Philip Day discusses Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino DOCG from Campania, Italy.
These days Fiano is considered almost mainstream, however, only a few decades ago because the number of plantings in Italy had dwindled dramatically, it appeared doomed to extinction.
Traditionally Fiano originates from Campania in Italy but in recent times vineyard plantings have extended into Sicily, as well as making inroads into Australia and South America.
Many consumers like it because of its food friendliness. Thanks to its well rounded nature that is infused with honeysuckle and citrus charged notes, it is a well-suited accompaniment to salmon, creamy fish and seafood dishes, salads and cold meats.
In my opinion, there is no better introduction to this versatile wine than Fiano di Avellino made by Feudi San Gregorio, in Campania, Italy.
The Feudi di San Gregorio wine estate has built up a well-deserved reputation as one of Campania’s most exciting and dynamic wineries, whose focus is on innovation, whilst maintaining a keen eye for quality. It is perhaps ironic that this dynamically forward-thinking estate is actually located on some of the most ancient wine-producing land in all of Italy, as records show that wine has been produced in this part of the historical Irpinia region from as early as 590 AD. In fact Irpinia is a mountainous and very lush wine region situated in the province of Avellino, that has been inhabited since the time of the Ancient Romans.
One of Italy’s worst earthquakes of modern times, struck the mountainous interior of the Campania region, east of Naples, in November 1980, leaving many villages and farms destroyed around its epicentre in the province of Avellino known as Irpinia. For many, they took the decision to abandon the poor, rural countryside and head for cities in the north.
Given the offer of reconstruction funds from Rome and the European Union, for those aged under 40 with viable business plans helped Enzo Ercolino, a native of Avellino who had moved to Rome some years earlier, raise some of the €4 million he needed to get going.
So in 1986 Enzo moved back to the area and he opened a wine estate – Feudi di San Gregorio – in the hills just above Atripalda, in the village of Sorbo Serpico, together with his brothers, Mario and Luciano, Enzo’s wife, Mirella Capaldo, and one of her brothers, Mario.
Initially the collective had 30 hectares of vineyards and was soon launching its first wines.
The gamble paid off for Enzo, with Avellino becoming one of the first Italian provinces to attain three DOCG labels, the first for their red Taurasi (1993) and the other two for the Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo white wines (2003). Campania had secured its place on the Italian wine map and it wasn’t long before Feudi di San Gregorio began to win numerous national and international wine awards and feature on the wine lists of top restaurants.
Before Feudi began starting to expand, the most important winery in the Irpinian area was Mastroberardino, whose made a reputation for itself in the post-war period, by setting the standard for Avellino’s classic-style Taurasis red wine.
Ercolino’s goal differed greatly from Mastroberardino and its other contemporaries. His ambitious vision for Feudi was to generate a contemporary interest in and excitement for the wines of Campania, becoming the standard-bearer for southern Italian wines, thus he initiated a challenging plan to achieve his aim. Another of his strategies was always to bring in top talent, so in conjunction with his innovative wine-makers, firstly with Luigi Moio and then by bringing on board one of Italy’s most respected consultant winemakers, Riccardo Cotarella, to oversee wine production they based the evolution of all aspects of the winery on successful models of development and marketing practices employed in Tuscany, France and the New World. Feudi di San Gregorio was certainly stylish in everything it did, from its iconic minimalist labels, designed by architect Massimo Vignelli, to its sleek marketing campaigns and barrique-aged wines.
Since its inception in 1986, the wine estate has seen several changes of personnel and periods of expansion and innovative development.
Financial problems soon began to mount up, which ultimately led to the departure of Enzo’s brothers Mario and Luciano in 2003, followed by Enzo himself and his wife Mirella in 2006. The principal ownership of the company was handed over to Enzo’s brother-in-law Pellegrino Capaldo, a professor of economics and financial consultant, who had joined the business as a silent, majority partner in 2001. It was only when Pellegrino took the decision to bring his son Antonio on board to run the company in 2009 that a new chapter for this exceptional winery was officially set in motion. The fact that Antonio had just completed a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics brought an air of dynamism to the company.
Antonio Capaldo employed Pierpaolo Sirch, who had begun working at Feudi in 2003 as a consultant agronomist under Ercolino as a new CEO. Together they steered the company back to basics, embracing the cultivation of native grape varieties that were in danger of disappearing and revisiting the processes employed to vinify them, refreshing tired rustic wines into wines more attune to modern palates and doing it well.
Before stepping down from the company, Antonio’s uncle Enzo had initiated several exciting projects that he wasn’t able to finish and he was keen to bring them to fruition.
Since its early days, the winery focused on the preservation of authentic top quality wine production and setting a definition for a premium quality standard that would meet the highest and most severe market requirements.
As Feudi’s expansion seemed unstoppable, in 2004 a beautiful, new, modern cellar was inaugurated, with a panoramic top-floor restaurant, Marenna?, under the tutelage of Michelin-starred chef, Heinz Beck. (It now has a Michelin star of its own thanks to resident chef Paolo Barrale.) This new cellar reflects the company’s wish to blend its long-standing tradition with that of a futuristic architectural project. Their overall aim is to be more than a simple winery and become a place where people can meet, learn, and meditate, a workshop of ideas and culture, a welcoming and comforting place where one can find good wine.
Reflecting Enzo Ercolino’s strategy of always bringing in top talent, internationally renowned professionals were involved in the project. Milan-based, Japanese architect Hikaru Mori was entrusted with the difficult task of giving architectural unity to the pre-existent structures that had been developed over the years. Massimo and Lella Vignelli, top representatives of Italian design in the world were responsible for its interiors and furnishings and added their iconic minimalist touch to the winery’s labels. There is only one word to describe the multi-million euro wine facility – impressive! Mori’s winery is seriously stylish, with a stunning and atmospherically lit barrique cellar, a wine tasting room, a sophisticated wine shop and an elegant wine bar with leather sofas, surrounded by sympathetically landscaped gardens with sensual roses and herbs.
The estate has since expanded to around 300 hectares producing a multitude of wines from several varieties but are most well known for their highly regarded white Greco di Tufo DOCG, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina del Sannio DOC, and red Taurasi DOCG and ‘Serpico’, both made from Aglianico grapes.
Another innovative project initiated by Ercolino was to make sparkling wines from native Irpinian grapes using the traditional method. Champagne producer Anselme Selosse was brought in as the lead consultant until 2010 for what has become the Dubl labelled bottlings.
Capaldo has been working more recently on two projects. The first, the Magna Graecia Project sees the companies expansion into other wine regions with the intention of becoming the leading estate in southern Italy, representing the native grape varieties of its varied regions. The first estates for this project were acquired in Basilicata (Basilisco estate in 2010) and Puglia (Cefalicchio estate in 2013) (although Enzo had earlier purchased vineyards in both areas in 2000) and recently (2014) they have added a Sicilian estate (Valenti estate) to their portfolio.
The second project, ‘Feudi Studi’ is a series of twelve cru wines, originating from selected small single vineyard plots of of Greco, Fiano and Aglianico vines. These wines will be released in limited quantities of around 1,800 bottles per variety.
These single vineyards are: the 4 ha Vigneto dal Re (producing Aglianico for Serpico), the 4 ha Piano di Montevergine (producing Aglianico for Taurasi Riserva), the 8 ha Cutizzi (Greco di Tufo), the 8 ha Pietracalda (Fiano di Avellino), and the 8 ha Serrocielo (Falanghina).
Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Greco di Tufo DOCG, Taurasi DOCG, Sannio DOC, Campania IGT
Total:300 hectares (741 acres)
Aglianico, Greco, Fiano, Falanghina, Merlot.
A mixture of volcanic, sandstone and lime-rich marl soils
The vineyards of Feudi di San Gregorio are extend over a series of beautifully lush and gentle hills in Sorbo Serpico, about an hour’s drive away from the busy city of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. It’s this unique mixture of volcanic, sandstone and lime-rich marl soil that lends the wines of this area their tell-tale aromas of cherry, cinnamon and aniseed.
Irpinia, the historical region of the Campanian Apennines, where the estate is situated, is a unique vine growing and wine producing territory. It is a place where vineyards have always coexisted with fruit trees, hazelnut groves, woodland, olive trees and herbs: a rugged and yet gentle territory with a strong and genuine identity.
Although the estate itself has its roots in the ancient varieties and traditions of Campania, it is by no means an artisan business.
Technologies employed at the state-of-the-art wine cellar ensures that each vintage comes as close to perfection as is possible. The growing vines of each vineyard are closely monitored by its own meteorological station.
The orography of the area generates a system of winds that generally provides the region with good rainfall, while creating a micro-climate that is not experienced in other areas of Campania. Consequently, vegetation is varied, lush and thick; winters are extremely cold and snowy but usually short, while its summers are mild and long.
The estate owns around 300ha (741 acres) of vineyards which are made up of over 700 plots. In addition Feudi counts on a group of local families, who own a further 200 more, who sell their grapes to them.
Pierpaolo Sirch uses technology to monitor all aspects of cultivation. Each parcel has been mapped and is digitally monitored and can respond quickly to any on- going concerns by communicating with the farmers via texts and emails. He believes in developing the skills of the workforce and provides free pruning courses to the growers. He has also brought in several well-known oenologists to share their experiences with his team.
By promoting southern Italian grape varieties, such as Aglianico, Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo, investing in the land and updating the traditions of Irpinia wine making, means Feudi di San Gregorio is offering a future to a unique environmental heritage. Today the company epitomises the oenological renaissance of southern Italy, promoting a wine culture for the rediscovery of Mediterranean flavours.
For me one of the company’s greatest achievements must the work undertaken to revive the popularity of the Fiano grape in its Fiano di Avellino bottlings.
The Fiano grape was in danger of extinction throughout most of the 20th Century. The reasons for this were the low yields the vines produced in conjunction with its thick skinned berries that give little juice did not make it an economical variety to grow. Along with other estates dedicated to preserving Campania’s grape legacy such as Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio helped to reverse the decline in Fiano’s popularity, which along with Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino was elevated to DOCG status in 2003.
Fiano di Avellino has the potential to age beautifully in the bottle for several years after the vintage date, developing complex nutty and spicy notes. Recently produced Fiano di Avellino is often characterized as a pale straw coloured wine with strong aromas of spice and floral notes. On the palate, it is often intensely flavoured and aromatic with honey notes that over time develop into more spicy and nutty hazelnut notes. Some of the most notable plantings of Fiano are found in or near hazelnut plantations around Avellino which is why wine tasters often remark that the wines produced from these grapes can have a slightly discernible hazelnut flavour to them.
The advent of modern wine making techniques with its emphasis on limiting oxidation and preserving freshness, have improved the overall quality of Fiano wines over the years.
From a good vintage, Feudi usually produce two cuve?es: a regular Fiano di Avellino and the premium ‘Pietracalda’, which sees the addition of some later-harvested fruit and also the benefit of lees-stirring to develop weight and complexity.
In order to categorised as a Fiano di Avellino DOCG, at least 85% of the wine must be made from the Fiano grape variety, with Greco, Coda di Volpe and Trebbiano permitted as the remainder of the blend. The maximum harvest yield of grapes destined for this DOCG wine must be limited to 10 tonnes/hectare and fermented to a minimum alcohol by volume level of 11.5%. Italian wine laws also permit producers to use the name ‘Apianum’ alongside the Fiano di Avellino DOCG designation to show the modern wine’s connection with the historical Roman wine that was produced in the hills above Avellino.
Some historians have postulated that Fiano may have been the grape behind the Roman wine ‘Apianum’ produced by a grape known to the Romans as ‘vitis apiana’, (‘apis’ is the Latin word for ‘bee’, the root of the adjective ‘apiana’ meaning ‘belonging to the bees’.) Even today bees are strongly attracted to sugary pulp of Fiano grapes and are a prevalent sight in Avellino vineyards.
These days, the ever-expanding innovative Feudi di San Gregorio winery in the village of Sorbo Serpico offers a wide range of excellent white, red and sparkling wines and is one of the region’s best-loved brands.
Examples of the main wines produced
Feudi di San Gregorio Piano di Montevergine Riserva, Taurasi DOCG
(Red) Made from 100% Aglianico; 13.5% ABV; Aged 18 months in new oak barriques then further aged in the bottle.
Feudi di San Gregorio Privilegio Fiano Passito Irpinia, Campania, IGT
(White) Made from 100% Fiano di Avellino; 12.5% ABV; Aged 6-12 months in new oak. The wine is made with late-harvest grapes dried on racks. It is fermented and matured in new oak.
• Feudi di San Gregorio Pa?trimo Rosso
(Red) Made from 100% Merlot; 13.5% ABV; Aged 16 months in new oak barriques.
• Feudi di San Gregorio Sannio Falanghina DOC
(White) Flagship 100% Falanghina white wine. 12.5% ABV.
• Feudi di San Gregorio Pietracalda, Fiano di Avellino DOCG
(White) Made from 100% Fiano di Avellino; 13.5% ABV; Aged 2 months in the bottle.
Feudi di San Gregorio Campanaro Bianco Irpinia
(White) Made from a blend of Fiano and Greco grapes; 13.5% ABV; Half of wine is aged in 50hl Austrian oak barriques, and half is aged in steel vats for 5 months. It then undergoes bottle ageing for 4 months.
• Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo DOCG
(White) Made from 100 % Greco; 13 % ABV; Aged 4-6 months in stainless steel.
Feudi di San Gregorio Cutizzi, Greco di Tufo DOCG
(White) Made from 100 % Greco; 13.5 % ABV; Aged 2 months in the bottle.
Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino DOCG
(White) Made from 100% Fiano; 13% ABV; Aged 4-6 months in stainless steel.
Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico Rosso Irpinia
(Red) Made from 100% Aglianico; 13.5% ABV; Aged 18 months in new oak barriques. Made partly with grapes from centuries-old vines.
Address: Feudi di San Gregorio Localita? Cerza Grossa 83050 Sorbo Serpico (AV) Italy
Philip Day is an early-retired academic in linguistics who has published many articles.
A North-Midlander (The Potteries) by birth, he currently lives close to the Lancashire Pennines which he regularly explores with his Patterdale terrier, Max.
In particular he has a keen interest in European fine wines and good food and regularly contributes articles for Escapementmagazine.com.