The Ampelonauts of Aquila del Torre

09 November 2023

Grape cultivation was first introduced to the Eastern Hills of Friuli by the Romans. Savorgnano del Torre will be officially recognized as a subzone of the denomination in 2024.

Located on the first high hills near the Julian Alps, in the northwestern region of the Eastern Hills of Friuli, Aquila del Torre‘s 18 hectares of vineyards are arranged in an amphitheater-like terrace, coexisting with a vibrant forest that adds to the place’s allure.

The soil where the vine roots grow is unique, known locally as “flysch” or “ponca.” It consists of layers of marl and sandstone with a clay texture. Michele Ciani, who now leads the family business, explains: “Fifty million years ago, these lands were underwater. Clay and sands were stratified on the seabed, and it’s from this stratification of marl and sandstone that our vines draw their essence. Wines from the region are typically mineral and savory, and this character becomes more pronounced as the roots reach the bedrock.”

A Pragmatic Approach

The Ciani family took over the business relatively recently, with Michele noting, “There was a mixed-purpose farm here: they cultivated vines, apple trees, cherry trees, and olives. A part of the farm was dedicated to cattle breeding. My grandfather and father initiated the family project in 1996, reviving the old Friulano and Picolit vineyards and clearing the overgrown forest on the terraces.”

The vineyards were restructured and cleaned up, less invasive and smaller tractors were introduced, and new plantings were carried out from 1999 to 2003; these now form the bulk of the business. The winery was rebuilt with a focus on hospitality. In 2010, they started the conversion to organic farming, which was certified three years later. In 2014, Michele joined FIVI (Federazione Italiana Vignaioli Indipendenti), opening the door to collaboration with other independent winemakers. It was a gradual process that has also influenced recent choices in the field.

“By engaging with other winemakers, we became part of the ‘Agricoltura Vivente‘ association, which was founded with the aim of promoting practical biodynamic agriculture methods. The association follows the guidelines of Alex Podolinsky, known for a more pragmatic approach compared to the Steiner philosophy. With my background in agronomy, as I delved into Podolinsky’s principles, I understood that we should focus on soil observation, the vine canopy’s growth, and the entire context surrounding the vineyard. Only by considering the estate as an agricultural organism can we enable the grapes to express themselves to the fullest.”

The importance of observation

“For us, biodynamics doesn’t just mean applying preparations, although they are part of our practices.” They describe their preparations based on yarrow, chamomile, nettle, oak bark, dandelion, and valerian on their website: these trigger compost fermentation and are subsequently buried in the vineyard. This process enhances soil vitality, and the vine roots benefit from it. In addition, they apply 500P and horn-silica preparations and practice cover cropping while paying special attention to maintaining soil balance.

“The essence of biodynamics lies mostly in the ability to observe, interpreting soil characteristics, the way vines grow, their response to different climatic conditions each year, and guiding them to express their best potential.” Modern technological tools also contribute to this approach. During the 2020 lockdown, Michele used the time to deepen his knowledge of the 4Grapes app and become an ampelonaut. “The app aligns with our vineyard monitoring goals. It brings us closer to our vineyards, allowing us to gather a large amount of data, make comparisons, organize the company’s priorities, intervene in specific areas with recurring vineyard imbalances, and maintain overall system balance.”

Aquila del Torre

  • 18 hectares – 60,000 bottles
  • Fertilizers: compost, biodynamic preparations, green manure
  • Plant protection: copper, sulfur, resistance inductors
  • Weeding: mechanical and manual
  • Fermentation: indigenous yeasts with pied de cuve fermentation
  • Grapes: 100% own
  • Certification: organic
  • Slow Wine Awards: Top Wine and Slow Wine for FCO Friulano 2021. The elegant floral notes on the nose, preceded by a hint of sulfur, introduce a substantial sip, characterized by masterful mineral incisiveness. A true masterpiece.

The grapes and the wine

Friuliano: resilient by nature

As in the vineyards, the winery minimizes input to allow the grapes to fully express the terroir, climate, and seasons. However, Aquila del Torre goes a step further, venturing into the unexpected. “For Friulano, we switched from classic large wooden barrels to raw cement vats. Friulano matures in egg-shaped cement tanks with the right porosity for aging on fine lees in the cellar.”

Picolit: a tamed rebel

“The other local grape variety is Picolit, which Aquila del Torre offers in the classic passito DOCG version and a less conventional dry version called ‘Oasi.’ The most significant upcoming projects of the winery are focused on this variety. Our recent bet has been to vinify this variety as a single varietal, producing a dry white wine without any residual sweetness, breaking away from the traditional DOCG norms. In the last vintage, we, along with other winemakers from Savorgnano del Torre, started producing ‘Savorgnano Bianco,’ too: this is a blend of the most territorial grapes, namely Friulano and Picolit, as a dry white wine.’

Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso: a native grape variety

Prioritizing native grape varieties not only provides a more faithful representation of the terroir but is also a more considered choice in light of climate change: ‘Friulano and Picolit are the most suitable varieties for this type of soil and are simultaneously more resistant to climate stresses. In the same direction, among red grape varieties, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, including the ‘Riserva’ version, is another example of a native variety that is more adaptable to climate change.'”

by Silvia Ceriani, info.eventi@slowfood.it

Note.

  1. Alex Podolinsky, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 94, is one of the pioneers of biodynamic agriculture. With Russian-Ukrainian origins, he initiated the biodynamic movement in Australia by founding the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Australia (BDAAA). Podolinsky conducted a series of introductory lectures on biodynamics, where he outlined the fundamental techniques of a modern and professional biodynamic farming method for the first time. These lectures have been transcribed and translated into eight languages and are widely read worldwide. For the practical application of biodynamics, these lectures hold an importance similar to the eight lectures by Rudolf Steiner, which were instrumental in the initial development of the biodynamic method.

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