of sustainability:
1. Economic, with a drop of homeopathic remedy we get dozens of liters of product;
2. Environmental, avoiding the use of chemical substances such as fertilizers, pesticides, etc.;
3. social, as we produce foods that are free of toxic substances but are rich in nutraceutical properties.
She also does something called Dynamolysis
(this is a visual thing so you'll have to click the link). As you've probably deduced, she and her partner are extremely heady.
Cascina degli Ulivi
Novi Ligure, Piemonte, Italy
"The Cascina, more than a simple farm, is a unique reality founded on the coexistence between people, animals and crops."
Words from the domaine and the late producer: Cascina degli Ulivi has belonged to the Bellotti family since 1930: Stefano decided to live here in contact with the land, in the silence and extraordinary beauty of this countryside. “I started working in agriculture in 1977, at the age of 19, taking over the small family business where there was no more than one hectare of vineyard left and - with the help and teaching of an elderly neighbour, illiterate but passionate and competent , Pietro Toccalino - I started making wine 'without oenology'”.
Even though I come from a Genoese family, I grew up in Acqui Terme, which was a totally agricultural town in the sixties...In the past, Acqui was surrounded by vineyards. In the first century AD, the Romans came to get wine here. I remember as a child and a young boy - it was the era of property developers and building speculation - every time a digger came to put down a bucket, amphorae were coming out from all over Acqui. But by the hundreds. And we children would go on our bicycles to see the show. They were taking out amphorae everywhere. The city was a very flourishing Roman city. Wine in Monferrato it was everywhere, it was part of everyday experience. I remember that it was bottled at home because the wine was brought in a demijohn. It was a ritual that my mother tended to take care of and that fascinated me a lot. I gave her a hand and the scent of the The wine intoxicated me. I always asked to taste it. My father always gave me a drop. That scent was fascinating. As for the harvests, I started later. The Cascina degli Ulivi had already become the property of my family and we came here every day. summer. I began to actively participate in the harvest starting in 1969, when I was 11 years old.
As far as wine is concerned, I was lucky enough to meet the last farmers, the ancestral ones, let's say, heirs of very ancient knowledge and custodians of ancestral practices. They taught me things that I could never learn again. I consider this inheritance one of my capitals...
I certainly found myself at a crossroads because on the one hand there was so-called modernity that pushed me to go in one direction and, on the other, there was my instinct that pushed me to go in the opposite direction. I chose organic without hesitation because I had an ecologist background. At the time there was no talk of organic and, even less, of biodynamics. My choice was not only instinctive but was also anchored to political reasons. Seeing that the farmer - who for me is by definition the freest person there is, because he lives in the open air and has to deal with plants, with the sky, with rain, with snow; which man can feel freer than a farmer? - he now had the noose around his neck with the blackmail of "buy a bag", then buy another, then buy another, to create a total dependence on the chemical-pharmaceutical industry - it made me suspicious. But it was a tough battle.
"Largely responsible for the legitimization of biodynamic viticulture and the eschewing of modern oenology since the early 1980's, his vision has inspired a generation of younger vignaioli. In a world determined to categorize and explain everything with science, Stefano preached holism. Even more impressive, he showed us how to buck the system, to voice dissent and fight back against the commodification of nature and agriculture. In so many ways, Stefano has played a key role in our evolution and approach to the wines we import." - Louis Dressner
Sadly, Stefano passed away mid-harvest in 2018, but his vision continues on through his family winery.
Maria Ernesta Berucci
Rosso del Frusinate '21
The label art features a watercolor sketch from family friend Antonietta Raphael Mafai, who created them for an exhibit curated by Maria Ernesta's family in the early 70's.
This wine is boozy (14.5%) and cozy, with gentle, velvety tannin It's perfect for a dinner party or a night in with a book or a movie. The finish has a slight bitterness to it that will keep you alert and prevents this wine from feeling too weighty. After drinking half the bottle I wrote it has a 'restrained Italian sensibility'. Whatever that means.
Cascina degli Ulivi
Bellotti Rosa '22
Assembled from a variety of biodynamically farmed plots, this wine is meant to be drank young and with friends. It's extremely delicious winter-weather appropriate rose. For those of you that fear rose, this drinks similarly to a light red. There is tons of red fruit, with some medicinal notes, and spiced citrus as well.
Stefano said… “A surprise for a rosé! Much more elegant than you might expect. It has great energy, perhaps due to the slightly bitter final touch that wakes you up. It's easy to approach, yet has a beautiful complexity that makes it so enjoyable.”
Cascina degli Ulivi
Montemarino is a full biodynamic vineyard located at the top of one of the highest hills in Gavi with clay-limestone soils and brialliant southern exposure. The grapes are harvested by hand in late September through early October. 100% Cortese. This wine is "rich, complex and spicy; it is the stimulating and straight character of Cortese, with aromas of ripe fruit, pleasant softness, especially after 2 or 3 years"
Stefano said, “Montemarino is the mysterious feminine soul. Fascinating, indefinable, unobtainable. That he is everywhere and nowhere. He is the opposite of Filagnotti. A wine that invites you to introspection, without telling us everything.”
Maria Ernesta Berucci
Passerina del Frusinate
70% Passerina + Bellone and Ottonese
From the Italian wine mecca Biondivino in San Franscisco: Comprised mostly of Passerina del Frusinate combined with a small portion of Bellone and Ottonese, Maria’s approachable skin-contact white may be proportioned like a Chablis, but with a little rise in temperature once out of the fridge, it morphs into something quite evocative and singular. After pressing, juice spends 36 hours on skins, before aging in the same concrete tanks. As always, it exemplifies minimal intervention wine making; no added sulfites and no filtering or fining. The aromatics of citrus peel, fennel, quartz, and green tea give way to a palate that is just as provocative as it is refreshing: pebbly sea salt with a quince-toned tang.