Founded in 2006 by Antonello Canonico, Dino Briglio and Emilio Di Ciann (all natives of the mountain town of San Marco Argentano), L'Acino is a communal effort to express the oft-forgotten possibilities of Calabrian terroir. When the project began, the three friends were working full-time in unrelated fields: Antonello was a film director, Dino a historian and Emilio a lawyer. Though they had no viticultural or winemaking experience, their love of wine was enough to start an estate, and the trio's taste for vini naturali meant focusing their attention on organic viticulture and minimal intervention winemaking.
After a year of searching far and wide for a small vineyard, Antonello struck gold with an hectare of the indigenous white grape Mantonico. Purchased from an old farmer who deemed the land too hard to work, this picturesque vineyard is located right on the border of the Pollino national park, the largest natural park in Italy. Soon thereafter, the guys were able to purchase a nearby 1.5 hectare parcel of the local red grape Magliocco. While converting both parcels to organics, they produced their first wines in the 2007, a white called Mantonicoz and a red named Tocco Magliocco. At 650 meters elevation and exposed North, both these sites are particularly cool, providing a lighter, more elegant style than most would expect of Calabrian wine.
The next step was seeing something through from the beginning, and so a new search began for a suitable terroir that had never been planted in vines. This again took about a year, but resulted in the discovery of a stunning, sandy coteau where the guys have planted Magliocco and Mantonico from massale, much of it in franc de pied. Planted in 2007, these young vines produce the estate's two entry level wines, both called Chora and both extremely fun, lively and surprisingly light gulpers.
The wines ferment off their native yeasts, mostly in stainless steel vats, though a small amount of old French oak is used for the older's vines' best grapes. Vinifications take place without addition or retractions, save a small amount of sulfur at bottling. The whites in particular are wildly original and compelling, while the reds are a pure, coifable joy.
This visit to L'Acino took place in November, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Eben Lillie.
We first tasted L'Acino on a late night at Tabarro, the bar in Parma I'm always ranting and raving about. After requesting a "Beaujolais style" red, the owner Diego laughed and quickly brought out a bottle of Calabrian wine called Chora Rosso. Everyone LOVED IT, and was very excited since it turned out the guys were participating in Vini di Vignaioli and that meant tasting the entire lineup the following day. The other three wines (for a total of 2 whites and 2 reds) were so good that Kevin instantly decided to modify our trip to visit the estate.
Two days later, we were smack-dab in the middle of San Marco Argentano waiting for head vignaiolo Antonello Canonico to show us some vineyards.
Though I much prefer driving stick-shift, the old town's extremely narrow, curvy and seemingly uphill-only roads made me grateful that we had an automatic for once. While we were waiting for Antonello, Eben and I made sure to buy some RumJungle jeans for all our cool American friends.
After purchasing some ultra-stylish jeans, Antonello scooped us up and we drove over the 5 hectare site that produces both Chora Bianco and Chora Rosso cuvées.
The vines here are very young, and were planted by the L'Acino team 6 years ago. As you can see, the soils had been heavily plowed; the guys are doing this every year following harvest, adding legumes, straw and many other good biodynamic things to promote mineral richness and depth to the soils.
Antonello explained that there are 5 distinct soil compositions within the vineyard, which are essentially varying amounts of sands. In the sandiest parts of this double-sided hill, the guys have planted in franc de pied. The sands go for 1.5 meters until they hit a solid, very hard sheet of rock.
That's Antonello in the picture above. His partner Dino, who was also with us, pointed out that the layer of rock in the subsoils will always keep yields very low. Furthermore:
"Because we are working organically from the start, the vines are taking a long time to find themselves in the soil."
As far as the grapes planted, the vineyard features the indigenous Magliocco (red) and Mantonico (white), as well as some Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc. Everything is planted in massale.
By the time we were ready to see another piece of land, the sun was almost gone.
Even though it quickly became too dark to take any good pictures, the second site Antonello, Dino and Emilio brought us to was a recently acquired plot of land that they will start planting in 2014. The iron infused sand and clay had a red intensity that rivaled Mas des Chimères'.
The L'Acino team is extremely excited about planting here, because this is a completely different terroir than their other vineyards.
We then drove to the cellar to taste the 2013's as well as some bottled stuff. The first thing I spotted was this TOTALLY BODACIOUS poster.
Here is the cellar.
Stainless steel tanks take up the majority of the space, but there are some old French oak barrels hiding in the back.
These are the labels for the whites:
Dinner was upon on, and the guys pulled out all the stops: the antipasti was about two meals worth of food on its own, the pasta was banging and the baby lamb slaughtered the night before did not die in vain. More importantly, it was a chance to get to know Antonello, Dino and Emilio, all of whom are super nice guys. Chatting them up, it was obvious how enthusiastic and dedicated they are to the L'Acino project, and I can only imagine great things in the future for them.
The following morning, we set out for the 30 minute drive into the mountains to visit Mantonico vineyard, which produces the Mantonicoz bottling.
The vineyard is about 1 hectare, and is right on the border of the Pollino National Park, which you can see in the background the photo above.
Antonello explained that these vines are very hard to work. The soils feature a little bit of clay, but are mostly comprised of very compact sand. These cool looking rocks can also be spotted throughout the vineyard.
The vineyard is 650 meters above sea level and exposed North. This gives the area a uniquely cool microclimate that is very rare in the area.
"This microclimate really sets it apart."
The vines are 15 years old.
Here's what second growth Mantonico looks like.
The 20 year old Magliocco vines are just a short walk away.
This represents about 1.5 hectares.
"When we took over, it was worked more than conventionally."
This is what second growth Magliocco looks like.
IGP Calabria Bianco "Chora"
Grapes: Mantonico, Guernaccia Bianca, Pecorello, Greco Bianco
Age of vines: 6
Vinification: stainless steel fermentation and aging on the lees, released the following Spring. Unfiltered.
Grapes: Magliocco Canino, Guernaccia Nera
Age of vines: 6
Vinification: stainless steel fermentation, released following Spring. Unfiltered.
Soil: Compact sand and clay
Grape: Mantonico Bianco
Age of Vines: 15
Vinification: fermentation in stainless steel, some aging in old French oak both on the lees. Unfiltered.
Soil: Compact sand and clay
Grape: Magliocco Canino
Age of Vines: 20
Vinification: Fermented and aged in stainless steel. Unfiltered.