Modigliana: A Remarkable Forest-Driven Terroir in Emilia-Romagna
Modigliana is a small commune with an almost magical air around it tucked away on the Apennine, just on the border between Romagna and Tuscany. Modigliana stands with one foot in Tuscany and the other in Romagna, historically, in the sense that it used to be under Tuscan administration until Benito Mussolini – Il Duce – moved the border in 1923 to include a large part of this area into the province of Forlì in Emilia-Romagna. Mussolini wanted to trace a clear connection back to the Roman Empire and, therefore, needed the Tiber River to have its source in Romagna, not in Tuscany.
Modigliana is a place that might not be known to many outside of Italy, however, it has been put on the national and international wine map in recent years thanks to the dedication and efforts of the Stella dell’Appennino (Star of the Apennine) association. This vintners’ association consists of 11 wine producers that are all situated or have vineyards in the Modigliana area. They are focusing on communicating the special terroir that makes the Sangiovese di Romagna wines from the Modigliana area so unique. Giorgio Melandri is one of the driving forces behind the efforts to give more visibility to the Modigliana wines.
Modigliana and its Terroir
The concept of terroir is always something that is difficult to translate. The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “the particular environment in which the grapes for a wine were grown, which give the wine a special character”. It is a French word though and it is connected to a place, geographically speaking, but so much more. It could more loosely be interpreted as the whole of many factors such as nature, environment, climate, history, tradition, and the people and their knowledge connected to a certain place. Time is also important as past, present, and future flow together with the geographical place in question. In Wine and Place: A Terroir Reader by Tim Patterson and John Buechsenstein, the authors say “The notion of terroir is at the heart of what makes wine special. […] When you taste a great wine it seems inevitable that a connection exists between those inimitable flavors and the particulars of that place—the soil, the climate, the elevation, the aspect, the parcel’s unique position on the hill or in the vale.” (p.1)
Modigliana has its roots in agriculture; the local farmers have had a key part in shaping Modigliana to what it is today. It is a place where wine has always been an integral part of people’s lives, an aliment, rather than a mere beverage, often necessary for the farmers to reach their daily minimum intake of food. Wine was not only a product, but was also, and still is today, a crucial part of the local identity.
The forest is the key denominator in the terroir of Modigliana. In fact, Modigliana consists of three valleys along three streams – Ibola, Tramazzo, and Acerreta – that are surrounded by forest in a mountainous landscape on high elevation. Each valley has a unique microclimate on its own. The Ibola valley is, for example, the darker, more hidden valley with dense forest. The Stella dell’Appennino association calls the forest the “ally of the vines” as the vineyards in the Modigliana area are surrounded and enclosed by forest. In some cases, you can also see forest and vines growing together almost intertwined in a sort of symbiosis. It gives rise to an area somehow safeguarded against outer elements, such as pollution, and has a remarkable biodiversity. The soil is a mix of sandstone and marl developed over millions of years as sedimentary rocks have been shaped into what they are today by the calcification of sand and clay. What this means is poor soil on often steep hillside slopes consisting mainly of rocks and stone where the Sangiovese thrives. The soil changes in accordance with the elevation getting poorer on higher altitude.
Sangiovese di Romagna
Sangiovese is king not only in Tuscany but also in Romagna. In fact, it is a grape that thrives in harsh soils and thus it does very well in the poor soils of Modigliana. More and more research has been made into the origin of this important red grape variety and, even though the mystery has not yet been solved, it has become quite clear its roots are in southern Italy rather than in Tuscany. Sangiovese is related to the southern Italian grapes Gaglioppo, Perricone, Frappato, Nerello mascalese, etc. According to Professor Attilio Scienza, Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo vines have been found in old vineyards on Etna where they often have been confused with Nerello Cappuccio. Scienza continues to stress in his book La stirpe del vino that Sangiovese in some areas in Tuscany goes under the name Calabrese (which in Sicily and Calabria is another name for Nero d’Avola). (See Attilio Scienza, La stirpe del vino, pp. 141-146.)
Sangiovese in Romagna also has a long history, in fact, Beppe Sangiorgi, a local historian and journalist, has written the book Sangiovese Romagna’s Wine together with Giordano Zinzani and in collaboration with the consortium Vini di Romagna where he argues Sangiovese would first have been referred to in documents written in Romagna in the 17th century. He also stresses that the monasteries on the Apennine were central for the cultivation and development of Sangiovese in the early Middle Ages. (See Beppe Sangiorgi and Giordano Zinzani, Sangiovese Romagna’s Wine, pp. 17-19; 25.) Professor Francesco Salvestrini from the University of Florence furthermore highlighted the crucial role the monasteries on the ‘Tosco-Romagnolo’ Apennine played in the early Middle Ages for the development of viticulture and winemaking in a seminar during the Stella dell’Appennino event in 2018.
The Turning Point
Viticulture and wine were, as mentioned earlier, historically an integral part of the daily livelihood of the local farmers in the Modigliana area. More recently, in the 1970s, there was a turning point that would shift the mindset regarding winemaking from wine as a daily aliment and necessity to winemaking focused on quality. The story goes that Gian Vittorio Baldi, an Italian film director, producer, screenwriter and overall academic, together with his wife, the actress Macha Méril, were searching high and low for a place with a unique character for wine production in the area around Brisighella and Modigliana in Emilia-Romagna. He found his place of beauty with a long tradition of viticulture in Modigliana where he started to realize his dream of producing artisanal organic wines of high quality and with longevity. This in an era before organic and biodynamic winemaking had become the big deal it is today.
Gian Vittorio founded the winery Castelluccio where he with the support from Luigi Veronelli (he was an Italian food and wine critic and intellectual who promoted the need to further Italy’s gastronomical and wine heritage and its diversity), Remigio Bordini (a well-known agronomist in mainly Emilia-Romagna who is an expert on the Sangiovese grape), and his son Gian Matteo started to produce high-quality organic wines, the so-called “Ronchi” wines. A “ronco” is a small plot of land cleaned out from the forest with a billhook, where they, in this case, planted Sangiovese vines. In the 2020 brochure of Stella dell’Appennino about Modigliana, its terroir, and the producers, they stress how the various “Ronchi” wines (Ronco delle Ginestre, Ronco dei Ciliegi) turned into precious wines with astounding longevity that still have a “surprising energy” today.
As you might have gathered, Castelluccio winery has played a fundamental role in putting Modigliana on the wine map in more recent times, especially when it comes to making Sangiovese di Romagna wines. Today, the wineries Agrintesa Soc. Coop. Agr., Balìa di Zola, Il Pratello, Il Teatro, La Casetta dei Frati, LU.VA.,Fondo San Giuseppe, Mutiliana, Torre San Martino, and Villa Papiano all together add their part to the Modigliana viticultural and wine producing identity. Together they have changed the ‘wine story’ of Modigliana as they write in their own brochure, giving rise to “elegant, modern, and territorial wines”.
LU.VA – Two Friends, One Winery
LU.VA winery is a small, two-family winery in Modigliana founded by the two friends Luciano Leoni and Valerio Ciani in 2000. My first encounter with Luciano was when I was invited to the Stella dell’Appennino event in Modigliana in 2018. He was supposed to come and pick me up at the train station in Faenza but, of course, my train broke down somewhere along the ‘Tosco-Romagnolo’ mountain route, so he told me to get off in the small village Marradi where he was waiting for me. This saved us time, so I still managed to get a tour of their small artisanal winery.
They have united the family farms Podere Ceretola (located along Valle Ibola) and Podere Cucculia (located on 380 m altitude along Valle Tramazzo) with approximately 7 hectares of vineyard plots into LU.VA winery. They cultivate Sangiovese but also Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Ciliegiolo. The vineyards around Luciano’s house were part of Podere Cucculia and they mainly grow the Sangiovese for their Cucco Nero Modigliana Sangiovese Riserva DOP and Il Carbonaro Romagna Sangiovese Modigliana DOP. The white Trebbiano and Chardonnay are grown at Valerio’s Podere Ceretola where they also have the winemaking cellar and the barrel room in a part of the old farm buildings. In this part of the vineyards, you can really see how the vines are almost intertwined with the surrounding forest.
Luciano and Valerio are making artisanal wines with a clear expression of the local Modigliana terroir. The white wines are fresh and mineral with a clear hint of the green notes of herbs and forest floor. The Sangiovese comes to life in Il Carbonaro with its classical traits of violet and cherry in combination with the minerality and forest notes. Cucco Nero is a more powerful yet smooth wine with notes of darker forest berries that is aged for 30 months in oak barrels. These wines beautifully manifest the typical traits of “freshness, minerality and saltiness, complex aromas and spices, elegance and austerity, longevity” that are ascribed to the modern Sangiovese wines from Modigliana.
- Brochure of the Association Stella dell’Appennino, 21 September 2020.
- Tim Patterson and John Buechsenstein , Wine and Place: A Terroir Reader, University California Press, 2018.
- Beppe Sangiorgi and Giordano Zinzani, Sangiovese Romagna’s Wine, Consorzio Vini di Romagna, 2016.
- Attilio Scienza and Serena Imazio, La stirpe del vino,
- Sperling & Kupfer, 2018.