In 1999, when Cristiana Tiberio’s father Riccardo discovered this property and its rare Trebbiano Abruzzese vines in the middle-of-nowhere Abruzzo, emptied his bank accounts to buy it, and replanted most of it with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, more Trebbiano Abruzzese, Pecorino and Moscato di Castiglione grapes indigenous to the region, people said he was crazy – and worse, that no one would ever buy his wines.
Fast forward to 2022 – his daughter is the winemaker, and his son, the viticulturalist – and their wines earn accolades every vintage from adoring industry heavyweights around the globe.
Cristiana welcomed us into her home and spoke lovingly of her father and the absolute trust he had placed in her.
“My first vintage was 2004. There are not many female winemakers. When I started making wine, people said, ‘Oh, they’re very elegant, female wines’. No one says that anymore. Now they say, ‘this wine is so great, so vibrant, so much energy!’ Putting people in boxes makes others comfortable….It’s not about being a girl or a boy, but you know, in Abruzzo, for many generations, the girl or lady in the wine family just had the role of public relations and accounting.”
“Outside Abruzzo, I haven’t had any trouble. But here, no – she’s a girl, what can she do?! Honestly, the secret of me has been our father. Since I was a child, I grew up thinking I could do whatever I wanted – it was up to me – being a girl had nothing to do with it. My father purchased this property and spent all his money. I find this a big responsibility. It’s been tough, but I carry it.”
Riccardo has long since retired into his truffle hunting hobby (his retired dogs Quarmari and Diana are in the pictures, and all over their Instagram), but Cristiana and Antonio shepherd the 30 hectares of 20-80 year old vines with great passion, noting that “Every five minutes, there’s a new challenge. Bugs, disease, pandemics, earthquakes…whatever can happen will happen.”
I have enjoyed these wines tremendously since they became available in western Canada – especially the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo IGT – a free run juice rosé with cold maceration on skins that is all crunchy, red fruit – pomegranate, strawberry, and new cherry – with high acidity and light tannins.
But the Pecorino IGT has such small production that I was excited to taste it. It’s a higher level wine, but it has been declassified to IGT status so the hill it hails from can be named on the label (Colline Pescaresi). This is important as these vines are 15 years old and the grape is truly indigenous, and has not been nursery corrected.
Translucent gold from the thick grape skins, the Pecorino IGT is distinctly mouth tingling with yellow apple and white peach, augmented by rosemary, thyme, cheese rind and a slate-like minerality. The finish is long and evolves with savory, umami-toned notes.
These Pecorino grapes have thicker skins than the modern clones planted by other wineries on flatlands that have higher yields. The skins help protect them from spring frosts, and in hotter vintages, they grow even thicker to protect the fruit. The groundcover on these 3.5 hectares planted at 360m is completely spontaneous – nothing extra is planted or introduced into the environment.
While Tiberio is neither organic nor biodynamic, Cristiana agrees it would have been much easier for them initially if they’d had those certifications. Now she asserts, “I think the organic and biodynamic route has been important, but it has been overtaken by the marketing. We don’t need a sticker or a stamp – we need to communicate the details of our land, our grapes, our process. It’s much tougher for a smaller winery like ours, because I need to invest time to communicate. But at this point, we are good and now I do it for our industry.”
With her Pecorino wine now noted widely as a true benchmark Italian white, she couldn’t be more right. They’re more than good.