Wine: Celli Vini & The Legend of Albana in Bertinoro
East of Bologna, the ancient medieval hilltop village of Bertinoro still feels like a fairytale, boasting a castle dating to 1000 A.D., a palace from 1306 A.D., a cathedral from the 16th century, views overlooking the plains and the coastline of the Adriatic sea yielding the hilltop the title, “Balcony of Romagna,” and wineries producing legendary golden Albana wines fit for a princess.
Atop the hill of Bertinoro, Celli Vini owner Mauro Sirri welcomed us warmly, paid compliments to Oregon Pinot Noir, half apologized for his English (spoken better than my Italian, that’s for sure), then assured us that if all else failed we could “speak with hands and food!” and began to share the history of his family’s business along with generous pours of his finest wines and servings of delicious local cheese fresh with greens on piadina unleavened bread.
“When you open a bottle, you have to be a little bit romantic,” he said, beginning his stories about the history and the evolution of wine production in this sleepy, fabled village. And from there his personality came spilling out as he shared tales of working the land, tending the vineyards, learning from his predecessors, and growing his own experience season after season.
We sampled Celli Vini’s beauties and learned the lore, amused by Mauro’s footnotes and explanations.
Our favorite tasting and story came from the golden hued Albana, the beverage famed for bequeathing the medieval village its modern name.
White Albana grapes have marked the region since the ancient Romans cultivated the soil, and the Albana Secco wine is a classic staple of the land.
The Albana Passito dessert wine is crafted from grapes harvested the first week of October, after autumn fogs and ancient molds have begun their special work, then left to dry and sweeten for 40 days before the aging and fermentation process.
I Croppi 2011 | Albana Secco di Romagna DOCG | 27,000 bottles produced
Solara 2008 | Albana Passito di Romagna DOCG | 4,000 bottles produced
According to legend, in 435 the beautiful blonde princess Galla Placidia, daughter of emperor Teodosio, came to the first house of the village on her white mare. Hospitable villagers offered her their local drink in a common terra-cotta cup. Upon drinking the near-amber colored wine, she exclaimed, “This is too humble a way to drink you; I should drink you in gold (berti in oro).”
From then to present day, the village has been known as Bertinoro.
Ted’s never been a fan of white wine, but these golden pours of Bertinoro’s crowning glory changed his mind forever.
Their reds, not to be outdone, put on a fine show, proudly bearing their own brand of local lore.
“If you don’t do anything to remember your story, you will lose it,” Mauro spoke.
For this reason, he shares happily with guests, spreading the appreciation for the people and place sustaining his life and these fine wines…
Bron & Ruseval 2009 | “Preview” Bertinoro Sangiovese | IGT Forli | 5,000 bottles produced
(Preview of wine to be commercialized in 2014; first vintage in 2011)
Bron & Ruseval 2009 | Sangiovese-Cabernet | IGT Forli | 13,000 bottles produced
Bron & Ruseval “were and will be” nicknames of Sirri and Casadei, the two families of Celli Vini. Since medieval times, families often carried reputations and nicknames passed on from father to son, separate from their official titles. Though the tradition is at risk of being lost along with the regional dialect, Celli Vini will continue producing wines under the family nicknames “to honor the fruits of success born from several generations working the same land, to produce the best.”
Production notes reveal his good-natured approach to the challenges of a farmer’s patience:
“2009 Vintage Features: The months May and June passed by without leaving particular emotions, we had enough rainfalls, they were rather generous (falling always on Saturdays and Sundays, so we couldn’t enjoy the seaside), alternating with periods of good weather….”
His 2011 Vintage Notes read nearly like a poem, candidly acknowledging the challenges of changing patterns and the dedication required to successfully continue a family business:
We are getting used to difficult situations that arise on all fronts: Political, Financial, Economic and clearly, the Weather.
…the characteristics of the wines will be different, but this is the beauty of our work. Experience of emotions and solve problems that every vintage store for you to test your sensitivity, your rigor in applying the most stringent protocols and the ability to interpret the nature that betrays us only if we betray her.
We savored our drinks and listened to his memories.
He smiled, telling us about his first taste of family wine from his grandfather, who slipped him a sip behind the casks when his mother wasn’t looking.
He shared about his personal economy of scale and the decision to resist high volume production in favor of enjoying his life’s work.
The opportunities to tend the vineyard, visit the cellars, and enjoy tastings with customers are more important to him than growing a large company. “If I spend all my time on marketing, I wouldn’t be able to tell what is in the bottle. It would be a job for me; [as it is] it’s a pleasure.”
Mauro has worked twenty-seven harvests, and his humility and expertise reminds me of my own dad, a farmer who has probably worked about forty-six-odd harvests by now (am I doing the math right, dad?).
“One life is not enough to do everything, you need the next generation,” he said, alluding the hard work of his forefathers and the future managers of Celli Vini that would eventually carry on the efforts of his days.
Soon, the winery door swung open and in came his wife and their two daughters, stopping by on the way home from school.
Eugenia, his seven year old, approached shyly and stuck like glue to her dad’s side as he finished hosting our tasting.
Mauro flashed a smile, bringing out a bar of darkest chocolate to pair with one last sip of Albana.
The same smile appeared bright on Eugenia’s face, and I couldn’t help but wonder about the shape of her future as daddy’s little princess in this ancient land of golden wine and family lore…this sliver of Italy, 300 meters above the Adriatic Sea, atop soils of limestone crawling with vineyards of medieval grapes…this place where a man carrying a legacy shares the joy of his work, setting a fine example for every watching eye.
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part I
(Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese & Spigaroli Culatello Ham)
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part II
(Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena)
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part IV
(Italian Origami: Handmade Pasta at Casa Artusi)
This post is part of a series from Emilia-Romagna: A region of Northern Italy ripe for exploration. Artisan Local Foods (tortellini, lasagne, pancetta, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to name a few!), Historical Cities (Modena, Ferrara, Bologna, Rimini, and more), and Beautiful Natural Areas (the Po River Delta, the Apennine Mountains, and the green, green farmland in between).