A Moving Target


Chianti legend Paolo De Marchi's pursuit of knowledge

Paolo De Marchi is, at 64, considered by many Tuscan peers to be a dean of Chianti. So, what has he learned during four decades at his highly accomplished Isole e Olena estate in the heart of the Chianti Classico hills?

"After 40 years here, you don't know anything," he says, grinning broadly as he stands atop a hillside in this remote vineyard hamlet one hot morning in August. "That's the beauty of it."

Of course, that's an exaggeration. De Marchi has studied area grapes, soils and vineyards more than most anyone and is a font of information on subjects ranging from Tuscany's agricultural history to climate change to the digestive systems of vineyard hornets.

Style and Substance in Marche


A rising champion of Verdicchio reaches for the heights of elegance.

The first thing I noticed about Leopardo Felici was his footwear—the white retro Rivieras slip-ons completing his outfit of white slacks and a fitted blue patterned shirt.

As Felici, chic and smiling, descended a staircase at a countryside hotel in the Italian Marche for a private tasting of his Andrea Felici wines, I thought he could be the stylish establishment's director.

At 34, Felici is a rare blend: a suave and charismatic wine lover who is also a serious young farmer and winemaker from tiny Apiro (pop. 2,400). Under his direction since 2008, his family's small estate has been lauded in Italy for producing some of the most elegant examples of the Marche's signature grape, Verdicchio.

That's Verdicchio!


A leader for whites in Italy's "next" place

Michele Bernetti pauses in the shade of an oak tree overlooking the rippling landscape of the Italian Marche. The hills between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine Mountains are covered with a patchwork of wheat fields, sunflowers, chickpeas and vineyards planted with the area's signature white, Verdicchio.

"Verdicchio is not a trendy variety," says Bernetti, 49, the athletically trim scion of the family that owns the region's leading winery, Umani Ronchi, and the official ambassador for Marche wines at the massive 2015 Expo Milano exhibition. "Also, it is complicated to pronounce."

Verdicchio had its moment of fame in the 1970s, when the Marche (pronounced Mar-kay) produced lots of inexpensive wine sold in glass amphorae and fish-shaped bottles and served in stateside Italian eateries.

Parched in Provence


With southern France Frying, a winemaker fights to save his infant vines

Jean-Marc Espinasse rolls out of bed at 4:30 a.m., slips on a pair of faded swim trunks and a t-shirt, and prepares to work by day's first light.

This summer, Espinasse is dedicated to an urgent mission: saving his newly planted vineyards from the two-month drought and summer heat wave that has been baking southeast France.

"Every day I look at the forecast, and for the last six weeks it says it will rain next week, but then the rain doesn't come," says Espinasse, sitting in his rustic farmhouse kitchen and dunking a piece of baguette in his predawn cup of coffee. "I don't want my vines to die."

The 48-year-old former Rhône winemaker, who followed his dreams to coastal Bandol, has been planting vineyards from scratch for the past two years and farming them organically. His goal is to focus on making rosé at his stunningly picturesque Mas des Brun. (Read my previous blog on Espinasse, "Bandol—The Hard Way.")

High on Cinque Terre


A native son’s heroic efforts in Italy’s mythic coastal vineyards

Heydi Bonanini is a rare type—a young Cinque Terre native willing to work the hard, vertiginous vineyard terraces near his home.

Standing on Possaitara, the Mediterranean seaside cliff into which his family's farm is cut, Bonanini, 37, remembers the entire landscape once covered with grapevines. By the 1990s, it was all but abandoned.

Over the last 20 years, Bonanini has fought to reverse the trend as a way "to honor my grandparents." He has restored about 5 acres—the maximum he believes one person can cultivate in the Cinque Terre, an enclave of five ancient fishing villages between sea and mountains on the Ligurian coast of Italy.

"My father cut down my grandparents' vineyard to plant fruit trees. Then I cut down the fruit trees to plant vines," says Bonanini, a strapping man with short-cropped hair, a goatee and the easy smile of someone who starts some days fishing at dawn off the rocks below.

A Barolo maestro's Mediterranean dream


Elio Altare has been up since dawn, working in a vineyard rooted on terraces about 600 feet above deep-blue Mediterranean waters.

Altare, the legendary Barolo winemaker, officially retired nine years ago. But at 65, he still works in his vineyards and finds time for the love of his later life: making small amounts of white wine in the rugged—and once endangered—vineyards of the Cinque Terre on Italy's Ligurian coast.

"I have a very big problem: I love this job," says Altare, tying up new vine growth as a few of his also-retired cousins hoe away weeds and repair drystone walls. "I can't stop. I work 12 hours a day. I am a very stupid man."

This year marks Altare's 50th vintage, and the eighth for his Campogrande wine label in the Cinque Terre. 

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