Monday, 13 August 2018

Ponza Island Wine

Ponza is a small island 23 miles off the West coast of Italy mid-way between Rome and Naples. Favourite playground for Romans both ancient and modern it is practically free of visitors from outside Italy. If you do bump into Americans they are likely to be descended from Ponzesi and other nationalities may be off visiting yachts. Some of these may be celebs. Beyonce is a regular for example.

Nearly 300 years ago, the population had fallen to a very low level so Carlo di Borbone decided to bring in some inhabitants from Ischia with the promise of land.

the Punta Fieno vineyard is so steep the grapes have to be brought up by 'telepherique'
In 1734 Piero Migliaccio was given a steep plot named Punta Fieno which was - with a lot of terracing work - suitable for grape cultivation.

There are in fact grapevines dotted all over Ponza but the Punta Fieno estate is the main one and wine has been produced from that vineyard almost continuously since its inception. It is still pristine thanks to its inaccessibility. Even today it takes a 40 minute hike to get there. This is the very definition of agricoltura eroica.

The grapes brought from Ischia included Biancolella, Forastera, Guarnaccia, Aglianico and Piedirosso. Ponza is in Lazio and Ischia in Campania. Some of these varieties are forbidden to Lazio with the exception of Ponza so there is a number of factors which make the wine of Ponza special.

The present owners of Antiche Cantine Migliaccio are Emanuele (Manolo) Vittoria and Luciana Sabino. Manolo is a nephew of a Migliaccio and is in his other profession a dentist. In fact it seems the whole family are dentists across three generations.

view from the terrace with a few vines in the foreground
The Vittorio-Sabino family live in Naples but a dozen years ago Manolo and Luciana bought a property in Ponza Porto and established their winery there.

natural light and ventilation

the original breakthrough hole now bricked up
By remarkable good fortune, they discovered a large cistern below their house which is now used as part of the winery and for storage.

If this sounds like a mom and pop operation, nothing could be further from the truth. Antiche Cantine Migliaccio is a serious and professional operation producing wines of international standard. An enologist has always been on hand - these days Vincenzo Mercurio.

full page article in 'Corriere della sera'
The fame of Antiche Cantine Migliaccio wines has spread and no doubt will spread further with the present standard of production.

Luciana holds tastings every Wednesday and Saturday. When we announced ourselves our only opportunity was a Friday. Luciana was kind enough to lay on a tasting especially for us on this day off.

It began with a very professional video presentation, then a tour of the facilities. Finally a tasting with 'aperitivi.' We learned that in Italian this means 'bits' not aperitifs.

Manolo and Luciana are 'personi deliziosi' and their wines are deliziosi too.

We started with the Biancolella (production 1,500 bottles approximately). We had been aware of Biancolella previously but it took a visit to Ponza and Ischia to realise what a great grape this is. We had several examples on this on our trip around the Gulf of Naples. The Migliaccio Biancolella is a dryer one than some.

Then came the signature Fieno di Ponza, Biancolella blended with Forastera (5,000 bottles).


As with the red, the rose blend is Piedirosso and Guarnaccia. 1,000 of this rosato is produced.

Rosso from 2017 bottled in May 2018

Manolo and Luciana insisted on us taking a fresh bottle each as a going home present. We chose the Fieno di Ponza white and Fieno di Ponza Rosso  (1,000 bottles produced). Unfortunately we couldn't resist breaking into them late on our trip much as we would have liked to take them back to London.

Friday, 10 August 2018

We get to judge wine. Concours Amphore, Paris.

In a roundabout way we heard of an annual event in Paris - the Concours Amphore. At first we thought this might be a competition to find the best Amphora maker. We had been looking at amphora online for one of our our micro vinifications and so the idea of an exhibition space full of amphora and their makers seemed just the thing.

This was of course a characteristic Slotovino misunderstanding. The Concours Amphore is actually a competition for bio wines held annually since 1996 in Paris in which over 100 judged get to taste wines blind from different areas - both French and international - and rate them according to an ingenious marking system and elect winners of Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. Not an amphora in sight although some of the wines had had more than a passing acqaintance with them.

the man himself, Pierre Guigui
The founder and still the organiser of this institution is Pierre Guigui, a marvellous character described as 'ex-monsieur Vins du Gault et Millau. He is also a writer and consultant with more than 15 publications to his name.

He was kind enough to allow us to attend the competition. We would have been happy to do so as an observer but in fact there are only judges and so never having done so before, we did indeed judge.

You were supposed to declare your interest beforehand so you could be allotted to a relevant table (Bordeaux, Languedoc, Greece etc.). Tables consisted of 4 judges. Having failed to give this notice, M. Guigui told us to find a table where there were less than 4 judges and take our place there.

We managed to insinuate ourselves onto an Alsace/Jura/Savoie table (very much to our taste) with two gentlemen and a lady already in residence and then off we went in a businesslike way.

We were given several pages with easy to follow instructions on the clever judging system. You may be able to see from the above that there was a matrix consisting of

Visuel Aspect
Olfactif Intensite Qualite
Gustatif Qualite Persistance
Impression Generale

and scores relating to Excellent, Tres Bon, Bon, Insuffisant and Mauvais.

Our fellow judges were serious and knowledgeable, discussing each wine in the way French people are so good at. Some of the talk was a bit abstract for us but they seemed to share a common gamut of references. From time to time they sought to include us in these deliberations but we didn't go much further than nodding sagely and saying in general if a wine had made a good impression or not.


We marked down the very first wine probably too severely for fear of being too generous but were rather happy at the end to have chosen the same wine as the others as our candidate for Gold: Zind-Humbrecht's Alsace Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Pinot Gris.

the label doesn't reflect the quality of this lovely wine

delicious Orange wine

good Sylvaner from Alsace
We rather likes some of the other wines at our table but our colleagues had other ideas and none of these received a medal

After the judging, we were able to go around the remaining wines from other tables and taste to our hearts content,

Savatiano, Malagouzia and Co.
remnants from the Greek table with Austrian accompaniments.

popular non-PC buffet
A characteristic buffet was provided with food much like that we had seen at the Rencontres de cepages modestes a couple of years back in St. Come d'Olt and reminiscent of French school food we had eaten years ago. Hearty and surprisingly unsophisticated stuff which everyone tucked in to with pleasure,

The whole exercise had been great fun. We had been the only outsiders but were welcomed in a collegiate fashion. Our table had included a younger chap who admitted he came from 'La Biere,' a more senior gentleman who turned out to be an enthusiast planting a vineyard on a site of an 'ancien vignoble francais disparu.' The elegant lady did most of the pouring so we asked her if perhaps she was a Sommelier. That was not the case she said so we complimented he on her way with the bottles to which she only said 'forcement.' Clearly a wine professional.

Waving goodbye to the genial M. Guigui - mobbed by a great many after the judging - we left on something of a cloud. It had all been a lot of quite serious fun and very French in a good way and no doubt served an important function in selection and marketing of the best that biological wine producers have to offer.

where it all happened, Salon Mas, Paris 13ieme.
See the full list of medal winners from the 2018 competition here:

Sunday, 29 July 2018

VCR, 'far and away the most important grapevine nursery in the world.'.

Remember the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder)? Yes? Well that dates you. Ever heard of Vinai Co-operativi Rauscedo VCR? No? You will.

Why will you hear of the Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo? Because after 80 years of breeding and supplying the world with sanitary and un-virussed grapes (did you know that most Argentinian Malbec plant material comes from the VCR?), they are embarking on a programme to make resistant clones of all the best known varieties. They have already produced a PIWI resistant Pinot Noir and more than one Sauvignon Blancs. Imagine a world without chemical sprays and wines as good as anything today with no chemical residues. There may not be a choice sooner or later as products are outlawed (Systhane, Copper Sulphate) and others lose their effectiveness.

Rauscedo is a small town north of Pordenone just inside Friuli, an hour and a half from Venice. We have been wanting to pay them a visit after pilgrimages to Geisenheim, Geilweilerhof, Freiburg, Geneva NY and INRA Montpellier. These visits have been immensely exciting. Go if you can, especially if as in this case you can taste micro-vinifications of the grapes they have obtained through hybridisation, crossing etc.

Our trip originated in Venice taking one of the earlier No1.vaporettos down the Grand Canal to the Ferrovia. In any circumstances, one of the great journeys of the world but at 07.00 especially magical.

A pleasant rail journey passing through Conegliano, birthplace of Lorenzo da Ponte and centre of Glera production.

an awful lot of Glera really.

Rauscedo is a village a few Km from Casarsa and it was good to leave all thoughts of Prosecco behind, arriving at the Vivai Cooperativi where literally thousands of different varieties are produces in this vast vine nursery.

Our charming and knowledgeable guide was Dr. Stefano Battistella, Export Sales Manager.

The VCR brochure states

The “tale” of Rauscedo began in 1933 when in this small village of the province of Pordenone, in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, some families formed a cooperative that would become the greatest grape-growing concern in the world. This tale is still going on thanks to the work of 250 coopertive members who have another very important task: to guarantee the availability of a perfect product under the morphological, genetic and sanitary point of view in more than 30 wine-producing countries served by this company, a perfect product under morphologic, genetic and sanitary profile. Thanks to a potential of 1,200 hectares of nursery and 1,400 hectares of rootstocks, VCR is capable of producing over 80 million grafted vines subdivided into more than 4,000 combinations, The extent of nursery grounds, the very good climate, the members' high know-how allow to obtain the average yield of first choice grafted vines amounting to 75% with peaks exceeding 90%. These targets are unthinkable elsewhere. In almost 90 years of activity Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo has become far and away the most important grapevine nursery in the world.


 We first toured various empty hangars which Stefano explained would be at times full with the 800 seasonal staff the VCR takes on each year.

The place is vast. It has to be. 85 million vines are sold from here each year, in Italy and all over the world including countries one might not expect such as Poland and Russia.

including some Pinot Nero

Bunches are shipped to the southern hemisphere during our northern hemisphere summer.

cold store
The rest of the vines are held in cold store and are brought out only when shipped to their destinations.

neatly labelled of course. Evidence of a huge undertaking.


Here and there evidence of ongoing research and development as here with different waxes for grafting.

Then on to what was for us perhaps the most fascinating area, the facility for micro-vinification.

Here were tanks of various sizes

the smallest being only 50 litres. At a tasting promised to round off our visit evidence of a master hand at microvinification was in every bottle.

Damigiani also
No less than 350 micro-vinifications are made at Rauscedo every year. Other institutions don't match the success rate of Rauscedo in this very difficult process it seems to us.


Outside we visited an enormous building for the propagation of baby vines.

one of many unending avenues

to see the experimental vines in their later stages of development we had to hop into Stefano's car

all vines are irrigated and fed by unseen sources
the rellising is a marvel to behold. Here was vinegrowing on an epic scale (1,563 Ha.), complete with an amazing system for protection against birds.

building for the future
There was also a site for new research buildings. We also passed fields of roostocks (1,400 Ha.).

tasting room with temperature controlled cabinets

Back indoors we were ushered into the exquisite tasting room where Stefano selected several desease-resistant varietal wines he considered relevant to the climate in the South of England.

Sauvignon Nepsis and Sauvignon Rytos were unmistakenly Sauvignons but we were looking for something different.

We were tremendously excited to have found it in this. Soreli ('sun' in Friulian dialect) is from Tocai Friulano or Friulano as we must now call it. It has a very early ripening time in Rauscedo - August 22nd. This microvinification produced a wine of 13.2% Abv with 6.2 acid and 3.3 PH readings. The wine is delicate and floral. We have decided to grub up our 25 year old Bacchus and replant with Soreli next year. This may be one of the first if not the very first planting of Soreli (or any Rauscedo clone?) in the UK.

We were also offered tastings of Sauvignon Kretos (ripening time August 11th!), Merlot Khorus (August 31st), Cabernet Volos ('average' ripening time) and the following clones so far without names;

VCR 109.052 (ripened 30th August)
VCR156.312  (11th October)
VCR 156.537 (5th October) 

All fascinating. The VCR 156.537 (from Pinot Noir) was especially good. We have already replanted our red block with the Blattner Cabernet Noir so were only looking for a white variety.

It had been kind of Stefano to open so many bottles. We asked him what would happen to them after our departure. He answered with a shrug. We hope the remains would be given to staff with their lunches. The wines were certainly much too good to pour away.

The VCR website sums up 'Experimentation; the true power of innovation' as follows;

The secret of VCR’s primacy lies in the never-ending search of new varieties, clones and crossings that can give better and better results for the growers. Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo have gone through all the major strands of the research in the grapevine nursery domain, such as: from micropropagation to green-grafting, health checks through Elisa test and PCR, from cloning with weak selective pressure to the characterization of the clones through the evaluation of fine parameters. A decisive contribution to the improvement of quality are offered by Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo also through the 350 microvinifications that are performed annually in the VCR Experimental Winery: they allow a constant check on the oenological potential of the different Italian and foreign clones that are the object of the multiplication; tasting sessions are also an opportunity for a fruitful dialogue between winemakers, growers and nurserymen in the interest of the entire wine industry...

In addition, in 2006 Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo, as a financing partner, joined the project "Sequencing and Characterisation of the Grapevine Genome" of the Institute of Applied Genomics of Udine, believing it will be crucial to be able to benefit in the medium-to-long term the results of a research aimed at obtaining disease-resistant varieties through hybridization. The innovation and scientific experimentation are therefore the true engine for VCR’s growth, because they allow growers in all wine-growing areas of the world to improve the quality of their products through the use of VCR clones and grafted vines.

And under the heading 'The Original VCR Clones,' this fascinating article:

Since 1960 the VIVAI COOPERATIVI RAUSCEDO has been selecting its own original clones: a very important strategic choice aimed to make a large quantity of their own selections available to growers, additionally to the clones selected by the Public Research Institutes. In 1990, following the enormous success of the "Rauscedo" series, that still boasts some excellent clones clones such as the Cabernet Sauvignon Rauscedo 5, Chardonnay Rauscedo 8, Sangiovese Rauscedo 24, Sauvignon Rauscedo 3, etc., the approval process for the "VCR" clones started.
These biotypes are distinguished primarily by the sanitary tests covering all the more dangerous and widespread viral organisms afflicting vineyards and, in particular, the fanleaf virus, leafroll disease and rugose wood complex, and by the great care taken at the genetic level in the identification of biotypes able to satisfy the quantitative and qualitative needs of modern viticulture. But the clonal selection activities of Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo have not only concerned the local and international varieties grown in Italy, but also those relating to the most important wine-producing countries abroad.
By the end of the 1980s, intensive varietal exploration commenced in Greece involving famous native vines like Mandilari, Liatiko, Vidiano, Limnio, Moschofilero, Aghiorghitiko, in Serbia and Montenegro with Prokupac, Vranac, Kratošija and Krstac, in the Czech Republic with the Moravia varieties which is the par excellence wine-growing region of that country, and has recently begun selection work with Crimea and Azerbaijan varieties.