If like me you have a deep-seated passion for all things amber-hued, and consecrated to the Great Mother of Unholy Macerations, you surely know of the major natural wine fairs in Italy and you may have been a more or less frequent visitor. I’m speaking here of stalwarts like Vini Veri, the oldest natural wine fair and among the oldest associations; or Vinnatur, born of a schism from Vini Veri, organised by probably the largest association of natural vignerons in Europe and boasting the first natural wine charter overseen by government-approved regulators.
These are undeniably wonderful events, brimming with great vignerons who have in many cases become cult names from Tokyo to Copenhagen, despite their humble demeanour. They are now solid institutions of the natural wine world and beyond, established and well known.
However, if I want to feel once more like a young Padawan just initiated into the Orange Arts and still discovering the Force, I turn my attention to newer horizons. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a fair share of younger, newer producers attending the big fairs but they’re not the main focus, both due to the many stars already present and the larger scale of the events themselves. In the past five to six years, together with the growing interest for the natural wave by both mainstream and younger drinkers and former infidels, a number of fresh wine events have sprung up. Each with their own character and twist, they’re filled with both cabals of hardened naturalist Taliban fighters and larger crowds of newly minted adepts and the just plain curious.
Here’s a selection of these new bacchanals:
VINESSUM: Now in its fifth edition, it’s housed in the stunningly beautiful setting of Antico Convento di San Francesco in Bagnacavallo in the Romagna region, a 13th Century monastery turned hotel and cultural centre. Every year the cloister sees a joyous eruption of artisan natural vignerons from all corners of Italy and beyond: Austria, Spain and Slovenia also feature. Created by the volcanic wine connoisseur and all-around mystery man turned winemaker Andrea Marchetti, Vinessum isn’t only a fair but also a celebration of natural wine as a living, vibrant and at times contradictory but always stimulating cultural object.
Both as a wine-lover, trade professional and writer this has long been a treasure trove for me. This is where you go to to find the obscure yet sublime, the crazy and anarchic or the mythically macerated. The common thread is the undeniable character, authenticity and mind-bending quality of the wines. Although you may not find wines skin-fermented within the Mordor fume-dried stomach of a Yak, the biggest treasure to be taken away from Vinessum is the endless bounty of new vignerons and the virtuous progress and evolution of ‘the known ones’.
BORDER WINE: In Cividale del Friuli, at the crossroads between Italy, Slovenia and Austria, Border Wine calls itself “the first ‘trans-frontier’ natural wine festival”, focusing on the rich multi-cultural character of the region, brimming with natural pioneers and talented mavericks. I like to call it the Imperial Wine Bacchanal, both with a nod to the the region’s Austro-hungarian heritage and a bow to the lords of Holy Orangeness gathered there. The gods in Valhalla tremble before the convened macerative wisdom: Franco Terpin and the Slovenian Jimi Hendrix of wine Janko Štekar amongst them.
EMILIA SUR LIE: Usually timed with Italy’s National Day it’s a (pun very much intended) naturally sparkling celebration of Emilia, one of the two historical cradles, along with Veneto, of Italian methode ancestrale. Petnat is the alpha and omega here: unbridled, unashamed and luminous as hell, of course accompanied by the unctuous local salumi plus pork and lard-based delicacies, a match made in heaven for these wines. Here you can find the wines of Crocizia, young vignerons nestled amongst hillside woods not far from Parma, giving new life and light to Malvasia di Candia and Sauvignon among others, as well as Vittorio Graziano, the Clint Eastwood of natural Lambrusco and the lost Ark of Trebbiano Modenese.
BACK TO THE WINE: The back to school version of Vinessum, always in Romagna but this time in Faenza and at a much larger venue. It preserves and amplifies the irreverent discovery-based spirit of Vinessum, with a much more discernible presence of domestic and many international trade operators from UK, Japan, Sweden, US and others, testifying to the fact that it’s one of the best spots to find both new blood and witness the beautiful journey of more established vignerons. Let the Great Ancients of 666 Amphoras guide you and you can run into Battista Belvisi from Pantelleria’s Abbazia San Giorgio, the orange supernova of dry Zibibbo, or Leonardone from Cà Sciampagne, the rebel soul of the forgotten Bianchello grape from Marche, or Paolo Rusconi, the father of Fatto coi Piedi (literally “made with feet”), a rustically poetic interpretation of Malvasia di Candia from Emilia.
CCC (Cantina Condominiale Clandestina): Meaning literally but almost untranslatably “Clandestine Condominium’s Cellar”, it’s not so much a fair as a barely legal natural insurrection. Deep in the bowels of a quaint condominium in central Rome, the heretic warriors of vinnaturism Fabri and Saverio have converted what was Fabri’s basement into the first natural wine speakeasy, filled with rare bottles of Radikon, Gravner or Emidio Pepe dating back to the bronze age (macerated of course) and hard to find gems from Spain, Slovenia or Austria. The CCC’s first rule is “Do not speak about CCC” so you’re not actually reading this. Still, they spread the verb well beyond the disciples, converting a surprising number of general drinkers who had never before tasted wines made with (Parker forgive us) only grapes and love. They officiate weekly natural baptisms with vignerons from the holy of holiest to the obscure and up and coming, having hosted evenings with Denavolo, Barranco Oscuro, JNK, Podere Veneri Vecchio and many others. Wine, stories and experiences are shared with no barrier between vigneron and wine lover, but if you need to hit the restroom you must sneak out to the Pakistani convenience store across the street (according to a treaty where snack purchases allow usage of the loo).
This brief overview just scratches the surface, but shows beyond any doubt the dynamism and sacred ferment at play in Italy’s natural wine scene – and how its reach is justifiably spreading far and wide.