The hillsides of Ascoli Piceno offer ideal conditions for grape-growing. “Relative humidity is generally rather low thanks to ever-present breezes, in exposed areas, giving the best conditions for healthy grapes which require very few plant protection treatments. This is why grape growing companies located on the hillsides of Ascoli Piceno so often use environmentally-friendly farming models”
(source: “Le strade del vino piceno” (The roads of Piceno wine), published by “Enoteca Italiana”, 1997. Texts by Antonio Paolini). .
As early as the 90s, experts noticed a positive change in the mentality of wine producers in the Piceno area. “A slow but constant evolution towards quality, with a return to traditional grape varieties, by skilled and passionate grape growers”
(source: Antonio Attorre, Valerio Chiarini, “Il vino marchigiano” (The wines of Marche), published by “Il lavoro editoriale”, 1990)..
This cultural growth included the Passerina cultivar, starting with the earliest selections between the 70s and 80s by Guido Cocci Grifoni at his company, Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, in San Savino di Ripatransone (Ap). After having been studied, planted and grown, grape varieties like Passerina began to be appreciated as an authentic asset of the local wine making scenario.
Until the 70s Passerina grapes were mainly used to correct the grape blend of white wines. This variety, which is very resistant to mildew and parasites, has a high production rate per hectare while the grapes tend to build up sugars just before the harvest without a proportional drop in the acid content. All this explains why Passerina grapes were so often used in past decades to add freshness and verve to the grape blend.
Over the years, an increasing number of producers decided to use Passerina grapes to produce a varietal wine, focusing on its oenological characteristics: a lively exuberant wine with a delicate floral bouquet, which may be used very successfully to produce sparkling and passito wines.
In this part of Italy, like many others, the origins of grape growing date to the Etruscans and the colonists from the Hellenic peninsula.
PAnd thus to the Greeks and the ancient Italic populations, between the circa Xth and VIIIth centuries before Christ: these were the forerunners of wine making in the Piceno area.
Plentiful harvests, generous, full-bodied wines: the annals of ancient historians and the forerunners of oenology are filled with these descriptions.
It is sufficient to remember Polybius of Megalopolis and the description his “Histories” gives of the curative properties of the wines of these lands. The weary troops and ramshackle horses of Hannibal, during the Carthaginian raids in the Adriatic region were other exceptional witnesses. As were Cato, Varro, Columella, Pliny the Elder: the people of the Piceno area, who had now entered into the orbit of Rome, though not without wars and ferocious struggles, have always been recognised as a people with strong ties to grape growing which found a home and sustenance in the work of the farmers who live at these latitudes. Later, in the post-Renaissance era, wines from the Piceno area were defined as “very powerful” by Andrea Bacci, who was appointed archiater by Pope Sixtus V and was an expert of the already extremely varied Italian wine scenario.
Growing methods have naturally changed over the years. The specialised vineyards of the early Mediaeval period gave way to vineyards in arable lands, a method used to maximise the produce of the fields, where the vine was grafted to other crops or trees. In the sharecropping era therefore, wine was a food that supplemented the poor diet of farmers. Wine was produced for personal use or bartered for other products, with the focus on quantity rather than quality.
Between 1880 and 1890 the scourge of late blight and Phylloxera reached the Piceno area and were eventually only defeated by the use of the rootstock of American vines. The introduction of Itinerant Teachers of Agriculture in Marche proved to be a turning point in terms of improving growing techniques and renewing crops. But there was also a revolution in clonal varieties, with the introduction of grape varieties that were absolutely novelties in the oenological history of Marche and Piceno.
In 1905, the scholar Arzelio Felini wrote in his Studi Marchigiani (Marche Studies) that “for more than twenty years, in the attempt to resolve the winemaking problems of Marche, our winemakers have abandoned, so to speak, the multifaceted characteristics of local grape varieties such as Vernaccia, Verdicchio, Biancamo, in favour of varieties from the North and South” (see “I vini delle Marche” (Marche Wines). Marche Region Board of Agricultural, 2004).
Sangiovese and Trebbiano were thus introduced, and later even the so-called “international” grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay. Production became more rational, sharecropping ended, and new owners appeared.
Up to the 80s, local grape varieties had virtually been forgotten. Until far-sighted producers began to appreciate their enormous potential, thanks to the introduction of modern vineyard and winemaking techniques. Producers once again restructured their companies, passing from anomic production to “tanks” and bottling, plants were improved, and the Doc regulations introduced set new quality standards. This is may indeed be defined as the “second revolution” of Piceno wine.
In which the Passerina grape variety played a well-deserved leading role.