Fabrizio Rossi of Cefalicchio
Last week we profiled Cefalicchio, a biodynamic winery in Puglia. We also had a chance to speak with Fabrizio Rossi, who guided the winery towards organic and biodynamic production over 20 years ago.
You were the first in your area to practice organic and biodynamic winemaking. What led to that decision?
I came back home in 1985 and got involved in my father’s farm. We used to produce grapes and olives, and we used to sell them in the local market. I was interested in organic agriculture and I got in touch with the International Foundation for Organic Agriculture. They sent me to the Associazione per l’Agricoltura Biodinamica in Milan.
I did not know much about organic agriculture, and I knew nothing about biodynamic agriculture and antroposophy, but I was puzzled and somehow fascinated by what appeared to me a funny mixture of philosophy and agricultural engineering. I thought that the challenge was an interesting one and I started with the biodynamic method in my own little farm, and later in on my father’s farm. In 2003, along with my brother and sister, we decided to pool our energies and start a small family winery. We started with a blend of Nero di Troia and Montepulciano grapes.
How does your land lend itself to biodynamic production? Is the soil, climate and pest profile easier or harder than other Italian regions?
It is certainly easier to produce grapes in our area than in many other regions. The climate is very favourable. As far as pests and diseases are concerned, we have only a few key problems, but we solve them easily. The soil is very favourable too. It is sedimentary rock, a limestone born from the deposits of sediments in a marine environment.
But, of course, reality is more complex than we anticipate. In our climate, due to a fairly hot summertime and a very high solar radiation, the ripening process tends to be a little bit too fast and the acidity tends, in some vintages, to fall before the perfect ripeness of the fruit. So it is often difficult to spot that perfect day when sugar content, acidity and phenol maturity are aligned. This problem seems to be more relevant with international varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Even the soil, as I said, seems to be very favourable, and the grapes do like it very much, although it looks like a very poor soil. The good “minerality” of our wines is probably due to the soil.
Do you think biodynamic farming enhances the quality and taste of your wines?
I am convinced that biodynamic farming enhances the quality of our grapes in the sense that the grapes are more “faithful,” if I can use the word, to themselves, to the farmer and to the terroir. The grapes, after the harvest, undergo a very complex process where the components are decomposed, during the maceration process, and rebuilt again in a completely different way. The colour, the taste, the flavour of the fruit may tell us a lot about the life of the plant. However, the wine may tell us a different story, as the alcohol in it points toward a direction which may have been normal in different times, but not anymore.
What are some of the challenges that biodynamic farming have presented?
The main challenge is that I have to keep studying and thinking and, of course, making mistakes. But this is more a pleasure than a challenge.
Now that you’ve been Biodynamic for over 20 years, have other vineyards nearby followed your lead?
Not many in Canosa. In Puglia there are quite a few biodynamic wine producers.
Do you talk about your biodynamic practices in your marketing?
I admit, when I started with biodynamic agriculture the main interest was an economic one. But, after so many years, I think that if we survive economically, and if we have some success, it is mainly because people like what we produce. But, I only take care of the agricultural production. Marketing is my brother’s job.
Vineyards at Cefalicchio
At Villa Cefalicchio
Barrels at Cefalicchio
Wine Cellar at Cefalicchio
Fabrizio Rossi of Cefalicchio
When your family has been in Puglia since 1650, a hundred-year-old winery is considered a recent acquisition. Driving up to the majestic Villa Cefalicchio we felt as though we’d been transported to the set of the classic 1963 Italian film The Leopard. We are met by Nicola Rossi, whose family has owned the property since 1871. He is gracious, elegant and a born aristocratic. First a lawyer, then a PhD from the London School of Economics and until recently he served in Italy’s Parliament. Now, he divides his time between Rome, where he teaches economics, and the Biodynamic wine estate he runs with his brother, Fabrizio, an agronomist and teacher.
Villa Cefalicchio has been producing wine since the late 1800s. However, like many in Puglia, these were vin de table, with the emphasis on quantity, not quality. In the early 1900s, Nicola’s grandfather started a cooperative in nearby Canosa. The Rossi family brought their grapes to the cooperative (which was the custom of the day) and also made their own wine. Everything was for local consumption. When the Nicolo and Fabrizio took control, they decided to leave the cooperative.
A generation later, the brothers have modernized the winery to compete in the world market. Fabrizio determined that Biodynamic farming was the responsible route to take, so in 1992 they became Demeter certified – the first vineyard in Southern Italy, and one the pioneers in the country. In keeping with their belief in sustainability, they’ve installed enough solar panels to produce three times more energy than the estate uses.
Cefalicchio’s philosophy is simple, “If the grapes are good enough to be table grapes, they’re good enough for our wine.” In keeping with this credo, they intervene as little as possible with the process. Yeasts are indigenous and the wines are lightly filtered. “We never filter so much as to prevent the wine from evolving; that is we never micro filter,” says Nicola. He further emphasized, “One of our few concessions to modernity is refrigeration. We thought about putting our tanks underground, but even then we would have needed refrigeration.” Because 70% of the wine is exported, and needs to be stable, sulfites are added at the end, but in such small amounts that they remain well below the limits for organic certification in the EU.
The estate encompasses 78 hectares (193 acres), 20 of which are currently planted in grapes. The rest is a combination of olives trees, fields ready to be planted in grapes, and woods for the all-important birds. They also have a second holding of 27 hectares at another location.
Interestingly, their biggest export market is China, where Nicola feels the government’s push toward environmental awareness is fueling his wines’ success. And, because the market is so large, a “small” shipment to China is 4,000-5,000 bottles. Overall, his wines’ top destinations after China are Japan, U.S., and Italy.
Cefalicchio produces 4 red wines, all of which contain, either in whole or in blend, the Puglian grape Nero di Troia. Nicola views this grape as their regional equivalent of Pinot Noir, thus its Burgundian style. Unlike other Puglian wineries, they use Primitivo only as a blending grape, which he views as Bordeaux-like in its characteristics. Their other blending grapes are Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon.
They also bottle 2 whites and a rosé. Of interest is their Moscato, which, counter to expectations for this grape, is dry. They hope it will take the place of prosecco as an aperitif. Nicola feels “It starts as an aromatic wine, but ends with a bitter note which prepares you for the [fish] meal to come.”
Before we went to the cellar, we were shown the tasting and event room. This inviting, yet cavernous space with arched ceilings was once an almond storeroom – the estate was previously an almond farm. When renovating, they retained the original chute in the ceiling through which the almonds were poured.
The cellar is dug out from the tufa stone that underlies the entire estate. This is where the barrels lie on their sides as the wine ages in large oak barrels. They intentionally selected large barrels so that the oak to wine ratio would be low, and the flavors of the delicate Nero di Troia grapes would prevail. “We don’t want to drink a chair,” he joked.
The tufa is oceanic in origin. Nicola told us that as a kid he regularly found fossils in the soft rock, including an entire fish. He believes his wines’ minerality come from the tufa’s essence. “We are doing nothing but taking the memory of the sea and putting it into the glass.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Nicola works to expand the markets for his wine. Accordingly, he convinced another large wine producer that they needed a Biodynamic wine in their portfolio. They now include his wines in their catalogue, and since they’re distributed in places his small company can’t penetrate, this inclusion has opened up new markets.
At the end of the tour, Nicola reflected on his 1992 decision. “What convinced me that my brother was right in going Biodynamic was that when you grab the earth here, it’s living. You see earthworms. It’s moving. It doesn’t matter whether the season is wet or dry. We get consistent results. It’s like a baby who hasn’t been spoiled.”
We were fortunate enough to sample Cefalicchio’s wines over a dinner at the estate’s popular restaurant, which serves classic Puglian specialities to customers who often travel long distances for the pleasure of dining here. The beautifully appointed room is an inviting blend of clean sophistication and artifacts from the country’s past.
First pour was Jalal, the Moscato successfully made to replace either prosecco or a white served with fish. Delicious. Aromatic and floral. Restrained in its fruit, we thoroughly enjoyed the freshness. This is an interesting wine and a perfect match to the house-made antipasti, which included home-cured wild boar.
With our primi pasta course, Nicola opened his favorite creation, a 2009 Romanico (100% Nero di Troia) that spent 1 year in a barrel before being bottled. Since this wine requires a minimum of 3 years on the bottle before it’s ready to be opened, our 2009 was still young, as evidenced by the “Biodynamic fizz” and “still alive” taste. Over time, it will soften as the tannins mature. In our glasses, it did the same. The intense ruby red color lets you know that it will be jammy with withered fruits, spices and licorice. If we didn’t know better, we would have labeled this as a restrained Zinfandel. Ultimately the taste defies easy categorization. Romanico is a unique wine.
With our secondi carni course, which included two local cucina povera dishes, horse and donkey, we drank the Totila, a 50/50 Nero de Troia and Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Another deep ruby wine, this is full and fragrant with hints of red fruit, spices and vanilla.
The wines were delicious, but the true treat was being able to pair them with the chef Giampiero’s unique and artisanally prepared food.
Cefalicchio’s website has detailed information on their wines, olive oils, and growing methods.
by Andy Besch
on Dec 3, 2013
In the heart of Rioja Alta lives a slightly crazy winemaker by the name of Gonzalo Gonzalo. He happens to make some of the best wines from the region, without even calling them Riojas. Besides a killer red called Gran Cerado, he makes a white by the name of White Yeti.
Now, even if you tried this wine for name alone, your curiosity would be well rewarded. It’s 100% Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo), and fermented in stainless steel where it’s left alone to do its thing. No hanky panky, here. It’s just a terrific natural guzzler that you should grab off the shelf while it lasts.
No need to wait for summer, this is a wine for year round enjoyment. It’s smoky, salty, citrusy, apple-y, delicious-y. I’m thinking brandade or poultry, a good meaty fish or a steaming hot vegetable soup. C’mon. White Yeti, at around sixteen bucks – how can you not?
The Real Wine Fair returns to Tobacco Dock for 2014!
“The Real Wine Fair” is a two day wine event celebrating artisan growers who work with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the winery. 150 growers and winemakers will be pouring and presenting their wines to consumers, wine trade professionals and members of the press.
The 2014 event will once again be taking place at London’s historic Tobacco Dock in Wapping, on Sunday 13th & Monday 14th April.
In addition to the extensive range of wines, the Fair will also feature an array of artisan food producers, serving delicious morsels to taste and buy – from handmade cheeses to Italian street food – and the Fair’s very own pop-up natural wine bar “The Unfiltered Dog” will also be back to provide sanctuary and sustenance to weary tasters.
All of the wines on show at the fair will be available to purchase from an on-site shop created specifically for the event. There will also be a series of seminars and master-classes on themes surrounding natural wine, as well as other attractions that will be announced over the coming months.
The first day of the Fair (Sunday 13th April) will be open to consumers and trade with consumer tickets available for £15 in advance or £20 on the door, while the second day (Monday 14th April) will be for trade professionals and press only.