Monday, October 20, 2014

Viticulturist Mark Walpole on assyrtiko

My recent Weekend Australian article on assyrtiko prompted Mark Walpole, one of Australia’s most highly esteemed viticulturists, to send me two emails and accompanying photographs which are utterly fascinating, and really require not additional comment from me. - JH

Hi James
I read with interest the recent Weekend Australian article on Assyrtiko and the discussion relating to phylloxera.
It reminded me of an experience I had some years ago in southern Italy.
I had asked Alberto Antonini if he could set me up with a couple of wineries around Naples/Caserta to look at some of the native varieties such as Piedirosso, Fahlangina, Casavecchia and Pallagrello.

One of our visits was to Cantine Grotta del Sole near Pozzuoli.
They took me to a place called Campi Flegrei – essentially a partly flooded volcanic crater with vines and citrus growing on the sides and bottom. Driving down the track into the crater made me feel as though I was driving into a part of post WWII Italy. The humble shack at the bottom had chooks, pigs and so on wandering about. A wiry leathery skinned guy came out and showed us around his 20 acres of vines that were all hand sprayed with a knapsack and ladder.
The vines are enormous – grown up massive tree like trellis systems, regularly using Lombardy poplars or pear trees to support the vines. They are grown in all directions, in the volcanic sand or tufo.
As we walked through the vineyard I noticed a cavern in the wall of the crater in the distance. Upon asking what it was the reply was ‘ Some old Roman baths’. When we went inside it was typically full of rubbish and overgrown with weeds. Totally neglected.
As we were walking back to the house I pondered the fact that there had been people in this place for a very long time. When I asked how old the vineyard was he shrugged and said ‘Who knows – maybe 500 years old’. As the vines were growing in the volcanic sand – a natural inhibitor to the movement and survival of phylloxera - they were on own roots. So when one vine died, they just replaced it with a layer from the neighbouring vine.

Given the quality they were able to achieve with Fahlangina and Piedirosso on the old system, Alberto convinced them to pull a bit out and plant on a high density trellised system.
When we had a look there was a peach tree in the middle of it. When the winemaker asked what was going on the reply in typical peasant fashion was ‘ When we’ve picked the fruit we’ll pull it out’.
Since the recent publication of Wine Grapes by Jancis et al, it has now been found that one of the parents of Sangiovese (Calabrese di Montenuovo)has been discovered growing in the Campi Flegrei, and nowhere else – in fact the Montenuovo refers to the ‘New mount’ in the base of the crater of Lago d’Averno.

Mark W

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