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A who’s who of Italian winemakers, region by region – part 1


The husband-and-wife team of Flavio Basilicata and Silvana Forte turn out about 18,000 bottles a year from their 10 acres in Prepotto near the Slovenian border.

By Frank Cipparone

The latest guesstimate puts the number of winemakers in Italy around 45,000, which seems hard to believe. That figure, however, includes everything from mega-producers rolling out millions of bottles a year to an octogenarian farmer making enough juice for friends and family from a row of vines behind his house.

That also presents an opportunity to do an abbreviated “Who’s Who” of wineries, picking one from each region whose wines fly under the radar but represent snapshots in the voluminous albums of Italian wine.

Abruzzo – Torre Dei Beati is a relative newcomer. Fausto Albanese’s first bottling was in 2000. When he’s not restoring abandoned palazzos, he works with his wife and a local farmer to guide Montepulciano, Trebbiano and Pecorino through six phases of harvesting that reflect the natural differences in each vintage.

Alto Adige – There have been seven generations of winemakers in the Haas family of Bolzano, each named Franz. They make only premium wines in some of the highest vineyards of the region, using Lagrein, Muller-Thurgau, Kerner, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir. All bottles are sealed with screw caps, which they consider the “perfect twist” from the vine to the glass that keeps the wine fresh.


Giuseppe Apicella tends century-old vineyards near Tramonti in the green hillsides of the Letteri Mountains.

Basilicata – Antonio Cascarano is the epitome of a “cult” winemaker. His small cantina Camerlengo produces fewer than 20,000 bottles a year from six acres on Monte Vulture, an inactive volcano. “Antelio” Aglianico is his elevated farmhouse wine that puts to rest the idea of that grape as “the Nebbiolo of the south.” He also makes a blend of three obscure local white varieties called “Acamilla.”

Calabria – The path to being an artisanal winemaker began when Giuseppe Calabrese was a boy, planting his own vines before taking over his grandmother’s land to make wine for himself. Tucked away in Pollino, Italy’s largest protected natural area, his scattered plots are the source of Magliocco Dolce and Greco Bianco for the minimalist cellar where all work is done by hand, including crushing the grapes.

Campania – Nestled high above the touristy Amalfi Coast, another Giuseppe, this one named Apicella, tends terraced century-old vineyards near Tramonti in the green hillsides of the Letteri Mountains. His mission is to preserve the grapes of that area, in particular Tintore di Tramonti, a rare ancient varietal. Thanks to Apicella and a handful of neighboring vintners, a grape once used to add color to weak wine is now being bottled on its own.

Emilia-Romagnia – Near Faenza in the Apennine piedmont sits a family winery that only grows grapes native to Romagna, among them Famoso, Albana, Burson and Centesimino. Claudio Ancarini is continuing the hands in the ground agriculture and hands on winemaking he learned from his grandfather. Like all farmers, he has said that the time after harvest is one of uncertainty and he worries how his wine will pan out, that it might not meet his expectations.

Friuli – The name Le Due Terre was chosen by the husband-and-wife team of Flavio Basilicata and Silvana Forte for the two distinct soil types underlying their 10 acres of vines in Prepotto near the Slovenian border. Each year they turn out about 18,000 bottles – two whites, Friulano and Ribolla Giallo, and two reds, Schioppettino and Refosco. As advocates for maintaining their natural surroundings, they have committed to low-impact winemaking, choosing to ferment naturally and with no additives or sulfites.

Lazio – Maria Ernesta Berlucci took over the family operation south of Rome in 2009, concentrating on Cesanese, the region’s most important red grape. She makes three versions, using and blending two unique and interesting types of Cesanese. A few years ago she produced “Mola di Piedi” from old vines on the property and aged it old-school-style in glass demijohns that yielded only 180 bottles. She also makes a white, Passerina del Frusinate.

Liguria – Combine truly local grapes, six miniscule vineyards, and sloping terrain in the wild Mediterranean landscape of the Maritime Alps of western Liguria and you have Azienda Bruna, home of “Le Russighine,” the first single vineyard Pigato of the region. Since only 3,000 cases are made annually it’s all about quality, and while the white Pigato is the winery’s star, Rossese di Dolceaqua and Grannacia are worthy reds, along with Syrah and Barbera. All are featured in Bruna’s weirdly creative but singular “Bansigu.”

Lombardia If Nebbiolo is your thing and you’re looking for one of the best from the high altitudes of Valtellina, look no farther than the renowned Conte Sartoli Salis estate. They have holdings in three of the five most highly regarded sites and bring their wines to excellence in  16th century cellars. Their range of Nebbiolo, known thereabouts as Chiavennasca, is nothing like the Barolo and Barbaresco of Piemonte.

Marche – The Tonelli family of Villa Ligi have been at it for over a century, keeping long- forgotten or purposely ignored grapes alive on a mere 15 acres. Balancing tradition and innovation, they are responsible for getting two other local wineries to help save the red varietal Vernaccia di Pergola from extinction. Lucky for us, because it makes for seriously good wine. They also produce Bianchello di Metauro and Biancame, which has shown unusual aging ability for a white wine.

Our alphabetical tour of Italy’s wine regions and wineries will continue next month. A prossima volta!

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