An interview with Elena Fucci

Elena Fucci

It’s late October and Elena Fucci is about to begin the 2022 harvest. Her vines are planted at 600 metres above sea level in the volcanic soils of Monte Vulture in the Basilicata region and, despite being very far south – between Italy’s toe and heel – the nights are already chilly here.

‘I’m always the last to start picking my grapes,’ she says. ‘But for me, that’s an advantage: my six hectares of vineyards are planted to Aglianico, which is a late-ripening red variety, and that’s a big help in our increasingly hot summers.’

In July and August, instead of suffering too much heat stress, Aglianico shuts down its photosynthesis and the vines subsist on minimum energy until September, when the berries turn from green to red and resume ripening. ‘That stops the fruit from overcooking,’ Fucci explains. ‘The climate crisis is bringing an appreciation for late-ripening varieties – including Piedmont’s Nebbiolo and Umbria’s Sagrantino – for their ability to cope with changing growing conditions.’

A new push

Fucci, who was born in 1981, is at the epicentre of the ‘renaissance’ of the Aglianico grape in Basilicata. The region is one of Italy’s smallest, with just 580,000 inhabitants. The Aglianico del Vulture regional consorzio has 60 members, but only about 20 of these sell their wines abroad. Fucci is a member of Generazione Vulture, a group of eight of those wineries. They’re all run by young winemakers located around the extinct volcano, dedicated to revitalising the wines and image of this ancient indigenous variety.

While some of her co-members are children of winemakers or grew up around wine, Fucci is different. ‘I started from zero,’ she says. ‘I was a Coke-drinking student with little to no wine culture, though my grandfather did grow grapes to sell to the local cooperative.’

Her decision to run the estate was made in 2000 when her parents, both teachers, were debating whether to sell the land and the 16th-century casa colonica (‘farmhouse’) in Barile, in the heart of the DOC region, where she grew up. ‘I had just finished high school and had been considering a career in genetic engineering, but I felt I couldn’t let that sale happen. So I obtained a degree in oenology and agronomy in Pisa before coming back down here in 2005. My bond with this area was too strong to break.’

Fucci’s great-grandfather, Nicola Salvatore, had worked these vineyards as a labourer when they were part of a latifondo, the system of very large agricultural estates, usually owned by landlords living in the north, that was prevalent in the south of Italy until the 1950s. ‘Under the mid-century land reforms, my grandfather was able to buy these vineyards and 1.5 hectares of olive groves from the Tuscan landowner.’

Her parents were delighted with Fucci’s decision. ‘We cleared out the old cellar and got started,’ she recalls. ‘My first harvest produced just 1,200 bottles and I sold the rest of the grapes. Now, 17 years later, I’m producing 35,000 bottles per year.’ She also makes an extra-virgin olive oil.

Simple concept

Fucci’s winery and vineyard on the slopes of the extinct Monte Vulture volcano.

‘The volcano is 1,300 metres at its highest point and my land is in a single large piece about as far up as vines will grow,’ she explains. ‘It’s rare to have such a big vineyard on a mountainside, so my idea was very simple: I’d make one wine from one grape in one place – that is an easy concept to communicate.’

The vineyards are located in Contrada Solagna del Titolo, so she named her wine Titolo (‘title’). ‘Solagna means sun-facing, and the vineyard is like a big amphitheatre on lavic soils with a slight incline,’ she says.

Three hectares accommodate 60- to 70-year-old vines, while 1.5ha were replanted by her grandfather Generoso in 1998, and the remaining 1.5ha were planted in 2002. In 2020, Fucci bought an additional 1.5ha of vineyards…

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An interview with Elena Fucci Erreur : SQLSTATE[HY000] [1040] Too many connectionsAn interview with Elena Fucci *An interview with Elena Fucci