If you have the time, this is something you don’t want to miss. It is a completely different experience than a visit to a standard, faceless, commercial winery. Andrea owns a small vineyard on the steep hills close to Riomaggiore, painstakingly chipped out of the rocky hillsides years ago. Retaining walls, 3-6 feet high are used to stabilize the ground, but also to reflect and to retain the heat from the sun for the vines. The vineyard is actually right alongside the narrow walking path from the SP 370 highway to the Santuario della Madonna di Montenero.
Small, with only around 1000 vines, he cultivates his orchard single-handedly, mostly by hand, also because the terrain is not suitable for mechanical aids. The only thing mechanical in the area is that every few hundred yards there is a track for a trolley to go from the top of the mountain to the highway several hundred feet below to transport the harvest to a more accessible place, where a motorized vehicle can pick it up for transport to the winery. This is a community trolley, used by several winegrowers in the vicinity.
He grows a mixture of Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola vines, which are the usual vines in this region.
For the tour he charges €39 per person, minimum of 3 persons, and the tour will take 3-4 hours. He will meet you at the Banca Carige in the center of Riomaggiore or at the information center at the top of the town. With three guests, he has a small car with which he can drive you to the bottom of the hill where his vineyard is located. At the end of the vineyard tour, he'll drive you to the winery. If there are more guests, you will all take the bus. But then you have to make a long walk from the vineyard to the winery in town, because the bus goes very infrequently. If you have a car you can follow him to his vineyard and back.
The bus stop is also the start of the path to the Santuario. Halfway up the hill you will pass the vineyard of Andrea. He is just a one-person operator and somebody wrote a glowing website for him, (it doesn’t quite sound like him; he is much more modest) where you can make reservations, but you also can contact him at Andrea.Pecunia@virgilio.it and save him the agency’s fees, or call him at 39 3 2870 4791.
From the bottom of the hill you walk up a steep path to his vineyard, where he will explain how he grows his vines. From there you have a marvelous view of the surroundings and the Ligurian Sea and wonder who so many people still cultivate these wines on this difficult terrain. He says he loves the challenge of almost singlehandedly making beautiful wines responsibly. He still uses a copper-sulfur spray for his plants, avoiding the synthetic insecticides used in most other vineyards. Neither does he use chemicals to control the grass and weeds around his plants. At ground level he encloses the stems of the vines with a short section of plastic tubing. To remove the undesired vegetation he uses a standard Weedeater, which uses a fast rotating plastic string to cut the weeds. The plastic tubes around the vines are there to protect the vines from unintentional damage during this operation.
From his vineyard is a short 10 minute walk up to the Santuario, located up on a hill where you will find a 14th century church and where you have an amazing 360 degrees view of the surrounding mountains, villages in the distance, and the blue sea below.
Then Andrea will take you back to Riomaggiore to show you his winery. What you will see is the smallest commercial winery ever. It is a cellar about 8’ x 30’, where he takes his harvest and removes the stems, then presses his grapes, after which he ferments them in the same type unglazed earthenware jars as the ancients have done thousands of years ago. Then he bottles his wine, and affixes his labels, and stores them in the back shelf ready for sale. And all of this is done by hand.
He makes the two most important wines of the region, the white Cinque Terre wine and the Sciacchetrà. For this he combines his grapes, a blend of the three varieties described earlier, of which at least 60 % is Bosco, and separates them in two batches. The lower quality grapes are processed immediately. This will result in the “white” Cinque Terre wine, which is actually still somewhat pinkish because of the process. It has a delicate bouquet and a fine finish. The minimum alcohol content is 11 %. He sells this wine for €15/bottle of which 21 % is the Value Added Tax. So he doesn’t pocket very much for himself.
The better quality grapes are hung up from the rafters to dry and to allow the sugars to develop and concentrate. After some weeks, they have lost a lot of moisture and are almost like raisins. In October they are processed into the more headier amber-colored nectar, also known as Sciacchetrà. These wines from his production come in smaller bottles of around 350 ml each and he retails them for €35/bottle. It is an excellent dessert wine with an alcohol concentration of around 17 %. The usual price of these wines in the wine shops is round €40. Not cheap, but there is a lot of work involved. And the yield is also much smaller, because the grapes have lost lot of moisture during the drying process.
His total production of both wines is only 1000 bottles/year, which is barely enough to make even a tenuous living. You wonder why people still do this; he says he does this because he loves the challenge of making a superb wine. He does these tours to supplement his income, but he nevertheless pours out generous portions of both wines for tasting. He is a very nice guy. But he is never going to be rich in this business.
For more information, see http://www.travelswithhok.com/The_Cinque_Terre/Entries/2013/5/1_I__Riomaggiore.html
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