Are you curious about the hidden wine gems in southern Italy? Who are the colourful characters and winemakers who create them? What are the sumptuous flavours of the region and how well do they pair with wine?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with author and journalist, Robert Camuto.
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- What was the inspiration behind Robert’s decision to become a writer?
- What was Robert’s worst moment in his writing career?
- What does Robert love most about travelling around Europe?
- Which celebrity wines are worth trying?
- Why did Robert choose the title “South of Somewhere”?
- How is Italy’s makeup different from other countries?
- What are some key facts to know about Southern Italy?
- What was the lethal “Methanol Scandal” about?
- Why does the south of Italy have more varieties of indigenous grapes?
- When did Robert fall in love with the Mediterranean?
- How has technology helped bring out the complexity that we find in modern wine?
- Which interesting Trebbiano innovation is Giampaolo Tabarrini responsible for?
- I loved listening to Robert describe the vivid flavours and people of southern Italy. It makes me want to return there. In my second book, Unquenchable, I devote one chapter to Sicily and talk about how the active volcano Mount Etna influences both the wines and mindsets of the island. I highly recommend you visit this magical place, as well as drink the wines here.
- I’m drawn to stories about specific people, and Robert has many of them. I think the specific tells more about the universal than generalizations do.
- His mouth-watering descriptions of the food there make me yearn to taste them, if only in my own kitchen for now.
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Once you get into celebrities actually owning vineyards, making decisions and investing, I think it’s a whole different level than just doing a branding opportunity. - Robert Camuto Click to tweet
Italy is really is a collection of cultures, languages and different histories. - Robert Camuto Click to tweet
You only get one shot a year to make wine. You only have one harvest. - Robert Camuto Click to tweet
Back in the day wine wasn’t what it is now. It didn’t have a place at the table, especially in southern Italy. It was an accompaniment, it wasn’t the star of the table. - Robert Camuto Click to tweet
People are really important when it comes to wine. We talk about terroir, but who makes terroir? It’s the right people doing the right things at the right time. - Robert Camuto Click to tweet
About Robert Camuto
Robert Camuto is an award-winning American journalist who has lived and worked in Europe for more than twenty years. He has authored three highly acclaimed books that focused on wine as a cultural and individual expression in the 21st century. His latest book, South of Somewhere: Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy is both a personal memoir of his Italian family ties and delicious travels to Italy over 50 years, as well as a portrait of Italy’s southern wine and food renaissance today. It was named among the best wine books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, JancisRobinson.com, TimAtkin.com and others. His previous books were Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country (2008) followed by Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey (2010).
As an American in Europe, Camuto has written for some of the world’s best-known publications on food and wine culture and since 2008 he has worked as a contributing editor for Wine Spectator. In addition to serving as a key features writer responsible for many WS cover stories, Camuto writes a twice-monthly column for winespectator.com, called Robert Camuto Meets….which, like all his work, focuses on the human and cultural sides of wine.
A graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, Camuto worked as a news reporter, features editor and founding weekly newspaper publisher in Texas before moving to France in 2001. In 2015, he and his wife moved to their current home in Verona, Italy. In the Old World, he gravitated to wine as a way of exploring more than flavours—as a way to understand local histories, politics, agriculture, traditions and tastes told through colourful characters.
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- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 99: Family-Run Wineries v Corporate-Owned? Henry of Pelham’s Daniel Speck
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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Robert Camuto 0:00
Wine back in the day wasn’t something that it is now. It was an accompaniment; it wasn’t the star of the table. When you look at Southern Italy there’s so many darn flavours there and so much delicious spicy food and fresh tomatoes, peppers, greens, artichokes, maybe it’s a little more difficult for wine to be the standout star of that
Natalie MacLean 0:24
Because the flavours are so intense?
Robert Camuto 0:27
There’s so much else going on at the table; so much other intensity. Everybody loves burgundy, but what does one eat in Burgundy? There’s some nice Boeuf Bourguignon, there’s some nice snails, but it’s not the same thing as having pasta with sea urchins and clams and peppers and all the different sauces. They drank it as a food, as a very simple pairing, and did not savour wine to the extent that we do today.
Natalie MacLean 1:02
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean and each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please, and let’s get started!
Welcome to Episode 164. Are you curious about the hidden wine gems in southern Italy? Who are the colourful characters and winemakers who create them? And what are the sumptuous flavours of the region and how well do they pair with wine? You’ll hear those stories and more during our chat with Robert Camuto, who has just published a terrific new book called South of Somewhere: Wine, Food, and the Soul of Italy; about the people and places of Italy.
Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, with the continuing story of publishing my new wine memoir. Um, “this memoir is kind of like Sex and the City meets Girlfriends Guide to Divorce”, I said when the editor asked me for comps, or comparable titles. Publishers need to know where your book fits, which books might be shelved next to it in a bookstore. This also gives them a sense of how large the market is for it.
“Well, what about the darker side of wine aspect?” the editor asked. Well, I guess it’s also like the wine version of Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s exposé on the restaurant world and Drinking: A Love Story; Carolyn Knapps memoir about alcohol addiction. “And how about the love story and triumph over a devastating attack?” the editor asked me again. I guess it’s a bit of Bridget Jones’ Diary and the Queens’ Gambit. You know, I think we’re gonna have to build a bookshelf just to explain this memoir. So that’s the challenge in defining what a book is by what’s already been published. It’s the literary version of the elevator pitch. In my small but mighty beta reader group several people have commented that the book reads like a movie. One person was more specific, saying it was a mystery thriller first and then turned into a rom com (romantic comedy). She was hesitant to say this to me, thinking it would be an insult, but I’m actually thrilled. These days books compete for our attention with movies, TV, social media, life, so they need to be fast paced, and engrossing like a movie or they’ll be set aside, probably permanently, after just a few chapters.
So have you read any books that feel or read like movies? Let me know. You’ll find a link to the blog post called Diary of a Book Launch, where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/164. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know that you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at the manuscript. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the show notes you’ll find my email contact, a link to the post Diary of a Book Lauch, the full transcript of my conversation with Robert, links to his website and books, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/164. Okay, on with the show!
Natalie MacLean 5:10
Are you curious about the hidden wine gems in southern Italy and the colourful characters, winemakers, who create them? What has the winemaking revolution done? Or how has it changed the wine styles in southern Italy; the wines you drink right now? What spectacular flavours in both food and wine can you expect if you visit the region? You are going to get all of those answers and a whole lot more from our guest. So, Robert Camuto is the author of three highly acclaimed books, the most recent of which is called South of Somewhere: Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy; just love that. It’s both a personal memoir of his Italian family ties and delicious travels over Italy over the last 50 years, as well as a portrait of Italy’s modern food and wine scene, the Renaissance that’s going on today. It was named among the best wine books by both the New York Times and The Washington Post, and a host of other review outlets. His previous books were Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country and Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey which are also quite popular. Since 2008 Robert has been contributing editor for the Wine Spectator, where he writes a column twice weekly for the Wine Spectators website. He’s a graduate of Columbia University School of Journalism. That’s the top in the business. He worked as a news reporter and Features Editor in Texas before moving to France in 2001. And he and his wife moved to their current home in Verona, Italy, which just sounds dreamy and that’s where he joins us now. Hello, Robert. Hello.
Robert Camuto 6:48
Nice to see you. Thank you for having me.
Natalie MacLean 6:51
Oh,great. Sounds like you’re next door, which is awesome.
Robert Camuto 6:53
Yes. And the column is twice monthly, not twice weekly. So I don’t want to build up too many expectations.
Natalie MacLean 7:01
Yeah, we don’t want your editor to get a hold of that either. You’d be very busy. No time to write books. So okay, thank you for clarifying that. So Robert, before we dive into the book, can you remember the exact moment that you wanted to become a writer, whether it was a wine writer, or just writer writer? Tell us about that
Robert Camuto 7:18
Yes, the exact moment I decided I wanted to become a writer was when I was in high school, and I was 15 years old and I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which I think was a book that transformed so many people’s lives. It was of course, written in the late 50s, probably right before I was born. But as a teenager, there was just something that really spoke to me, the idea of the open road and the freedom and the great expanses of space that first off that we find in North America, in the US or Canada. I mean, just anybody who’s driven across the continent, has experienced that, I guess I would bring it forward to today. I mean, I do still love that open road in Europe, things are a lot smaller, obviously, and a lot closer. But it’s great that you can completely change environments and climates by driving across the country. And you don’t have big places in the middle like Nebraska or Kansas to drive across of nine hours
Natalie MacLean 8:34
Exactly. So that book gave you that wanderlust for new experiences, new flavours, new climates and so on. That’s fantastic, very pivotal. It’s a book, I should go back to. I read it a long time ago like you but not recently.
Robert Camuto 8:47
Well, when I’ve gone back and read it, I mean, it is not as fantastic, the third time, I’d say but
Natalie MacLean 8:55
Well, the book hasn’t changed, but you have so it’s kind of a touchstone with you know how you’ve changed. So not to be a Debbie Downer here, but take us to the worst moment of your writing career if there has been one, maybe it’s been all unicorn and sunshine. But is there a moment you recall over the decades that you’ve spent writing that was kind of the lowest point?
Robert Camuto 9:15
Well, I would say probably one of the low points is I worked in journalism for a number of years as a freelance magazine writer, as a newspaper reporter in Texas, and when you said that, one thing that jumps into my mind was when I was writing my first book, Corkscrewed Adventures in the New French Wine Country. And all hell seemed to have broken loose on the political front. I mean, you know, there was the I don’t even remember the date. I mean, the Iraq War, all of this and you had Americans pouring out French wine in the streets. And there was all this antagonism and everything like that. And I’m saying, oh my god, what a terrible moment to be coming out with a book on France. So I was pretty bummed about that. But by the time
Natalie MacLean 10:10
Yeah, the timing,
Robert Camuto 10:13
It came, and it went quickly. So
Natalie MacLean 10:16
Well, that’s good. That’s fortunate. And let’s end on a happy note. What has been your best moments so far in your writing career?
Robert Camuto 10:25
You know, I’ve just had the opportunity to meet so many fantastic people to do so many interviews with original characters from local Contadini to
Natalie MacLean 10:38
And what does Contadini mean, for those of us who don’t know the term?
Robert Camuto 10:43
Contadino is like a peasant or you know, like, it’s what people would call themselves, you know, people who work on farms. And so the singular is Contadino. The plural would be Contadini. So, you know, very kind of simple people, rural people who are really based on the land, who live on the land, to experience that all the way to, I’ve been lucky to interview people like Sting, for example, you know, and his property in Tuscany. And what I did enjoy about him, is I mean, he admits, you know, look, I know nothing about wine. He wasn’t trying to say, Oh, yes, and press.
Natalie MacLean 11:24
What’s his winery called? Il Palagio? Is his name anywhere on the bottle?
Robert Camuto 11:31
No, but he does, he did have some of these song titles that were used. For example, Message in a Bottle is one of them. I think Sister Moon was one of them also. But one distinction that I want to make here is that there’s so much talk now about celebrity wines and the celebrity brands. And look me, I’ve got a new wine and blah-blah-blah. I mean, one thing that I do respect about people like Sting or say, even like John Malkovich, and his project in Provence, is that they have skin in the game, they at least own the vineyards, which makes people sweat over it more. It’s not somebody coming in and saying, Okay, here’s a cool branding opportunity, I’m going to slap my name on a bottle and that’s it. And I think that once you get into actually owning vineyards and having to make decisions and investing, I think it’s a whole different level than just say, doing a branding opportunity and that sort of thing.
Natalie MacLean 12:37
I have to agree. The one I’m most impressed with is Pink, the singer, who owns Two Wolves in California, her name is not on the label, but she’s taken all of these oenology courses, and she actually helps to make the wine. She not only owns the winery, but she actually helps to make it and she kept it a secret for a long time that that was her winery. It’s only been in the last few years that she’s made it public that she owns it. And she helps make the wine. Yeah, it is cool. Good for her. So tell us in a nutshell, what South of Somewhere is about, I love the name too. So give us some background on that too.
Robert Camuto 13:10
Well, to start with the name, the reason why I called it South of Somewhere is and I say this in the introduction of the book, Italy is not really a country as we think of countries, you know, where you have sort of a unified nation and national outlook. And it’s really a collection of villages or you know, Paese, as they call them, and the loyalty is really to the local bell tower.
Natalie MacLean 13:39
Why is that the local bell tower,
Robert Camuto 13:41
I think it’s a way of speaking, they say, Italians are campanalista. So it means that from this side of town, you know, they have their football team, their olives, their you know, from the other side of they have their stuff, and it keeps going on and on and on like that. So it really is a collection of cultures, a collection of languages, and a collection of really different histories. From like the north where I am, was dominated by Austria and part of the Austro Hungarian empire for a long time, had the Piedmont which was more you know, attached to Sardinia and had more French ties, Naples and Sicily, you had the kingdom of two Sicily’s which was really run by the Spanish, sort of French bourbons, even after they had their heads chopped off in the French Revolution. And then you have the central part, which was really the church states. And I think each one of those creates a different kind of culture and a different way of thinking that’s embedded in people’s way of thinking. Oh, and also I wanted to mention and in central Italy also you know, you had Tuscany in the Medici 500 years ago, they were dealing in derivatives. Just to the east of there and south of there in Umbria people were looking to the church and Church taxes and you know, that’s what ran the land and the landscape
Natalie MacLean 15:05
A sophisticated financial system with the Medici derivatives, which still goes on on Wall Street, and yet the very sort of almost abacus like South. How did that have an impact on winemaking?
Robert Camuto 15:16
You know, just to finish on the idea of South of Somewhere. So I think in Italy, there’s this idea that being South of Somewhere, is like being more Terrone. Like you’re more attached to the earth, you’re more agricultural. And sometimes northerners look down on Southerners. But I think that it also gives Italy part of its humanity, like people say, just remember, there’s always someone that is more southern than you are, and you are more southern than somebody else. So it’s all kind of a relative view of that.
Natalie MacLean 15:50
There must be someone who is the extreme south at the end of the boot or the end of Sicily.
Robert Camuto 15:56
Yeah. But you know, sometimes it’s geographical and sometimes it’s psychographic. So I remember for example, in the Calabria chapter, there was someone who said, Oh, if you go to Reggio, Calabria, it’s like Sicily 50 years ago, so that would be north of Sicily, but they consider it more rustic, more primitive, more attached to the ‘terre”. So I think that one of the general aspects of the South is that it has remained more primitive, less industrialised, less consolidated. I mean, I live in the north, for example, where you know, you have a lot of families, a lot of investment in areas like Valpolicello etc, etc. And really, I think the Italian wine renaissance in general has really happened over the last around, let’s say, 35 years, where there was a real push to do better. And it started with a kind of a scandal, the methanol crisis, where they found it was actually in the north and the Piedmont where some large producers had been putting some nasty things in wine to add texture. And that was called the methanol crisis
Natalie MacLean 17:13
I assume it wasn’t lethal …………
Robert Camuto 17:16
And it actually was lethal. There were people who died from it. And there were some terrible things that occurred because of it. And I think that was the big reset for Italian wine that, you know, you had people coming out of the Piedmont, like Gaia and other people saying, Okay, we really have to now focus on quality to bring this thing back. I mean, Italy has the grapes and has the potential. And it kind of just flipped. I mean, I think that’s when you had hygiene come in, studying a lot of the greatest techniques in the world, mostly from France, you also had a lot of French barrels coming in, and a lot of that influence. But I think that’s when oenology really took off in Italy. And I think that it’s taken a while for the South to get the memo where things are a little slower moving. There hasn’t been the investment, things are a little not as wealthy. It’s just taken more time to get that memo.
Natalie MacLean 18:25
And is that why there’s so many more indigenous or local grapes in the south versus the rest of Italy?
Robert Camuto 18:31
That is a great question. And I think in general, that’s true, because Italy has been very resistant to consolidation. So the good aspect of this is that when maybe you had other regions in Europe that were wealthier, or even in northern Italy, saying, Okay, let’s do this, let’s get out the tractors, we’re going to pull all this out, we’re going to bring in these new things, we’re gonna plant Cabernet, Chardonnay to the max and in the south, that didn’t happen to the same degree. The farmers were a lot smaller. Even if you look at the average size of a farm in Italy now, it’s like five acres. France is 25, California many, many times that so I think having the small family plots did keep a lot of local grapes intact, the old vineyards. And I think now we’re in a period where people aren’t looking to necessarily have wines that are like something that they’ve had elsewhere. They’re looking for unique experiences. I think that’s something that the south of Italy really excels in. And I think it’s a little bit like archaeology. These young winemakers now I can kind of go into their grandparents’ vineyard and say, Okay, what do we have here? What can we do with it? How can we valorize it? What do these grapes want to make fantastic wines? What kind of techniques and
Natalie MacLean 20:02
Right? That must be a challenge because as I understand it, a lot of traditional winemaking regions, they were field blends. So it wasn’t like a field of just Nero d’Avola. It’d be like all these different varieties, so you wouldn’t have that uniformity.
Robert Camuto 20:14
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. And to an extent, that’s still true, like if you look at the vineyards of the Amalfi Coast, I mean, they’re just so rugged, and so tough and just these tiny little parcels. I mean, there’s some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. I call them “airoir”, instead of terroir, because when you’re up there, all you see is blue sky, and blue sea. So yes, field blends still do exist and have their places. But I think when you look at people like drilling down into certain varieties, and trying to understand what they have and propagate them, that does take a lot of study and a lot of time. Of course, as you know, Natalie, in wine, you only get one shot a year to make wine. I only have one harvest. So
Natalie MacLean 21:08
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s go back to the beauty of that place. Because, as I understand it, it inspired both the start and finish of your book South of Somewhere. Maybe you can tell us why, like you have something you call a Summer of Love. Maybe tie that together?
Robert Camuto 21:25
Yes, yes. Well, the Summer of Love, that was when I was 10 years old and 1968 I guess in San Francisco wasn’t it the Summer of Love, I don’t know if it was 67 or 68. Anyway, it was around that time, and everybody’s listening to music and flower children and, you know, inebriating with trying different chemicals and all things. Well, I was 10 years old, and I went with my Neapolitan grandmother to the village of her birth, where she and both my maternal grandfather were from called Vico Equense, which means literally the way of the little horse. And it’s on the Sorrento Peninsula. And the town itself sits on this very high cliff, where there is a little church called Santa Nunziata. It’s so evocative because when you’re down by the sea, you see this cliff with this church on top and you see Mount Vesuvius off in the distance on the other side of the bay of Naples. And suffice it to say that every year when they do a poll of the Italian press, one of the most romantic churches in Italy to get married, like it’s usually in the top three.
So anyway, this beautiful place, and then there’s a hill that goes down full of olive groves and that kind of thing, that goes down to the marina. And at the time, a distant part of the family had a pizzeria, which was the only sort of restaurant down by the sea. And it was just these spending the long days and afternoons between the town and the sea and absorbing all these kind of Mediterranean smells and flavours. That’s where I really got my first impression of what does the Mediterranean look like. What does it smell like? And of course, the people there who were in our family, I have incredible memories of as a 10 year old with, you know, me and my cousins, whenever we asked them for anything was like, why not, “perchè no”? Yes. You know, and it was like whatever we wanted to do, there was just this incredible feeling of freedom in this little town. And I think for me, this is a big anniversary for Marcel Proust; 2022. It’s the 100th anniversary of his death. And you know, Proust wrote about that Madeleine from his childhood, this biscuit that brought back all these memories of flavours to him. And for me, that trip was like one great big Madeleine, like I remember like an Aunts, you know, the smell of the stovetop espresso, the taste of you know, eating things for the first time, these little Neapolitan sweet breads and pastries and of course, all the great food and flavours that came from there
Natalie MacLean 24:31
Magical. Did they let you taste the wine?
Robert Camuto 24:35
Yes, well, you know, always, you know, from when I was little little in New York, I used to open my grandfather’s wine, which he had actually made wine in New York before my time, but then, you know, by that time he graduated to, he made it in the cellar, but he had his fiasco of Chianti and I would open that and wine was always at the table. But to be truthful about it, I mean, Wine back in the day wasn’t something that it is now. You know, it didn’t have the place at the table I think, especially in Italy, and especially southern Italy. It was an accompaniment. It wasn’t the star of the table. But I like to say too is when you look at Southern Italy there’s so many darn flavours they’re in so much good, delicious spicy food and fresh tomatoes, peppers, greens, artichokes, what have you, that maybe it’s a little more difficult for wine to really be the standout star of that
Natalie MacLean 25:38
Because the flavours are so intense.
Robert Camuto 25:41
Yeah, yeah,that there’s so much else going on at the table. There’s so much other intensity and I’m what I like to say about it is I mean, look, everybody loves Burgundy, and I’ve been to Burgundy many times. But what does one eat in Burgundy? There’s some nice Boeuf Bourguignon, there’s some nice snails. But you know, it’s not the same thing as having pasta with sea urchins and clams and peppers and all the different sauces. Yeah, so in that respect, I mean, wine was part of the table. Also, people didn’t have that level of sophistication in education where they really tasted wine. I think they kind of drank it as a food, as kind of a very simple level pairing and did not savour wine to the extent that we do today. And part of it is I think the quality is better. I do think that with a modicum of technology, technology can be a dirty word in some uses, you know, where you’re doing all the things to make wine something that it’s not. But I think technology in the sense of, in certain situations, controlling temperatures, protecting wine from air, and having a standard of hygiene can all be good things that bring out the complexity that we find in modern winemaking today.
Natalie MacLean 27:11
Absolutely. And you mentioned hygiene, that’s not just the winemaker taking a shower for those who might not be aware of the technical details, but hygiene in the winery so that you don’t get bacterial infections or whatever. A whole host of things can happen in the winery if you don’t run a clean shop. But you’ve said that you’re really fascinated with people and you like to understand what makes them tick. So you met a number of really interesting winemakers and people during your travels. Tell us about, I’m going to butcher his name, Giampaolo Tamburini,
Robert Camuto 27:44
Giampaolo Tamburini There you go. And just to your point about people, I think people are really important when it comes to wine because we talk about terroir. But who really makes terroir? It’s really the right people doing the right things, at the right time. We could be talking about Burgundy, we could be talking about Bordeaux, we could be talking about the Piedmont in more modern times to like Mount Etna.
On Sicily, I think around 2000, you had the right people coming together at the right time to transform what was a very sort of banal wine. Just taking it to a higher level and you know, so Giampaolo Tamburini is a crazy Umbrian winemaker. What I love about him is he’s always going in a different direction, looking to go further, you know, eternally curious, always curious. He’s from a town called Montefalco, which is known for Sagrantino, it’s a big red wine of the area. But Tamburini was also one of the few winemakers who had started making a white wine from what’s called Trebbiano Spoletino. And Trebbiano is really an interesting name. Because there’s so many different kinds of Trebbiano; there’s Trebbiano Toscana, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano from here, from there, and blah, blah. And as Tamburini explained it to me Trebbiano is just a name that just means the grape from here, so it’s just a generic way of talking about wine grapes. Well, they have this Trebbiano Spoletino because it’s outside of the town of Spoleto. And I remember being intrigued with this white wine that he was making from these trees down in the valley floor that were planted in a way that’s called vinya maritata (https://www.winespectator.com/articles/do-wine-grapes-grow-on-trees-trebbiano-spoletino-camuto), and it’s these wines that are literally married, maritata, to these elm trees. So they just grow up in the trees and everything like this
Natalie MacLean 30:03
Up the trunks? The vines go up the trunks? Wow.
Robert Camuto 30:07
And they would have these along the edges of property, you know, you’d have the elm trees, and they plant these vines in the middle. And in this case, so you have these Trebbiano Spoletino. And Tamburini started making this wine named after his grandfather, it’s called Ad Armando (https://fineitalianfoodandwine.com/product/trebbiano-spoletino-ad-armando-2019-2020/0, that became very popular, and it’s a delicious, really great summer wine. When I asked him like about the characteristics of this vine, from one vine, he was getting more than 100 pounds of grapes.
Natalie MacLean 30:42
Put that in context.
Robert Camuto 30:45
Yeah, normally, I mean, if you talk about, I mean, low yielding vines, I mean, they will often get two pounds of grapes from some, you know, could be two, five, you know, eight in that region and Tamburini is getting over 100, like 50 kilos. And he said, You know, I don’t do anything, I don’t do any treatments to it, not even organic, I do nothing. You know, he said, you know, you could drop a bomb on this tree, and it would still produce. And what I really liked about that story is it really kind of confounded the conventional wisdom. And I always liked those tales where you know, you meet someone, and you see somebody doing something, they’re like, Wow, that goes against everything that I’ve thought before. Because often times, in wine, you know, and I’ve used that term a lot to improve things, people have cut the quantity to improve quality. Well, here was a case where there was incredible quantity coming out of this grape, and around Montefalco, when people like Paolo Bea, he took clippings of this vines that he had, another producer, put it in a great terroir on a slow, better drained the whole thing, cut it in Guyot form for like lower yielding vines, doing all the things that you would think would really increase the quality. And he was like, no, no, I’m not satisfied. It’s awful. And then he said, there’s something that happens between the vines and the trees. And what is it? There’s some kind of symbiotic relationship? And he, I think, was kind of an architect or engineer, and he tried to make some synthetic trees to simulate, you know, how a vine would grow up in a tree. So as I say, in the book, I don’t know how the results are, but I’m kind of rooting for the natural system that’s been going on there for 2000 years. And you know, there’s just something so beautiful and romantic.
Natalie MacLean 33:02
Yeah, absolutely. When they pick the grapes, are these vines going way up into the tree? Like, are they climbing a tree to pick these grapes?
Robert Camuto 33:08
Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, they go with ladders.
Natalie MacLean 33:11
That was wild. That is wild. Oh, my gosh. The two plants must be talking to each other or something in this marriage? That is a great story.
Robert Camuto 33:22
Yeah. Other stories from Tamburini, he’s done other experiments where just in the countryside where his father’s found these crazy grapes growing on the side of houses. And he’s worked with the university in Perugia and Florence to figure out what they are to, you know, select them and re propagate them. So
Natalie MacLean 33:44
Wow. Sounds like an interesting character for sure, with interesting ideas.
Natalie MacLean 33:55
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Robert. Here are my takeaways. Number one: I love listening to Robert describe the vivid flavours and people of Southern Italy. It makes me want to return there. In my second book Unquenchable, I devote a chapter to Sicily and talk about how the active volcano Mount Etna influences both the wines and the mindsets of the island. I highly recommend you visit this magical place as well as drink the wines here.
Two: I’m drawn to stories about specific people and Robert has many of them. I think the specific tells more about the universal than generalisations do so I think we learn more when Robert focuses on individual people. You really start to get a sense of the people and the place there more generally.
And Three: His mouth watering descriptions of the food make me yearn to taste them if only in my own kitchen for now.
In the show notes you’ll find my email contact, a link to the post “Diary of a Book Launch, the full transcript of my conversation with Robert, links to his website and books, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/164. Email me if you have a sip tip question or want to be a beta reader of my new book at Natalie@NatalieMaclean.com. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Robert.
In the meantime, if you missed episode 99 go back and take a listen. I chat about how family run wineries are different from those that are corporate owned with Henry of Pelham Winerys’ Daniel Speck. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Daniel Speck 35:52
Wineries are very good candidates for family businesses because everybody on a farm ends up participating one way or another. The kids are out there, the husband and the wife are somehow involved together. They’re small businesses for the most part. And they can grow and become bigger businesses. But people are quite invested. Their childhood is tied up in the thing. There’s a sense of carrying on a legacy perhaps, there’s also a lot of passion and pride associated with what you’re doing. And it’s kind of the romance of a winery. It’s kind of what makes it cool; it means that you’re making longer term investments that aren’t looking for quarterly payoffs typically. Whereas the public companies are under a different kind of stress, public companies need to show returns fast. They can’t always take those long, long term investments that a private company would take. Most wineries frankly, are family owned businesses for that reason, because vineyards take years to come into production. Wine takes years to age and barrel herself.
Natalie MacLean 36:52
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wines we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a full bodied Sicilian red
Natalie MacLean 37:16
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Nataliemaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.