Paolo Bea Winery, Sagrantino DOCG: story and anecdotes of a vignaiolo in Montefalco. Part I
Paolo and Giampiero Bea: the Sagrantino natural wines
Browsing around the Montefalco wine bars, a few miles from where I was born, Paolo Bea’s bottles always called my attention, with those special labels, similar to a vigneron’s notebook.
They look hand written. They detail many things, from how the vintage was, to how the wine was aged, and even list some of the wine’s characteristics. Just as every wine has its own unique personality, each label of each wine and vintage bottle is also unique.
When I finally met Giampiero Bea I understood that these labels reflect his winemaking philosophy, in which the grape and the vine are the major protagonists, and which does not accept “strange” elements.
According to Giampero, wine is the expression of a territory and a culture, something to preserve its identity. How is this achieved? According to him, it is simple: listening to nature and accompanying it, rather than trying to dominate it.
Sagrantino: a grape, a wine and a name
And their wines speak of their land. We are in Umbria, the green heart of Italy, with its green hills covered in olive groves and vineyards, birthplace of saints, famous artists and artisans; dotted with beautiful medieval villages, authentic gems of art and culture. Its extensive culinary tradition focuses on wine, oil, truffles and stuffed sausages.
To speak of red wines in Umbria is to speak of Montefalco, the center of Sagrantino DOCG. Sagrantino is a unique indigenous red grape found in this small region, but it is also the name of a traditional secular wine, from which we can easily perceive its religious (or “sacred”) origin, as might be expected from a region that was formerly a Papal State. The monks spent centuries preparing the sweet version of Sagrantino, Passito, as wine for their religious celebrations.
In more recent decades, a dry version has begun to develop. Thanks to the power of this grape, so tannic like fruit, the modern Sagrantinos have jumped to the front pages of specialized magazines. As a result of this success, the number of producers and cultivation space has multiplied in the last 15 years.
Paolo Bea, with his sons Giampiero and Giuseppe, has stayed away from this revolution and continues to produce Sagrantino in his usual way, uninfluenced by the trends. Acting in line with their philosophy in the vineyard, they also use large Slovenian oak casks to mature the wine, as opposed to the more common, smaller-sized French barrel. Large casks prevent excessive influence from the wood without giving in to the temptation of using small barrels, and above all allow the wine to develop on its own, without pressure or haste. And their wines say it all: they are stylish, different and extremely complex.
The creation of the consortium “Vini Veri”
While the Bea family has farmed Sagrantino grapes in Montefalco for more than five centuries, it was not until the seventies that they decided to commercialize their wine. The family’s principles are based on respect for the territory and compromise in maintaining the balance between the native flower and fauna and the cultivation of the vineyard. Their intention is to protect and preserve the authentic tastes without using chemical products in both the vineyard and winery. Thus, natural cycles are respected by making the wine slowly, avoiding any artificial control or acceleration of natural processes.
Giampiero has so engrained this philosophy that in 2004 he founded, together with Stanko Radikon, Angiolino Maule and Fabrizio Niccolaini, the Association Vini Veri, whose purpose is to guarantee an authentic wine to the consumer, representative of the territory by means of pure preparation, without chemicals or other additives.
Inspiring the adventures of Alice Feiring in Naked Wines
His passion is so strong that it transmits all the way to the other side of the planet. In 1998, Ridgely Ever, owner of the Da Vero winery in California, tries a special wine – Paolo Bea’s Sagrantino. It is love at first sip, leading Ridgely to plant this native Umbrian grape in his California vineyards.
Alice Feiring, critic and specialty writer in natural wines helps in the adventure of producing Sagrantino to Bea’s style. This story serves as inspiration for Alice, who decides to write a book focusing on the fermentation of these Sagrantino bottles, Bea style. This is how two wines are born: the Rosso di Bea and the Sagrantino Da Vero, made in California. This story, which includes plenty of anecdotes, is compiled in the book Naked Wines, dedicated to the world’s natural wines, a reading I recommend to all wine lovers.
See the end of the story and the wine tasting notes in the second part of this post