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This interview with Joy Kull took place at our New York offices in June, 2017.
This may be stating the obvious, but you are not Italian. Can you tell us how you ended up making wine in Lazio?
My parents are Swiss, but moved to US 30+ years ago. I was born and raised in Connecticut, and knew early on that I wanted to be part of the wine world. I’d originally thought hotels, which I went to school for. Then it shifted to restaurants, then more specifically to wine. This shift happened after working a summer at my father’s newly opened wine shop.
I was off for the summer and he needed an employee, so it worked out. Of course I had to learn about wine. My father’s business partner also owned Central Cellars in New York City, so I went there to learn; it was all really basic info but I was immediately hooked. When I got back to Cornell, I changed my major to beverage management.
When I graduated, I thought I would work in restaurants, be a
In the end, I worked in every possible aspect of the wine industry and still hadn't found what I was looking for. I'd hit a tipping point, and decided to do something completely different. The only thing I hadn’t done at that point was make wine. So I quit and decided to move to Italy. I didn’t really have a plan, but I knew I loved the country and its wines. I wanted to learn the raw basics and just get my hands dirty: no labs, no
So you never wanted to go to school for viticulture or winemaking?
No. After all my schooling, I was over it. I had also been studying at the
I think my move to Italy was also a response to my rejection of the intellectual approach I was taking with wine. I just wanted to work in the vineyards and go from there. I wanted it to be as primitive as possible.
When did you move?
So why Lazio?
While working at Gilt Taste, I got to know Joe Campanale, he wrote regularly for the website. One night I drank Litrozzo from Le Coste at one of his restaurants. I had already decided I was heading to Rome, and Joe pointed out that they were in the outskirts of the city.
My original plan was to spend time in Rome, write to wineries and go from there. When Joe told me Le Coste was "just outside of Rome", I thought it would be great, that I could take the bus to the city on the weekends... Well, it’s two hours away, so that idea quickly faded!
But I still emailed Le Coste and they said I was totally welcome to come intern for them. I ended up working there for 15 months, and knew almost immediately that this is what I wanted to do: the way they make their wines, the energy they put into it, being outside...
How did you transition from working at Le Coste to starting La Villana?
I’d flirted with the idea of returning to the US to start something up, because starting a winery in Italy seemed impossible. The Northwest seemed tempting, because this is an area still discovering itself in so many ways, so there are less expectations.
But simultaneously, I was falling completely in love with the
So what pushed you to start your own winery?
I never thought I would jump into my own project so quickly, but circumstances forced my hand.
Did you think you were ready?
Absolutely not! I had two
With the money I had saved, I had planned to buy a
So she proposed building a farm on a property that she would buy and invest in. And that made my dream go from 0 to 100 in a second. Everything sped up really fast: I was able to buy more land, buy equipment with my saved money and actually make wine overnight.
That was in August 2015. From that
Tell us about the estate.
Before we even bought the property, I had already found a few
We also bought a farmhouse and all the land around it. We’ve recently planted about 1.4
What are the wines you made in your first vintage?
I made four wines in 2016, and it will probably remain this way with the
The last wine is a
What are you plans for the younger vines? Is it too soon to tell?
I’d eventually like to do a single vineyard wine with the new plantings; my current vines are all 450 meters
Lazio is a little known wine region. What can you tell us about it?
The soils are very much
Being on the lake creates an insane
You have a lot of animals on the farm. Are they your husband’s?
He and his brother have 400 sheep on a separate farm. As far as our home, all the animals have a purpose. Except for the horse, who just stands there and looks pretty! We have goats for meat and milk, pigs for meat, guard dogs, cats..
With the somewhat unplanned nature of your trajectory, how do you feel about your first two vintages, 2015 and 2016?
2015 was really an experiment and I was not happy with any of it. I was in an old
2016 I was actually really happy with. I got lucky in the sense that with it actually being my first “real”
With the white wine I’ll definitely do a little
Speaking of personality, we have to talk about your labels. They are quite beautiful and eye-catching.
With these wines, and in general with everything in this phase of my life, I’m trying to keep things lighthearted. I don’t want these wines to be specimens to ponder over. I want everyone to be able to enjoy them, and I think that is reflected in the
I also mentioned that having a sheep involved would be nice, since my husband is a shepherd. Traditionally, shepherds and peasants didn’t really get along, because the shepherds were pretty aggressive with bringing the sheep through others' land, grazing on other people’s property like it was their right. It’s still an issue in some places like
Is it always the same sheep, or are they all different?
It’s just one sheep. He does everything.
Does he have a name?
He does not have a name at the moment. If you pay attention, there is also a little red bird that helps him out.
I feel like there is eventually going to be a children’s book about this.
That would be amazing!
What is the significance of the name of your estate, La Villana?
It’s the feminine of Il Villano, which is a slang expression shepherds use for farmers. Most farmers were also caretakers for the villas on the land, which is where the villa part of the name originates. Because they often were poor they came off as rude, raw and uneducated so the term villano has a negative connotation.
On the other hand, farmers called shepherds “Pecoraio”. So I just thought it was funny there was this ongoing rivalry between the two, yet ended up marrying one. It annuls all tension: Simone’s sheep will obviously be grazing in the vineyards in winter.