La Valle del Sole is a certified organic estate winery in the Piceno area in Ascoli Piceno province in the southern part of Le Marche, a region on Italy’s Adriatic coast. It produces around 20,000 bottles of white wine and 10% bottles of red. Wines are bottled under the Offida DOCG and Rosso Piceno DOC.

Owner | Silvano Nicolo and his wife Angela, and their daughters Alessia and Valeria. The winery is now a 4th-generation family business. Alessia’s partner is the photographer, Alessandro D’Angelo.

Vineyards | Terroir The estate is within the medieval township (‘comune’) of Offida. The vines are at around 300 metres above sea level, the estate lying midway between the highest mountains of central Italy–the Sibilli and Laga mountains inland to the west (the peak of Monte Vettore reaches 2,500 metres above sea level) and the Adriatic Sea (0 metres, sea level) to the east. The Gran Sasso (2,914m) to the south-west also plays a role in creating constant ventilation and high day-night temperature differences.

The estate | There are 15ha of land of which (2019) 9ha of vines and 2ha rented. 100% in Offida. The vineyards lie at 290-300 metres above sea level. Clay-rich soils. There are remains of former kilns used for cooking (clay) bricks. 

From 2000-2005 the estate was re-structured but the old vines–Montepulciano, Passerina and Pecorino–all of which are native to the Piceno territory–were retained. The aim was to create plots which were less ‘mixed’ in terms of grape varieties, and to replace missing vines. At that time Pecorino was diminishing in the province, due to its low yields, but was being championed by local producer Guido Cocci Grifoni. Pecorino subsequently became a DOC in 1996. The two oldest plots date from 1960 and contain various biotypes of Montepulciano and Passerina. The vines were replanted from budwood taken by the owner when the sharecropping or ‘mezzadria’ era came to an end here, in 1955. 

Site selection | Pecorino can bud early. Downy mildew a risk in wet springs. Needs to avoid too much full sun, so its canopy is managed to have enough leaf cover (shoots are allowed to grow high without being trimmed), plus it gets cooler, west-facing sites. Grass cover between the rows is mowed. The mulch keeps the soil cool and reduces solar radiation. 

Sward management The vineyards have been under permanent spontaneous ground cover since 1990. There is no added fertility either via organic compost for example, or via cover crops (and conventional soluble fertilizers are not allowed under organic rules, so they are off the table too). The wild plants which appear spontaneously indicate what type of soil is below and in what state it is in. In 2019 I saw sulla, other clovers, and grasses such as wild oats (Avena sativa). Mulching this ground cover protects the soil from erosion, and by decomposing helps build humus and better soil structure. Weeds under the vine are removed with a blade (‘inter-cep’ or inter-vine weeder).

Pruning 100% Guyot. Single guyot normally, or double guyot on vigorous sites. 

Other crops | 2ha of olives. Woodland too.

Organic certification | 1990 First vintage with full organic certification.

Winemaking | The normal order for picking is to start with Pecorino in August, then Passerina in mid-September, followed by Montepulciano around 10th October. 100% hand picked. Each plot is vinified apart. Dry ice is used to cool white wine grapes. Nitrogen is used to protect from oxidation. Fermentation is mainly in stainless steel. Wines age in mainly concrete and/or wooden vats. All wines age on lees, 6m for Pecorino and Passerina, 24m (on fine lees) for Montepulciano. 

White wines

Marche Passerina DOC | 100% Passerina grown on medium textured clay. 300 metres. Cane pruned (Guyot). 3,500 vines per ha. 75hl-ha. Soft pressed (slow, so get some skin contact). Slow ferment in concrete tanks. 6m on fine lees. | 2018 100% Passerina. 12.5% 10,000 bottles. Very nice and salty, good intensity. Delicate. Beach wine (at the winery in 2019). Would suit delicate fish dishes: spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Raw fish. White fish, insalata di mare (seafood salad), small anchovies (without vinegar), and fried greens. The wine is mainly sold in the northern part of Le Marche.

Offida DOCG Pecorino | 100% Pecorino. Ripens early August. Not a fan of too much direct sun. Terrain: 300 metres. Soil is ‘San Lazzaro’, a medium textured clay-sand, medium textured lava-clay. Cane pruned (guyot). 3,500 vines per ha. 55hl-ha. Rows oriented east-west and west-east. Destemmed. Cooled, short (12-24 hours) skin contact. Pressed. Slow ferment (20-25 days) in stainless steel. Aged in concrete tanks. 6m on fine lees. | 2017 14.5%. 40% less volume than usual due to hydric stress. Round, soft yellow fruit, balanced for such a hot year, with clear expression and lovely salinity in the background (at the winery in 2019). | 2018 13.5%. 10,000. Very clear, lovely crispness as this was a slightly cooler year. Clean but not sterile. High total acid but also high malic (5g/l) in this GV which gives backbone (at the winery in 2019).

Pink wines

Marche Rosato IGP, La Valle del Sole | 2018 Lotto 025. 15% alc. Did not notice the alcohol. Tasted over three evenings, never looked at the back label. Very clear, delicate fruit, balanced, with plenty of red fruit flavours and and a smooth, easy rather than forceful texture. Very good. tasted early January 2010.

Red wines

Offida Rosso DOCG | 100% Montepulciano. East-south facing. Soil: Medium textured soil, clay. Spurred cordon. 3,500 vines per ha. 60hl-ha. Rows oriented east-west and west-east. Destemmed. Slow (20 day) ferment in concrete tanks. Starts at 23-24°C, finishes at 20°C. 50hl-ha. Fermented. Aged 18 months on fine lees in 24hl Slavonian botti. Average production of 2,000 to 3,000 bottles. ‘The aim is to avoid Montepulciano, which is like a block of stone, ending up tasting like that in bottle. It is not always easy to get it fully ripe. You need to take as much away from Montepulciano as possible, rather than try adding to its already dense, sizeable mass.’ | 2015 Fermented in cement. 18m in botti. 3,000 bottles. Pure red fruit, more classic, needs more time to open, nice focus and density, with fresh, soft, purposeful fruit (at the winery in 2019).

Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore | 85% Montepulciano, 15% Sangiovese. Medium textured soil, clay-sand. Guyot. 3,500 vines per ha. East-south facing. 55 hl-ha. 290 metres. Destemmed. Fermented in cement. 12 months on fine lees in concrete tanks plus 12 months on fine lees in 24hl Slavonian botti. | 2015 Balanced, very good year. | 2016 85% Montepulcino, 15% Sangiovese. Cool year with some rain, lots in Sept and Oct. 20 days on skins. 20-22 degrees in steel (or cement). 12m in cement, 10m in oak. 10,000 bottles. More of an infusion, nice dryness to the tannins, with soft fruit too (at the winery in 2019). 10,000 bottles.

Contact

La Valle del Sole

Contrada San Lazzaro, 46

I-63073 Offida (AP), Italy

Tel+39 0736 889658

Bibliography

Visit Tuesday 12 June 2019.