Terroir and our vineyards

By Romano D’Amario - winemaker and agronomist at the Ciavolich estate

The Loreto Aprutino

Loreto Aprutino is located in the rolling hills of Pescara province, 250 metres above sea level and a few kilometres from Gran Sasso, the highest massif in the central Apennines, and the Calderone glacier.

Terroir | Ciavolich - Cantina dal 1853

The Soil

In our predominantly viticultural and olive-growing area, clay and loamy clay soils prevail and, as the sand content increases, turn to silty clay and silty clay loam; all tend to varying degrees of compactness and with a good capacity to capture water, which is then firmly retained in the interstices. This is a great advantage in dry years, but can cause issues of stagnation in excessively rainy years.
Between 20 and 40 million years ago, the Apennines and the nearby hilly areas were formed by the collision of the northernmost part of the African (Adriatic) tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate. This led to the emergence of sedimentary rock formed at the bottom of the oceans, which we can see today in our mountains and hills.
Clay makes up 80% of sedimentary rock. Gran Sasso, the highest and most impressive massif in the central Apennines, was formed in its current shape by secondary and subsequent tectonic movements recorded some 6 million years ago, and consists of generally compact limestones and dolomias and less compact marls.
The Loreto area, therefore, is clay tending to silt, since it is a clay/silty fraction of the primary outcrop, modified over time and partially replaced by fine sandy material brought from the nearby rocky massif of the Gran Sasso by wind erosion. It is worth remembering that the plateau of Campo Imperatore is known as Little Tibet, due to its origin and size.


Loreto Aprutino is an area that generates and supports a viticultural model with a high level of solar energy. In this area, overall solar radiation, that is, the sum of direct radiation and diffuse radiation, is among the highest in Italy. This results in a higher than average number of clear days during the vegetative cycle of plants. This is because the proximity of the sea and the Gran Sasso massif amplifies the effects of land and sea breezes, and acts to disperse stratiform clouds formed by condensed water vapour which, if present, would shield direct radiation to the ground, thus reducing the value of radiation to the plants during the vegetative cycle.

Radiant energy is important for vines, as the chlorophyll contained in the plant cells of the leaf stalk, in the presence of water from the roots and carbon dioxide from the stomata, converts this energy into chemical energy, which is essential for the correct functioning of the plant and for all the phenomena of organic synthesis of substances found in grapes and wines.

With the growth of leaf surface, expressed in square meters per hectare, therefore, the amount of potentially accessible solar energy increases, and the amount of assimilable carbon dioxide and consequently the quantity of organic matter the plant is able to produce is maximised.

The leaf area per hectare achieved by the system used in the vineyard in each production cycle, in relation to the production levels expected and obtained (the ratio of production per square metre of leaves to kg of grapes produced), depends on the length of the cycle (early or late varieties), but even more on the cultivation system, the height of the plants, the availability of water to the roots etc.
The cultivation system that works best, in terms of its ability to fully capture solar radiation and the associated abundant leaf area, is undoubtedly the Pergola Abruzzese trellis system, provided that there is sufficient

Terroir | Ciavolich - Cantina dal 1853

vegetative vigour to achieve full leaf surface, but above all an abundant and prolonged emission of shoots, which need to remain healthy and active until the grapes ripen. This is why Loreto Aprutino has historically employed this cultivation method.

Conversely, in the row system, there is generally a lower leaf area per hectare, and a greater portion of the radiation, rather than being intercepted by the leaves, is discharged onto the ground; therefore, to maintain optimal yields, the production per hectare must be lower.
Moreover, with the row system, the vines have a smaller and shallower root system, so the plants need to be supported by remedial irrigation during persistent periods of drought.

The Pianella terroir

Pianella and Loreto Aprutino are adjacent areas, and the geological formation process is the same. The soil is therefore predominantly clayey with limited amounts of silt and sand.

The soils in Pianella are harder, more compact and malleable than those of Loreto, with a greater ability to retain precipitation, and consequently a higher production capacity.

The company estates

In general terms, the vine-growing area of the Casauria-Vestina district constitutes a kind of ridge between the viticulture of the north and the south of Italy. In other words, we and our vines need to adopt the classic wine-growing methods of the north (with issues of low alcohol content, excessive acidity, incomplete phenolic maturation, spoilage of the product on ripening, etc) or the south (excessive alcohol content, low acidity, high pH levels, over-ripening, fluctuations in production, etc) depending on whether the season tends to be cold and rainy or warm and dry.
Therefore the simultaneous presence of a more contained training system, suitable for viticulture in cool, rainy conditions (rows), and a more expansive system suitable for hot, dry conditions (trellis), gives a guarantee, even in the most extreme growing seasons, that the product can develop as far as possible in line with previous vintages (a criterion of reliability for the company).

Terroir | Ciavolich - Cantina dal 1853

While in exceptional years the different growing systems can equalise the product, in years with average weather conditions they act as a variegating element, as previously mentioned when discussing solar radiation.

The real issue is not the use of a contained or expansive system of vine training, but the percentage impact of one or the other on the company’s viticultural heritage, in a kind of economic/productive balance linked to the products created and marketed.

Terroir | Ciavolich - Cantina dal 1853
Terroir | Ciavolich - Cantina dal 1853


This variety is characterised by a marked precocity in shooting, a lower precocity in ripening and a consequent high sensitivity to frost. Clusters are small to medium in size, and the yield per hectare depends to a large extent on the number of clusters per plant rather than the weight of the clusters, and is never very high. In biochemical terms, it benefits greatly from high solar radiation, which allows it to accumulate both high sugar content and large amounts of organic acids, while retaining a low pH. In my opinion, the variety’s characteristic aromatic makeup is both terpenic and to a lesser extent thiolic; the content of the latter depends more on the microclimate and the vine training system than on the vinification method and the yeasts used in fermentation.
The Pianella vineyard, an Abruzzo pergola plot located in a lower and cooler valley area, ensures higher yields and, with the same overall acidity, the must has a higher malic acid content, a decidedly low pH, a lower concentration of flavonols and more thiolic characteristics compared to musts from vines grown with the row system. The resulting wine therefore displays a reserve of freshness, stability and aromatic finesse in the finished product, giving it even more complexity and variety.
The Loreto vineyard, using the row system and double Guyot pruning, is located on a hillside with eastern exposure, and gives generally low yields and musts which have lower overall acidity and malic acid, and pH tending to low, but are richer in flavonols and sugars. The wine from this vineyard displays excellent body and aromatic potency in the final product, which therefore appears more balanced, persistent on the palate and more suitable for subsequent post-fermentation refinement or development in the bottle.


This variety is characterised by medium to late shooting and equally medium to late ripening. It shows remarkable vigour, with clusters of medium to large weight, and the yield per hectare can be high, depending to a large extent on the weight of the clusters, which can vary widely (from 350 to 700 grammes). In biochemical terms, the variety is able to draw from the soil and store large amounts of water, resulting in high content of sugars and organic acids in the must and a pH which is never very low. The characteristic aromatic profile is predominantly terpenic and, in my opinion, in the most suitable growing areas with high solar radiation, equal to other varieties often considered superior in this respect. The quality of the aromatic profile depends mainly on the time of harvest, the winemaking techniques and fermentation yeasts (this is an extremely “malleable” variety), and the training system used, as this helps to increase the number of clusters per plant and limit their unit weight.
The Loreto vineyard is an Abruzzo pergola plot located on a medium-high hillside with western exposure and using the dry method; the vines are almost 50 years of age and of massal selection, with an excellent ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare, resulting in musts with medium to high sugar content, balanced overall acidity, never excessive malic acid content and medium pH; harvests are early but higher in extracts. The wine obtained from this vineyard displays a reserve of body and aromatic potency in the final product, which is consequently more balanced and with a long finish.
The Loreto plot is recently planted and uses the row system with double Guyot pruning; it is located on a hillside with eastern exposure and the potential for irrigation, and characterised by a high number of plants per hectare and clusters per plant with low unit weight, resulting in musts with medium sugar content, higher total acidity and greater malic acid content, and slightly lower pH than musts obtained from the trellis system. The wine from this vineyard lends a note of greater freshness in flavour and finesse to the end product, making it more tangy and drinkable.


This variety is characterised by medium to late shooting and medium to late or late ripening. Vigour is medium and bud fertility good, with the unit weight of the cluster (200 to 500 grammes) varying greatly depending on the selection technique used during growth but, to a greater extent, on the weather conditions, i.e. rainy or dry in August and September; yield per hectare is therefore greatly affected by the level of rainfall during the second phase of the vegetative cycle and the ability of the soil to retain rainwater. Lastly, more than other cultivars, this variety tends to alternate, i.e. production falls considerably in the year following very abundant harvests. In biochemical terms, the maturation cycle tends to be longer and, if the shoots function correctly and there is enough sunshine in the first fortnight of October, the resulting musts have high levels of sugars and organic acids (proportionally more tartaric acid and less malic acid) and a pH which is never very high. This is therefore the cultivar that benefits most from intensive viticulture during the ripening period, and this is reflected in the impressive amount of phenols that can accumulate in the skins of the grapes between veraison and full maturity. On the other hand, if production levels are too high or the weather is not optimal, the phenolic maturation cycle tends to be delayed, occurring when the clusters are already over-ripe and leading to physical/structural problems of the skin (micro-lesions causing leakage) and subsequent hygiene issues. The aforementioned concept of “ridge viticulture” has particular relevance for Montepulciano, as it seems highly appropriate to manage the variety with different and diversified training systems.

Loreto Aprutino
Pergola Abruzzese

- The Ciarcelluti and Retro Oliveto vineyards are located on high hilly areas with mainly eastern exposure and dry farming methods, and contain massal selection vines almost 40 years old, with an excellent ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare. From a varietal point of view, the two plots appear different in nature, giving slightly lower yields and earlier and much stronger phenolic development, resulting in wines suitable for medium to long ageing. In dry years the alcohol content can be extremely high. In terms of the company’s product lines, crop planning includes Retro Oliveto for Divus and Ciarcelluti for Divus or Antrum in dry years or if the crop is thinned.

- The Fronte Cantina and Noce vineyards are located on medium to high hillsides with mainly eastern exposure and dry farming of vines from massal selection which are almost 50 years of age, and a good ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare. The two plots are in a cooler position and appear to be naturally more productive, with good phenolic development, which is lower than those previously mentioned, but capable of achieving good acid structure even in very dry years, resulting in aromatically interesting wines that are suitable for medium ageing. On the other hand, in rainy years they can give problems of delayed ripening, with consequent hygiene issues. In terms of the company’s product lines, crop planning includes Fronte Cantina Montepulciano Ciavolich or Divus in dry years, and Noce Montepulciano Ciavolich.

- The Sotto Cantina vineyard is located on medium to low hillsides with mainly western exposure and dry farming of vines from massal selection which are almost 40 years of age, and an adequate ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare. This plot, on poorer soil, appears naturally productive, with less phenolic development than the previously mentioned vineyards, but still capable of giving good acid structure and generally low pH, with wines suitable for short ageing. The compactness of the grape clusters grown here means that early harvests are required. In terms of the company’s product lines, crop planning includes Sotto Cantina rosÈs or Montepulciano Ciavolich in dry years.

Pergola Abruzzese

Plots A, B, C and D are located on medium-high and lower hillsides with mainly north-east and south-west exposure and dry farming, with clonal selection vines around 20 years old, and an excellent ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare. These plots feature harder soils which have high field capacity but are extremely rich in mineral elements, so they suffer less than others from the phenomenon of alternation, and combine high vegetative production - due partly to the relatively young age of the vines - with very high phenolic development. The result is “multipurpose” musts which are highly “malleable and shapeable” given appropriate harvesting, resulting in wines with medium to high alcohol content, good acid structure and always balanced pH; extract content is medium to high, very sapid and phenolically structured, suitable for medium to long ageing or even longer in dry years. In terms of the company’s product lines, crop planning includes Pianella bassa in the company’s basic product lines; Pianella alta Divus and Pianella alta diradata Antrum.

Loreto Aprutino
Filare nuovo

The vineyard uses the Guyot system and is located on medium to high hillsides with mainly eastern exposure and irrigation; it is recently planted but already in full production, with massal selection vines and cultivars characterised by small, sparse clusters, limited yield per hectare and early phenolic maturation. The vineyard has a low yield per plant and an excellent ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare, resulting in musts that are extremely high in sugars and exceptionally rich in extracts, phenolically concentrated even in relatively rainy years, and with good acid structure and medium to high pH. On the other hand, in very dry years it is absolutely necessary to prevent early raisining of the grapes with emergency irrigation to prevent the collapse of acid structure or the retrogradation of polyphenols. The resulting wines are high in alcohol, full-bodied, potent and long on the palate, with considerable but highly structured tannins, and are suitable for long or very long ageing. In terms of the company’s product lines, crop planning includes Filare nuovo Divus in rainy years, or Antrum in average years.

Loreto Aprutino
Filare vecchio

The vineyard uses the Guyot system and is located on low and medium to high hillsides with mainly northern exposure and irrigation; it is approximately 25 years old, with clonal selection vines and a more than sufficient ratio between active leaf surface and yield per hectare. The grape variety produces medium to large clusters of medium-sized grapes, but the number of clusters per plant is not excessive, so production is never very high. The variety has a good ability to synthesise phenols and less good accumulation of sugars, partly due to the not particularly favourable exposure; excellent acid structure and a constantly low pH. Wines derived from this vineyard are never very high in alcohol and have an interesting acid structure, deep but never excessive colour intensity with an excellent and enduring brightness, and substantial yet not clumsy tannins. They are exceptionally elegant in flavour and clean and varietal on the nose, and are suitable for medium or long ageing in dry years. This is the vineyard which suffers most from cold and rain late in the season, which slows ripening more than in other places. In terms of the company’s product lines, crop planning includes Filare Vecchio as basic in cold, wet years, Divus in average years and Antrum in dry years or if the crop is thinned.

Fosso Cancelli

We have already discussed how the area’s weather patterns can strongly influence the characteristics of our raw material, and how the company has responded to this inescapable condition by establishing diversified training systems that offer the potential for high quality even in growing conditions that are diametrically opposed. Consequently, for our flagship products, the provenance of the raw material is carefully evaluated on a yearly basis and may come wholly or partially from a single plot or several plots, even with different training systems, but which in a specific production period appear to give the best guarantees of quality.
Terroir | Ciavolich - Cantina dal 1853


The organisation and rationalisation of the growing phase, the use of different training systems and the introduction of massal selections of native grapes that are very different from the clonal selections available on the market, allow our basic wine-growing to be diversified, flexible and high quality, even in years when conditions are extreme, for all our cultivars and Montepulciano in particular.
Vineyard management follows the principle of complementarity (Pecorino and Trebbiano) or the valorisation of the intrinsic characteristics of the variety (Montepulciano), and is aimed at maximum characterisation for the company as well as diversification of the wines produced.