In 2006, Dino Briglio, Antonello Canonico and Emilio Di Cianni, native sons of the mountains in Calabria, Italy, followed their dream. With plenty of passion but no formal winegrowing background, they launched L’Acino Winery near the ancient fortified town of San Marco Argentano. They aimed to produce traditional wines worthy of Calabria’s noble, under-appreciated terroir and ancient culture.
After 10 years of working tirelessly to reclaim vineyards with indigenous Calabrian grape varieties, the partners’ international reputation for delicious, organic wines has blossomed. L’Acino ships wine throughout Italy, Europe, Asia and the United States, and it participates in “Raw Wine,” London’s artisan wine fare.
For the partners, it begins with their love for Calabria, the often misunderstood southern region occupying the “toe” of Italy’s famous “boot.” This rugged land of incomparable beauty is rich in olives, figs, vineyards and diverse ancient culture. In October during the 2016 harvest, I returned to “la bella Calabria” and visited L’Acino to see the team in action expressing their rich heritage through wine.
The winery operates at Masseria Perugini, a working agriculture estate featuring an acclaimed restaurant, charming grounds and overnight accommodations as an “agriturismo” site. Two young, friendly dogs and their feisty companion, an adorable kitten, welcome visitors. In the winery, heady smells of fermenting grapes fill the air as Antonello Canonico leads the winemaking team. They work virtually around the clock with grapes ripened in nearby vineyards.
“In our village of San Marco Argentano, almost every farmer growing fruits, olives and vegetables also has their own little vineyard to make wines they drink themselves,” says Dino Briglio, who trained as a historian. “The vineyards usually last 40 to 90 years and have never been grafted onto native American rootstocks.”
For their initial white, L’Acino purchased a rugged, hillside vineyard near mountainous Pollino National Park. The site featured relatively young Mantonico Bianco vines, an indigenous white-skinned grape. The partners then purchased another patch planted with Magliocco, an indigenous red-skinned grape.
To improve quality, they farmed organically, using plowing and natural treatments instead of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Both sites have high altitudes above sea level to create large temperature swings between day and night. The grapes ripen slowly for optimal balance between fruit, acidity and mature tannins. Manual harvesting minimizes bruising the grapes while also permitting sorting.
“For us, producing natural wines has never been dictated by a passing trend,” says Briglio. “We only work by traditional ways, the way of our families and neighbors.”
Encouraged by the quality and commercial reception of their initial wines, the partners purchased another 12 acres on a windy, dramatically sloped site enjoying plentiful sun. Its sandy soils cover solid sandstone rock below.
“In any other place, this would be considered a grand cru site,” Briglio notes. The partners planted native Mantonico Bianco and Magliocco vines, along with Guernaccia Bianco and Guernaccia Nera. According to Briglio, the latter two came from Spain in the 1500s when the Kingdom of Aragon ruled the region. L’Acino continues to plant more vines in anticipation of keeping pace with growing global demand for their wines.
The entry level white, L’Acino Chora Bianco, Calabria I.G.P., blends Mantonico, Guernaccia and Pecorello for a fleshy yet fresh dry finish. The L’Acino Chora Rosso, Calabria I.G.P. blends Magliocco and Guernaccia Nera for a juicy red with soft tannins. Both wines have pure, fresh fruit and floral aromas leading to juicy, refreshing flavors balanced by zesty acidity and mouthwatering minerality.
These easy-drinking, delicious and captivating wines call for the soups, antipasti, pork and seafood dishes prevalent in Calabria. A visit to the charming little bistro, Tre Cipolle sul Comò in Rende offers a fun opportunity to pair the wines with traditional food. The restaurant’s charming hosts, Andrea and Carlotta, have passion for their work and a light sense of humor reflected in the fun ambiance.To whet the appetito, they use Vecchio Magazzino Doganale’s locally produced spirits such as “Jefferson Amaro Importante” and “Roger Bitter Extra Strong” for delicious “Doppolavoro” cocktails. The restaurant’s inventive dishes highlighting local produce include fresh, perfectly cooked pasta with roasted chestnuts and pig cheeks. A flavorful hint of Calabrese spiciness peeks through.
The dish pairs beautifully with the 2015 L’Acino “G”, a delicious white from very old Guernaccia Bianco vines. The wine’s golden color unfolds enticing peach and honey aromas leading to fresh, fleshy fruit flavors. Tremendous acidity and mouthwatering minerality balance the dry finish. And like all L’Acino wines, it is made completely naturally without additives and technological tricks in the winery. It’s a wine worth tracking, and L’Acino Winery is definitely a producer to put on your pleasure seeking radar.