An Interview with Jacopo Stigliano

Our new producer, Jacopo Stigliano, is one of the most promising young growers in Italy. Farming around three hectares of wild, ancient vineyards in Valsamoggia, a series of hills between Bologna and Modena in Emilia-Romagna.

Lined with trees, the vines are up to one hundred years of age and grow amongst woods and orchards, occasionally reaching right up into the canopy. Some of the most beautiful vineyards we have seen, they are home to dozens of grape varieties and Jacopo’s work in the vineyards is focused on retaining this incredible diversity. 

Jacopo’s approach is amongst the most radical yet thoughtful we have come across and as the latest addition to our family, we thought we’d sit down with this erudite young grower to learn a little more about his inspirations, ideas and ambitions. 

Jacopo’s wines are available from Tutto a Casa

Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? 

I am from Monte San Pietro, Bologna. I returned here in 2018 due to family reasons after a journey that lasted fifteen years travelling around the world.  Wine has always been important for me. I attended my first sommelier classes at sixteen, studied politics in Ireland followed by History and Culture of Food, an academic journey that took me to Italy, Spain, France and Belgium. I later studied enology in Spain and have worked in various jobs relating to wine throughout my adult life. 

How are you dealing with the pandemic?

I am good. Despite the situation I think it’s important not to give up and continue our journey. I also work as a fireman and have witnessed first hand emergencies that have resulted from the virus. In that way I’ve tried to offer my own small contribution to help us return to a sort of normality and openness that seems so distant now the world has closed in upon itself. 

Your vineyards are incredibly unique, even by Italian standards. Can you tell us a little about them? 

My project is based on the recovery of abandoned sites, often centuries old, in Valsamoggia – a long, narrow valley between Bologna and Modena. The vineyards are planted on hillsides between 200 and 300 metres above sea level.

They sit amongst trees, woods and orchards. It is the great Italian tradition of a now distant agricultural past. The soils are a mix of clay and limestone with a lot of rock fragments and are surprisingly mineral. 

The vineyards include a great number of varieties, at least twelve white varieties and eight red. They are real outdoor libraries. While the surface I’ve been able to work has changed each vintage, it has never exceeded three hectares, which is the most I can do on my own. 

How did you find them?

I call the first vineyards, the Buriana one, number zero. When I arrived it was immersed in woodland and used sporadically, depending on the vintage, by Giorgio Erioli. Antonio Ognibene of Gradizzolo learnt of my return to the region and convinced me to begin restoring it. The other vineyards I work with I found only after a large search of the region. It is not easy to find the right place, to recover the vines in a way that makes sense and for them to be productive. 

How do you approach your work in the vineyards? 

In the vineyards I work by hand, I don’t work the soils, which haven’t been touched or altered in such a long time. I try to keep these complex ecosystems, more similar to forests than vineyards, as whole as possible, not imposing limits to the natural balance of these environments. 

It is an interesting decision to work with such a large number of grape varieties, what was the attraction? 

For me, in life as with wine, complexity, meaning variety, is the secret of wealth and I’ve decided to preserve the Italian tradition of field blend.

It must also present some unique challenges?

I honestly  believe in the work done by those that have been here before me. The vineyard follows its own logic, a real and complex configuration, that is not chaotic. This starts from the basic idea that wine is made in the vineyards and not in the cellar. For the harvest, I pick everything at once, waiting for complete maturation of all the grape varieties as I do not believe in early harvests. 

How about in the cantina? 

I work in a very simple way, without technological equipment. I use wood barrels, concrete and amphorae. 

I don’t add anything to the wine, including sulphites, I don’t filter nor fine and use the cold of the winter so that the wine decants naturally. 

Are there any other producers that have had a large influence on the way you work?

During my journey I’ve met many people that were very influential in my training as a winemaker. I mention here my wine ‘fathers’, as I call them, from my homeland, Emilia. Antonio Ognibene from Gradizzolo, my guardian angel in this project, along with Vittorio Graziano and Giorgio Erioli to complete the local trio. 

Alberto Carretti of Podere Pradarolo, with whom I have shared a lot of experiences. Aurora in Le Marche, Franco Terpin, Ernesto of Costadilà, Alberto Anguissola of Casè, great travel companions and absolute idols to me. 

Maurizio Silvestri, a good friend and partner in the adventure of the Noè project, that he created with Stefano Amerighi. 

What was it that made you want to start growing grapes and making your own wine in Emilia?

To both return to my roots and also an ideological responsibility to give continuity and new value to the land and the work of the vignaioli mentioned above. 

You are obviously just beginning your journey as a winemaker, what do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

Io speriamo che me la cavo (I hope I get away with this). The land where I am trying to do this, which is basically unknown, is a difficult battle ground, but as they say, fear is not an option. I believe in a better future and a consistent evolution of what today is called ‘natural wine’ or even better, ‘wine’.

I hope to be able to preserve the vineyards that I am recovering and reintroduce old varieties that have now disappeared, with the hope to bring back to the grapes and the wines an acidity that now seems forgotten due to climate change.

I try to constantly improve both my wines and my ambitions. 

Bologna has an incredibly rich culture when it comes to food. Tell us about a few of your favourite dishes from the region to enjoy alongside your wines. 

Being of mixed Italian origins, I have always been attracted by the Mediterranean cuisine of the entire country. Thinking about the most legendary dishes of my town, Bologna, I would say that Hiraeth is definitely a wine that goes with Tagliatelle al Ragù di Cartella, maybe using the Vacca Bianca Modenese, which is the famous white cow of Modena. Buriana with Tortelloni Ripieni di Ricotta, seasoned with porcini mushrooms from the Apennine mountains and I would enjoy the Buriana Amphora alongside a stuffed guinea fowl or pigeon. 

Photo: Giulia Nutricati