We exclusively import to the UK a select number of wines from small, low-intervention vineyards that we believe are doing amazing things in the world of biodynamic and natural winemaking.
Conestabile della Staffa
‘No chemistry in the vineyard, no technology in the cellar, natural wine’ reads the label on the bottles of Conestabile della Staffa that we import from Umbria in Italy. For more than 200 years from the 1700s, Conestabile della Staffa produced some of the finest wines in the region but with two world wars came a diminished farming workforce and from 1956, the estate ceased to make anything, forcing the vineyard to sell off their grapes over the subsequent decades to make other people’s wine... and then Danilo Marcucci came along.
Former student of architecture and one-time Umbrian wine-seller, Danilo turned to natural winemaking in the early 2000s after discovering first-hand what the chemicals in industrially produced wines can do to the body. A chance tasting of a natural wine made by his parents’ neighbour Vittorio Mattioli began what Danilo describes as a ‘radical change’ in his life and within a week of drinking the amber coloured white he joined Vittorio for what would become the first of many collaborations with masters of natural winemaking across Italy. More than 12 hectares of vines were in need of some love when Danilo took the reigns at Conestabile della Staffa but by 2015 he was able to release the estate’s first vintage in 60 years, using native grapes, natural processes and no added sulphur. For Danilo, it is Mother Nature who determines the wine.
Vini di Giovanni
Raised on the rough terrain of the Barbagia Mountains of Sardinia, Giovanni Mesina moved with his family to Umbria in search of more peaceful pastures, initially to watch over his sheep (Giovanni is a shepherd) and make cheese but now, guided by one of Italy’s most revered natural winemakers Danilo Marcucci, Giovanni also makes wine.
Situated on the rolling hills of Pianello to the north of Perugia and covering less than three hectares, Giovanni raises his sheep on organic soil punctuated by ancient olive trees (from which he makes his own oil) and small rows of grapevines – a mix of typical red varieties of the region including cilliegolo, and his favourite white variety from Sardinia, vermentino. Produced in a strictly natural way with a minimalist approach in the cellar “to capture the magical expression of the fruit and the earth”, Giovanni’s wines are incredibly special, from the labels (all made from grass) to the juice itself: expertly balanced and superbly moreish. Just 600 bottles were made of his slightly sparkling natural red – with only 150 ever reaching UK soil.
Found within the lush Monte Subasio Park, a few kilometres from the city of Assisi, Vigneti Campanino boasts the highest elevation vineyards in Umbria, with vineyard plots more than 800 metres above sea level. Up here amid the highest peaks of the Apennine mountains, Campanino’s grape vines, which total less than 5 hectares, must fight the elements in order for the fruit to ripen. Frost and hail are a regular threat.
Those grapes that survive each year live to tell a very special tale: biodynamically grown, hand-harvested, vinified without temperature control, hand-bottled and with no added sulphur – these wines sing of their mountain surroundings, like drinkable love letters to mother nature. Fresh, lively, herbaceous, refined, free-spirited – every wine is expertly balanced and every sip demands another.
Le Clos Les Mets d’Âmes
This is Céline Oulié sitting in a barrel. Céline is probably the happiest winemaker you could ever hope to meet. We call Céline a winemaker but she would probably describe herself more as a conductor of a large orchestra, where every plant is an instrument and every section of the vineyard has its role to play.
The wines Céline makes at her biodynamic vineyard Clos Les Mets d’Âmes in Gascony, France - the only biodynamic vineyard in the Madiran - are unlike anything we've ever tried. We wish everyone could meet Céline and hang out with her grapes, but until then we have the next best thing: her earthy, elegant, huggable wines.
Fourth generation winemaker Matteo Furlani tends to his family's small parcels of vines, high above the city of Trento. Like his father and grandfather, he sees no need to use synthetic chemicals on the land, incorporating biodynamic preparations and natural practices instead to create his incredible range of wines, which include a series of natural sparklers in milky shades of magenta, pink and white.
'If unicorns made wine, it would probably look and taste like this,' we thought when we came across Furlani wines while in Italy looking for a natural sparkling wine to add to our collection. We have never devoured a bottle of wine quicker than we did that night. And we thank the moon and stars that we are able to bring these bottles of joy to the UK.
Piccolo Podere il Ceppaiolo
Named after the Italian word for the poorest man in the village who historically only got to heat his home with the unwanted roots of a tree cut down and divided up, with the best logs and branches going to the richest - Ceppaiolo is a tiny vineyard, and like the secret garden of literary fame, it isn’t easy to find. It’s on the side of a quiet road in Umbria, on a large non-descript plain, watched over by a small neighbouring restaurant and the Apennine Mountains further on. Stepping out the car, we entered through a padlocked gate, past a stone shed (the winemaking cellar as it turns out) with graffiti on the wall, a beaten-up car and a caravan.
It couldn’t be further away from that picture postcard image of an Italian vineyard. No castle, no neat rows of vines or polished tasting room with glass doors. No, this is Umbria in the 1950s, from the expired vintage car outside the ‘cellar’ through to the small rows of native grape vines, many of them 70 years old, guarded on all sides by overgrown flowers and wild as can be. Winemakers Danilo Marcucci and Riccardo Pennaforti saved this two-hectare vineyard from demolition after meeting its wild, untouched vines. The cellar is kept exactly as Danilo found it with old 1950s winemaking equipment and what they have aimed to do with Ceppaiolo is to not only save the vineyard and keep making wine, but maintain a small part of Umbrian history and tradition.
Situated in northern Umbria, 350 metres above sea level near the picturesque village of Monte Petriolo, Tiberi is a fourth generation family winery tended to by Cesare Tiberi and his grandchildren Federico and Beatrice. Spanning less than 4 hectares, Tiberi’s small plots celebrate native red and white grape varieties including Gamay del Trasimeno, Ciliegiolo, Grechetto, Trebbiano and San Colombana on soil that is mostly rocky schist and brushed by dry Mediterranean winds. This link to the past – through the untouched soils and Cesare, who has always lived and worked in the village – makes for very rustic wines with soul.
In 2015, Federico and Beatrice, with the help of Cesare and their neighbouring winemaker Danilo Marcucci, brought Tiberi into the modern age by selling their wines beyond just the local village. The experiment paid off and now they are widely considered to be ‘ones to watch’ in the region, with every vintage better than the last. We’re very lucky to be able to have a small allocation of their skin-contact Bianco di Cesare 2018, as there were just 800 bottles made from this vintage.
Located near the village of Lourmarin, in the heart of the Luberon mountains, Château Fontvert finds itself in a place loved by some of history's greatest literary minds, including Henri Bosco and Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus. Like them, we were drawn to this area, where, purely by chance we stumbled on Fontvert - a 16th century estate taken over by the Monod family in the 1950s, with 20ha of vineyards that have been certified organic since 2008 and biodynamic since 2009.
'The vines are protected by the valley,' says manager Michaël Renaud, 'which shepherds the bad weather away.' All the grapes are hand-harvested and fermented exclusively with natural yeast. Winemakers Yoann Malandain and Fabrice Monod are part of a collective of biodynamic winemakers in the region, who support and champion each other's wines.