For me this is a very special interview because it was the first that I did all by myself, specifically for this site. All the others, from Philipponat to Zind-Humbrecht, had been possible thanks to my previous and present employers, providing the setting and hosting the producers. This was different, 100% independent.
The interview was audio recorded in Italian and translated in English. It took place at Panino Giusto, in Kojimachi (Tokyo), where Calabrian wine and food importer Elio organised on December 15th a dinner-buffet event, featuring the wines of Colacino and co-owner Mauro Colacino himself.
Calabria region, the tip of the Italian boot, has a very ancient winemaking tradition, so much that in ancient times it was known as “Oenotria”, from “Oinos”, the ancient Greek word for “wine”.
Sadly today Calabria winemaking industry is pretty underdeveloped: the local scene has its own jewels, but in 2016 less than 9,000 hectares were planted with vines, not much for a region this size. Lack of volumes means less chances to end up on the shelves, less chances to be discovered and less chances to be drank. Besides, Calabrian wines are made by a range of grapes rarely seen elsewhere, peculiar names that may scare off the average consumer.
Colacino winery lies halfway between Cosenza and Lamezia Terme, on the western side of the region. As this is Southern Italy maybe you imagine grapes ripening under the scorching sun and big bold wines high in alcohol and low in acidity, but you would be wrong.
The terraced vineyards, a total of 20 hectares overlooking Savuto river valley, lie at 600 m above sea level, on the foothills of the Sila plateau. The climate can get very cold here in winter and snow is common. As a result the best wines (the red Britto and the white Quarto) show compact structure and precise acidity. Standard bottlings are more delicate, but both reds and whites are endowed with impressive freshness and precision.
I was really looking forward to this interview because there are not many producers from Southern Italy coming to Japan and it is the first time I meet one from Calabria.
Your winery was founded in 1968 and now you have many cuvées, some Savuto DOC, IGT, Terre di Cosenza DOC. Is there a common philosophy underlining all these wines?
Yes, alas, it is difficult to find Calabrian wines, not only in Japan, but also in the rest of the World. This is a very sad state of thing. In the past Calabria was called “Oenotria”, the “Land of wine”, but today it is not very well known, despite its ancient history and traditions. Luckily, in the last fifteen years some young winemakers have started to produce high quality wines and they are promoting them in the market.
The company was born in 1968 because our father had a passion for wine, but he was not selling it. Fifteen years ago we decided to turn this passion into a business. Our philosophy is this: each wine has to communicate the history, the passion and the tradition of our land. To do this we decided to employ only local grape varieties: Arvino, Greco Nero, Nerello Cappuccio, Magliocco.
Today typicity has become fashionable, but fifteen years ago many people thought I had gone crazy, because only international varieties were considered capable of making good wines.
For me wine must speak of its own land, narrate it: each place has its own typicity and each wine should express it.
How would you differentiate the wine from Calabria, and Savuto in particular, from those of other regions of Southern Italy?
I call Calabria “a miniature Italy” because it has a very very peculiar climate. We have hills like Tuscany, we have mountains, the Sila, like Valtellina, we have plains and we have the sea. This special situation confers a unique flavor profile and a unique character to our wines and foods. What we lack in Southern Italy in general and in Calabria in particular is communication: I can make the best wine in the World, but if I am not able to promote it, I will never sell it.
Savuto DOC is a very interesting denomination because it can only be a blend, you cannot make varietal wines. Is this a limit or an opportunity?
For me it is an opportunity.
From a winemaking and a marketing point of view working with varietal wines is simpler. Savuto DOC must be made from at least three varieties and Savuto Classico four. This means hard work because the grapes are different and they are grown at different altitude, so they are harvested at different times, vinified separately and finally blended. Basically you have to do the same work four times.
However this is the typicity and the peculiarity of Savuto DOC, like it or not. It is unique.
This allows you to make more complex wines as well.
Sure, although the result also depends from the skill of the enologist, the skill of the cellar master and also the skill of the manager, to create a taste that can be enjoyed by every customer.
It also makes Savuto different from any other wine and this is a big point in my favor. We live in a World, especially in Italy and France, where wine quality is extremely high, so you cannot compromise on quality, but you can differentiate yourself with the typicity of your wines.
You also make an IGT Magliocco Canino 100%. Is this the result of a different approach? Do you want to communicate something different?
Yes, now Magliocco is booming, there is also a Magliocco Academy in Cosenza. It is the most widely employed variety in Cosenza province, like Gaglioppo is in the Cirò area. I first made that wine fifteen years ago, an IGT because the DOC regulation did not allow varietal wines. Then after the birth of Terre di Cosenza DOC, I also made a DOC from it.
However the point does not lie in the level of the certification, being it a DOC, an IGT or a DOCG: if the wine is good the customers will like it.
One last question: there still is an untapped potential in Calabrian wines. Is the situation changing? What could the local industry do to improve it?
We need to improve in communication and we need to invest more. Sure the wine is primarily made in the vineyard, but without a good enologist, without the proper technology, you risk to ruin those excellent grapes.
The situation has improved in the last fifteen years, as I was saying at the beginning: while before you would have found just three, four, five historical companies, now we are around two hundreds wineries and micro-wineries. The more, the better.
More competition means more improvement and it also means higher chances to make your product known. However you cannot have a boom in just one or two years, the fruit of this process will be harvested by my children. It takes time.