A visit to Luigi Tecce can get you emotional. Luigi himself is a ball of them, and his Aglianico from Taurasi elicits them. His grandfather’s masseria (farmhouse) and vineyards are located in the Taurasi subzone known as Sud-Alta Valle (South-High Valley). It’s one of Taurasi’s high-altitude growing areas, having a soil that’s layered with sand, limestone and Vesuvius’ pumice; it’s also the dwelling of Luigi’s 80+ year old vine-trees. There’s no enologist and no agronomist, Luigi works in relative solitude. Maybe that’s why there’s such an affinity between him and the wines: exuberant and guarded, archaic and immediate, literary and literal; there’s something theatrical in their pleasure. The wines come from the tradition and grandeur of Mastroberardino’s Taurasi bottlings, but I feel Luigi’s one of a very limited group of Taurasi producers that are eclipsing the old master.
Strangely enough, though, Luigi wasn’t groomed to be a farmer or vignaiolo.
After university, he worked in Rome as an assistant to a member of the Italian parliament. Then suddenly in 1997 his father died and it caused Luigi’s nostos, his homecoming, back to the fourth generation masseria (farmhouse) to take care of the property, which included olio d’oliva trees, goats, sheep, and of course vines. His grandfather, for whom he held much affection, died shortly thereafter in 1982.
All this left no time for any practical knowledge to be handed down to him from his father or grandfather. He didn’t know how to manage the property, let alone how to vinify wine. He did have many memories from living there as child, and these guided him. Luigi says he “works more by feel, say 70%, and the remaining 30% empirically.” His trinity has an order: “I think the most important part of terroir for me is vintage, then soil, and then grape variety.” When he prepared lunch for me in his humble kitchen, he spoke lovingly, his eyes welling up, of his grandparents, his nonno and nonna, when he “would sleep between the two of them even until I was 10 years old.” His touchstone memory of that time was also his favorite hiding spot, a large chestnut botte, where he was “unknowing of what a botte was used for,” let alone that he’d be using it to “ferment his terroir” in the distant future.
So, in the sadness and loss of 1997, he started bottling for friends and family. He now has a total of five hectares of vines, 2 comuni (Paternopoli and Castelfranci) in Sud-Alta Valle, dispersed in 7 plots. The 80+ year old vine-trees for his Taurasi DOCG ‘Polifemo’ are in the comune of Paternopoli, and all go into his Taurasi ‘Polifemo’ bottling.** 2003 marked the first vintage of ‘Satyricon’ and ‘Polifemo’; he was a ‘nobody’ and his ‘sweet and strong wine’ was at the same time salty and full of character – and almost immediately prized in Italy by the wine conoscenti.
As with great Nebbiolo, vintage differences play a large role in how the final wines taste. Luigi’s wines ferment with native yeasts, and nothing, I mean nothing, is added to or subtracted from the wine. His craftiness, if you want to extend the Odysseus metaphor, comes from vineyard selection and mixing of the final barrels, and from the time-consuming and careful tending during harvest, where he makes three passes. The first picking is in early October, the grapes are not completely ripe, so they add extra acidity and freshness. The majority of the grapes are then picked in late October. In the early days of November, he picks the final bunches, which have grown throughout not only the summer days and nights, but also the fading autumn sun.
The Sud-Alta Valle is distinguished from other Taurasi growing areas for its late harvest, altitude, and soil. It’s an area that’s more mountainous than hilly; it’s also an area long known for wines that have savory qualities, fleshy fruit and structured tannins, grand age-worthy wines, Monforte-esque, Barolo as the Aglianico of the North.
* Cantina photos used with permission by photographer Antonio Di Spirito, Lavinium June 2013.
**To be complete: 5 hectares, 1 hectare is the historic vineyard in Paternopoli (80+ year old vine-trees); 1.5 hectares are in Catelfraci, they go in ‘Satyricon bottling (planted in 1997). 2.5 hectares lie over the borders of Paternopoli and Castelfranci, they were replated in 2000 with selezione massale and some clones from the vine-nursery in 2006; alla Valentini, Luigi selects only the best grapes to finish Poliphemo or Satyricon, the rest of the grapes are sold off.