THE MYTH OF CASTEL DEL MONTE: Marmo’s vineyard are within the Andria district, where the landscape is dotted by olive trees and farms, dominated in the distance by an image that, better than any other, evokes this territory and its wine: the legendary Castel del Monte.The construction that assigns the name to the appellation, the Castel del Monte, wanted by the emperor Frederick II in the 13thcentury, is a receptacle of myths and legends. In addition to architectural features which makes it unique in the landscape of medieval castles, one of the most relevant story is about the Holy Grail, the sacred cup that contained the blood of Christ: according to legend, for a short time the relic was kept in one of the Castles rooms. Nowadays the area is still considered esoteric at the very least. Isn’t this a nice way to introduce a winery from Puglia?
Castel del Monte is the main wine area of northern Puglia, in which Nero di Troia (a late ripening variety) plays a leading role. Literally translated into English it would be … Black of Troy, and once again the myth takes a boost! This area accounts for a quarter of Puglia’s 5,000 hectares of this specific grape.
Definitely uncertain and controversial is the grape variety origin: some believe Nero di Troia native to Middle East Asia, and specifically related to the city of Troy, brought in Puglia by Diomedes after the homonymous war; other historic ampelographers stated that it is from Cruja, an Albanian town; there is a third wave, again, arguing that the real roots have to be tracked back in Spain, brought in Puglia by Don Alfonso d’Avolos, an admiral of the Royal Spanish Navy. Finally, and this is the hypothesis that we like most, historical experts believe the vine originated in the town of Troia, a small village in the province of Foggia, a specific micro-area where this varietal was for the first time raised and used to produce one wine that in the decades would have become famed with the name of “Cacc and Mitt”, nowadays an Italian wine appellation.
Being the third option out of three must sound as an uncomfortable position, and when it comes to Apulian grape varieties wine experts mention most likely Primitivo and Negroamaro, forgetting the third autochthonous kid. Forgetting in the best case, while probably we should simply say ignoring. Though recognized as one of the three main indigenous grapes from Puglia, Nero di Troia does not exceed 25% of regional production and is produced only in the Foggia, Barletta and Andria areas. The DOC appellation wine protocol allows up to 20% Montepulciano grape (or other authorized non aromatic red varietal), but Marmo family since their debut always preferred to elaborate the Nero di Troia as single varietal and only in 2009 a blended version was released (Il Tratto).
Since 2011 vintage Riserva wines from Castel del Monte appellation have been granted of the DOCG status (and in this case grapes are 100% Nero di Troia).
Puglia is basically a flat region except the Murgia area and the hills in Castel del Monte. Moderate altitude is a key advantage here with temperature excursions between night and day of 10 to 12 C°. Used in past decades as a blending grape, more recently Nero di Troia has become a star on its own, usually presenting a deep articulated structure, tannins and black smoked fruit flavors.
Helped by his daughter Maria, Giuseppe Marmo established the estate in 1999 between Andria and Castel del Monte. The winery consultant is Giuseppe Pizzolante, strong supporter of the potentiality coming from the local traditional grapes planted here and a meticulous hard worker with its relentless passion in the cellar.
The Marmo family planted 20 hectares of olive trees and 4 vineyards’ hectares dedicated to the local hero Nero di Troia plus a small plot planted with Montepulciano. The estate first ever vintage released to the market was 2003.
In theory production levels could rise up to 35.000 bottles per year, but the Marmos never wanted to bottle more than 25.000, selling the rest of the grapes to other local producers.
As stated by Giuseppe, Nero di Troia when vinified further north in Puglia in low-lying areas, near the Gulf of Manfredonia, wines present a lighter structure due to the alluvial soils; If cultivated at 200 to 300 meters above the sea level, on calcareous soils, like those of Castel del Monte, grapes are capable to produce a more austere and complex wine.
Nero di Troia rules here and Marmo produces 4 wines at the moment: a Rosato version, a blended red (Il Tratto made with a dash of Montepulciano), the Rosso Cocevola and the limited Riserva wine Vandalo.
White wine production by renting extra vineyards has been inconsistent throughout the years, anyhow always trying to focus on the Pampanuto variety (a clone of the Verdeca varietal which is a more common and known name in Puglia). Last vintage released has been the 2014.
… becausemy real goal was to produce only authentic Nero di Troia wine, that’s it”. Giuseppe Marmo uses a bit of irony to describe his unconditioned love for this grape variety that captured his attention several years ago.
Beside wine, DOP Terra di Bari – Castel del Monte olive oil production is a key asset and the “coratina” cultivar allows to deliver an oil with very low acidity and high percentage of polyphenols. The flavor is fragrant and persistent and is indicated in low cholesterol diets.
Furthermore the Marmos are involved in the taralli business artisanal production which is a great salty snack coming from an ancient tradition. Curious to get closer to this little yummy gem? Here is the website of Taralli Calt , the house brand managed by Paola Marmo (the other Giuseppe’s daughter). http://www.tarallicalt.it/
Views from the estate are simply breathtaking over the countryside and the town of Andria in the distance. A classic southern style gentleman, Giuseppe stares at the olive oil groves when he explains us his passion for wine. “The road leads to Castel del Monte between olives trees and gorgeous Mediterranean undergrowth. When I planted olive trees I knew that I was doing the right thing, but I wanted at the same time to plant Nero di Troia because this variety shares somehow the same obscure path of mystery as the Castle wanted by Frederick II of Swabia”.
Nobody knew why Frederick II of Swabia wanted this Castel right there, as it has never been used as a fortress nor as a royal event location.
Quoting Giuseppe Marmo: “Giving the name of Vandalo to our best estate wine was thought provoking: I decided to associate power and speed values to the wine, while public opinion thought that the name was referring to the Vandals, the barbarian population that invaded and sacked Rome in 455. I thought that this misunderstanding was funny enough to keep it alive for a while”. The chronicler Prosper of Aquitaine offers the only fifth-century report that on 2 June 455, Pope Leo the Great received Vandal’s king Genseric and implored him to abstain from murder and destruction by fire, and to be satisfied with pillage. Whether the pope’s influence saved Rome is, however, questioned and the Vandals departed with countless valuables.
“As fast as Vandalo”, a saying circulated in Italy between the last decades of the 19th century and the 1920s to define a horse, an exceptional trotter, not only for its time, but always considered a unique legend in the following decades. Born in 1862, a year after the unification of Italy, Vandalo was the first champion capable to make a breach into the heart of a people that had just begun to feel themselves as Italian. When soccer and cycling were yet to come, trotting became the first popular sport supported by a passionate fan base. Vandalo beat the great champions, most of the time winning competitions abroad, providing an Italian feeling and pride to a young country with a bewildered population lacking real unity. A social phenomenon at the time, this thoroughbred horse was the first beloved “campionissimo” due to over 300 races won, although the official record includes only 200 wins on 226 races.
Giuseppe loves speed and he associates his living philosophy to Vandalo: “It was a singular destiny that with the end of the Vandalo era, a whole rural world collapsed including ancient animal transport system giving the way to the new era of the engines. Speed although was a strong link between the two times and Vandalo strength was a sort of ideal relay between horses and horsepower. It doesn’t look weird at all that this switch ideally happened in the Emilia Romagna region, a natural cradle for horses and at the same time the stage in which modern speed made its debut with Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati”.
When Mario Natucci, a journalist and a famous Italian writer (and wine aficionado), just by chance tasted the Vandalo wine at the Vinitaly wine fair, Giuseppe Marmo did not know that this gentleman was on the way to publish a book dedicated to this champion. Mario Natucci is the grandson of the horse’s owner.
In a nutshell the estates currently produces 4 wines: The Rosato reaffirms once again the great tradition of Apulian varieties produced as rosé and it drinks almost like a light red with piquant salty notes at the back end of the palate. Il Tratto is the only blended wine produced (with 20% of Montepulciano) while the Rosso Cocevola is the everyday wine and Vandalo is the flagship one.