Terra di Briganti
This Campanian estate is located in Casalduni in the Benevento province, in the middle of the Sannio area where local “briganti” (brigands in English), during the years following Italian independence and unity, had several bloody clashes with official Italian troops. Brigands were often former Bourbons officers and soldiers defeated by the kingdom of Piemonte and Savoy, giving way to national unity in 1861.
In this untamed and raw area called Sannio, local brigands rested between clashes and ambushes in a triangle of land formed by barnyards in Contrada Colli, Fontana Greca and Ferrarise, all subareas which were the set of violence and extremely painful episodes affecting as well the local civil population. This triangle shaped area is still permeated by stories and legends, including the curse of the brigands treasure found by a local farmer who then suffered several family disasters for not sharing this fortune. Terra di Briganti estate lies exactly here.
Obviously everything changed in the course of the last 150 years and the brigands are gone, although old memories and historical researches keep these past episodes alive within new generations thanks to theaters shows, educational and reenactment activities and historical roundtables. Brothers Toni and Romeo De Cicco respected this pacific cultural counter information movement, naming this estate after the brigands just following the stream of history and, at the same time, avoiding to lend themselves to any kind of pathetic Southern nostalgia.
Meeting Toni and Romeo is like taking a reverse path to the evolution of their territory and homeland, within the strange condition of a double exile: after several years of emigration in Germany (the two brothers were born and raised in Dortmund by humble and hard working parents while the land was belonging to and cultivated by their grandparents) the De Cicco family decided to get back to Sannio and adjusting habits and lifestyle took some time.
The brothers find out themselves that foreign wine merchants often needed Naples as geographical reference point, but as Toni confesses “to be honest, we have nothing to share with Naples, its culture and even its wines, while Sannio was always being considered the more isolated and rural area in Campania”.
These are the key numbers: yearly production tops 40.000 bottles farming 8 hectares all around Casalduni area, except some few parcels located round Torrecuso where local hero Aglianico grape develops on sandy soils showing its most authentic and powerful austere side. Late ripening Aglianico production is declined in different types including a basic range, Nato Nudo (no added sulphites) and top tier Martummè, aged 12 month in new, 2nd and 3rd passage French barrique.
Beside Aglianico, Terra di Briganti produces among the reds Sciascinoso, an obscure variety very close to extinction, but recently replanted, and to lesser extent Piedirosso. There are no more than five estates tending Sciascinoso vines in Campania and marketing it a single varietal bottle. Within the white family Falanghina is the most relevant grape followed by Fiano, capable to age with elegance and majesty, and Coda di Volpe (in English literally translated in Fox Tail).
Already appreciated and described by Pliny in his “Natural history”, the native Sannite variety Sciascinoso is one of the few which also survived the phylloxera devastation. The Sciascinoso is sometimes confused in Campania with its sibling Olivella that derives its name from the elongated olive-like shape. Modern studies confirm that the varietals are similar varieties, maybe with a common parent. The destiny of the two grapes’ popularity took different paths: today in Campania Olivella is widespread in Naples and Salerno provinces where it’s always blended with Aglianico and/or Piedirosso, while obscure Sciascinoso has been almost forgotten in the Sannio area around Benevento city. A century later the first genetic studies, the bottom line is that Sciascinoso grape is found in Sannio only with few producers bottling it as a single varietal (a must-have!). Recovering grapes is hard and always worth the effort.
Now let’s talk a bit about the Coda di Volpe varietal. The varietal was for a long time used for blending to soften the edges of other white wines made from Fiano and Greco grapes and it is for this reason that it is still allowed by regulations governing some DOC classified wines. Because it grows throughout the Campania region, it is not easy to define a single profile for Coda di Volpe due to morphological and cloning variations. In general the buds have a low fertility and production is not constant. The grape is rich in polyphenols and thus special attention must be made during picking, which usually takes place in the first ten days of October when it is fully ripe. On a more positive note, the vines easily adapt to different training methods. The grapes are small, have a thick skin and have a lot of pruinose that tends to turn yellow when the grape ripens. The varietal’s name derives from its resemblance to a foxtail being long, fluffy and compact, with the bunch ending with a sort of “L”.
Already in 2004 when the newborn estate released its first vintage to the market, they chose to work with an organic certification. All this was a result not just of a philosophical vision, but a donation to future generation by preserving land integrity and territory. After several years the two bros did not regret this option as they always considered the only way to elevate their quality standards production. In February 2018 Terra di Briganti completed the 3 years long process and has gained the biodynamic certification, strictly controlled by Demeter: wines coming from the 2017 vintage are the first ones to present a Demeter logo on the labels.
And who would love invasive chemistry fertilizers maybe just beyond the vineyard where your children are running in the home back garden and playing with cats and dogs? Toni and Romeo have never faced the economical question of having lower yields compared to the bestowers of the maxi local co-op, as they were never tired of respecting organic protocols and vineyard tending, always considering the land protection the cornerstone of their passionate craftsmanship.
The estate is managed according to organic agricultural process and protocols, all practices certified by Suolo e Salute organisation. Fertilizations are carried out with green manure and pesticide treatments with just sulfur and copper, sprayed at low volumes so to avoid water wasting. Cover cropping is another relevant key element and, generally speaking, the estate vines present a beautiful and lively disorder. Hoers provide an efficient interrow management within vines by a soil tillage that does not damage the plant stem. Increasing and successful micro-vinifications experiments are rewarding the De Ciccos and, as a consequence, the two brothers are producing wines with lower levels of sulphites compared to some years ago (by the way just added before bottling) and with the Nato Nudo (meaning Born Naked) wine range skipping any added sulphites.
The De Cicco bros feel pretty safe about on strategic key element: as long as they will continue to work with quality driven wines, sales crisis that sometimes plague many Italian DOC appellations will never affect this little corner of Sannio: no exorbitant ex works prices, great healthy soils and lots of indigenous grape varieties. A good mix enhanced by the wisdom of the enologist Roberto Mazzer, a guy who prefers to respect the territory nature, rather than force it in something else. Terra di Briganti exports at least 60 % of its production abroad, especially in USA, Japan, China and Germany.
Steep Hill imports in NY the following wines: Falanghina, Fiano Nato Nudo, Coda di Volpe, Sciascinoso and Aglianico Nato Nudo.
Falanghina 2018 Sannio DOP: this is the most produced wine by Terra di Briganti, roughly reaching 25% of the total production. Soils rich in clay and sandstone elements. The vineyards’ exposition is south and south-east, sitting from 250 to 300 meters above the sea level and located within the production area of Sannio and Taburno DOC appellations. The wine is officially released as SANNIO DOP (where the P stands for Protected).
The training system is Guyot with 3.000 plant per hectare density. Yields are around 75 quintals per hectare. Hand harvested in the 2nd half of September. Direct press and 25 days long fermentation with indigenous yeast. Fermented and raised in stainless steel vats for 4 months and then bottled. Released to the market the spring following the harvest. Unfined and unfiltered. Certifications: Organic, biodynamic and vegan.
Fiano Nato Nudo 2018 Benevento IGP: Once again Terra di Briganti decided to release their latest Fiano with no added sulphites. The 2018 wine has been macerated on the skins for 7 days. Fermented and raised in stainless steel tanks. According to Romeo De Cicco: “This wine originates from a guyot trained vineyard planted with 4.500 vines per hectare density. We wanted to stress from the very beginning vines completion and that’s the reason why we wanted more density than the usual when we started working with this variety years ago. After 14 years since its planting, this vineyard is providing more nuanced and richer wines with performances that, year in year out, are increasingly satisfying quality wise. This vineyard is a huge asset for us and due to the west facing position, sun doesn’t hit directly on grapes but on the leaves allowing a slower but constant ripening process. Unfined and unfiltered. Certifications: Organic, biodynamic and vegan.
Coda di Volpe 2018 Benevento IGP: The name Coda di Volpe means “tail of the fox”, and was given in reference to the variety’s long, pendulous bunches of grapes ending with a sort of L, which resemble a fox’s bushy tail. Once the Coda di Volpe Terra di Briganti’s offering was a classic white wine made with grapes’ direct pressing. Instead the 2018 vintage follows the step of the 2017 displaying a deep orange color given by 8 days of skin contact which is enhanced by the transparent glass. Fermented and raised in stainless steel tanks. Unfined and unfiltered. Certifications: Organic, biodynamic (not carrying the Demeter logo yet) and vegan.
Sciascinoso 2017 Sannio DOP: Very few producers in Campania bottle this grape as a single varietal wine and Terra di Briganti is among them. The vast majority of the producers blend it with Aglianico and Piedirosso, in the Lacrima Christi appellation and in all the other tiny appellations on the Amalfi Coast. Briganti’s Sciascinoso has been totally fermented in stainless steel vats. The ageing process continues in tanks and then the wine is racked to fiberglass vats. Unfined and unfiltered. Certifications: Organic, biodynamic (carrying the Demeter logo) and vegan. The wine presents a lively violet color, a good load of forward fresh forest fruit and nice acidity. The variety itself very rarely exceeds 13% Abv, and the 2017 vintage is listed at only 12,5% Abv. This wine can be slightly chilled.
Aglianico Nato Nudo 2017 Benevento IGT: Vineyards are Guyot planted with 2500 vines/hectare density and yields at 60ql/ha, sitting at an average altitude of 330 above the sea level. Fermented with indigenous yeast only and aged a full year in stainless steel vats. Unfined and unfiltered and no sulfites added (contains only the sulfites occurring with the spontaneous fermentation). Certifications: Organic, biodynamic (carrying the Demeter logo) and vegan. What about food pairings? Well cured cheeses, grilled meat (especially lamb) and aubergines, wild game, ammugliatielli (tasty lamb rolls, a legacy of the local cuisine that still displays a classic peasant culture and heritage).
In a nutshell
terra dei briganti