It is the fantasy of many amateur wine lovers to own their own vineyard. To stare out across a sweeping field of vines, perhaps with an Italian cityscape perched in the background, a glass of one’s own wine in hand, but the idea that one can create one’s own wine is a distant dream. But it needn’t be any longer.
The Palazzone vineyard lies draped along a hillside just outside of the medieval fortress town of Orvieto, an hour north-east of Rome and ninety minutes south-west of Florence. Looming above its verdant fields hangs Rocca di Ripisena, a tufa crag shaped like a ship sailing to Orvieto. Orvieto itself looks like something out of Lord of the Rings: a fortress perched high upon a tufa plateau, an impenetrable bastion to which Pope Clement VII fled when the army of Charles V sacked Rome, in 1527.
Orvieto is best known for Orvieto Classico, a dry white that is one of the world’s best-known wines, and has been praised since the times of ancient Rome. The great Renaissance painter, Luca Signorelli, insisted on receiving all the Orvieto Classico he could drink, when painting his famous frescoes in the chapel of San Brizio, in Orvieto’s Cathedral. Once you drink it, you’ll understand why. A wide variety of Orvieto producers make a version of Orvieto Classico, and even the cheapest of them make for fine, thoughtful drinking.
But did it ever occur to you that you could make your own? The multi-award-winning Palazzone vineyard has recently embarked upon a new program that allows amateur, but enthusiastic, oenophiles to produce their own wines, but without the hassle and commitment. Here’s how it works. Participants pay a one-time 30 EUR membership fee, and then purchase ahead of time a certain number of liters of wine, from a minimum 120 bottles up to 300, choosing either white Grechetto or red Sangiovese, both young wines, aged only as necessary because, as Palazzone staff member Isabella Costantino notes, the “last vintages have been so good.” Those bottles are reserved for the participant, and can be shipped anywhere in Italy—at the moment they cannot ship abroad directly from Palazzone (although shipping could be arranged separately, outside of Palazzone).
These bottles can also be decorated and named as the participant likes. Label design and wine name are all at the discretion of the participant. One participant asked to have his reserved bottles labeled with the name of his daughter, Vittoria. He just renewed his membership for another year, and will name the new vintage after his second daughter. Another participant named the wine after his business, because he wanted to give the wine away as a professional gift to clients.
The participant is also welcome to visit the Palazzone vineyard as often as they like (with three major meetings each year of all participants: to join in the pruning of vines, during the summer, and to oversee the harvest), to engage in an active dialogue, either in person or by telephone and email, with the experts at Palazzone, to feel that they are participating in the wine production, and are as active a part of the process as they choose. The project is as personal as the participants wish. Ms. Costantino explains, “Every participant is free to come whenever he likes to Palazzone, to follow any process of the winemaking, but usually we schedule 3 appointments during the year in which we invite the participants, we show them the vineyards and the grapes, and we let them try to do on their vines either the pruning, the selection or the harvest, whatever they like. We try to let the project be very personal, and not just reserving bottles, but it is not easy sometimes, because people do not have enough time to follow the project as they would like.”
Palazzone runs a LoWine blog that gives regular updates on what is happening at the vineyard and in the wine-making process, including short didactic videos made by Palazzone staff. The result is a good bridge for an eager amateur interested in the wine-making process, and someone with the time, funds, and desire to take over their own vineyard as proprietor. The latter option is open to few, while the former might be a great pleasure for many oenophiles.
Of course with LoWine you are not really making your own wine, but rather buying into a portion of the wine made by award-winning vintners, who permit you to participate as much as you like in the process. This is probably a good thing—to make your own wine well, you’d have to hire expert vintners anyway. This saves a step, removes the risk, but perhaps does not quite allow for the pride of one’s own wine. It’s more akin to buying shares in a company, and then visiting the company whenever you like to see its production in action. For those who do not live in the area between Rome and Florence, it might be difficult to pull off more than one or two visits per year. But Palazzone boasts an elegant, though small, hotel in a converted medieval building on the property, making it a welcome destination for participants from abroad. For those wishing to move from a passive wine lover towards a more active role, engaging with a decorated, established vineyard, LoWine is a great way forward.