Vigneti Vallorani, family owned organic estate in the far south of Le Marche region in Italy, on the Adriatic coast, and near the border with the Abruzzo region to the south. The estate produces white wines under the Falerio DOC and Offida DOCG, and red wines under the Rosso Piceno DOC and Piceno Superiore DOC.
Background | Vigneti Vallorani was founded in 1905 by Rocco Vallorani’s great-grandfather, who moved here to work as a farmer for the land owner. He was a ‘mezzadro’, or sharecropper, working on the land and sharing the crop with the owner, keeping a small percentage himself for subsistence. After the Second World War, Rocco’s grandfather worked the property, and in 1960 with the help of a bank loan he and his wife Filomena managed to buy it. They started to make their own wine and olive oil for sale.
They were succeeded in the 1990s by their son Giancarlo (Rocco’s father) hand his wife then took his place in the 1990s. But wine production was mostly geared to bulk wine which was sold to locals who would come with five-litre bottles to be filled up and taken home. ‘Now things are changing. The vines are getting old, the quality of the grapes is rising, but yields are decreasing with with older vines, so selling wine in bulk will not be sustainable,’ Rocco Vallorani says. ‘So to be able to take over from our father I went to work in other wineries, to learn. I did three harvests for Giancarlo Pacenti (2005, 2006 and 2009) in Montalcino. I went to the the USA, and worked in New Zealand in 2007 for one year, and again in 2010 from January to May. With Stefano, one of my two brothers [Eduardo being the other brother] and I started making wine here in 2010. Now we are up to 25,000 bottles, and the aim is to grow up to 50,000. We only grow native Italian wine grapes–Pecorino, Passerina, Trebbiano, and Malvasia for whites, and Sangiovese and Montepulciano for reds–because we really believe they have huge potential.’
Terroir | The estate lies about 10km from the Adriatic Sea in the southern part of Le Marche, ‘an area of great potential,’ says Rocco, ‘being really close to both the mountains and the sea. This land was once covered by the sea, but it gets the influence from both the mountains and the sea. Some hillsides can be really sunny, others rather cooler, due to the Bora or mountain wind (‘Tramontana’, so you can get really different expressions of the same terroir. Locals learnt to grow different varieties in different areas and then blend them to get balanced wine. It was really common here to drink wine. All farmers, all families in fact used to make their own to supplement their diet of mainly bread, olive oil and vegetables, and not much meat. Wine was thus a really important source of calories, to help survive long days at work. The soils here in southern Marche have more clay compared to northern Marche, and also it’s much warmer here too, similar to Abruzzo [directly to the south]. The warmer climate means we get generally lower day-night temperature shifts. Southern Marche has always been the biggest area in terms of wine production in the Marche, even if Le Marche is now known for Verdicchio whose production centres on the north of the region.’
Vineyards | On a single hill, at 200 metres. Overlooks the valley running down from Offida. | 3,000 vines per ha. | Mix of pruning. The 1960s Montepulciano vines, planted by Rocco’s grandfather as soon as the mezzadria system ended, have some very long cordons, or are caned pruned to single guyot on one side and spur pruned to cordons on the other side. | 2019 5ha from Rocco’s grandfather plus 3ha from the neighbour of which 7ha are vines and 1ha are olives. Rocco initially rented the 3ha from the neighbour but has since bought it. It is cool vineyard, shaded and near the valley floor, so Rocco will grub this up and use the replanting rights on higher, warmer ground near the winery instead.
Biodiversity | Rocco told me he was happy to have walnut trees in the vineyards as they stimulate increased soil biodiversity. A neighbour’s sheep graze the vineyards over winter.
Soil | Rocco says ‘we have mostly clay soil, really rich clay, about 22-28%. It’s very hard to work, and erodes easily. To avoid this we don’t work the soil but keep it covered with grass or other plants all year around.’
Pecorino ‘A variety that comes from the mountains and has a particularly short season. So it’s the first variety that we pick, in August. Too much direct sunlight, and it cooks. It’s got some really great minerality and acidity, and shows some great fresh aromas, like great grapefruit, cinnamon, these kinds of aromas,’ says Rocco.
Passerina ‘In the past Passerina was really common in the area because it’s able to produce a lot of grapes per hectare. And now obviously the crops are smaller. And it is a really delicate white with not really intense acidity. It’s really well-balanced, and an easy drinking wine,’ says Rocco.
Trebbiano Abruzzese ‘The wine from Trebbiano is really linked to the winemaker’s hand. You can make really different kinds of wine. Usually it’s easy to get a really well-structured white from this variety,’ says Rocco.
Malvasia ‘Everybody used to have a little Malvasia in the vineyards because it’s really aromatic its great aroma. It used to be added to Trebbiano and Passerina to make them more intense. But it’s hard to grow here because it’s really sensitive to all the diseases. But when well worked, even just a small percentage of Malvasia can give you a really big influence on the aroma,’ says Rocco.
Sangiovese The Sangiovese vines here are planted at 0.90m x 2.40m (like Giancarlo Pacenti at Siro Pacenti in Montalcino). The vines face south. ‘The most common red wine grape in the Marche was the Sangiovese. Piceno was the biggest zone in the Marche, but was slower than Jesi to get its shit together. Then the trend for ‘big red wines’ arrived, so many took out all bar the minimum amount of Sangiovese. Like Passerina, Sangiovese was used because it could give high yields which was what farmers wanted so they had wine to drink (as food, see above). Sangiovese makes a wine with great acidity, and really smooth tannins, and thus easy drinking. To give it some more colour, they used to grow also Montepulciano, which was used in a smaller percentage, which is a really rustic variety with thicker tannins, darker color and quite aggressive taste. The Sangiovese is more delicate like small red fruits, or flowers. Montepulciano has got more like cherry and this kind of intense smell,’ says Rocco.
Organic certification | Organics started under Rocco’s father. As the vines are near the family home he did not to use non-organic products in his own backyard. 2004 The estate went organic under Rocco’s father. | 2008 First vintage with organic certification.
Winery | 80% of the energy they use comes from their own solar powered.
Winemaking | The usual order of ripening is Pecorino, first, then Sangiovese, Malvasia di Candia, Trebbiano Abruzzese, Passerina, and Montepulciano. To decide when to pick Rocco chews grapes and then analyses. Does not like jammy fruit. To age wines on lees he must ensure fermentation goes well. If not, the wines go stinky. If red is stinky does a pump over. If a white smells stinky he adds N via a tube under pressure to get some age in. If the yeast are happy they resist the alcohol.
Falerio DOC, Avora | 2018 13%. Roughly one third each Passerina (roundness), Pecorino (acid, sapidity) and Trebbiano (structure via tannins. But lees aging rounds out these tannins. Result is you give body to the wine without adding any bitterness). Pied de cuve. Fermented separately. Temperature controlled. Blended before bottling. Unoaked. Lees aged until May, racked and bottled. Certified organic. He did his thesis on lees aging. Helps stability, especially protein (colloidal) stability (a clear wine and no deposits). But mainly the flavours gain richness whilst giving roundness to the wine without hiding the acidity which is often covered in other wines by a bit of residual sugar. 1970s vines. All guyot. 6,000 bottles roughly. Ageing on lees really helps the salinity. When the lees lyze (hydrolosis) the cell walls break and manoproteins are released to the wine, so you get a creamy saltiness and a bit of extra body. I loved this wine for its body, salinity and vibrancy with wonderful mouthfeel. No residual sugar. 65ppm total.
Offida DOCG Passerina, Zaccari | Nick name of his 5-generation sharecropper family’s surname, as in those days it was often the case that people would have the same surname despite being to from lots of different villages, which created confusion. | 2014 100% Passerina. 12.2%. Bright light daffodil yellow. Aged in wood. Not a huge amount of acidity he says. Passerina could make 20 tonnes per hectare of OK wines. Now, with the DOC do 10 tonnes, up to 12 tonnes with authorisation, and make a decent wines. One day on skins. Aged in tonneuax for 16 months. Gross lees with lees stirring. Why? Gives more roundness, softens the tannins to make them more forward and brings apricot notes, white pepper and fume character. Like a Macon style but with more obiously brighter fruit, richer, yellower and softer. No residual.
Lefric | Rocco calls this ‘my hippy wine’. 70% Trebbiano Abruzzeze, 30% Malvasia di Candia. 5 days on skins with each other. His grandfather harvested in 2 ton bins. Has a basket press 700kg (0.7 tonnes). As Rocco could not put all the grapes so he destems, crushes and puts everything in a tank, only taking out the stems. It was pressed when the cap has risen, waited one or two days. Racked the young wine, and pressed the skins. Destemmed, juice and skins in tank. When the cap had risen as fermented had started he racked off fermenting juice and fermenting this separately. | 2015 Marche Bianco .Rocco’s first try: 2 days on skins. High VA. But his clients loved it. | 2017 Marche Bianco. 12.5% 5 days on skins. No added sulfites until the end of fermentation. Lovely salinity, clarity, very Malvasia. Almost candied fruit, spice, dried fruit. Juniper, ginestra, spicy, very concentrated but not heavy, it is the flavours which have presence.
Octavum | 2018 Marche Rosato. 75% Sangiovese, 25% Montepulciano. Co-fermented. Had a problem with a lack of space. One day on skins. No residual. Nice and crunchy. Rich but not at all heavy. No residual sugar.
Polisa, Piceno Superiore DOC | From the oldest vines (1950s). His parents’ favourite vines. | 2015 13.5% 65% Sangiovese, 35% Montepulciano. (By law it must be 50-50). Elegant and fluid. No oak on this. Steel. Batonnage. Lees stirring helps smooth out the tannins. Lovely red fruit, round, savoury, clear and quite intense with great sapidity and flavour, with a savoury powdery fruit end.
Kone, Piceno Superiore DOC | 2014 Not made. Not a vintage for oak-aged wines. The grapes were ripe but lacked the density to handle oak aging. | 2015 60% Montepulciano, 40% Sangiovese. 13.5%. Some Residual sugar. 18m in barrels. One third new. Mix of coopers. All Allier as this does not give a sweet taste (‘American oak is very lactone, buttery. Voges oak adds a sense sweetness.’). Get the oak, quite present but smooth and the wine is very young.
Sorlivio | 100% Sangiovese. Livio was Rocco’s grandfather, a farmer, not a ‘sir’ but Rocco wanted to give him this unofficial title. Not made every year. | 2010 Rich, soft, silky. Hot year until Sept when it cooled so waited until 15 October to pick. A selection was needed to eliminate some less healthy grapes. Rocco’s first harvest. Nice old school, bit of corruption. | 2012 800 bottles produced (back label). 100% new oak for 22m. Very ripe dark berry fruit, savoury tannins, oak kicking in, rich fruit underneath, tasted Dec 2019.
Christopher Barnes, ‘Italy’s hidden gem: Rocco Vallorani of Vigneti Vallorani on Southern Marche’, www.grapecollective.com, published 12 Jan 2019 (retrieved 08 July 2019).
Az Ag Vigneti Vallorani di Vallorani Rocco
Contrada La Rocca, 28
I-63079 Colli del Tronto (AP = Ascoli Piceno), Italy