Fontefico

BACKGROUND

In 1996 Nicola and Emanuele Altieri established Fontefico, an estate comprising 15 hectares of vines located in the beautiful Vasto gulf on the Southern Abruzzo’s coast. Supported by their dad Alessandro, an expert agronomist, the two brothers began to experiment the different estate’s vineyards with lots of micro-vinifications, always with the aim to obtain wines marked by pure fruit. After ten years of research and attempts, they decided to bring the different soil’s expressions to the market, starting to produce 20.000 bottles with their debut’s harvest in 2006.
Throughout the years the estate has gained more popularity. In 2018 the current production is now up to 40.000 bottles per year from the 15 hectares available which potentially could allow the bros to bottle definitely more wine. The rest of the fruit is sold to other bigger estates as deciding to contain production bottles’ levels has always been a key asset in order to preserve expected quality’s levels.

Nowadays Fontefico is  acclaimed in Italy as an organic certified winery, always quality driven with focus on the territorial varieties including Montepulciano, Pecorino and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.  After several years of soil’s research, a small parcel of land was also regarded suitable for the planting of Aglianico which is very rare to find here. So far Fontefico produces two different wine ranges.

The first one comprises 6 wines bringing on the table the various facets of a particular territory: Pecorino Superiore, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo Superiore, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Titinge Montepulciano Riserva  and the Costetoste Aglianico Riserva. Vigorous wines, characterized by fresh acidity and deep fruit influenced by Vasto breeze coming from the Adriatic sea.

The second wine range includes only experimental garage wines. Added to the above mentioned official line of six wines, the Altieri bros. deliver an alternative bottling outside the DOC schemes and producing spontaneously fermented wines marked by plenty of experimental attitude and sometimes with an extreme approach. These micro vinifications started basically in 2006 and are gaining more awareness among buyers and consumers who already know Fontefico wines. Once almost considered limited production wines, now it’s a bit easier to come across these wines labeled simply as “Vino”, whose classification system does not permit any reference on the label of both grape varieties and vintage.

The estate covers about 15 hectares and all the single vineyards are meticulously tended, therefore the wines display unique and unrepeatable characteristics, always respecting vintage’s characteristics. In Vasto the seaside breeze is fundamental and keeps grapes always dry, maintaining excellent health conditions without invasive agronomic interventions.
As an organic certified estate, Fontefico has always been aware of the environment by joining from the very beginning the “Integrated Pest Management” (Regulation EEC No 2078/92.), which provides sustainable agricultural practices with low environmental impact. Organic farming techniques include not using any synthetic products, and promoting antagonism relations between living organisms in order to contain the populations of the harmful ones. Pruning is done to not overload the vines, leaving only the buds strictly necessary. Fertilization is made only if the soil really needs it and only with organic fertilizers for a better balance between leaf and fruit. Yields are reduced and hence the development of pathogenic organisms is reduced as well. Moreover, due to the natural grassing, a balanced nutrition for plants is achieved because the herbaceous cover acts both as a solar panel in winter and as an insulator in summer, also limiting soil erosion. The moth, whose presence in Vasto area is found only in certain years, is fought with the Bacillus Thuringiensis, a bacteria harmless to humans but able to harm the larvae avoiding their proliferation. Quality needs a lot of work. Grapes are harvested by hand, placed in small carts or in 20 kg boxes and destemmed within 20 minutes. No time is wasted for the beginning of the fermenting process which starts in the cellar where everything is under careful supervision.

Abruzzo carries just one DOCG (Colline Teramane) and some other DOC appellations that are little known abroad and misjudged as cheap, generic, supermarket bottling. This has changed though and the region already underwent a gradual transition from bulk-wine production to bottled artisanal wines. In other words, a transition from a strictly industrial wine culture to one in which quality is the key asset bringing pride and prosperity to the local community. Geographically speaking, Abruzzo is not even to be considered a southern region belonging definitely to center Italy. Italian wine critics are actually looking with more interest to some forgotten regions and Abruzzo has never really been forgotten and left in oblivion. It seems that some American critics are a bit slow to accept the new wave of young and small producers that are rising to the scene year in year out, many of them with an organic mindset. This contemporary scenario noisily contrasts with the stereotyped American clichet on Abruzzo’s wines described as just darkhorse and rustic.

Once again the local renown Montepulciano grape has nothing to share with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The latter is a small town in Tuscany where the Sangiovese clone Prugnolo Gentile rules.To create some extra confusion not onlythe grapes used are masquerading as wines, but even Pecorino is thought to be related to the same name cheese production area from other parts of Italy. Step number 1: Think of Pecorino. Step number 2: Type it into “The Oracle” (i.e. Wikipedia) and all you will get is a kind of cheese produced in different Italian areas. Beside the most celebrated Pecorino Romano, the other four mature PDO cheeses are the Pecorino Sardo, Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Siciliano and Pecorino di Filiano from Basilicata.

You have to specify “Pecorino Grape” to finally get some viticultural information. The Pecorino grape is cultivated in south Marche and in Abruzzo primarily, plus some extra enclaves in Lazio. According to local legend, Pecorino gets its name from the sheep (pecora) who would snack on the grapes in the vineyard.

The grape is widely planted throughout central Italy, most notably in Abruzzo (where it has its undisputed roots), Lazio, Marche, Molise, Umbria and Puglia (that makes 6 regions out of 20), and is a permitted variety in DOC wines produced in 20 of Italy’s 95 provinces. Montepulciano is not found in northern Italy because the grape has a tendency to ripen late and can be excessively “green” if harvested too early.

When fully ripened, Montepulciano can produce deeply colored wines, with moderate acidity and noticeable extract and alcohol levels. Abruzzo’s Montepulciano wines differ widely according to production’s location and considered the vast influence of the Apennines mountain range. Fontefico’s rendition reflects seaside Vasto microclimate and is more filled with subtle earthy components lifted by some dark licorice and toasted coffee at the back end of the palate, providing “salted” freshness and with the alcohol completely integrated in the wine structure.

What else? Pecorino is a white grape variety of ancient origin, native of the Adriatic coast. Its earliest traces date back to the time of Cato the Elder (2nd century BC) that included among the varieties shipped to Italy during the migrations. Characterized by a premature ripening of the grapes and from low yields quantitative, it has never been much loved by producers who gradually replaced it with more prolific grape varieties, decreeing almost extinction in the late ‘70s.

Who has been credited of rediscovering this varietal? Discussions and arguments are still going on, but probably Marche region played a slightly more important role than the southern cousin Abruzzo. In 2001 it has been established in Marche the Offida DOC where Pecorino has been meantime replanted after 20 years of agricultural studies.

The story begins in 1982 when Guido Cocci Grifoni, a producer in south Marche, found old vines of an unknown variety in Arquata del Tronto and  extended lab researches established that … Pecorino was back. Cocci Grifoni’s first harvest dates 1990, after several years spent in micro-vinifications and vineyard experiments. Strange enough he bottled the wine simply as “Vino da Tavola” and without mentioning the grape variety on the labels. He is the true Pecorino hero and without him the variety would have been definitely lost.

 

The grape name still remains a mystery, but among the various hypotheses, primary credit has one that links it to the practice of transhumance, typical of Abruzzo: it seems that the sheep would go crazy for this type of grape that, maturing before the other regional varieties, was a sweetheart in the time of their passage, in mid-September.

The variety, in order to achieve excellence, needs good and cool ventilated hills with wide temperature changes. In addition to mature early, Pecorino presents natural medium to high sugar levels, which cause quite high alcohol levels and creates wines with good structure and marked acidity.

Beginning from 2011 Cerasuolo has its own specific DOC requiring lower yields in the vineyards. The name Cerasuolo originates from cerasa(or cirasce, in Abruzzi dialect), meaning cherry and it was attributed to the lively colour, “cherry red”, which this wine made from Montepulciano grapes traditionally always had. “Technically speaking is a rose – quoting the Alfieri bros– but at the very heart of its nature, this wine behaves more like a light red to be consumed even at room temperature. Versatility is simply huge here: from a chilled wine to be sipped by the pool during lazy hot afternoons, to a noble companion for tuna steak garnished with Mediterranean cherry tomatoes (in Italy are called pachini) and capers, cooked in crumbled bread. Don’t sleep on ethnic cuisines as well: Cambodian amok is a great pairing as well”. Generally speaking Cerasuolo is the darkest among the Italian rosè.

In a nutshell

  • Who: Fontefico
  • Where: Abruzzo, Vasto
  • What: Pecorino, Trebbiano, Malvasia, Cerasuolo, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Aglianico
  • Hectares: 15
  • Quantity: 40,000 bottles
  • Plus: organic certified wines and lots of experimental micro-vinifications

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