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Una chiacchierata con Franco Aurora, Vino Naturale nel Piceno!

During a recent trip to the Marche, i dropped in on a small wine estate in the Rosso Piceno area for a quick taste and a chat with the owner, Franco Aurora.

IMG_2009 I know which sign i prefer!

To get to the Azienda Agricola Aurora you turn right of the main road between Offida and Acquaviva which winds its way through the sun baked hills of the Piceno region of the southern Marche.  It's actually only about 20 km in land from the coastal resorts of Grottammare and Cupra Marittima but you don't feel the sea.  The day i visited the heat was oppressive and Franco said it had been a hot year and that the climate seemed to be changing and getting hotter for longer every year with temperatures soaring into the high 30s regularly.  This is nonetheless important as it makes sure the plump Montepulciano grapes which form the basis of most of the red wines are fully ripe and high in sugar.

I turned right of the SP36 at the 3 signs, Ciu Ciu, San Savino and Aurora.  I am not sure if the style of Franco's sign was deliberate but you could immediately tell which of the three producers tucked away down this little track was the true artisan!  Franco greeted me warmly and after serving a few tourists who had sought him out to by his Falerio, he immediately started to talk with great passion about his work.  Franco moves quite slowly (perhaps a natural response to the hot weather!) but he talks fervently and becomes particularly animated when talking about natural, artisan production and his pursuit of quality.

'Cui Cui started off like me but they are big, too big, you can't really focus on quality when you make over a million bottles.  We have 10 hectares of vines and we make about 50 000 bottles a year, no more.'

I asked for a little more detail: 'What's the real difference between artisan and large scale production, their vineyards look like yours, they are organic too?'

'It's the little details, for example, the ability to harvest small parcels at the right time when the moment of ripeness is just right and then be selective and discard the poorer quality fruit.  And don't forget we use wild yeast and we never adjust our wine, we get what nature gives us.'

'Is wild yeast important?'

'Of course, if you want authentic wine which lasts.  Selected yeast might give you more aroma, more fruitiness but that's it, the wine has no depth and won't last.  Our Pecorino is fantastic at 10 years old.'

'So why do bigger producers use selected yeast if the natural is better?'

'It's more predictable and stable so works better for large scale commercial production.  We tried it once, we had a problem with our Trebbiano in the 90s as it was producing discolored wine  which people thought was faulty.  An oenologue friend suggested switching to selected yeast and it solved the problem but the wine wasn't the same, it had no depth.  A few years later we were fed up of it and went back to wild yeast.  In any case people started to understand that a little colour in the wine doesn't mean its bad, in fact now they like it.'

Of course, all of this discussion is music to my ears.  Franco represents everything i am looking for, passion, commitment and a steadfast belief that natural is the best.  It is no marketing gimmick, he was making natural wine from the outset in the 80s well before anyone started talking about it.  He is now starting to experiment with biodynamics as well.  he uses preparation 500 and 501 and cover crops which fix nitrogen from the air.  He rotates the cover crop so the soils energy isn't taken from the vine.

Franco and his 10 hectares. Franco and his 10 hectares.
He has planted one vine of every main grape in Italy at the start of each Row to see how they behave. He has planted one vine of every main grape in Italy at the start of each Row to see how they behave.

 

 

Rotating cover crop Rotating cover crop
The farmhouse The farmhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

The result is the most natural, moreish and drinkable wines i have ever tasted from the region.  His basic Rosso Piceno 2014 is encouragingly slightly cloudy in appearance, beautifully ripe and lush fruit character oozes out on nose and palate but with no confected flavours or funkiness.  We drank it slightly chilled on a very warm day with some fresh almonds and it went very well.  The Falerio Bianco, a blend of Trebbiano, Pecorino and Passerina makes the other offerings of this little known white wine seem totally pedestrian.  The heat in the area means whites tend towards slightly lower acidity but this one certainly doesn't lack freshness.  It bursts with regional identity and in hot weather is the perfect glass of white wine with a few black olives from the region.  Finally his Pecorino from slightly older vines, up to 30 years old and partially aged in oak barrels for one year with lees stirring, it is rich and full but not overpowering and with perfectly balanced alcohol.  It has the characteristic nutty, bitterness which contrasts beautifully with ripe stone fruit flavours.  Beautiful white for Pecorino cheeses and olive oil, rich seafood and pasta dishes.  I also had a dish of Rabbit stuffed with Fennel at one restaurant and it would have gone very well with that.  Franco makes a couple of other richer reds, Rosso Piceno Superiore, also Montepulciano but with a year in oak and Barricadiero, Montepulciano with a little Cabernet and Merlot and two years in oak.  Franco also makes a few bottles of wine with two friends of his from other regions in Italy.  The first is a Prosecco style Spumante made from Timorasso from Piemonte, Pecorino from his farm in the Marche and a rare white grape from a friend in Calabria.  The idea is to bring friends together in a project to celebrate natural production and companionship between producers from different regions.  It is very pleasant stuff, light, fresh, slightly sour and very quaffable.  He also does a rich red from Barbera, Montepulciano and Magliocco and is currently ageing in bottle a 'Metodo Classico' wine to be named 'Ciampanepertutti' Champagne for all!  Franco is a down to earth kind of guy and wants his wines to be available to all, not just bankers in fine restaurants so the prices are very reasonable.

Sunset in Rosso Piceno! Sunset in Rosso Piceno!
The best bit tasting Aurora wines! The best bit tasting Aurora wines!

 

 

 

 

 

So, if you fancy trying some of the best the Marche has to offer, try the wines from Franco Aurora, natural, honest and very very easy drinking!

Robert Bagot