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Arnaldo Caprai

For your vines only….Many winemakers nurture a penchant for a particular variety, developing an intimate knowledge of a certain grape by assessing its performance in various contexts (sites, vintages, etc.) and working with it over a fairly extensive period. But very few invest in a relative unknown, a native that is not only without a track record, but essentially the exclusive property of one area—possessing a minority status that is an implicit deterrent to cultivating recognition. But to Arnaldo Caprai, Sagrantino wasn’t just another obscure red in search of a label—it was a grape that he saw a future for—one that deserved a chance to both headline and move outside its local scene.
But that was nothing compared to what his son, Marco, envisioned….

While Arnaldo gave Sagrantino its start shortly after the inception of his eponymous estate (in 1971), Marco eventually became its foremost advocate—not merely making it the varietal centerpiece of the estate, but devoting a comprehensive research program to its study. This effort, undertaken in cooperation with the University of Milan, commenced in 1990, only two years after Marco had assumed direction of the Caprai operation. The initial phase was devoted to an in-depth analysis of Sagrantino’s “mother plants”—clones that expressly define themselves through highly developed or demonstrative features—shape, level of sugar, aromatic profile, etc. Many of Sagrantino’s attributes had been diminished or altogether obscured through indiscriminate processes of selection that were not attuned to individual clonal traits. The research was designed not only to isolate these characteristics, but to analyze their scientific merit as well as their translation on the palate.

The research did not stop there, however, moving on to the vineyard to determine the most advantageous training system and density; various combinations were assessed across both a five-root spectrum and various vintages.   The ultimate objective of such rigorous research was to identify the particular clones that performed best in the terroir concerned and the viticultural systems and approaches that befit their respective constitutions. This nuanced study necessarily entailed acquiring expertise in the region’s native constitution—its terroir. While Sagrantino’s autochthonous positioning in Umbria’s Montefalco zone authors an organic synergy between the grape and the elements of both soil and terroir, Caprai and Milan University scholars assessed those relationships to uncover the specific methods that elicit the most beneficial interactions. They applied the same methodology to their research efforts with Sangiovese and Grechetto, finding that both possess an intense, albeit non-native correspondence, with the organic makeup of Montefalco. Caprai’s intimate understanding of terroir is equaled only by the estate’s grasp of Sagrantino, articulated in its formal delineation of the grape’s body of characteristics. Interestingly, the estate points out that this kind of thorough textbook treatment is generally reserved for international grapes. Caprai has also recovered the grape’s history, positing that it may be Montefalco’s Itriola, a grape referenced in Pliny’s Naturalis Historiae.

At present, Sagrantino is one of Italy’s hottest indigenous varietals—a status that may, for all intents of purposes, be attributed exclusively to Marco Caprai. As aforementioned, Sagrantino didn’t have much going for it when Caprai started out, particularly as it was primarily known as a passito wine. Although the first dry Sagrantino (experimental) was produced by the Umbrian estate of Terre de’ Trinci in the late 1960s, this development did not inspire the region’s winemakers to initiate a serious period of cultivation. In fact, only a few years ago, this grape’s producer list numbered a mere 17—now it occupies a prominent position in over 50 portfolios. Caprai was fully committed in the early days, however, calling upon the services of scholar Leonardo Valenti and famed wine consultant Attilio Pagli to assist him in establishing a name not only for Sagrantino, but for the region of Montefalco as well.

In order to mark the estate’s 25th Anniversary, Marco crafted a special pure-varietal Sagrantino known as 25 Anni. In general, Caprai is known for maximizing Sagrantino’s intensity, delivering a modern interpretation that proffers an intriguing juxtaposition with the expression of Paolo Bea. Caprai’s portfolio also features Sagrantino normale and passito bottlings, and efforts beyond his principal varietal interest, including two “Outsider” bottlings—a Bordeaux blend and a Pinot Nero bottling, the latter of which is available only via a special Web site. 



Wines:
Colli Martani Grecante Grechetto
Poggio Belvedere Grechetto
Contemporare San Giovese
Montefalco Rosso
Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni
Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano
Montefalco Sagrantino Passito
Poggio Belvedere Rosso
Nero Outsider Pinot Nero
Rosso Outsider
Region: Umbria

DOC(G)s:

Colli Martani
Montefalco
Montefalco Sagrantino
Umbria IGT