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Winery #60: Ronchi Di Cialla (Colli Orientali, Italy)

Arriving to Ronchi Di Cialla, our second stop in the Colli Orientali region, we were greeted by a welcoming party of two small dogs and a cat. The dogs loved Brodi, the cat not so much. With a start like that, I knew it would be a great experience… and it was! The two brothers who manage the estate, Ivan and Pierpaolo Rapuzzi, were our guides for the tasting. We also had a very special guest who joined us midway through the tasting!

Ronchi Di Cialla’s vineyards are located within the Cialla Valley, a unique wine producing region in which only 5 percent of the land is planted with grapes with the other 95% dedicated to natural forest. Traveling to other noteworthy wine regions like Barolo, Napa, and Burgundy, the percentages are reversed and grape vines dominate the landscape. We felt extremely at peace seated at the table overlooking the lush forests and hilly landscape during our conversation with Ivan and Pierpaolo.

Ivan explained to us how their parents, Paolo and Dina, founded the estate in 1970 and partnered with the town of Prepotto’s mayor to lead the rebirth of the near-extinct Schioppettino grape (pronounced skee’ohp-peht-TEE-noh). Pierpaolo referred to Paolo and Dina as the parents of Schioppettino, and almost on cue, Schioppettino’s mother Dina showed up and joined our tasting. After twenty years of visiting vineyards throughout the world, this was my first opportunity to meet with two generations of winemakers from an estate – what a treat!

Reports of the extremely rare, high quality red wine from the Schioppettino grape dates back to the Middle Ages when it was said that this grape could only be found in the Cialla Valley. If planted elsewhere, the grapes did not produce wines with nearly the same quality-level or complexity as those produced in the Valley. After disease ravaged the vineyards in the late nineteenth century and changes to agriculture diverged away from indigenous grapes in favor of high yielding, easy to grow international varietals like Merlot, the Schioppettino became near extinct. Paolo, Dina, and the Prepotto mayor found 60 vines in the valley, and within two years, used the cuttings to propagate over 3,500 vines on the Ronchi Di Cialla estate!

The funny part (though I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time) was that the Italian government prohibited the family to use the name of the grape on their labels as it was not an authorized grape variety for the region since Schioppettino was “extinct.” After lobbying and demonstrating the high-quality of wine production from the grape, the government reauthorized Schioppettino for production. Schioppettino was back! Wine producers of the region then created a special organization called Schioppettino di Prepotto Association to promote and protect the grape's brand.

Upon returning home from our Italian trip, I immediately consulted my Wine Scholar Guild Italian Wine Scholar Unit 1 textbook, and sure enough on page 230, “Schioppettino was rescued from oblivion in the 1970s by the Mayor of Prepotto and the Rapuzzi family in Cialla. Today, plantings are increasing as top producers have recognized the great potential of this variety.” What a great story!!

With Ivan, Pierpaolo, and Dina, we had the opportunity to taste eight wines representative of Ronchi Di Cialla. Our favorite was the Merlot, just kidding, the family doesn’t produce Merlot. It was the 2019 Schioppettino!! This was our first time trying this red wine, and we were extremely intrigued by the complexity of the cherry, red licorice, white pepper, earth, and wet forest floor aromas and flavors. The family leaves the wine on its lees or dead yeast from the winemaking process in order to establish a fuller body during the wine’s maturation. Ageing the wine in used French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months allowed for even greater texture on the palate without imparting the traditional aromas and flavors derived from new oak barrels. The wine’s tannins were present yet integrated, providing a balanced and pleasurable tasting experience. My regret was not purchasing more bottles!

500 Wineries would like to give a big THANK YOU to Ivan, Pierpaolo, and Dina for such a wonderful tasting experience! Our visit to Ronchi Di Cialla ranks among the top 25% of all our experiences in the last twelve months. We definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area!

Experience Rating: 4 Stars!

Brodi's Rating: 1 Paw Up

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Experience Vibe: Private Experience, Seated Formal Tasting

Reservations Needed: Yes

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