The production of vin santo is a tradition that belongs to all the wine-growing areas of Tuscany and Umbria. But in the upper Valtiberina, around Città di Castello, over the centuries, families have developed a technique that has made this product unique and original: the drying of the bunches in coppiole (bunches hanging together in pairs) is done in rich rooms of smoke, due to the presence of fireplaces and stoves, and this gave a smoky note to the final product.
Historically, all the families in the area hung the clusters from the ceiling beams in the kitchen, allowing the smoke from the fireplace to rise and permeate the grapes, but in the nineteenth century this tradition was intertwined with the growing activity of the time: production of tobacco.
In the rooms built to hang the tobacco leaves out to dry, the wine producers also arranged the grapes, exposing them to the fire and smoke of the large wood stoves. The combination of the two products continued even afterwards: when the farmers unearthed the tin crates where they had hidden some tobacco to steal it from state monopolies, to soften the leaves they sprinkled them with vinosanthus. And the tradition of soaking the Tuscan cigar in vinosanto before smoking it still exists today.
The grapes used are Trebbiano, Dolciame, Malvasia, but also Grechetto and Canaiolo, all hand-picked and harvested when not overly ripe, so that the skins of the berries are thick and resist drying, which lasts from three to six months.
The bunches are then pressed and left to ferment in wooden barrels with the “mother yeast” that each family jealously preserve. “Mother yeasts” are selected natural yeasts which give the particular and unmistakable smoky note to the sweet wine.
The barrels remain in well-ventilated rooms subject to seasonal temperature changes.
Time does the rest, offering us – after at least five years – a sweet wine with a marked acidity, with notes of dried fruit and chestnut honey, but with an unmistakable hint of smoke reminiscent of cigar tobacco.
Today many small vineyards survive next to the farmers’ houses and the families who have kept barrels, even centuries old, and mother yeast handed down by their ancestors continue to produce smoked vinosanto, mainly for its emotional value.
The Presidium wants to convince other small winemakers to resume production in a professional way, bringing back to the market a product with an ancient flavor that could represent an interesting integration of agricultural activity in the Tiber valley, an area where the high-income crops of the recent decades – fruit growing and tobacco in the first place – have been progressively abandoned.
Upper Tiber Valley, province of Perugia