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Window on Italy - "When Life Becomes Passion!"
I cannot say it better than this title of a book about Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio Cantina regarding the passion of Lorenzo Fasola Bologna! Being passionate myself about my adopted home of Umbria with its gentle hills, perched villages, and rich history, I recognize a kindred soul the first moment I meet this young aristocratic, but humble, man with a vision, and his beautiful wife, Maryam Shams-Fasola Bologna.
Maryam and Lorenzo
Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio Cantina is the first, and currently only, carbon neutral vineyard and olive oil producer in the world. Lorenzo's dream to have the purest air for the grapes and olives is a reality thanks to the huge planting of trees begun by his father, Andrea, over thirty years ago, and now by capturing the sun through solar energy and converting the farm machinery to bio-diesel and electricity. Lorenzo accomplishes his "360 Degree Green Revolution" of ecological awareness and efficiency, by returning to the purity of a thousand year tradition of the land overseen by the ancient Castello, joined with the cutting-edge of today's technology.
Each detail is amazing to behold, from the purity of the soil, to the air, to the energy efficient Cantina building with its natural air circulation roof, to the Microsoft micro-chips hanging from 500 hundred year-old olive trees collecting data from the environmental conditions.
I found the Cantina after seeing an interview with Lorenzo on the BBC in the spring of 2009. It is a short drive from my home in Piegaro, Umbria, turning south off the SR 220 through Pietrafitta, past the historic Franciscan convent of Cibottola and down the hill from Mercatello. It is easy to find on any map of Umbria (south of Lago Trasimeno and close to Perugia from the SR220).
I was thrilled when they created a unique tour of the Cantina, their fields of grapes and olive groves followed by a complimentary tasting for me and my guests. Now this tour is open to the public and anyone can drop by for their own tour and tasting.
I am very lucky during the six months that I live in Umbria from April to November. I devote myself to a weekly tour on Sundays with my guests, thrilled to be able to witness the growth of both grapes and olives from tiny flowers to luscious fruit ready to be harvested to make the wine and the dark green oil we taste.
On our visits, we leave the Cantina, situated in the valley below Mercatello, and climb up and up the hill, passing by the ancient Castello, Lorenzo's childhood home and that of his ancestors, the Sereni family. Driving along a ridge that overlooks the Valle Umbra we spot the white buildings of Perugia and Assisi beyond the green patchwork of many hectares of his olive groves and vineyards.
Drive through the vines
Driving right through the vines themselves in the electric jeeps, we are so close to the vines that we reach out and touch the grapes! We try to refrain from picking them because they are not yet ready for harvest and we better leave them for the wine. Everyone is in awe when our informative Monte Vibiano Vecchio hostess, Claudia, explains that one olive tree in a hard-to-reach place in the groves is over 1,500 years old and produces a predictable 270 kilos of olives every single year. If a tree could talk, what a story it could tell us.
The wine terrace is very comfortable and looks out to a panoramic view of the green hills of Umbria surrounded by fields of sunflowers, corn and wheat. The presentation of the complimentary tasting of olive oil served on freshly toasted bruschetta and the one white and three red blends of wine, is astounding with complimentary pellets of linen, that when dampened with lemon water, become little towels. Lorenzo and Maryam have thought of everything for it is very refreshing in the summer heat.
Sun umbrellas, unique tables made of old wine barrels topped with the cuttings of saplings from the groves and a beautiful ancient chestnut wood wine bar designed by Maryam, welcome guests to linger over the wines. The Cantina is open 363 days a year (closed only Christmas and New Year's); now they welcome daily public tours in the groves and vines, the cantina and tastings on the wine terrace. Over 5,000 visitors arrived in 2010. Soon the terrace will be roofed and surrounded by glass walls, for warm and cozy tastings in winter, but cool in summer with solar-powered air conditioning. Lorenzo and Maryam always strive toward perfection. I am anticipating more surprises and achievements in 2011.
Lorenzo insists that the tour and tasting will always be complimentary (as in free) to guests and there is no pressure to purchase the wine or oil, although one can, of course at a discount. Like Lorenzo says, "you either like the wine or oil, or you don't." He lets it speak for itself and there is no fancy wine talk ... just a generous "pour" of each wine and a description of what the blend is and how it is made.
Guests who are interested can order an unusual vertical collection of L'Andrea beginning with the inaugural year of 2003, and including each year up to 2006 (at this writing). What a significant collection for any wine connoisseur.
Another treat for our guests and me is to meet Andrea, Lorenzo's father, and namesake of the wine, L'Andrea, as we drive to the Vineyard Lorenzo, named for his son. He often walks with his wife, Francesca, from the Castello to the Cantina on a summer day!
Recently I had the good fortune to speak with Andrea over lunch at the Castello. Almost everything we ate came from their farm: organic farro soup and greens, cheeses and salamis. Lorenzo tells me that Andrea is famous for his handmade sausages. With advanced degrees in agriculture and an emphasis on animal feeds, Andrea had his mind revolutionized by his studies and experience of American feed lots, unlike anything seen in Italy. His openness of spirit and full embrace of Lorenzo's passion to become "carbon neutral" leads me to change an old American saying into one that is more Italian: "the olive doesn't fall far from the tree."
My guests think it is one of the highlights of their trip to Umbria.
The Wine and Olive Oil
The magic of the territory, this piece of paradise that is Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio, is nurtured by dedicated employees who are equally proud of the care each devotes to bringing the fruits to a magnificent harvest each year. This is truly a different and unique place. All the grapes and olives are picked by hand, no machines are ever used. The grape leaves are trimmed daily during the sunny days of summer to allow both morning and afternoon sun to ripen the fruit. Vineyards of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc join the typical Sangiovese, Grechetto and Trebbiano, so distinctive of Umbria and the very special Sagrantino of Montefalco to make the blends of white and red wines of this Cantina. The wine master is famous and comes from an award-winning vineyard in Montefalco. He creates some very robust and complex blends here at Monte Vibiano Vecchio. The Sangiovese is aged only in steel tanks, and then blended with the other grapes that have rested in French oak barrels one year. The unique blend that is L'Andrea, the top of the line, is Sangiovese aged in oak together with Syrah, Sagrantino, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for 14 months.
Their olive oil is so unique that it is difficult to describe. Each day during the October and November harvest, olives are picked, pressed and then immediately frozen in individual glass portions. When defrosted the oil tastes exactly like it was picked that very day from the tree! I have not tasted such green and smoothly pure olive oil before.
The "360 Degree Green Revolution" is not only a revolution of farming equipment, energy and production, but it is a revolution of mind and spirit. That the "oil becomes art and the wine becomes poetry" is not to overstate the truth.
It is inspiring to learn that in September, 2010, Lorenzo and Maryam donated a special crystal bottle of L'Andrea wine to the Pratham UK Charity auction in London to benefit the education of children in India. Lorenzo commissioned the celebrated crystal artisan, Pino Signoretto of Murano to create a beautifully designed crystal 25 litre bottle to be filled with L'Andrea. Among famous wines from all over Italy, it fetched the highest bid of €70,000!
Monte Vibiano Vecchio is one of the most unique and very special places that I love in Umbria. Every day that I get to spend in the pristine vineyards and among the olive trees that date back 300 to 500 years is an inspiration. But I still want to have a "talk" with the 1,500 year-old olive tree and get some advice about living to a ripe old age while still being very productive!
Not to mention that I get to drink one white and three red award-winning wine blends while consuming the best olive oil in Italy weekly!
But for the story in his own eloquent words, you should listen to Lorenzo's description of his dream yourself at: YouTube
© Colleen Simpson, 2011
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