In the year 2000 I headed down to the Piceno area in the Marche region in order to study a vine grafting technique, and came across an abandoned property whose owners were letting go of the land.
It was love at first sight. What had really hit me - apart from the beauty of the area - was not so much the strong points of the Montepulciano but its apparent defects. I asked myself if a wine so dense and rich could also take on a certain elegance. It was like going back in time, a new challenge just like those we had faced with Tocai (Friulano): to convert the rough into smooth, violence into strength. In February 2001 we signed the purchase contract: there were around 8 hectares of neglected vineyard, divided roughly into equal parts between Sangiovese and Montepulciano. The vines had been abandoned for three years; many of the support stakes had fallen, weeds had overgrown the vines and everything seemed to be just a shapeless and tangled mass of creepers, rusty wire, grass, reeds and bushes. Above all it required manpower and I was lucky enough to track down the very same men who had planted the vines originally.
As one by one I flushed them out to tell them that it was going to happen over again, I saw their eyes light up in a very particular way. I felt like John Belushi getting the Blues Brothers band back together. They worked really well, and with their enthusiasm managed to breathe new life into the vineyard they had originally planted.
And I noticed that inside that jungle, the vines were still alive, so we decided to reclaim them from below after having pruned the upper stalks. They were trained along the lines of the innovative fan method we had devised at our own vineyard some years previously for Borgo del Tiglio’s Chardonnay and Merlot vines. The vineyard was thoroughly restructured and even began to take on a pleasing aspect, made up moreover of two thirds of its original stumps which at that time were more than 40 years old.
Over the years we witnessed a constant and progressive improvement in results. We were indeed learning, yet it was as though the vines themselves were learning how to give us what we were asking of them. Thanks to the new method of training, we managed to reduce the size of the Montepulciano bunches, but more importantly those normally huge of the Sangiovese variety, thus creating something which perhaps had never been seen before.
The love for the Sangiovese, which I had initially underestimated, actually grew over time. This is a wine which has the ability to become fine and aristocratic, and therefore become more and more attractive as the years go by. We learnt with each successive vintage how to make Sangiovese and Montepulciano, which are very different both from each other and from our own Merlot. We reached our peak with the last two vintages, the 2009 and the 2010. Yes, the last; our great adventure came to an end because firstly the co-owners didn’t wish to follow up on their investment and more importantly because the law had changed, prohibiting us (with our cellars being in Friuli) to make wine outside our area.
We continued direct cultivation in 2011 and 2012 without however being able to sell the wine as Contrada Tenna because it was deprived by law of a name, surname and date of birth. We then had the vines tended by third parties for a number of years while stubbornly looking for ways to put the wealth of experience we had formerly gained to a different use, but in the end we gave up.
The wines from the last two vintages, the 2009 and the 2010, were refined – something which I believe is unique in the area – for up to seven years in small oak barrels. They bear witness to a unique experience: an unrepeatable testimony to the potential that that particular Montepulciano, which we bottled under the Nereus label, and the Sangiovese might achieve in the Marche region.