That is about how long the drive is from Cantina Gennaro Papa in the heart of the town of Falciano Del Massico (Ce) to their vineyard 270 m above sea level up into Mount Massico. And in this 8 or so minutes, through the centro storico, up the mountain, you can learn almost everything you wanted to know about the area, the terrain, the history—if Antonio Papa is by your side.
Antonio Papa was my guide on my latest tour through the vineyards and our first stop was his youngest, most diverse vineyard on the side of Mount Massico. A vineyard that is divided into three zones—three terraces, carved out of the mountain by his father, Gennaro. Until about 7 years ago, this particular part of the mountain housed apricot trees. The Papa family decided to turn it into a vineyard. To do this, they had the enormous task of clearing away rocks and stones. Walking through the vineyard’s three levels you will instantly notice three different types of soil. This makes sense due to the fact that Mt Massico was formed from the Roccomonfino volcano. So rocky that they are unable to use tractors, they must use other tools to maintain the vineyards. On the upper terrace, the soil has a lighter color, higher level of sulfur…rockier. The further down you go, the soil becomes darker, more fertile with traces of tufo. The ancient Romans believed that this was the perfect spot to grow grapes---Ager Falernus---and so does Antonio…It’s a particular area, he explained to me…The beauty of its location … the gentle breezes from the mountainside. Here the aromas and fragrances of the wild plants that grow side by side the grapes-such as wild fennel give their contribution to the flavor of the primitivo grape that is grown here.
Continuing my stroll amongst the rows, I took a look at not only the vines- 1 and 7 years old, but the bunches of grapes as well. This time of year the grapes are just about to change color. Two particular things I learned about this primitivo grape are that 1) the grapes on one bunch are different sizes-large and small and 2) one bunch may have grapes that have already dried on the vine while others are waiting to change color. This gives the wine a caramelized flavor.
Time to move on---the next vineyard. 150-160 m above sea level. Campantuono is its name. In this vineyard, you will find primitivo, aglianico, and piedirosso. You will find newly planted vines here as well as ones that are 35 years old. Here the soil is not as rocky as up on Mt Massico. The soil has more clay content, here the soil is more fertile……And here, they are resting under the cool shade of a 150 year old sorbo fruit tree. This vineyard, because of its position gets less sun during the year, so the grapes mature later than up on Mt Massico.
Third stop-his last vineyard that makes up Papa’s 4 ½ hectares. This vineyard rests besides Antonio’s 200 year old olive trees. His oldest vineyard. Antonio’s family has the oldest vineyards in Falciano del Massico. They have been making wine since 1900. The vines here are 7, 10 and 85 years old. 120 m above sea level. The oldest vines originally were free standing, without a support system. In the mid 1900s, Antonio’s father switched them over to a cordon system. Here the vines are closer together, 40 cm between each plant. Walking through the vineyard, I observed as Antonio casually adjusted vines as we discussed just about everything. His respect for the territory, its history, and his desire to continue the work began by his great grandfather.
Off to the cantina. I’ve tasted Papa’s wines on previous meetings and have written about it (here and here). But on this particular visit, I tried wines straight from the stainless steel vats. Papa makes three wines (Campantuono –Falerno del Massico DOP, Conclave-soon to be known as Falerno DOP) and a passito (Fastignano). Three wines-punto e basta. We tasted a very young 2009 100% primitivo…the purple color indicated its young age as well as the young fruity aromas and taste. Next- a 2007 ready for the bottle to become his Campantuono…significant difference in color, spices added to the previous aromas due to its time spent in barrique, more elegant, raffinato. Then his 2008 just about ready to become Conclave---his base wine, drier than and not as sweet as the previous wines we tasted. It could be perfect for a summer meal; Antonio suggested an antipasto, fried fish…
Any visit to Antonio’s vineyard and cantina is not complete without a visit to his family’s cantina carved into the tufo rock under his home---7 meters down. You will not leave without an admiration for the hard work of generations before him. It would be hard to say goodbye without a new appreciation for Falerno del Massico, its history. Without noticing the hospitality of Antonio’s mother and father (and two young nephews who were visiting that day). It would be impossible not to go away without falling in love (yet again) with my Campania.
Azienda Agricola Gennaro Papa
Piazza Limata, 2
Falciano del Massico