By Gina Tringali
ne could argue that Les Vignerons owners Antonio Marino and Marisa Gabbianelli were children when they first tasted natural wine. "I come from a family of farmers and grew up in the countryside near Benevento. We made our own wine. It was contadino wine, artisanal. It was common to sip wine even as a child."
In 2006, at Verona’s Villa Boschi wine fair, Antonio tasted wines by Le Coste and Dario Princic, two of Italy's historic natural wine producers — and the childhood memories came rushing back. "Princic's Sauvignon, which is no longer produced, stuck me. I remembered the wine that I drank as a kid near home. It hit me as I left Villa Boschi, I had an epiphany of sorts. I had tasted something different."
Marisa grew up in a town outside of Rome where wine was a staple at family lunches and dinners. One day, drinking a Pinot Grigio, she had her own Princic moment. "Up to that point every Pinot Grigio I had tried was clear white. What I saw in Princic's Pinot Grigio was its true color. It made me question why producers altered the color of wines and more."
Since then, Antonio and Marisa have dug deeply into the subject of natural wines and craft beer. They’ve attended hundreds of tastings, done extensive research and met countless producers throughout Europe.
These explorations led to the discovery of small vintners who intervened only minimally in the winemaking process, keeping chemicals and artifice at bay. In 2010, they opened their own wine and beer shop, Les Vignerons, in the Tor Pignattara neighborhood of Rome. Their success has allowed to move to more central digs, with a Trastevere location set to open by late February.
Gina Tringali discussed their philosophy and individual paths over coffee. These are excerpts from their chat.
Talk to me about the name Les Vignerons and what it means to you?
Antonio: Les Vignerons were those who broke away from the large Maisons in France not just literally but also in terms of their mentality. They set aside assistance from chemicals (pesticides, industrial fertilizers, and so on), and focused instead on terroir. Our Les Vignerons store encompasses this small world. It's about promoting producers who do quality work, without attracting much attention. This also applies also to beer and how it’s made. We choose beers from small producers too who work as artisans.
How was the shop born?
There were various steps. Marisa and I worked together in an enoteca where the owner wasn't all that interested in natural wines. He favored traditional names that would sell easily. At the same time, the craft beer world was beginning to explode in Rome. It wasn't at today's levels but there was a lot of interest and even a few places where you could drink it.
We talked about opening a shop in 2009, envisioning a place that offered natural wines and select niche craft beers. When we opened in 2010, our intention was to offer only wines made without chemicals by small artisans and beer made through spontaneous fermentation, which is very similar and tied to natural wine.
At the time, there were only six or seven beer shops in Rome, and Alessandro Bulzoni’s shop [a wine store on Viale Parioli] was the only point of reference for natural wines.
What about the beer side?
From the start, we knew we wanted to offer beer and wine that was linked to a specific territory, which expresses terroir. Historically, styles of beer were born in different countries and these countries are often the best representation of that style. We decided to focus on craft beers made in a traditional way, such as lambic — the classic Belgian sour beer — and on German brews, especially from Franconia, and British brews. We also paid attention to new U.S. and Italy trends, and to what was happening in Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
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