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.
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
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
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.