Morella – treasuring old vines

IMG_7750There is no doubt that the chief viticulture treasure of Puglia is its old vines.  They have not always been seen this way of course as they are not seen as modern and they are labour intensive.  Much work has to be done by hand and yields are lower than with vigorous young vines trained on wires.  But the potential for quality from these old bush vines is really high – you just need the skill and the commitment  to realise that potential.   Gaetano Morella and Lisa Gilbee certainly have these qualities and more. Gaetano explains that over the last decade their first priority has been the recovery of the old bush vines, here planted on the terra rossa above limestone. And by ‘old’ they mean 40-70 year old.  The whole operation is run along organic lines and for the last three years they have been applying biodynamic treatments.  As you can see, they let the wild vegetation grow between the vines which will also reduce vigour.

The on-going programme is equally impressive. They are selecting plants they like and propagating them to replace failing vines and for the young cordon trained vines they will grow.  They have ‘bought old’ and are planning for a long future.  The important work then continues in the winery.  Everything is on a small scale and can be intimately supervised.  Micro-vinification in small open casks (or one closed, cement egg fermenter), using a basket press, racking into tonneaux, bottling and storage.  And the wines now?

IMG_7762The single white is Mezzogiorno Bianco 2010 made with the Campanian Fiano grape variety.  It lives up to its floral reputation with quite exotic fruit. We try two of the reds, both Primitivo based.  Primitivo Malbek 2008 is indeed a blend of 85% Primitivo and 15% Malbec, aged in used tonneaux.   IMG_7766This was the only blend featuring Malbec that we tasted on our visit to the region, but apparently there has been Malbec in Puglia since phylloxera.  The wine shows remarkable depth of red and black fruit and a wine of this relative youth needs time in the glass really needs time to open up.  Of the top wines, we tasted La Signora 2007 from the field we walked around earlier. It has an amazingly powerful nose, with very intense fruit and chocolate and liquorish notes, powerful on the palate but with good balance, outstanding.

With a tiny production of only 16,000 bottles and working basically by hand, these wines are not cheap by Puglian standards. But the fact that they are sold by Berry Bros, as well as some independent wine merchants, tells you of their quality.   And I can tell you that they have not wasted any money on a flash winery.  We had another ‘Google maps’ moment finding this location as the little gadget indicated that we should stop outside a scruffy double garage with metal roller blinds.  Eventually we learnt that this is indeed the winery and of course you ‘knock’ on those roller blinds and Gaetano will appear from within.   They do have plans for a more conventional winery but the old vines have to come first.

Many thanks to Gaetano and the representative of the next generation who made us very welcome in her play den. The winery’s website address is www.morellavini.it

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