Located in the village of Pescosolido in the the province of Frosinone (Southern Lazio), Danilo Scenna has established his own estate D.S. Bio in 2012. He was born in this area and takes great pride carrying on the local traditions and respecting the environment. The estate is certified both organic and biodynamic by Demeter.
Pescosolido sits at 630 meters above sea level (2,065 feet) influenced by the winds of the Roveto Valley and those coming from the Abruzzo National Park. The area benefits of the mountains’ shelter to the north, the south exposure, the relevant altitude, the extreme fields’ slopes and the loose soils. Sandstone and limestone mark the soils here and create an excellent viticultural environment.
Biodiversity plays a key role in the estate’s philosophy: the vineyards are all located within a few kilometers in small plots and are surrounded by centuries-old olive groves, holm oak and oak woods.
Beside the vines, the estate cultivates olive groves for the production of extra virgin olive oil, junipers and other specialized crops. This is a true closed-cycle estate and every single plant and animal species have its own role for the production’s cycle. Danilo also breeds horses producing compost for the land’s organic fertilization and reducing, at the same time, mechanical processing.
Currently the estate consists of 21 hectares of which 2.5 planted with vines scattered with 12 different plots. Danilo’s goal is to reach 5 hectares of vineyards in the next few years. Sunny hills and a moderate climate help to elaborate high-quality wines and the average production is 18.000 bottles per year.
Pescosolido and the surrounding Valle di Comino is part of an area within Lazio called Ciociaria and the name comes from the primitive footwear of its inhabitants called “ciocie” used by its early Latin inhabitants. This area starts roughly 80 km south east of Rome and goes all the way south to the province of Frosinone and then ending at the border with Abruzzo. The Comino valley is an area of historical transhumance between the lower Tuscany and Foggia (Northern Apulia). Although not as frequent as in the past, livestock is still moved from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle.
The local mountainous vineyards haven’t been granted any DOC status like Olevano Romano DOC, Affile and Cesanese di Piglio DOCG and therefore the wines are listed as IGT del Frusinate.
Unlike Olevano Romano, Piglio, Affile and other commune’s in eastern Ciociaria all focused on the production of the local hero Cesanese, wines from Valle di Comino are focused on the rebirth of local ancient varieties such as Maturano (white) and Lecinaro and Uva Giulia (both reds). These varieties have been saved from extinction thanks to the tenacity of the local farmers working in this rugged area where viticulture has always faced difficulties due to the hilly terrains requiring manual painstaking work.
The estate’s wines are made exclusively from property vineyards trained according to organic and biodynamic certified agriculture. Since day one, the estate applied for both certifications. In 2015 Danilo gained the organic one, while the biodynamic certification has been granted by Demeter in 2018. The debut harvest goes back to 2016.
Danilo’s wines are pure and expressive of the local terroir, respecting at the same time the environment’s integrity and local farmers traditions.
Neither chemical fertilizers nor herbicides are used. The only products used for soil’s management and fertilizations are biodynamic preparations, green manures and compost from horse manure produced on the farm. Biodynamic methods imply that harmony between nature and men is definitely restored. All the operations both in the cellar and in the fields are managed according to the lunar calendar. Vines density is 3.500 plants per hectare and, overall, Danilo’s grapes are considered, even by other local growers, super healthy.
Other crops planted and the presence of different animal species enhance biodiversity and the good health of a rich, fertile soil. At approximately 630 meters above the sea level, harvest guidelines are not written in the books, but vary following specific vintage’s characteristic and climatic conditions with harvest that usually takes place in mid-October
Not only great attention is paid to vineyards, but the real goal is to achieve the perfect phenolic ripeness; Danilo tells us that he starts the harvest only if, besides the obvious sugar levels wanted, the grape seed loses astringency and together with the peel comes off the pulp without difficulty. This is an empirical maturation signal indicating that the desired aromatic development is achieved.
Danilo has a couple of awesome special assets to bring on the table. The first one refers to his ungrafted vines inherited by his grandfather, as this rugged area of Southern Lazio hasn’t been ruined by phylloxera in the past centuries even due the modest density per hectare. Italy presents very few wine districts not hit by this devastating plague and wine aficionados are mainly aware of the Sardinian area in south west Sulcis or Etna volcano in Eastern Sicily. “Wines from ungrafted vines tend to show a little more mineral, herbal and tertiary characteristics. They’re less showy with the fruit, and they’re less obvious” Danilo says. “They may actually be less varietally ‘true’, but I think they are more expressive of site, which is more interesting anyway.”
When phylloxera came, the Italian government subsidized the replanting; the people making wine couldn’t have cared less whether it was grafted or ungrafted—40, 50 years ago, people were just surviving. We can talk about own-rooted vines because it is fair to say that we live in an age of luxury in the world of wine. Regardless of the scientific evidence and theory behind own-rooted vines, perhaps their greatest significance is the emotional weight they carry.
The second ace in Danilo’s sleeve is given by his peculiar training method called Vite maritata. Olive or fruit trees (fig trees, apples tees, cherry trees, etc) are used to tie the vine. This system is still widespread in Campania’s province of Caserta (especially Aversa) and has been then adopted by the peasants of the Comino Valley a century ago. Historically this corner of Frosinone, years ago was part of Campania region belonging to the province of Caserta and was called “Alta Terra del Lavoro”. Nowadays the Valley belongs to Lazio.
Consolidated viticultural studies confirm that the Etruscans where the first ancient population to tie the climbing vines to trees, especially poplars, creating a vertical trellised system. Then the tradition has barely survived throughout the centuries to only few pockets of wine districts and the most historical important is the Agro Aversano near Caserta in northern Campania.
Due to its’ extension, these lands were always planted with a myriad of crops (among these hemp) in most cases well more profitable than grapes. Furthermore, the considerable crops’ fragmentation implied that the grape vines were cultivated mostly for family needs, exclusively relying on the support of olive and poplar trees. Since the vines were developed vertically, they weren’t invasive and didn’t subtract precious land from other seasonal crops.
It is undeniable that Lazio is making better wine today than 20-30 years ago or so, and progress seems destined to continue unabated. There are still some areas that lag behind others, but overall, there is a palpable sense of dynamic, enthusiastic upheaval. Danilo is committed to the revaluation of local varieties such as Maturano, Pamparano, Lecinaro, Uva Giulia, etc and he is one of the members of the local committee which is rewriting the rules of the local IGTs protocols. Although the Comino Valley is very close to Ciociaria, the Cesanese variety is not part of the cultural heritage.
Lecinaro and Uva Giulia are ancient varieties from Lazio, recently listed in the National Register of wine grape varieties in 2010, altogether with Capolongo, Maturano, Pampanaro, Maturano nero. These varietals were recovered thanks to a project led by Arsial, Lazio’s regional agency for the development and Innovation of agriculture. The goal is to bring back to life ancient and forgotten varieties marked with distinctive elements.
“White Maturano is an early ripening variety and, during industrialization, Comino valley farmers turned their back on it due to the low yields”. Danilo continues “No big news and at the time 40 quintals/hectare was considered just a miserable crop not worth of all the manual work required. Well .. we have decided to bring it back, although it’s a fickle variety prone to diseases and requiring dry ventilated sunny areas to thrive. For sure you just can’t plant it everywhere!”.
“Lecinaro name originates from lecina which is our dialect word for plum. Marked by an opaque purple color, this red thin skinned variety presents big bunches and berries. Historically it was just a table grape. It displays nice intriguing spicy notes and the tannins are delicate”. Danilo is very optimistic for the future: “It has a great potential for sure”.
Just a handful of hectares are planted with Uva Giulia, all within 10 km from the villages of Pescosolido and Sora. According to Danilo this red variety has a thick skin and the tannins are pretty rough and astringent and therefore the maceration process is just limited to 4 or 5 days max. Uva Giulia is very resistant to fungal diseases and requires few vineyard’s treatments.
Danilo’s vinifications are made in concrete with gravity decanting and without the use of pumps. Spontaneous fermentations, no clarification or filtration. Sulphites are added only before bottling. The estate is a proud member of the Vinnatur, VAN and Raw wine fair associations. His wines are predominantly sold in the Lazio region (Rome has the lion’s share of course!) and California and Canada (Ontario), United Kingdom, France are his export strongholds.
Steep Hill currently imports two wines: Matre and Volumnia.
Matre 2018: 60% Maturano, 40% Trebbiano Toscano. The must ferments in concrete vats with the only the indigenous yeast (no inoculated yeast). The wine ages for few months in concrete vats and is bottled during the following spring. Macerated 2 days with the skins. In the cellar no clarification and filtrations. Two rackings (no pumps, just gravity). A tiny quantity of sulphites is added during the racking and before the bottling. Total sulphites at bottling: 24 m/l. Total production: 7.000 bottles.
Volumnia 2019: 40% Lecinaro – 40% Sangiovese – 20% Uva Giulia. Harvest takes palce in two different rounds: at the beginning of October Lecinaro and Sangiovese are brought to the cellar, while Uva Giulia is harvested only in November (it’s a deep late ripening variety). The two wine masses undergo separate fermentation process and later are blended together for the malolactic fermentation and the ageing on the fine lees. 5.000 bottles produced.
In a nutshell