If there is any winery that could dominate the Vino Nobile segment in the states it should be Avignonesi. They may not be the most prolific producer, but they have a multi pronged approach that is sure to garner attention.
First off they may very well be best known for a wine other than Vino Nobile, their Occhio di Pernice. This is a monumental wine, truly one of the worlds greatest dessert wines, thick, rich, with length that can be measured in hours not minutes and a viscosity that makes cleaning one’s glass almost impossible. Not that that is always a good thing, but in this case I’ll allow it.
OK, so that is prong number one, prong number two is the Vino Nobile themselves. Avignonesi makes two exemplary Vino Nobiles, their normale bottling and the reserve Grandi Annate, made, quite fittingly, in only the grandest of years.
These two wines have been two of the most visible ambassadors for the region over the past decades and have served to open the eyes of many to the potential of the terroir of Vino Nobile.
In fact the winery has only recently completed a sale that transferred the final 10 percent stake from the previous owners, the Falvo family, to the new owners; the Saverys family of Belgium. The Saverys, all of whom were working on the estate during my visit, were attracted by the potential, and the terroir of Avignonesi. I expect the new enthusiasm, and capital, they are injecting into the property will yeild great results in the near future. The wines, while good, could stand some improvement, though I do hope that they improvement doesn't push the wines too far beyong the traditional envelope, though Avignonesi has already adopted quite a modern take on wines and winemaking.
For a winery with a distinctly modern attitude (the wines are pretty evenly split between those using traditional grape varieties and those using more “international” ones, even the Riserva Grandi Annate contains some 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) the focus of much of the work at Avignonesi is on the vineyards. The Vigneto Sperimentale in particular and the profound results that have been implemented in the adjacent vigneto La Stella.
The Vigneto Sperimentale, or experimental vineyard is a unique circle vineyard that allows for simultaneous assessments of the effects of both vine density and rootstock/clonal selections each growing season. The vineyard in the round consists of 90 rows of vines; each set a 4-degree offset from one and other. This allows Avignonesi to experiment with vine densities that range from 2000 vines per meter at the periphery of the star shaped vineyard to almost 8,500 near the core. The addition the rootstocks and cultivar combinations have resulted in a total of 192 possible permutations that are harvested and vinified separately.
The lessons learned from these experiments have been implemented in the Vigneto La Stella where vine density is around 7,200 per hectare. More importantly, this particularly vineyard is trained in the old-fashioned albarello, or small tree, style. This not only allows the vines to have the shortest possible path from root to fruit, but eliminated the need for training wires.
The vines in the La Stella vineyard are not planted in traditional rows you see, they are in fact panted in a pattern referred to as “Settonce” which spaces six vines in a hexagon with the seventh wine in the center. By spacing each vine 1.27 meters from the next Avignonesi is able to achieve the vine density they are looking for while at the same time eliminating the rows that prevent movement, whether it be man or wind, through the vines.
It’s a brilliant solution to solve many vineyard problems, though it creates a whole new set since the vine spacing between rows, there are some rows in there after all, is too tight for the equipment that has historically been used to ease the manual labor burden aspect of viticulture.
Avignonesi has been working to perfect the mechanization of this vineyard but, for better or worse, they have yet to get to the point that they are comfortable with, as far as the resultant fruit quality is concerned. One can only hope that these difficulties do not dissuade them from continuing to experiment in the vineyard. Perhaps they will find a happy medium that balances the costs of labor and the vineyard’s yield in such a way that allows them to continue down the road they forged. The wines certainly seem to indicate that they’re onto to something!