It was a cold, rainy day when we arrived at Tenute Mater Domini (Mother of God Farm) in the Salice Salentino region of Puglia. For kilometers, the scent of smoky olive wood filled the air as workers burned the recently cut-down branches. The wet weather seemed incongruous with the frequent view of cacti framing estate entrances. Estate Manager and Marketing Director Andrea Fatttizo ran out with an umbrella to greet us.
Long an area of cooperative-bottled and blended wines, Salice has been gaining recognition for their quality and terroir. Leading this “natural” charge is Mater Domini. The estate is using dry-farming methods, made possible by the clay-loam soil with its excellent water-holding capacity, which allows the vines to survive the long, hot Salento summers.
Two training methods are employed: alberello-trained plants (i.e., bush vines without trellising) and cordon (trellising is integral to the plant’s growth). Needless to say, no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are ever used. No heroics in the cellar either, aside from temperature control.
Both Andrea and the owner, Pierandrea Semeraro, who started the business in 2003 on land that had been in grape production for hundreds of years, have a firm commitment to the land and the vines. While using state-of-the-art agricultural methods, the goal is to produce traditional wines, honest to the grape and terroir. One of the ways they accomplish this is with low yields - 1 bottle of wine per vine.
Spread over 3 separate parcels, the winery totals 60 hectares (148 acres), a third of which are old vines. It produces 100,000 bottles a year: 80% red, 10% white, 10% rose. 10,000 of these bottles make their way to the U.S. in 4 different wines, via their importer Solair Selection. Many of the vines are too young for wine production, so even though their yield is intentionally low, the bounty will increase in the next few years.
Andrea has a full plate. He makes 4 reds, 2 whites and 2 roses from a surprisingly large assortment of varietals. Along with the expected Primitivo and Negoamaro, Andrea has planted 7 international grape types. He cleverly uses these to create interesting blends that are unique to the estate and, he hopes, will please an international audience
Marangi, Primitivo 2012
A luscious, ripe, well-rounded wine. Primitivo is genetically a first cousin to Zinfandel, yet this wine has none of Zin’s shock value but all of its depth, full of dark-fruit character. Layers of flavor reveal themselves. Great viscosity, with a dark and smoky a color. We love this wine.
Marangi, Negroamro 2011
Tastes like honey, without being sweet. Inky. Creamy, rich taste of cassis and blackberries. After a few minutes, it opened up even more and became even richer. Long legs coat the glass. Smooth as silk.
Casili Salice Salentino Reserva Doc 2008
An extraordinarily delicious wine. Filled with dark cherries and full flavor, it’s big, delicious, round and supple, with notes of tar and leather. Layers of complexity continue to reveal themselves on the palate. This is Mater Domini’s masterpiece.
To learn more about Mater Domini, visit their website.