Campania may be best-known for its capital city of Naples, the Amalfi Coast, or even the archaeological ruins at Pompeii, but travel northeast into the mainland and there lies Sannio province, the agricultural heart of Campania. Here is a land of snow-capped mountains, olive groves, Roman ruins, and old vineyards where ancient varieties still thrive. The Sannio DOC is one of the largest wine regions in Campania, with approximately 60 percent of its vineyards.
Most of the wine is produced by several large cooperatives; the largest, La Guardiense, was founded in 1960 by 33 members who wanted to nurture high-quality fruit and get a fair price for their labor. By forming a cooperative, these farmers were able to pool resources and knowledge, and today, over 1,000 members cultivate over 1,500 hectares (3,706 acres) of vineyards.
In terms of reputation, cooperatives may be known for bulk wines, not necessarily high-quality; and La Guardiense was no exception. But, in 2006, La Guardiense hired renowned Italian wine consultant Riccardo Cotarella, who was described by Wine Advocate as one of the most influential wine figures in the world. Cotarella then brought on oenologist and protégé Marco Giulioli to oversee the winemaking and vineyard management. By bringing top talent to the cooperative, La Guardiense has realized its primary goals and produce quality wines that best express the Sannio DOC.
Under the direction of Giulioli and Cotarella, La Guardiense has cultivated indigenous varieties while limiting the use of chemicals in the vineyard and the cellar and introducing the use of solar energy. They have brought the standards of the entire Sannio up with them.
The premium range of wines produced by La Guardiense is under the cooperative’s Janare label. Janare, meaning “witches” in the local dialect, pays homage to an ancient local legend referring to the witch-like spirits in Benevento’s historical lore.
Janare was created at the beginning of 2000 to elevate and showcase the native grapes of Campania. Seven bottlings are produced, including Falanghina (both still and sparkling) and Aglianico, respectively the region’s most important white and red wine grapes. La Guardiense is the major producer worldwide and in Italy of Falanghina. For the past seven years, it has been awarded the prestigious Tre Bicchieri (3 glasses) by Gamberro Rosso.
Oenologist Marco Giulioli joined La Guardiense in 2007 at the age of 24, but already had years of experience working in Bordeaux as well as a cooperative in Sardinia. His vision reflects Cotarella’s leadership, which has elevated La Guardiense from a cooperative producing decidedly unremarkable wines to a modern winery winning multiple awards.
PS: I read that you grew up riding your bicycle around the winery where your father worked. Did you always want to work in the wine business? What would you do if you were not in the wine business?
Marco Giulioli: My childhood is made of wine! My father was the cellar master of the largest cooperative in my city in Umbria; I often helped him at unusual times to complete or follow filtrations, clarifications, or other jobs. As a child, I could sometimes play in the cellar when my dad was busy, go around and explore, like a wine treasure hunt. My mother worked in the same cellar in the office, so all my life, I heard them talk about wine. Wine for my family and me has always been part of our life; choosing to work in wine was natural.
PS: How long have you been a winemaker, and what attracted you to work with La Guardiense?
MG: I started working as a winemaker at La Guardiense in May 2007, and at that time, I was only 24. I was excited but quite scared due to the size of the cellar. Before La Guardiense, I worked in a cooperative in Sardinia; the winery was ten times smaller than La Guardiense. However, I could not miss the opportunity to leap forward for my professional growth.
PS: How is working with a cooperative different, or what challenges do working with a cooperative present?
MG: Working in a cooperative is different; the main reason being that the large overall numbers come from a huge number of small farmers. Each member has on average 1.5 hectares to manage. The passion they put into their work is the real difference, and the privilege of working with them gives you enormous strength.
PS: Was the Janare label created after you and Riccardo Cotarella joined the co-op, or were you brought on board specifically for this new label?
MG: Janare was created even before Cotarella arrived in La Guardiense, but only after Cotarella’s revolution the wines and the project started to be consistent and to obtain the esteem of the consumers and the critics.
I was introduced in La Guardiense specifically for the Janare project, but after one year, I became the winemaker for all production.
PS: Do you see the cooperative becoming fully organic at some point, or is that even possible with such a large cooperative?
MG: I think it is possible but our members must be convinced by the results of our organic wine. The 2020 vintage is our first vintage with both Falanghina and Aglianico organic wines and we need time to convince them. We are currently certified with a sustainable viticulture system.
PS: What about the climate effect on the vineyards?
MG: Our territory has been affected, but positively for many grape varieties. Falanghina, Aglianico, and Greco are late-ripening varieties and now things are different. Aglianico, for example, was difficult to harvest at the right phenolic ripeness even in November—now, in some vintages, we harvest it at the beginning of October, and it has a perfect balance.
PS: The Sannio region and Campania are known for Falanghina. What characteristics of this grape do you love most?
MG: I love several things about Falanghina, but I could sum them up with one word: recognizable. In the vineyard, for the oval shape of the grape and the beautiful yellow color. In fermentation, for its explosive fruity aroma, and it’s recognizable in tasting for its intense acidity and complex aroma. What I like most is seeing people’s surprised expressions when they first drink it.
PS: What is your general winemaking philosophy?
MG: My winemaking philosophy has changed in my career. I started with the idea of producing aromatic white wines and full-bodied reds. Now, I understand that it is more challenging to create well-balanced whites and fruity and complex reds.
The next step from my point of view is to produce these wines without sulfites. I am focused on this at the moment, and the experimental phase is almost over.
PS: What do you like to drink?
MG: I discovered the pleasure of drinking wine with a 1996 Guado al Tasso Antinori di Bolgheri. I fell in love with bold and structured reds, and they still give me pleasure in some situations. Now I am a lover of Pinot Noir for its depth and verticality.
PS: What would you choose to do if you were not a winemaker?
MG: During my studies, I always loved physics and space. I’m pretty sure I could have been an astronaut!
PS: Anything else you would like to add for readers?
MG: I would like to invite wine enthusiasts to always search for people behind the wine; the soil, the sun, and the varieties are fundamental, but men and their history are the soul of wine and will always help you to understand a good glass of wine completely.