Widely regarded as Abruzzo’s greatest winemaker, Edoardo Valentini produced wine for sale from the 1956 vintage until his death in 2006 at age 72. During that half-century his renown among fans of fine Italian wines grew as bottles of his Montepulciano, Cerasuolo and Trebbiano found their way onto tables and into tastings all over the world. His unique approach to handling vines that were thought inferior by many in the wine community combined with his eccentric personality caused his legend to grow but it was the excellence in bottle that really solidified his reputation as one of Italy’s great craftsmen of natural wines.
Giving up a career in law, Valentini returned with his family to their ancestral home in the village of Loreto Aprutino, about a half hour inland from Pescara. He tended about 170 acres of vines spread across several vineyard sites as well as hundreds of acres planted to fruit trees and olives. While farming made up a good part of his living, life in a rural village also allowed him to count agriculture and winemaking among his intellectual pursuits. He was famously reluctant to advise visitors on his techniques in the cellar but we do know through the consistent quality of his wines across the decades that whatever those methods were he practiced them with discipline and expected excellence in quality and style.
Valentini became notorious for his shunning of the media and disregard for wine marketing. Consequently, what little information we can glean about the man and his wines only serves to enhance the mystique surrounding both. Since Edoardo Valentini’s passing his son Francesco Paolo has carried on the production of the family’s much-admired line of Abruzzese wines with fidelity and rigor. It is evident in tasting that the Valentini legacy remains strong and will be well tended.
The following are two of our favorite passages on Valentini, which manage to shed light on both the winemaker and the man:
From Italy’s Noble Red Wines (2nd edition) by Sheldon Wasserman and Pauline Wasserman, 1991:
His first selection is in the vineyards. If it is a rainy, but not too rainy year, he selects the fruit from the vineyards with a southern exposure; in drier years he chooses grapes from vines facing more northerly. He selects the part of the vineyard least affected by the weather and then selects the best bunches. The rest of the grapes are sold. In the years when he produces wine to bottle, about five percent of his best grapes are turned into wine, the rest of the fruit is sold. At most he makes 50,000 bottles of wine a year; no more than 35,000 of Trebbiano and 15,000 combined of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Rosso. Generally he produces much less. Average production, in the years that he produces, is more like 5,500 bottles of red and 22,000 of white. He selects from the wine he produces the best to bottle and rejects the rest, usually most of the production. Would that more producers had his integrity.
From Brunello to Zibibbo by Nicolas Belfrage, 2001:
I have already indicated that one producer towers above the rest in terms of quality – this being Edoardo Valentini of Loreto Aprutino. Valentini is one of those geniuses who can be quite impossible as a person, though most forgive him because his wines are so wonderful. I once spent a good half-hour persuading him to sell a few cases of his Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to a client of mine, to which he finally agreed, adding: And how many cases does he want of the Trebbiano? None I replied – he’s only interested in the red. WHAAAAT!!! – he screamed. I have two sons, he ranted, and I cannot accept ‘yes’ for one and ‘no’ for the other. The dispute raged for some time, with his human son and heir trying to pacify him, alas to no avail. I never got the wine. Pity – it was fantastic.
Actually Valentini has three ‘sons’ (vinous ones), because he makes a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo as well as the Rosso and the excellent Trebbiano which my friend didn’t want, although it sometimes attracts higher praise than the red. His methods are quite idiosyncratic, as you would expect. The root of all quality is the vineyard. From his approximately 70 hectares of grapes he selects a tiny percentage for making into wine, selling the rest of the grapes to the nearby cantina sociale at Rosciano. Insisting that there is no rule as to which particular part of the property this year’s grapes should come from, he treats them all during the growing season with the care of a perfectionist, determining only at vintage time what is what, and this only after several passes. This cream is then pressed in old-fashioned presses and fermented in old-fashioned glass-lined concrete vats, ageing taking place in old-fashioned Slavonian-oak botti with, at all stages, minimal intervention. In other words, Valentini is of the school that believes great grapes will make great wine almost by themselves, you don’t have to do anything except make sure nothing goes wrong.