Pasquale Clemente is the man behind Masseria Frattasi and since the day we met and visited his winery in its astonishing landscape, I cannot stop smiling and feeling positive about everything I experienced there.
His eyes make me think of the purity of a child that is not afraid to be amazed and surprised by the beauty of life. Whether it is nature, art, history, culture, or people.
Everything here speaks about contagiousness for a better, deeper way of living.
This place is a gem among historical findings, natural beauties, incredible food and superlative welcoming people. Here, 2000 years ago, the Romans were defeated and humiliated by the Samnites, the local population, in the famous battle of the ‘Forche Caudrine’. Montesarchio gets its name from that episode and became the capital of Sannio, until when the Romans won a subsequent battle and the Samnites were the subject of the most horrific genocide in history. But today we will focus on more positive things.
It’s almost November, on a cloudy afternoon, when we arrive in Sannio, more precisely in Montesarchio. Pasquale is there chomping at the bit to go to the vineyards immediately.
We all cram into his green off-road car, and as we start the journey he cannot stop laughing and marveling for how great nature is and how much history lies there. The small pebble road gets almost impossible to climb after a few bends, challenging the Jeep, as the clouds gets bigger, darker, dense and threatening. The wind picks up and we’re almost at 600 meters above sea level. He comes to an abrupt stop and turns off the engine. Under the wind rushing past my ears, I’m sure I can here the blood pulsing through my veins in exhilaration. The excited storyteller keeps repeating: ‘Look, look, something like you’ve never seen before!’
Vines almost 200 years old, uncontaminated by phylloxera, are proudly showing their strength and beauty, tied to trees and poles using red willow, a plant cultivated just for sustaining the viticulture. This is a genuine biodynamic lesson that dates back hundreds of years.
Low yields, manual picking, recovery and protection of old plants, old trees and forgotten fruits. Here, from 500 to 920 meters asl, Masseria Frattasi is the defender of old native grape varieties.
Aglianico, Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, growing in the highest altitudes of the Apennines and almost all of Italy, except perhaps for Val d’Aosta perhaps. They humbly say mountain winemaking and extreme wines, I say ‘viticoltura eroica’, heroic viticulture in English.
Here, at the foot of the Magnum Taburnum, a majestic volcanic rock, one can see the Picentini, Alburni, Cilento and Sila mountains that follow the whole Apennine ridge, and on the other side, the Naples gulf with its plains, hamlets and cities.
Pasquale is still jumping around like a kid that has just discovered chocolate and right behind him is the Aglianico vine, followed by Coda di Volpe in its century old vineyard. Green, yellow and intense red leaves alternate to designate where the red or white grape is located, but believe me, after a while, you lose your words for such unexpected jewels.
The name Coda di Volpe means "tail of the fox", and was given in reference to the variety's long, pendulous bunches of grapes, which resemble a fox's bushy tail. Coda di Volpe grapes are golden-yellow in color, as is the wine they make. The grape's aromatic profile leans towards the fruity (citrus and sometimes even slightly tropical) and spicy (sweet rather than peppery). It is not particularly high in acidity, which is the reason why it has done so well in Vesuvius and Taburno’s volcanic soils.
Masseria Frattasi started in 1779, when the Clemente family started something that we can call a renaissance for the winemaking of the area. It is here, on the edge of the Neapolitan plains, that one can find the volcanic soils so praised by Virgil in the Georgics and Aeneid. The climate is very different, like the soils, that sometimes are very poor, as the clayey skeletons that feed the Muscat; others are made of marl with volcanic dust, such as the land of the Taburno, that sustain the Falanghina and other indigenous white varieties that are mostly unknown; in others one can find white calcareous rocky soil and sandstone. The grapes here are interspersed with green fields, among forests, centenary oak and chestnut woods, a synergy of natural elements that infuse the grapes with magic and intense colors.
From Pasquale’s words, we understand that ‘eco-sustainability’ is the feather in their cap. They only make natural wines, without intervention or chemicals; where vegetation is free to run and its ecosystem is happily integrated.
We arrive at another vineyard, just off a centenary giant chestnut forest, where right in the middle there is the biggest chestnut tree I’ve ever seen, so huge that four people all together were not able to hug it. Blackberries, nuts, ferns, wild fennel and mint, Butcher's Broom, olive groves, kaki, old pieces of nectarines, pears, walnuts typical of Sorrento. This is much better than a botanical playground!
Still in the car, we go to meet another symbol of this winery, the olive tree that is probably more than 1000 years old. Even the university is unable to define its origin. It’s a ‘curatona’ species, whose name refers to the fact that it needs care, one can even press them in brine and it is so tasty and full of aromas! This monument tree is still now contributing to their olive oil, so intense, deep and spicy that for dinner burrata and mozzarella di bufala will stay in our hearts forever.
It’s almost dark, we leave the magic countryside to be welcomed by Bonéa, a 100% Falanghina of two different biotypes, to celebrate this place. Then Taburno follows, with its citrus, pear and apple scents, full of pulp and soft character.
Kapnios, 100% Aglianico, concludes this intense dip into antiquity. This wine, whose grapes are the result of a selection in the vineyards, are left to dry in mats for almost a month. It ages in French barriques for 18 months, then in the bottle for another year. Intense purple red color, taste and sensations are unimaginable.
Come here, taste these wines, get to know these people.