I’m sure all wine lovers & Italophiles would jump at the chance for a break at the Abruzzo home of Emidio Pepe, one of Italy’s foremost purveyors of organic wine, whom the NYTimes most recently labelled as “a beloved, rare and gloriously idiosyncratic creator of wines”.
The Pepe family have recently opened up their Torano Novo agriturismo to the general public. Fashioned from their first family home to host their wine-dealers and restaurateurs, the repeated requests from wine lovers requesting a stay made the family recognise that more than just industry bods were looking for a little bit of Abruzzo heaven on an authentic bio-dynamic vineyard, away from the coastal bustle.
As we drove up to the agriturismo of Abruzzo’s most iconic wine-makers memories flooded back to my last visit more than a decade ago, tasting extraordinary natural unoaked wines that revealed the true spirit of Abruzzo’s grapes, the lingering smell of jasmine and an enviable respect and love of the land that meant it would produce for countless future generations.
Emidio Pepe began making wine in 1964. His grandfather and father grew a small amount and the wines they created were enjoyed by the family with the remainder sold as bulk. Emidio decided to expand upon this harvest but also to create quality wines that he himself could drink comfortably, suffering an allergy to sulphites. He still refuses to drink other people’s wines that aren’t sulphite free.
Locals thought he was mad especially when he selected to continue pick and press by hands and feet to counter the bitter tannins from the grape pips and stems that provide an unwelcome astringent taste. The family is helped by a group of fit retiree friends from the town who enjoy a top-up to their state pensions from the work. It’s a huge undertaking but this time old method works so why turn your back on it.
Fermentation is natural and spontaneous, using only the wild yeast found on the grapes skins in glass-lined cement tanks that keep the oxygen at bay whilst trapping the spirit of the grape.
After 2 years, the wine is aged in bottles, the closest to wood these grapes ever get are at pressing! When cases are ordered Rosa, Emidio’s wife and a fellow octogenarian decants the bottles in her small studio ready to be shipped.
Appreciation of these organic wines grew first in the US where in 1970 one of his reds won a major wine competition in Chicago. The map of Italy’s wine regions at that point didn’t even include Abruzzo, so he’s a champion that truly #putAbruzzoOnTheMap in so many ways! Today most of the business is run by Sofia & Daniela two of his three daughters as well as his gorgeous grand-daughter Chiara, although you can watch this trim, smartly dressed hipster founder still out watering and tending the vines during your stay!
Vistas from the agriturismo are breathtaking; these upper stretches of Teramo are famous for their rolling hills, valleys and vines that produce the best DOP Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. On clear days you can see the Majella as well as Gran Sasso range of mountains. Running down the hill are the traditional pergola-trained Montepulciano d’Abruzzo swirling vines that have provided 54 vintages for the Emidio Pepe label since 1964 and opposite the medieval town of Torano Nuova, thought to be named after Turan the Italic fertility goddess.
The rooms are simple but beautifully spacious and light and family rooms are available. Each has air conditioning, a roomy shower and mini-fridge stacked with bottled water for you to help yourself to. Watching the scarf of cloud that cradles the Corno Grande in the morning wave goodbye to leave a splash of blue over the mountain was wonderful. Crack open the window in the morning and expect to rise hearing the distant chimes of church bells counting time, a dog barking, a tractor growling, deep bassy laughter and gravelly chats, which all make you sadly aware of the routine hum of traffic back home and our lack of interaction as we bustle to school and the office.
Make the most of sitting out on wooden loggia which is framed with lavender that is alive with nectar lovers. I don’t think I have ever seen so many hummingbird moths at once nor so many different types of bees and butterflies bobbing about. The peaceful garden doesn’t just smell wonderful and look beautiful, but it’s admirable to see such bio-diversity from the insect kingdom. For those that like a dip there is a natural swimming pool to make the most of and a barbecue area if you feel so inclined.
Breakfast is a feast, not only do you get to enjoy a medley of some of Nonna Rosa’s cooking, where you sit and wonder how something as simple as a frittata zucchini (courgette omelette) can be so tasty, then remember the range of herbs she makes use of, in this case one of the three types of mint that she grows. Superb home made breads, cakes, home-pressed organic juices, cold cuts and a range of cheeses and yoghurts from the organic dairy down the road complete the tasty 0 Food Mile breakfast.
Unlike many agriturismi where you can be far from the local town, excellent restaurants are on hand and a 10-minute jaunt away in Torano Nuovo. The walk back is pretty spectacular with fireflies and the Vegas style neon name in green lights that sits above the main house to make sure you will neither get lost or forget the name Emidio Pepe.
We tried the seasonal tasting menu at the atmospheric Osteria Dei Maltagliati which is run by a lawyer and ex-footballer 4 nights a week (Thursday to Sunday). The wood-fired baked focaccia is sublime, and each small Teramane dish shining with wonderful tasting ingredients that are sourced locally from small independent producers. You can’t leave without trying the gorgeous Spaghetti alla Pecorara, which Peppe’s father created for the town’s sagra some 30 years ago and whose main ingredients are sausages, wine and pecorino cheese. The dish now has its own Facebook page – with dates when it’s available!
1. Obviously, you can’t leave without having a wine tasting, there is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Pecorino and Cerasuola to pick from!
2. Learn some local Teramo dishes with a cooking lesson from Nonna Rosa.
3. Take a short drive to Ascoli Piceno, formerly part of Abruzzo and home to the best stuffed fried olives
4. Walk around the nearby Civitella del Tronto, the last bastion of the Kingdom of the 2 Sicilies
5. Enjoy the local sandy local beaches, the nearest Blue Flag ones are Tortoreto and Giulianova
(For those staying with kids, a visit to the Blue Wave waterpark in nearby Tortoreto can earn you some brownie points)
Check with the girls if there are any dates planned at the agriturismo. The week after we had stayed there was a sushi weekend with 2 top Japanese sushi chefs who were fans of their wine over to prepare Adriatic sushi.
Visit the rather famous Torano Nuovo Festival of ” Wine, Sausage, Maccheroni and Fried Cheese that is held the second weekend of August and if you like visiting in the Autumn try for the 24 November when the town celebrates S Flaviana their patron saint.
Breakfast and rooms start at €90
Address: Via Chiesi 10, Torano Nuovo 64010 | Telephone: (+39) 0861 856493 | Email email@example.com
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Sam is a very lucky midlife mamma to A who is 5 and works as a freelance travel and food web content manager and copywriter. She is currently writing a book 'Abruzzo: Folk and Food', its release date is Winter 2017.
She is the co-founder of the social enterprises: The Abruzzo Blogger Community and Let's Blog Abruzzo.
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Great people, great wine, had a great dinner on that patio…..Bravo.
Ooh lucky you! They’re absolute treasures aren’t they, a v inspiring family
Emidio Pepe even joined us for dinner….a real gentleman.
I long to return and will! Loved revisiting through this post.