Cantina Giardino: For the Love Of Art, Authenticity and Old Vines

Antonio and Daniela Di Gruttola exude a magical joyfulness that they say is directly related to “vineyard therapy”. The local farmers don’t understand why anyone would want to work 80 year old vines with a hoe, but as Daniela explained, “Most people around here think we’re a little wacky.”

twisted vine
They founded Cantina Giardino in Ariana Irpino in 1997 with partners (Davide Di Gruttola, Pasquale Giardino, Antonio Corsano and Nadia di Gruttola) as a cultural project to save old vines—along with the traditional ways of growing grapes and making wine—all of which were fast disappearing. Farmers couldn’t make a living from the labor intensive vines and were ripping them out.

They began by bringing grapes from rented vineyards to make wine in Pasquale Giardino’s cellar, hence the name Cantina Giardino (“giardino” means “garden” in Italian). Now Antonio makes the wine in his own cellar, and they own all but a couple of the 8.5 hectares (21 acres) they tend. And the wine has become seriously good, establishing a standard for high quality wine made naturally in the area.

The Di Gruttolas commute from their house/cellar to the vineyards about 45 minutes away, have two small children, and Antonio still has a regular job teaching at the university. (Before he had his own wine operation, he worked in the cellar of a large producer.) I have no idea how they manage all the moving parts, but that’s where the magical joyfulness comes in. They absolutely love what they do.

We drove out to see this vineyard dating back to 1930 (with a house where they hope one day to live).
house approach

The photos only begin to show how wide open and wildly beautiful the area around the vineyard is. There is virtually no sign of modern life.
mts and valleys

The area is remote, tucked between mountains in a corner of the region of Campania, halfway between Naples and the coast of Puglia, straddling the wine classification zones of Irpinia (north) and Avellino (south).
Cantina Giardino copy
All of the Cantina vines are “alberello”, the “little tree” training method that means the vines can only be worked by hand. Each vine had to be pruned to bring it back to producing after years of neglect. Antonio and Daniela farm with a combination of organic and biodynamic methods.
old vine

vines in vineyard
Antonio explained that the biodiversity of the area around the vineyards plus the fact that each vineyard is planted with all different grape varieties keeps the grapes extremely healthy. The only problem is that at harvest time, Daniela and Antonio have to go through the vineyard looking for each variety.

flowers in vineyard
Grass, flowers and herbs also grow among the vines. Another of the vineyards has a vegetable garden in the middle of it. These other plants provide biodiversity and “sovescio” or “green manure” for revitalizing the soil.

At the bottom of the vineyard, there is a large olive grove. At dinner after the vineyard visit, I tried the exquisite olive oil that Antonio and Daniela make.
vines and olive trees

The soil is a combination of clay and limestone, which gives the wine a crisp, dry minerality. They Daniela uses the clay to make homemade terra-cotta amphorae that some the wines ferment and age in.
soil

We tasted wines in Antonio and Daniela’s kitchen with their children, Sofia and Adam, while dinner preparation was underway. Again, joyfulness led to seemingly easy multitasking. Each bottle has a hand drawn label by local artists.
pictures

One of the labels….
label art
Was drawn by an artist in residence, who was also giving a puppet show.
Sofia

bottles

We started the tasting with two white wines made with native grape varieties, Greco di Tufo and Fiano (usually called Fiano di Avellino). Both are native varieties with DOCG classification zones. Greco di Tufo is naturally much more acidic whereas Fiano is slightly rounder with a hint of hazelnut. Daniela said, “When you smell or taste hazelnut in Greco, you know that the producer has used selected yeasts because it never occurs naturally.”

Antonio and Daniela ferment only with indigenous yeasts, don’t filter, don’t add sulfites, either use foot pressing or a wooden screw press…all to make wines that truly express the variety and the terroir.

Cantina Giardino T’ara’ra Campania Bianco Greco di Tufo IGT 2013
100% Greco di Tufo some from the oldest, 86 year old vines and some from another vineyard planted in 1973. Macerated four days on the skins. “We love the acidity of the variety.” noted Daniela. That’s accentuated by the old vines, the minerality in the soil and the natural methods. This is a fresh, vivacious, clean “orange wine”, so very different from a “normal” Greco di Tufo. (12% alcohol) Delicious on its own or with dishes that require cleansing the palate.

Cantina Giardino Gaia Campania Bianco Fiano IGT 2012
100% Fiano from 40 year old vines in the Irpinia zone (as opposed to Avellino). On the skins for two days. Fermentation in barriques. (13% alcohol) Fresh and dry but slightly rounder and more structured than the Greco. Pair with fish or vegetable dishes.

Cantina Giardino Nude Aglianico D’Irpinia IGT 2007
100% Aglianico cru from the Paternopoli vineyard, warmer with sand and clay soil. 60 days on the skins. Four years in old barrels and barriques. The wine is rich, earthy, complex and structured, best with meat or aged cheese. (14% alcohol)

Cantina Giardino Le Fole Aglianico D’Irpinia IGT 2011
100% Aglianico cru from the Montemarano vineyard, cooler with clay and limestone soil. 30 days on the skins. One year in large chestnut barrels. Then, two years of bottle aging. A medium weight Aglianico (13% alcohol) that pairs easily with a range of foods or is even enjoyable on its own.

These wines are in the range of $20-30.

We also tried the Bianco and Rosato produced from a variety of vineyards to be an “every day” Cantina Giardino wine. (There is also a Rosso.) Fun, fresh and delightful to drink.

I have a bottle of Cantina Giardino Aglianico Dragone IGT 2009 still to try. Grapes are from the Castelfranci vineyard. $35 range.

Find the wines through Wine-searcher.com or through the California importer scuoladivino.com or the New York importer louisdressner.com.

On the way out, I stopped to look at these wild roses…for the joy of the moment.
roses

Cantina Giardino
via Petrara n. 21/B
Ariano Irpino (AV)
Campania
info@cantinagiardino.com

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