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Marche: From the Sea to the Mountains, a Stronghold for Native Grapes & Organic Viticulture

While Corona Virus has brought a complete stop to life as we know it, opportunities for people to keep in contact within the wine world have been maintained, albeit in a smaller, yet more personal form. As writers, we have received invitations to explore wines and regions through actual conversations with industry specialists that usually don’t have the availability to have a lengthy dialogue.

I was delighted to be put in touch with Alberto Mazzoni, the Director of Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini [IMT], the Consorzio of winemakers of the Marche region in central Italy. Regulated by law, Consortiums [or associations] protect and promote the wines of their respective DOC/DOCG region. Established in 1999, IMT supports and advocates for the interests of northern and central Marche wineries; covering nearly half of the entire area under vine and roughly 90% of the Marche’s wine exports.

Alberto Mazzoni copy
Alberto Mazzoni

Famed for its Verdicchio, the Marche region is also known for its dedication to indigenous and traditional grapes such as Lacrima, Vernaccia Nera, Pecorino, Passerina and Biancame. Additionally, Marche is known for its emphasis on organic viticulture and sense of place; believing in the connection between the land, people and wine.

Relatively tiny [it produces about 2% of Italy’s entire wine production], there is a vast range of microclimates and wines. From the powerful, dark fruit/tannic/high alcohol Montepulciano reds from Rosso Cònero to the sleek/mineral driven/high elevation Verdicchio from Matelica to the intensely aromatic Lacrima di Morro, this land of hills and mountains on the Adriatic coast possesses a full spectrum of diversity.

Area Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi copy
Castelli di Jesi

Following are the questions I asked Alberto Mazzoni, I’m grateful for his comprehensive and detailed responses. I hope this conversation expresses the gem of terroir, wines and people that make up the Marche region.

Although a small region, le Marche has a highly varied terroir, influenced by the Apennines and the Adriatic coast. Can you describe some of the unique terroirs along with the distinctive characteristics they give to the wines?

The territory of the Marche region has been said to be the “synthesis of the world’s landscapes”. It is so rich in landscapes, habitats and geological characteristics that all of our wines can be influenced in different ways, depending on where the appellations are located. The Dop Castelli di Jesi in particular, is located at the end of the Esina valley, which is parallel to the Adriatic sea. Its pedoclimatic conditions are unique: they enhance the perfumes of the wines and give them a strong character. Talking about Matelica instead, in ancient times that area was surrounded by an internal sea, which doesn’t exist anymore, but left a particular soil and climate that influence the vines and the wines we produce there. And this are just a couple of examples. Each of our appellations have distinctive characteristics which depend on their particular terroir.

The Consortium is known for having a progressive approach to promoting Marche’s wines. Can you explain the sensory analysis process?

The sensory approach to wine plays an important role in identifying that wine and, therefore, in communicating it. For this reason, the method we chose is as much scientific as possible, linking the actual substances contained into the wine with their sensory perception. Then we identify three different aspects of the wine: suitability (the wine has to be in proper conditions), peculiarity (its main features) and originality (its distinctive features). This way we can create an authentic sensory profile of the wine, which is like an identity card that connects the wine to its territory and culture, making it recognisable. This is essential to communicate with consumers and make them understand why our wines are so unique.

IMT has a reputation for being small family winemaker friendly, how do you support small winemakers?

Being part of the Imt, the small winemakers can have the same advantages of bigger companies. Our collective promotional project allows small, medium and big producers to have their own promotional space, according to their needs. The EU regulations fix the single marketing budget for each country at 100,000 euro per year, so it would be impossible for the small wineries to access the funds without a collective project. With our project every year we give more than 50 producers the possibility to reach third countries. Most of these companies are small (40%) and can join us together with the medium and the big ones.

What are the numbers/percentages of vineyards that farm without chemicals, are there any initiatives to decrease/cease using chemical applications?

According to a recent survey by SINAB (data referring to year 2018), the Marche has the second-largest percentage of organically farmed vineyards among the Italian regions: 36% of the vineyards are organic, which means more than twice the Italian average concentration of organic vineyards (17%). The Marche have 5,682 hectares of organic vineyards (in a growing trend of +6,7% in 2018, comparing to a national growth of +1%) on a total of 15,595 hectares of vineyards. We are working to extend this surface, in order to make the Marche vineyards totally organic in the next years.

Lacrima and Verdicchio are perhaps the best known grapes of the Marche. With the recent surge in popularity of native grape varietals such as Pecorino and Passerina, are there any traditional/native grapes that you plan to promote that you feel deserve wider recognition?

Bianchello del Metauro and Colli Maceratesi Ribona absolutely deserve a wider recognition. The Metauro valley (close to Pesaro and Urbino) is one of the most ancient wine areas of Italy (more than 2,000 years of history), well known since the Roman times and during the Renaissance, until today. Bianchello is a white grape variety, extremely good to make a fresh, young, and pleasant wine, that can also be vinified to create a more complex product, able to last over time. The Ribona instead, is an important grape variety of the Macerata area. When cultivated in the middle hill, it can develop a high acidity and a good structure. It can be used to produce wines with a good aging potential or as an excellent base for sparkling wines.

What are the biggest challenges your producers are facing during this pandemic crisis, such as exporting/distribution difficulties, vineyard staffing issues?

Since March, sales have dramatically dropped until 90% due to the Coronavirus widespread, especially for small wineries. Now the hardest challenge is to keep working in the vineyards and cellar, while not receiving payments from clients. The HoReCa sector is the main channel for our wines and is now suffering from lockdown restrictions, both in Italy and in our main export markets. This means financial stress and the immediate need for cashflow for our producers to continue their job until payments start to come back again.

Verdicchio copy

So many thanks to Ana Murguia at I.E.E.M. for arranging this conversation.
All photos are courtesy of Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini.

2 comments on “Marche: From the Sea to the Mountains, a Stronghold for Native Grapes & Organic Viticulture

  1. Another great Blog Cara!


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