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Fattoria Villa Ligi

In the past, the grape used to make what is now known as Pergola DOC wines was known as Vernaccia di Pergola but, through means of DNA testing, it has now been identified as a clone of Aleatico. The name Vernaccia surfaces in other places such as San Gimignano but from its Latin root all it really means is local; think of the English word, vernacular. The Aleatico also appears in other parts of Italy – for example, on the other side of the Apennines in northern Lazio there is the DOC Aleatico di Gradoli. Tradition has it that the grape has been here since the foundation of the town in 1234 and so whilst it may be an Aleatico the vine will have changed with its environment. This is a grape that is often associated with sweeter dessert wines produced using the appassimento technique; however, to explore what makes Pergola wines special we went to the Villa Ligi winery. 

The Tonelli family has been running the business for four generations – it dates back to 1912 – and we were shown around by Stefano. The enterprise moved from Pergola itself to its current site, just outside the town, in 1962 and a tour of the winery is like a trip through time – the original cement tanks from that date are still there. 1970 was a bad time for the local area as a big employer, the sulphur mines, closed and the local economy was badly hit. Stefano characterises this as a terrible period for Italian wine nationally, finally culminating in the methanol adulteration scandal of 1986.

To keep the Fattoria Villa Ligi business alive, and ensure the surivival of the family, his father worked as a technology teacher for 22 years whilst his mother taught biology – after hours they tended to their vines. To understand why they went to such lengths, it is necessary to understand the attachment that Italians feel for the land and their traditions. In Italy the family is very important and there is always a sense of commitment, almost a debt, to one’s progenitors. Indeed, the depth of this commitment can and does run very deep.

Fattoria Villa Ligi

By 1985 there were only two vineyards left with the Vernaccia di Pergola vines but that did not prevent Stefano’s father, Francesco, from starting a campaign in 1987 to have the Pergola wines awarded DOC status. There was a surprising amount of resistance, and when an Italian bureaucrat doesn’t want to do something he can produce a million reasons why it cannot be done. However, Francesco was not going to give up and in 2005, eighteen years later, he finally succeeded.  Today, they produce around 50,000 bottles per year from 3 hectares of vines and, sitting on the patio in front of the sales area, we tasted the fruits of their labours.

We tasted the 2020 Vernaculum which is 100% Aleatico with a bright, ruby red colour. It is macerated and fermented in stainless steel before spending six months maturing in cement tanks and a final two to three months in the bottle. The bouquet is fruity, full of blackberries and raspberries and in the mouth it is light, bright, and acidic with a taste of cherries. This should pair well with meaty pasta dishes, ragu, or sausages. 

Grifoglietto is made from grapes from the oldest part of the estate and is a Pergola Aleatico Superiore. The vines are more than 60 years old and we sampled the 2017. After a long maceration, this wine spends 10 to 12 months in large oak botti before bottling. A bright ruby colour, on the nose it is rich with fruit and hints of vanilla. On the palate it has a bright acidity and the tannins are low, a characteristic of the grape, but it still has ageing potential. This would be a wine to pair with roast beef. 

Fattoria Villa Ligi produces Fiori which is a rosé – or, in Italian, rosato – with a twist. Using cryo maceration to quickly extract the colour from the Aleatico grape, over a very brief period of three to four hours, the wine is then fermented in steel before spending four months in cement tanks, unusually for a rosato, on the lees. On the nose there are strawberries and tropical fruits but it is on the palate where the surprise comes. Rosato wines can be a little bland but Fiori is surprisingly acidic that will make it a partner for the stronger flavours of cold cuts or dishes with mushrooms or truffles.

Pergola DOC wines are still very much a rarity; in 2019 there were only six hectares of vines in production and the survival of this variety is very much down to the doggedness of the Tonelli family. Wine lovers everywhere should raise a glass to the Tonnelli family and Fattoria Villa Ligi for their dedication to the cause.   

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