Features 2 October 2019

Reviving Maturano

How do you bring a grape variety back from the dead?

Words by Peter Ranscombe

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The Maturano grape is unique. It has no identifiable parents, which goes some way to proving what locals have always known: it’s endemic to the Comino valley in the Abruzzo mountains, partway between Rome and Naples.

The Di Ciacca family, a third-generation Scots-Italian clan, has been working to bring the indigenous variety back to life on the family’s estate in Picinisco. It’s now being brought back into cultivation, marking a turnaround for a varietal that almost died out.

Di Ciacca’s Maturano was planted eight years ago using cuttings from neighbours’ vines as part of the efforts to revive the forgotten variety. The 2017 vintage is their first release.

Italian consultant Alberto Antonini is guiding Di Ciacca’s Maturano mission. He is the talent behind major projects with Castello di Bossi in Chianti, Altos Las Hormigas in Argentina and the Allegrini family in Bolgheri.

“The grape was completely unknown to me so I had to take time to get to know it,” Antonini said. “It’s a late grape that ripens slowly, which gives you more layers of complexity.

“The grape itself is not too hard to work with – the bigger challenge is the climate. It’s a humid and rainy environment, but I like that because you get filtered light.”

Antonini also praises the limestone soil in the 4.5-hectare vineyard, which he believes gives the wines freshness, and while he thinks Maturano is unlike any other grape, he likens the rounded texture of its wine to Ribolla Gialla, the ancient and much-prized aromatic white grape native to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.

The Di Ciacca family working in the vineyards

That rounded texture is on full display in 2017 I Ciacca Sotto Le Stelle, harvested from the vineyard’s best plots and left on its skins to develop red apple and apricot flavours. On Antonini’s advice, De Ciacca is holding it back to age further before it’s released.

In contrast, the 2017 I Ciacca Nostalgia gains its texture from being left on its lees, accompanying its pear and lemon rind flavours with a lifted floral note.

Sitting between the two is 2017 I Ciacca Matrimonio, a blend of the free-run juice used for Nostalgia and the skin-contact Sotto Le Stelle, with peach, apricot and a touch of tropical lychee.

Maturano’s revival is an allegory for the family’s wider work; as well as turning a derelict farm in the hamlet of I Ciacca into its winery, it has also built a cookery school on the same site. In the nearby village of Picinisco, it has opened Sotto Le Stelle, a high-end “albergo diffuso”, an Italian concept for a hotel spread across more than one location.

The family’s investment in the village has triggered a wider renaissance, with an older hotel reopening and an adventure ropes course being erected. The latest arrivals in Picinisco are Ben Hirst, a chef better known in Italy than his native England, and his partner, Gaynor Moynihan, who have bought Villa Inglese, a historic landmark in the village, which they are converting into a restaurant.

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