It’s a born-from-the-ashes tale: Falernian wine reigned supreme nearly 2,000 years ago before losing ground to other varieties. Cut to the 1960s, when Francesco Paolo Avallone, a man with a passion for history and ancient grapes, discovered five Falerno vines in an area that had been almost entirely wiped out by phylloxera (for wine newbies, here’s more on the little buggers).
Working with a group of local farmers and educators from the University of Naples — where Francesco Paolo himself was an assistant professor in Roman law — the trained lawyer replanted the miraculous find and worked toward multiplying the vines.
Francesco Paolo and the Southern Italian producers at his Villa Matilde estate were at the forefront of the famed wine’s resurgence and for the first decade or so, much of the winemaking was for friends and family. There was a lot of experimentation before it went to market but by 1976, the fruits of the crew’s labor finally hit the shelves. Fast forward to 1987 and Francesco Paolo’s children, Salvatore Avallone and Maria Ida Avallone, took the reins of the family business.
Today, Salvatore’s top priority is a tightrope act of balancing technology and tradition on the Villa Matilde estate, and it’s a delicate push and pull between the two.
“Falerno was the wine of the ancient Romans, the wine of the pope, the wine of the emperor. On the other hand, we have the modern technology, the research, the projection into the future and I want to produce a wine for today,” said Salvatore.
That forward-thinking mentality and feeling of responsibility to the future has been the impetus for Salvatore to enact a sustainable plan of production, one that he’s been fine-tuning for the past 20 years. You can see it at every level of the process — the vineyards are maintained without pesticides or chemicals, energy is harnessed through wind power and solar panels, used water is repurposed for irrigation, residual stems and skin are sent to compost.
His love for the land (and desire to protect it) stems from his appreciation for all the ways the Campania region, where Villa Matilde is situated, creates a suitable growing environment for his precious grapes. The hills made by the volcano, cold air moving from the mountain and a warm sea breeze from the water shapes the area into a unique terroir — one that’s naturally protected from the bad weather and conducive to crafting exceptional wine.
The region’s climate, soil and terrain all impact the taste of the various vines grown on the estate — aglianico and piedirosso are used to produce red Falerno while falanghina leads to white Falerno — and their distinct flavor profiles make for special and specific pairings.
For summer, Salvatore recommends their signature Falanghina bottle, a fruity, well-balanced, crisp, light-bodied sipper that he loves to pair with pasta.
“I am very simple in my lifestyle, so my favorite preparation is spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil,” said Salvatore. “But of course you can make this recipe in many, many different ways!”
He also enjoys the buttery Falerno Del Massico Bianco with lobster (his go-to is with pasta, of course, coupled with cream of pumpkin, a touch of garlic and sunflower seeds), the crisp & complex Greco di Tufo alongside mozzarella & black truffles and a full-bodied, velvety, red wine, Aglianico, to serve with an assortment of mixed meats on the grill like sausage, poultry and pork.
Most of the vinos from the winery are monovarietal, with a few exceptions, but Salvatore teased an upcoming release currently in the works that will take vineyard’s blending process to the next level.
“We are preparing a new white wine that is not yet ready for the market, with the blending of four different grapes with different terroir,” he shared. “Some close to the sea and some in between the mountain and the sea coast.”
Wines from Southern Italy are having a moment, so be sure to keep tabs on the vintners and their creations from the bottom of the Italian boot as they become more recognized against their Northern neighbors. For now, take heart in knowing you’re ahead of the trend — on the cusp of what’s about to be a craze of Campania love — and do as the Romans do or at least drink like the ancient Romans did with help from the folks at Villa Matilde.