Two Generations at Trappolini
“My father knows the soils very well,” said Paolo Trappolini, a third generation winemaker at Trappolini. “In the past, he bought a lot of fruit, and he bought in the best parts, so now when we want to buy soil, we ask him.” And though Paolo and his brother Roberto value their father’s vault of knowledge on such matters, it took Paolo 25 years of working elsewhere to return to the family winery. “Staying out of the family winery opens your mind,” he said. But just last year, when it became difficult for his father Mario to work the vineyards, Paolo –after serving as the Technical Director at Avignonesi for 20 years, and for another five at Petra– returned with a cache of contacts from Italy and beyond, to make wines at Trappolini, where he hoped to strike a balance between his father’s generation and his own.
At the time that his father was making wines, there were no DOCs and no laws. “He just produced red and white wines. Then he started to vinify according to varietal,” said Paolo, until Roberto started bottling the wines in 1988, when Paolo was still studying oenology. When he did finally return to Trappolini, Paolo introduced a new concept of viticulture to the area, challenging “the mentality of the people, especially my father.”
Marcella & Mario Trappolini
Acknowledging that his father is “a very important in the project,” Paolo explained that their Grechetto vines are made from his father’s own selection massale, which led Paolo to the current work that he is conducting with a friend of his father’s. “He has 150-year-old vines,” he explained, “so we will take the vegetal matter from there and graft it to new vineyards.” But when it comes to actually planting the vines to the ground, there are differences between the generations. “My father wants to plant 1600 vines/ha, as his father did, but I want 6500 vines/ha. He said I was crazy,” said Paolo, “I had to convince him and show him.” And while a host of other growers sided with his father, Paolo said, “I don’t care what they think. I told him that we had to go straight on our target. That in many years we can [either] show them we’re right or Trappolini will no longer exist. But at the moment Trappolini is still here, and [now] the others are following us,” he added and laughed.
In addition to changing the density of the vineyards, the brothers also seriously prep a new vineyard before planting by fertilizing the soil with compost and dung for three years “to purify it from the chemicals that were in it before.” Once planted, they wait another ten years for high quality fruit. “My idea is to use vines that are older than ten years for balanced fruit.” From root to wine it takes 13 years, but even then, the process can take longer. “In 2001/2002 we bought an area, but part of it still isn’t planted. My father said that it’s fantastic for red, but it’s [actually] better for white, so we wait.”
Located in Lazio, and started by Paolo’s grandfather in 1961, Trappolini has grown from 2ha to 40ha, with 23ha currently planted and 2-3ha of vines added each year. The soils here are volcanic, mixed in some places with alluvial soil from the Tevere River, just outside of Rome. “I did a long study about soil,” he said. “The vine eats what’s in the soil. You can have the best sun and climate but without the soil you can’t have complex wines.” Working not just to match each varietal with the best potential soil, the Trappolinis also match their compost. “I plant grain, grass, flowers and many supporting plants [between the vines],” he added. “In the spring time, the vineyard is wonderful with plenty of color. When they grow we cut them and use them like compost, but you have to have good sensitivity to know what to compost where.”
Walking the vineyards two or three times a day, Paolo said, “We spend most of our time in the vineyard. In the winery, we just check the fermentation. Disavowing any use of chemicals he added, “we use treatments of sulphur and copper, but I prefer not to use them, so we’re careful [to use only] in the worst season when you need it.” Committed to picking grapes, not when the neighbors are picking and not when his father pressures him to harvest, but only when the fruit is really ready, Paolo said that if the fruit is perfectly ripened then there is no need to add commercial yeast in the cellar.
This past vintage, the harvest was fantastic, he said, even though they picked one month later than the year before. With the arrival of a few picture-perfect days, the surrounding growers took the opportunity to harvest and so Paolo’s father wanted to pick then too. Rain was coming and the family members were getting nervous. After harvesting one small plot a little early, Paolo vinified this crop separately from the others, and later in the cellar, he blind tasted his father on the two different harvests. To his father’s surprise, but not his own, Mario admitted that the wine from the later harvest was better than the one before, giving Paolo a touch more evidence that his 25 years outside of the family winery had indeed served him better.
For more on the wines of Trappolini, read here.