Time Travel: Wine From Some of the Oldest Vines in Europe

These wines growing on the Amalfi Coast, just south of Pompeii and Vesuvius at the Tenuta San Francesco, are probably over 400 years old. They managed to survive the phylloxera epidemic of the late nineteenth century by being in a remote valley with volcanic soil.

big vine

I have seen more than a hundred year old vines on Mt. Etna in Sicily, but these were on another scale. They may be the oldest vines in Europe or even the world.
closeup
They were planted according to a traditional method, “pergola tramontina”, in which vertical vine stalks are bound together and, then, the tendrils are trained to grow out and form a canopy. The canopy protects the grapes from the hot, southern summer sun (now intensifying with climate change). These vines are younger but still about a hundred years old.
under old vines
Gaetano Bove (pictured here), a veterinarian by trade, set out to save these and other pre-phylloxera vines for future generations by founding the Tenuta Di San Francesco in 2004 with three friends: Generoso Bove, Luigi Giordano and Vincenzo D’Avino. The vineyards are all farmed organically (not certified) and low levels of sulfites are used in the cellar.
Gaetano
The tradition of the area for dividing inheritance was to give everyone in the family a small piece as opposed to keeping large tracts of land intact. Gaetano explained that by the time his great-grandfather’s land was divided among 8 children and then, those children’s children’s children, the vineyards were tiny. Often, families were sharing houses. Since it was impossible to earn a living from these small plots, vineyards were being abandoned and lost.
Tenuta San Fran copy
Tenuta Di San Francesco was formed by buying up 28 separate parcels totaling 10 hectares (25 acres), all within the 13 villages of the town of Tramonti (translates to “between the mountains”). Tramonti is 11 km (7 miles) inland from the sea and the dramatic Amalfi Coast…
sea from above
…tucked into the hills and valleys of the Lattari Mountains Regional Park (Lattari comes from the Italian word “latte” because the mountains were largely the province of herders, who made milk and cheese.)
valley drive
The Tenuta di San Francesco cantina is in a family building, part of which is shared with cousins. Upstairs from the cellar, there are a few rooms for the B and B Tenuta San Francesco for staying over at the vineyard and enjoying generous hospitality.
cantina

The oldest vines are right in front of the cellar with a view of vineyards and valley below. The silence of this place is a complete contrast to the crowds in the tourist venues along the coast. On a hot summer afternoon, it was a place of cool, quiet refuge.
vineyard view down
Tasting Tenuta Di San Francesco “È Iss” Tintore Campania IGT was an extraordinary experience. Only several thousand bottles are made from the very oldest Tintore, a native grape variety, vines. In Neapolitan dialect, the name “È Iss” means “It is he”.
E iss

The wine announces itself like a king of the wild mountains in an earthy and, yet elegant manner. It is rich, dark and tannic with aromas and flavors of the surrounding “macchia mediterannea” (Mediterranean undergrowth including herbs, grasses, bushes, etc.), the saltiness of the sea and the minerality of the volcanic soil. (13,5% alcohol–medium structure). The grapes ferment in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts and, then, age in large barrels in the old, stone cellar.
guys with barrels

All of Tenuta di San Francesco wines are made with native varieties whether red (Tintore, Aglianico, Piedirosso) or white (Biancazita, Biancaternera, Ginestra, Falanghina and Pepella). Pepella was saved from extinction by this project.
Per Eva
My other favorite was Tenuta di San Francesco “Per Eva” Costa D’Amalfi Bianco DOC a cru that is “crunchy” with crisp minerality from the soil and the sea. The grapes, Pepella, Falanghina and Ginestra, ferment and age in stainless steel. (13,5% alcohol)

In Italy or the EU, the wine is available “direct from the producer” or on Wine Searcher. It is also imported into California by Caroline Debanne in Los Angeles. Prices range $15-35.

wines

As I drove out of the Parco dei Monti Latteri, I came upon this view of the sun setting behind Vesuvius…a magical ending to an afternoon of time travel.
vesuvius sunset

Tenuta di San Francesco
Via Solficiano 18 – Tramonti (SA)
+39 089 876748
www.vinitenutasanfrancesco.it

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