Rome to Campomarino

The Adriatic near Francavilla al Mare is turquoise today. The mountains between Rome and the sea jut up like teeth. Paolo is worried that I won’t arrive. He remembers six years ago when I went to Motta della Regina in Foggia instead of finding  his farm. I was so frustrated (this was before Google maps was trustworthy in rural Italy) that I almost abandoned working together. Now I’m embarrassed to remember this happened. But I have to be able to find a farm, to start working with it! It’s the way of the universe. Not fate. We must pay attention to coincidence, too.

Paolo is waiting for me under a line of trees that shade his long driveway. We talk about our children. His daughter is beginning university in the Netherlands this year, with a focus on liberal arts.

Seven thousand bottles of 2017 Agramante Cacce Mmitte di Lucera DOC were produced. Paolo’s two-man cellar team are bottling it when I arrive. They are dressed in blue coveralls, operating the small bottling machine in a space where I saw tomatoes being jarred the last time I visited the farm. Tasted from tank, the 2017 Agramante has nice dark fruit. Paolo says it’s his best ever. Good structure and acidity give the wine real promise, in my opinion.

The 2018 Motta del Lupo is ready. We are only waiting on the labels. From stainless steel tank it is very grapey but light on the palate, with excellent freshness: quite lively. It’s certainly better than the 2017, less spritzy because Paolo chose to wait to bottle in summer instead of spring. In 2019 there will be Motta del Lupo rosato, and sparkling, from Bombino.

Vineyard behind Paolo Petrilli’s home near Lucera, Puglia.

Vineyard behind Paolo Petrilli’s home near Lucera, Puglia.

The intense aroma of figs wafts through the cool shaded patio of Paolo’s home. In the foreground are vines, along the horizon rise mountains, the Gargano. We go inside, past the kitchen to the tranquil dark living room. At the dining room table we taste the 2018 Motta del Lupo from bottle. After 24 hours in bottle it is spicy, with very fresh berry aromas. Earlier we’d previewed a new label, requested by one of Paolo’s upscale London hotel accounts. I’ll miss the direct charm of the former label, but I’m a writer, I like words and empty space. The new label is better, more real, and certainly more fancy. It disguises that Motta del Lupo is a very affordable wine.

We tasted the reserve wines. The 2015 Ferrau (not imported by us, but good) bottling has more mature truffley woodsy complex aromas.

There are 10 Michelin three-star restaurants in Italy. Five use Paolo’s tomatoes. When lunch arrives at his table they are the star of a simple mezzi paccheri course, and feature prominently in a basil and mozzarella salad. With pomodori so fresh and flavorful, It’s hard to imagine needing more.

The 2015 Il Guerro (100% Nero di Troia) is intense. Dry, dark forest aromas. The wine may need a more complex meal as context. I’ll try again in winter.

A muddy dog always chases me from the farm. White, with dirty brown legs and underbelly. Is the beast angry that I am leaving? If so, that’s sort of nice. Past the gate I enter the modern agriculture of Puglia surrounding Foggia. The “Midwest” of Italy. Grain, mechanized, vast.

Campomarino. I made it for the sunset. I have happy memories of an afternoon on this beach. Tomorrow I’ll visit Morella, check in with Lisa, Gaetano, and Primitivo. Tonight I’ll watch packs of seniors and teenagers roam around a lost beach town in search of pizza and gelato, and listen to coastal wind carrying voices of faraway lonely dogs.

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Jay Murrie