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.
Located 500 metres above sea level near the village of Colle Castelluccio, Dinamo is the latest project from Italy’s ‘Yoda of natural wine’ Danilo Marcucci. In 2018, together with the Nofrini family, Danilo started Dinamo as an experiment in sustainable viticulture, an attempt to recreate something of the natural, “more nutritional” wines of his childhood.
“I first made wine with my grandfather 40 years ago,” says Danilo, “My snack was homemade bread dipped in wine. Back then it still had a high daily food value and was an important source of energy for everyone, especially those who had to face heavy days of farm work. I feel inspired to jump back to rediscover my origins thanks to the strength of all that I have built up now in natural wine”. When the entire first vintage of Dinamo is released, there will be just one red (Nucleo 1), one white (Nucleo 2), one rosato (Nucleo 3), one orange (Nucleo X) – all in litre bottles – and one sparkling rosato (Elettriko). For now, we just have the red, but we look forward to introducing the full range when they are ready.
Il Signor Kurtz
“I am a small winemaker,” says Marco Durante, “I grow my vineyard on a beautiful hill, in Vallupina by Lake Trasimeno. And sometimes even in other impervious places of my little geography”. Marco’s approach to natural winemaking is simple, “it’s my voice” he says of his wines, “the voice of the earth and of the grape from which it generates, but above all, it is the voice of my soul and of my way of life”. For many years, Marco could be found in the vineyards and cellars of other winemakers across Umbria, studying the land, learning his craft, knowing that one day he would take everything he had experienced and apply it all to his own range.
Il Signor Kurtz – currently just four different wines, of which we were only able to bring over one before they sold out – is that range, and while the philosophy behind them may be simple, the prcoess and finished wines are anything but. “I hate shortcuts: the use of technical aids that simplify the processes,” says Marco, “I like the discipline that frees the process. I love magical wines that draw energy from themselves, as if they had a life of their own. I love to make wines that are free to bring along all the energy nature has given them.” L’Essenziale 2018, a blend of white and red grapes, is a wine unlike any we have tried before. Low in alcohol, pure and fun but with an unmistakeable serious undertone like the winemaker himself, this is what Marco lovingly describes as “my white, dressed in red”.
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.