Day Two in Romagna
FORLI, Italy – Giovanna Drei Dona pointed toward the southeast, where a range of low hills lay nearly hidden in mist.
“When it’s clear you can see the Adriatic Sea from here,” said Giovanna, gazing from the back steps of her family’s winery in southern Emilia-Romagna. “We are only 15 kilometers or less from the sea, so you understand it has a big effect on our wines.”
Giovanna and her husband Claudio are the owners of Drei Dona Aziende Agricole and the winery Tenuta La Palazza.
Azienda Agricole designates a place that grows grapes and makes wine as compared to an Azienda Viticolo, which only grows the grapes and sells them to a winery.
About a dozen writers and bloggers are gathered in Giovanna’s presence, all guests of the Convito di Romagna and the Consorzio Vini Di Romagna, both organizations representing winemakers in the Romagna region.
The Convito is a small consortium of eight wineries, including Drei Dona and Fattoria Zerbina, founded in 2001 with the goal of raising the level of Romagna sangiovese to that of the better-known Tuscany.
Giovanna, whose son Enrico was one of the initial founders of the Convito, related how it’s only natural the Romagna sangiovese should receive the same respect as the Tuscan version since the land we are standing on, now well inside the border of Romagna, once was part of Tuscany.
“Sangiovese was born here in the hills between here and Florence,” said Giovanna. “We were in Tuscany until 50 years ago when they changed the borders.”
Later, during a presentation by Convito president Giordano Zinzani, it was explained that it was Benito Mussolini who decided to turn a sliver of Romagna into Tuscany.
“Mussolini was born about here,” said Zinzani, pointing on a map just about where we were standing Tuesday with Giovanna. “He wanted the headwaters of the Tiber River to be in Tuscany, so he changed the border to include this narrow piece of Romagna where the river flows. Of course, later, when he left, the border was changed back.”
Also, the Medici family, that powerful 15th Century family that dominated Tuscany’s banking and politics, once owned this part of Romagna, Giovanna said.
She admitted the winery today doesn’t look very Tuscan except for the olive trees scattered around the 23 hectares (approximately 57 acres) of property.
“We like the tree and the olives but they are more a diversion than a way to make money,” she said.
This winery, part of which was a watchtower built in 1481, has been in the Drei Dona family nearly a century.
It was Giovanna’s husband Claudio who took the big step to raise the quality of the wines, which before his efforts simply weren’t very remarkable, said Giovanna.
“Sangiovese once was made tro be drunk early, not a long-lasting wine,” she said. “It wasn’t what we look for in a wine now.”
We heard a similar tale Monday when visiting the winery Fattoria Zerbina.
“Thirty years ago, my husband had the idea to bring the sangiovese of Romagna among the best in the world,” Giovanna said.
The Drei Dona land is planted mostly in sangiovese with some albana and small sections of chardonnay, riesling, malvasia and sauvignon blanc for the whites and cabernet sauvignon, uva longanesi and cabernet franc in red.
The climate this close to the Adriatic Sea is very humid and cooler than that of Tuscany, Giovanna said.
“It’s more like Sicily,” she said.”It never rains in the summer and sometimes, maybe one year in 10, we have to give irrigation to keep the acidity.”
Cooling breezes in the summer (cool enough in mid-summer to require a light cover) and moderating breezes in winter keep the wines fresh, she said.
“We never have bad storms, there are no problems for the vines,” she said.
Some of the vines are pre-phylloxera, that vine-killing louse imported from the U.S. that nearly wiped out Europe’s vineyards.
“That one down there, the one that curves off like a bridge, is pre-phylloxera,” Giovanna said, pointing to an ancient looking vine. “It gives us a white grape but it’s so old we don’t know what it is.”
The Tenuta La Palazza wines are lead by the riserva Pruno (all the wines are named after horses kept by the Dona Drei family), the 100 percent sangiovese flagship.
Other wines, such as the Notturno, Graf Noir and Magnificat, include international style grapes but they are made more because the customers want them.
The wine we tasted was a 2007 Pruno Sangiovese Riserva, very dark red, with the dried cherry nose typical of sangiovese. Unfiltered, with 18 months in wood and another year in the bottle, it still was young, with plenty of time ahead of it to settle down.
Maybe there was a hint of the sea, we thought.
“Our idea is not to make an international wine but to work on our specialty, sangiovese,” Giovanna said. “We want you to remember these wines and the places they came from.”