The hills in the Abruzzo region on the shores of Italy’s Adriatic coast are indeed fertile ground. Home to one of F1’s greatest-ever single-lap qualifying specialists, Jarno Trulli, the Italian veteran has been fostering another passion for the last ten years: a highly acclaimed winery…
The original headquarters for the Podere Castorani winery were well-known over 200 years ago, and a consortium of four partners – including Jarno – bought into the estate with a view to bringing it back to its former glory.
Now, some ten years on, the company produces and sells over one million bottles annually, much of which sells out within a few months of its release. Demand for the product is high, and the organisation has expanded its range of vintages and sources supplies from all over Italy and Sicily.
Plans are in place to turn the Podere Castorani’s original farmhouse into a Relais-Chateau boutique-style hotel, and the team aims to make this happen in the coming years as the profits are reinvested into the organisation.
Richard’s F1 had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting the man in charge of the winery’s sales in the entire Asia-Pacific region, Jarno’s cousin, Dario, during our visit to Melbourne. We met at the Mezzo Bar & Grill, which is one of Jarno’s favourite haunts when he visits Melbourne, and also one of the few exclusive venues that serves Podere Castorani wines in Australia.
In addition to his Podere Castorani duties, Dario is responsible for importing several hundred other products from Italy – he is a busy and very passionate man.
He oozes enthusiasm for the wines and also has a great knowledge of Formula 1. What struck me most was how comfortable he was – as the relative of a high-profile figure – talking about Jarno’s achievements. His frankness and candour was refreshing indeed.
Lotus is very much a step backwards for Jarno in terms of the car’s potential, but Dario is confident that the 2011 chassis – already being worked on by the team – will see his famous cousin move forwards and becoming a serious competitor once again.
“The Lotus opportunity came about, and it was an chance to work closely again with some old colleagues [Mike Gascoyne, for one]. It was a role he couldn’t refuse.”
We start off with a bottle of the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Doc, a strong-flavoured white wine from the original estate in Abruzzo. The grapes are harvested in September, and held in a 12-hour cold maceration, and then aged in vats ‘sur lies’ for four to five months. An intense straw yellow in colour, its aroma is floral and the taste – initially semi-sweet – has a sharp and beautifully tangy finish.
The demand for the wines is, understandably, very much dictated by where the Formula 1 circus travels, and is at its highest in the traditional venues outside of Italy – Britain and Canada being particularly popular.
The growth of venues in the Asia-Pacific region must keep Dario busy? “Absolutely,” he says. “We’ve started to establish demand in Malaysia, Japan and Singapore, and Abu Dhabi is also growing. Korea is next on the horizon, and India [in 2011] will also be in our targets.”
And what about demand and sales in Australia? “They doing very well,” he smiles. “At this stage, we’re only selling in Melbourne, but I’ve just returned from Sydney and we’re hoping to expand our sales there as well.”
How much time and support can Jarno provide to Podere Castorani during his busy in-season commitments?
“Jarno visits fortnightly between the Grands Prix in Europe,” Dario answers. “He lives not too far away in Switzerland, so it’s not a big journey. He’s very involved and passionate about its success.”
Outside of Europe, his involvement is just as heavy, even if he can’t be on-site in the vineyards. In the lead-up to this year’s race in Melbourne, Jarno arrived in Australia almost immediately following the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix to work the promotional trail. As an Italian in a very Italian-populated city, he was in high-demand, and personally met with every guest during a private function held at the Mezzo before the Grand Prix weekend.
A minor frustration has been the lack of Lotus merchandising available, which is not surprising given the lateness of the team’s 2010 entry being confirmed – “Some things took greater priority,” Dario says. It is expected that the Lotus merchandise will start being available in June or July.
Dario is also involved in setting up an official Australian-based Jarno Trulli fan club, which he hopes to launch shortly as part of catering to his fans in the Antipodes.
We move onto sampling the Amorino Rosso Colline Pescaresi – the last one available in the Mezzo and specially put aside by the manager for us – a deep red wine with strong aromas of pepper and small forest fruits. I’ve not sampled many red wines in my drinking years of adulthood, and this one is delicious. Concentrated and well-structured to taste, it is tannin-rich and has a long-lasting, spicy aftertaste.
For Jarno, as is typical of someone who seeks excellent in everything, the quest for perfection in the wines is clear to see. The winery uses modern versions of the traditional vertical press system – more time-consuming and expensive than the horizontal press systems that are now de rigueur in most modern wineries – all the more to guarantee the highest quality wine possible.
They use natural corks which take two days to settle once the wine has been bottled. While many wineries mightn’t bother with the best practice of rebottling the wines and turning them regularly, that’s exactly what those at Podere Castorani do to ensure the highest standards are met, if not exceeded.
The long-term target is to seel upwards of two million bottles a year and be considered as one of the most esteemed winemakers in Italy.
We move on to talk about some of the other two-dozen wine varieties owned and sold under the Podere Castorani label.
|A selection of the Podere Castorani wines (L-R): the eponymous ‘Jarno’ Bianco and Rosso varietals; the ready-to-drink ‘Lolita’ labels; the ‘Costa della Plaie’ wines.|
The eponymous ‘Jarno’ labelled Biano (white) and Rosso (red) varietals are a pet project of the man himself, especially formulated to his tastes with grapes sources exclusively from the Abruzzo-based town of Alanno. “He wanted a wine that reflected his passion and personality,” Dario adds.
The ‘Lolita’ labelled reds were so named after the protagonist in the controversial Vladimir Nabokov novel of the 1950s. Aptly-named, the wines are marketed to be consumed immediately.
The single sparkling wine, the ‘Paparazzi’, (right) derived from Prosecco grapes in the regions surrounding Venice, is so-named due to the media’s obsession with high-profile figures, something Jarno certainly has an understanding of!
The expansion of the business has seen wine grapes sources almost nationwide, with the ‘Oddìo’, ‘Follìa’ and ‘Mille Pendii’ (translating to “thousand slopes”) labels being sourced from the Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta regions bordering the French Alps in the north-west of the country. In the southern parts of the country, the ‘Scià’ and ‘Picciò’ labels come from the much warmer climes of Puglia and Sicily respectively.
Jarno is very close to his homeland, and the 2009 earthquake in the Abruzzo town of L’Aquila – which killed over 300 people and displaced over 65,000 – hit him hard. He is still a principal figure in much of the fundraising for the affected local communities, but “little rebuilding has been done, in spite of the government’s promises,” Dario adds.
The distinct wine-growing regions are very much the backbone of the small farming communities they surround, some with populations of just a few thousand people. In many instances, the vineyards support the livelihoods of many of the villages’ citizens.
That Jarno is able to contribute to the regions that support him so much through his rapid rise to Formula 1 is a delight to behold.
Perhaps one day we’ll have the opportunity to meet the man himself?
|Pictured with Podere Castorani’s Dario (above left); enjoying a glass of the delicious Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Doc with my friend Julia (above right).|
We offer our sincerest thanks to Dario and Podere Castorani for their assistance and support in making this feature happen. If you would like more information on the Podere Castorani wineries, please click here. To contribute to the Abruzzo Earthquake relief effort, please click here.
[Images via author and Podere Castorani official site]