This view from Gli Dei hotel of the Pozzuoli part of the bay of Naples with the island of Ischia in the distance gives no sense of the immediate landscape. We were surrounded on all sides by the crators and sulphorous fissures of the Campi Flegrei, a volcanic landscape punctuated by webs of roads, tightly packed houses, substantial roman building – and the odd vineyard – in the most unlikely metropolitan places.
Google earth sets the scene! The large green crator to the right, marked Argnano, is a WWF special site, densely wooded, and inhabited with an extraordinary range of rare flora and fauna which have survived the vicissitudes of city life.
High up on the extreme right lip of the crator, an ancient wall marks its boundary with the vineyards of the Cantine degli Astroni, on the Via Sartania, which clothe the precipitous slopes, with views across the sprawl of Naples to Vesuvius itself.
Our host Gerardo Vernazzaro, also head of the local Consorzio, showed us round. His cantina boasted a photo (below) of his grandfather, with seven of his ten children. A typical old southern italian family, he said. His own mother holds a younger sibling.
Our hotel stood above the active area of the Campi Flegrei (visible on the google earth map above, as a white blob between Argnano and the sea). It is easy to see why these smouldering, sulphurous moonscapes are said to have inspired Dante’s Inferno.
We left these behind and headed a few kilometres to Pozzzuoli for lunch by the harbour and a quick visit to the third largest oval amphitheatre of the ancient world (after Rome and Verona). It is huge. All three levels remain, and its scale is chilling. Despite the sunshine, I was keen to leave behind this sinister monument to cruelty and machismo, with its sophisticated engineering designed suddenly to raise cages of wild animals into the arena for dramatic effect and murderous intent.
Lunch was excellent, taken alongside the Tempio Serapide, within site of the harbour and the bay of Naples, the tawdry streets and complex road and rail systems not withstanding. The urban sprawl is frequently interrrupted by the remnants of the ancient world, cheek by jowl with masses of latterday concrete.
On to La Sibilla just below Baiae (bottom LHS of the google map), a fourth generation winery whose tiny vineyards straddle the strip of land that divides the bay of Naples and the mediterranean. They are less than three kilometres from sea on either side and the climate is unique. This is the view to the north west…
And above is the view to the south east – from positions in the vineyards less than 100 metres apart!
The family’s house and outbuildings are built not only on the site of a substantial roman villa but share walls, cellars, and archways. Every hole they dig, however small, and all the spoil, has to be viewed and recorded by an archaeologist. The Roman world is omnipresent – including an almost complete temple to Venus!
We left this most westerly part of Naples hinterland around 5 o’clock on Wednesday – not the best time to negotiate one of the most densely populated parts of Italy with a destination diametrically opposite. We avoided google map’s recommended blue route, (see below) taking instead the westerly grey route, deliberately avoiding the worst of the traffic in and around the heart of Naples. Google makes it look simple! It certainly was not. We were grateful to arrive safely at the hospitable B & B Casa Iovara just behind the railway station in sleepy Telese Terme in time for dinner.
La Guardiense is a very large cooperative winery to the north west of Benevento founded in 1960 by 33 ‘long-sighted and courageous’ wine growers in and around Guardia Sanframondo. It is said that on the night of 7 March 1960 a strange illness overtook 50 or 60 other local wine growers which prevented them signing up…. However, the collaboration was so successful that it now boasts 1000 members, who in all only own 1500 hectares but each year together produce 3.5 million bottles, and the equivalent of 1.5 million bottles in bulk.
The eneologist, Marco Giulioli, spent the best part of the day with us, explaining every aspect of the work in the winery, and showing us the vineyards, and giving a moving account of the benefits of cooperation in an area where small holders would otherwise struggle to make a living.
David and Marco discuss the former use of the various sized experimental concrete tanks which are part of an outdoor Museo. And I now know how a tangential filter works. This one can filter up to 13,330 bottles worth of white wine each hour…
It was also a wonderful introduction to the many wines and stunning landscape of Sannio (shown here with Mount Taburno) and a very striking contrast to the tiny family wineries of the Naples area. Our visit ended with a fantastic meal at the terrific Locanda della Pacciana in Telese; thank you again, Marco !
We hurried on to Torrecuso to meet the fast-speaking, fast-moving Libero Rillo, head of the Sannio Consorzio at Fontanavecchia. Another successful business built on a long family history in a beautiful place – which nonetheless struggled to maintain its population in the post-war years when life in central southern Italy was very, very harsh. It is high quality wine, not volume, that is transforming fortunes.
The dusk descended as we drove towards the little town of Taurasi which gives its name to the most famous (and demanding) wine of Campania. Alessia Canarino, sometime WSET student and now marketing consultant to a number of Italian wineries was keen for us to visit her at
on the edge of Taurasi. She showed us around what had been a cooperative until 2016, and we caught the last of the evening light on the Aglianico vines which turn such striking colours after the harvest and with the onset of cool weather.
Thank you Alessia, for the visit, the tasting, our supper, and for leading us back through the dark winding roads to Atripalda and our hotel. Much appreciated!
The next morning we searched out Cantine I Favati, based in the suburban streets of Cesinali, close by Avellino. A handsome, newly built town house surrounded by a well kept garden and walnut trees, entirely disguising deep working cellars, presided over by Roseanna, who began the project with her brother in law twenty years ago.
Roseanna is inspirational. In hardly more than an hour, she had given David the low-down on her Taurasi-based business, taken us with her for her morning coffee at the local bar three doors down, and fixed us up at no notice with an even smaller winemaker, Luigi Sarno, who kindly came to collect us from the central piazza. His only information was ‘due inglesi nella machina rossa’ – two english people in a red car – but he found us and took us to his family’s tiny cantina del Barone at Nocellato, with its peacocks, its huge concrete nut-drying platform, spectacular views and a seriously ancient dessert grape vine. Such kindness!