When we are in Rome we often spend a day in Orvieto, a beautiful town in Umbria, just a short ride away by train. This year we were traveling with a friend who had never been there and we decided to go, have lunch, and visit the Argillae winery.
I contacted Giulia di Cosimo, manager of the winery, who Michele and I met on a Hello Grappa press trip. Giulia’s mother is a member of the Bonollo family, which owns distilleries in different parts of Italy.
We had lunch at Osteria dell’Orso in Orvieto and Giulia met us after lunch and drove us to the winery.
Giulia told us about the Argillae estate. Argillae was founded by Cavaliere del Lavoro Giuseppe Bonollo, Giulia’s grandfather, founder of Bonollo, Spa., the biggest Italian distillery. She said the estate covers an area of about 220 hectares between the hills of Allerone and Ficulle, northwest of the town of Orvieto. The soil is mostly clay, limestone and rocks but what makes it unique she said is that the area was once covered with water and it contains a lot of fossils such as seashells from the Pilocene period. These fossils enrich the soil with mineral components which pass into the wine.
The terroir is mostly clay-calcareous and Giulia said this type of soil stays cooler than other soils and works well in hot regions like Umbria. The clayey part retains the water and this helps the grapes during the dry season, while the calcareous part drains well, avoiding diseases caused by stagnation and humidity. Argillae in Latin means clay.
They do everything they can to protect the environment; to her it is not a philosophy but a way of life.
Orvieto Classico Superiore DOC “Panata” 2018 made from 50% Grechetto, 20% Procanico and 30% Chardonnay. There are 4,000 wines per hectare for the Grechetto and Procanico, and for the Chardonnay 3,333 vines per hectare and the training system is guyot. Harvest is by hand and takes place in September. The grape undergoes a brief cold maceration process to obtain the ideal extraction of the aromas and is then pressed very lightly. The musts ferment separately in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. A small portion of the Grechetto must is fermented and refined in oak barriques and everything is then blended together. The wine remains on the lees until it is bottled in March/April. This is a well-structured, elegant wine with hints of yellow flowers, grapefruit, nice minerality and good acidity.
Bianco Umbria 2017 IGT “Primo d’Anfora” made from Grechetto di Orvietto Drupeggio (aka Canaiolo Bianco) and Malvasia (3% of the Malvasia is late harvest). The 3 varieties are in 3 separate amphora with skin contact.
After two weeks the wines go into stainless steel tanks where they are blended. Then the blended wine goes back into the amphora for another 8 months before it is bottled. Giulia said this is her project because she wanted to produce wine close to the way the ancient Etruscans did. This is a full-bodied wine with citrus aromas and flavors, nice minerality, good acidity, with a pleasing aftertaste and a long finish.
Umbria IGT Bianco Grechetto 2018 made from 100% Grechetto The training system is guyot, there are 4,000 vines per hectare and the harvest takes place in September. After a careful selection in the vineyards, cold maceration takes place. There is a brief pressing and the juice is racked and fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature. The wine remains on the lees in stainless steel tanks before the wine is bottled in February/March. The wine has hints of citrus fruit, a touch of jasmine, good acidity and what Giulia referred to as the typical almond finish. This was the white wine that my two friends really enjoyed.
Orvieto Superiore DOC 2018 made from Grechetto, Procanico, Malvasia,Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The training system is guyot. There are 4,000 vines per hectare for the Grechetto and Procanico and 3,333 for the others. Harvest takes place in September. Each variety is vinified separately. The grapes are delicately pressed and the resulting juice is racked and fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature. The wine remains on the lees until it is bottled in February/March. Giulia said she wished to pay homage to the regional tradition of Umbria by creating a fresh dry white wine with intense aromas of flowers, citrus and tropical fruit. The wine has nice mineral notes, good acidity and a refreshing finish.
Umbria Rosso IGT “Sinuoso” 2017 means smooth or round. Made from 35% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Montepulicano. The soil is clay-calcareous and the training system is guyot. There are 3,333 plants per hectare and the harvest takes place in October. After destemming and crushing there are 15 days maceration with regular must pump-over on the skins. Both the alcoholic fermentation and the malolactic fermentation are in stainless steel. The wine is subsequently fined for several months and is periodically racked with the addition of oxygen. The wine remains in bottle for 3/4 months before release. This is a fruity red wine with hints of cherry, black currant and plum with a long finish.
Unbria Rosso IGT “Vasellarus 2017” made from 85% Montepulciano, and 15 Cabernet Sauvignon. The training method is guyot and there are 3,333 vines per hectare. Harvest is by hand in October. The grapes are crushed and destemmed and there is a 25/30-day maceration period with frequent pumpovers on the skins, accompanied by several rack and return procedures. Alcoholic fermentation is in steel tanks at a controlled temperature and malolactic fermentation takes place in barriques. The wine is aged in French barriques with racking on a regular basis, depending on the need. The wine remains in the bottle for another 8/12 months before release. The wine has hints of ripe red fruit, spice, black pepper and vanilla notes.
Giulia said the Vascellari were medieval pottery and ceramic producers in Orvieto. The pieces mainly featured floral, animal and mythological motifs. As a tribute to the craftsman, the label of the bottle takes inspiration from one of the works and displays the shape of a dragon. In the lower section there is depicted an ancient contract related to a selling of a group of ceramics.