Sunday, May 16, 2010

Buying a Vineyard in Solopaca, Italy.

There are many people who have made their way to Solopaca over the millennia for a variety of reasons: Archeological digs have revealed that people have inhabited the area since pre-history. The first to plant vines on its verdant slopes were the Etruscans and then the Samnites. Virgil and Horace both make mention of the wines of Solopaca back in the 1st century B.C. The Romans thought of it as an area worth preserving for its important shepherd trails.
To reach Solopaca from Napoli you must first travel along the Strada Statale 7, Via Appia, the road that was first constructed by the Romans as a strategic military route from Rome to Brindisi. Almost 2000 years later, I followed the same route and made my way to Solopaca in search of a vineyard to buy.
In December of 2009 we bought a vineyard in Solopaca. We live and work in Naples so our vineyard had to be within commuting distance of our work. Our research, our pocket book, and some divine intervention led us to Solopaca.
Our criteria were an existing vineyard, preferably with DOC grapes, small enough that my husband and I could handle on our own. We looked at well over 20 properties over a period of 8 months, hemmed and hawed over a few of them and finally settled on the 1st property we had seen.
The divine intervention came in the form of a man called Peppino Riccardi, a geometra in Solopaca. When you buy a house or a piece of property in Italy it is necessary to have a geometra who’s job is something between that of a surveyor and an architect. (For more info on what a geometra is see the following website: )
He is younger than he looks, dresses like a country gentleman but with baggy pants that are somewhat too long, a blazer that is too big, over a vest. His eyes resemble Mr. Magoo’s and his office is a jumble of fading stacks of blueprints and papers that look like they’ve been sitting in the same place since the 1970’s. He’s a one-finger at a time typist, and doesn’t see the keyboard very well, and is not sure where the letters are. Watching him fill out forms can be a painful experience for an impatient person such as myself.
When I first met him, I was in the company of my agent, Maria, who couldn’t understand why it was taking us so long to decide what to buy, when we had clearly seen all that there was to see. At that point we had our heart set on a piece of land that was part vineyard and part olive grove with a stupendous view over the Caldaro valley and the hills beyond. We had been back to see it many times, invited an architect from Rome out to see it, but something prevented us from moving forward. The owners were anxious to sell and Maria, our agent, was feeling their pressure. She finally brought me to Peppino, whom she said would answer all of my questions. In his office, Maria patiently asked me to explain to Peppino my concerns with the property in question. I thought about this for a moment or two, then explained in my broken Italian that I think it might be just fear of the unknown, that it was a big step for us, that we were afraid: afraid we wouldn’t like it in a town where we would be the only foreigners; I also explained that we were afraid that maybe after a while, we would want to move back to Canada, and would we be able to sell and get a good return on our build. Peppino asked me a simple question. “What is your goal in buying this land?” I said we wanted to first concentrate on growing good grapes, and then possibly have a winery.
The agent, went on her way, and left Peppino and I to visit the property that we had in mind. As I drove I noticed that Peppino crossed himself whenever we passed by the cemetery and everytime we drove past one of the 8 churches in the small town of Solopaca.
I showed him around the property, and explained to him our grandiose plans for the property while his expression became more and more perplexed. Finally he spoke.“Senti, io sono un uomo onesto….so I must tell you something. “Yes it is a beautiful piece of land and the view is meraviglioso…but I thought you told me that you wanted to grow good grapes, and eventually make good wine. Look around you…do you see any working vineyards here? This is olive country. People don’t even live out here. The land is dry and it is best suited to olives. Now show me another property, because you will never get your money back if you build a home and a winery here.”
His words were like a big Stop sign that suddenly appeared behind a cover of fog. The fog suddenly lifted, and all became clear. He recognized our fear and confusion, and led us to what we had set out to find. We settled on the first property we had seen…way back when we were clear about what we wanted. “Cerasella” as the area of Solopaca is called where we have bought our vineyard, was in our price range, is an existing DOC vineyard, has the perfect inclination on a verdant slope of the North side of Mount Taburno, looking onto Caldaro river and valley and mountains beyond, and is the right size being just under 1 hectare or 2.5 acres. It is known for its well-exposed, well-drained land, in clay-calcareous soils. It had been there all the time, patiently waiting for us to see its beauty, its practicality, its potential.
The name Solopaca comes from its 11th century name “Surrupaca” which literally means “opaque sun”. This has been interpreted as a land with a lot of sun or paese del sole which has inevitably led to its destiny as the most intensely cultivated viticulture zone in Campania. The sign on the way into town today says, Solopaca, citta’ del vino. It is nestled along Mount Taburno and stretches 2 kilometers horizontally at about 250 meters above sea level. Today it has a population of about 4000 inhabitants.
When you buy a piece of property in a place where there is so much history and folklore, you never really own it…you borrow it for a while, you become but a page of its story: One that started long before we arrived, and one that will continue on after we leave it.
The road to Solopaca is a new route for us, but the footsteps that led us there are deeply cast in the ground and history. We just needed to look for the signs through the fog.
Wine Review:
Pampanella 2009
Masseria Vigne Vecchie
Falanghina DOC Solopaca
100% Falanghina
It is bright straw color and green around the rim. It has medium legs and the label reads 13% alcohol. The perfume is subtle with scents of fresh spring flowers, and fragrant citrus scent. It is dry with a lovely smooth finish. While it may be subtle on the nose, it offers a long minerally aftertaste, typical of Falanghina. This wine received an honorable mention at the 2009 International Biological Wine Fair promoted by Citta del Bio. As with all Falanghina’s this would be a perfect accompaniment to fish dishes, but because of its mineral aftertaste it could also stand up to white meats and medium aged cheeses.


Deep Red Cellar said...

Hope the tying is long done and the vineyards are looking beautiful! :)

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