June 5 2010, close to noon, I entered Lapio (Av) for the first time. I was with a group of journalists and bloggers on a wine bus headed by Paolo De Cristofaro (Gambero Rosso). I remember that morning…we weren’t there long, but I got a glimpse of a territory that I knew that I wanted to come back and investigate further.
Lapio…a town in the Avellino province in the shadow of Mount Tore.
Lapio…known for dishes such as “i fusilli ed i mogliatielli”, “a pizza e menesta , a menesta ‘mmaritata”,”fagioli con le cotiche” “pizze chiene”, “taralli.
Lapio…home of Fiano di Avellino, Ercole Zarrela and Rocca del Principe.
Rocca del Principe is a young winery that has been around since 2004. Before that though, Ercole’s father and grandfather grew grapes,sold them to wineries, as well as made wine for themselves. Their badge of honor is their Fiano di Avellino DOCG; in fact they have been awarded the prestigious Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchiere award in 2007 and 2008 and are awaiting word for their 2009 offering.
I was curious to see what it is about this area, 500-600 m above sea level that has become Fiano’s backyard. Ercole explained that this area has always been an area where Fiano was planted, even back in the Filangieri period. Fiano, however, was used to make a different type of wine than the one we are used to today. The wine was a sweet sparkling wine that the farmers made for themselves. In the late 1970s, however, with the grande influence of Mastroberardino, Fiano was reborn as the dry white we are familiar with today. (DOC classification in 1978, DOCG in 2003).
Rocca del Principe has 5 vineyards that add up to a total of about 5 hectares. Each vineyard is different, has its own character, and has its own story to tell. One of my lessons during the 1st level Sommelier course was that there are three factors that play an important role in the vineyard; altitude, the soil composition, and the exposure to the sun. And as we drove around to visit Rocca del Principe’s vineyards, Ercole showed me how true that is…
Our first stop was to observe his vineyard near the cantina. 600m above sea level. A vineyard that was planted in 1999 and doesn’t produce as much in respect to his other vineyards. The soil here is very argillaceous, clayey. Sun exposure-west. The weather this year, periods of rain and then sun, did not cause the soil to crack as can often happen with this type of terrain. As you continue to walk down through the vineyard, the soil changes; silt and sand start to take over…continue…continue and it becomes sandy with traces of clay about 60-70 cm down.
The next vineyard was nearby, here I could see up close how the soil changed, became looser, more fertile as we walked between the rows of vines. I noticed differences on the vines as well. An increasing quantity of bunches.
Another vineyard... sun exposure to the south-east this time. Very clayey soil and a lot of sun. A vineyard of this type, in a season with little rain, will produce a wine that will be ‘ready to drink’ but will not have a long longevity due to a low level of acidity. A season of balanced weather? This vineyard will do just fine, thank you.
Another stop…their oldest vineyard, planted in 1990. Ercole told me that this was his least productive vineyard but the most interesting. Sun exposure-north. The soil contains silt, sand, and a small quantity of clay. Nearby, new vines had been planted as well as an area cleared to add more.
Up until now, Ercole had shown me vineyards that used the guyot training system. Our last stop was a vineyard that uses the raggiera or raggi system. Subito, instantly I noticed that the grapes growing here were further along in development. Here the soil is richer, more fertile, and the air is fresher. We walked past fig, apple, walnut and cherry trees. Nature was in full form as we picked plums of the tree. We enjoyed their sweetness as Ercole told me stories of his childhood as well as plans for the future.
The next obvious stop was the cantina. Here I discovered that Rocca del Principe has plans to produce Taurasi with aglianico grapes acquired from vineyards in Montemarano (for the 2007 vintage) and Montemarano and Taurasi (2008 and 2009). From the botte, we had a taste of a Taurasi that will not be available until 2011. Next, a taste of their 2009 Fiano that was still in the stainless steel vat, ready to be filtered, almost ready for the bottle. It would be the second bottling of their 2009 vintage.
Ercole, at this point, expressed his point of view on Fiano. It is a wine that needs time. He had bottled their 2009 in June but he strongly believes for the 2010 vintage, he will wait until September of 2011. Choices that I have heard often from many white wine producers…patience…good things come to those who wait.
A final note…for the new label this year, Ercole choose a painting entitled The Garden of the Hesperides by Frederic Lord Leighton (1830 - 1896). It is based on a Greek myth where the three ladies, the Hesperides, are guardians under the tree that produces golden apples. Ercole told me the tree represents his vineyards. The Hesperides represent Ercole’s three daughters. And Ercole? Hercules, of course…
Rocca de Principe
Via Arianiello, 9
83030 Lapio (Av)