Casa D’Ambra Biancolella 2018

The Amalfi Coast in a glass, simple, refreshing and vibrant, straw yellow colour with golden reflections, crisp aromas of lemon, apple, banana and Mediterranean flowers, dry on the palate with fresh acidity and nice mineral tones, intense flavour with a banana, almond finish.

Food pairings: This wine is crisp and fresh, perfect on a hot summer’s day, and would pair well with simple appetisers with round flavours to balance out the acidity. Some examples include: ceviche, fresh ricotta cheese, fresh goats cheese or tuna canapés.

Man working the vines in Ischia

Casa d’Ambra was founded in 1888 by Francesco D’Ambra, and passed down through generations of the family for over 100 years. The winery is currently run by Andrea D’Ambra, enologist and property owner since 2000, and has now become a symbol of wine from Ischia both locally and internationally. The property includes 4 hectares of vineyards in Frassitelli and 1 hectare in Montecorvo, from which grapes are sourced in addition to 120 associate grape growers around the island. Only autochthonous varietals are grown and produced, including Biancolella, Forastera, Uvarilla, Piedirosso and Guarnaccia.

Vineyards overlooking the sea on the island of Ischia
Vineyards overlooking the sea on the island of Ischia

“Everything that is surrounded by the sea lives in unique climatic and socio-cultural conditions. The difficulties of viticulture in Ischia transcend purely agricultural dimensions, encompassing historical, geographic, and socio-economic importance. The presence of viticulture in Ischia is not only significant in terms of production, it also entails the protection of the natural landscape and ethno-cultural traditions. Very high production costs and passionate tenacity in managing vineyards in difficult orographic conditions have led to the adjective coined by journalists in the industry, “Angeli Matti” (Crazy Angels).

-Casa D’Amabra website (Translated from Italian)

 

Grape pickers harvesting on the island
Grape pickers harvesting on the island

This wine is made from 85% Biancollela and 15% of Forastera, San Lunardo, and Uvarilla. It is sourced from vineyards located in the east and west of the island. Following a manual harvest, the grapes are brought to the cantina on Monte Epomeo where they are soft pressed with a cold decanting of the must before fermentation at controlled temperatures.

Arriving in the port of Ischia by ferry
Arriving in the port of Ischia by ferry

I’ve recently taken a day trip to the island if Ischia, and the ferry ride itself amongst other cheerful holiday-makers was enough to make me feel I was really getting away, going to a place where things are different. That’s the fascinating thing about islands; being cut off from the mainland and isolated by sea, they represent a feeling of uniqueness in their singularity and of change in their divergence. Being on the island, it quickly becomes clear that daily life is different here, transformed and defined by the landscape. How do people live here, nonetheless make wine?

Ischia Ischia Ischia Ischia Ischia

Ischia

Unlike most islands, Ischia’s economy has been historically based more on wine than on fishing. However, since the 1950’s that started to change with the rapid development of tourism, putting the local wine industry and its traditions at risk. With the recognition of DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) for the island’s most diffused varietals (Biancollela, Forastera, and Palummo) in 1966, local producers have made a continued effort to safeguard a wine making tradition that dates back thousands of years.

Ischia is perhaps one of the first Greek colonies with evidence showing the presence of the Eubea Greek colony dating as far back as the VIII century B.C. The island was originally called “Pithecusa” meaning “island of vases” as there was a large production of ceramic vases used to store wine and olive oil produced on the island. It was the Greek colonists who brought over the ancient grape varietals which are still cultivated today.

Historic ceramic factory on the island
Historic ceramic factory on the island

To talk about viticulture in Ischia is to talk about heroic viticulture in every sense of the word. The terrain and micro-climate on the island is incredibly diversified with vineyards ranging from 200 meters above sea level to 600. The vines are cultivated on narrow terraces supported by stone walls (muri al secco) which are only accessible on foot. In fact, every process involved in growing and harvesting the grapes is necessarily manual as machinery is a practical impossibility.

Vineyards in Ischia
The vineyards in Ischia, carved into the hillside in narrow terraces supported by stone walls

Grape harvest begins in September and carries on to November, according to the varying levels of maturation. Workers walk up rocky trails to reach the vineyards, collect the grapes in small crates and carry them on their backs, back down to the cantina. In some areas, the vineyards can only be reached by boat and once the grapes have been harvested, the crates are transported to the cantina by sea.

In such difficult conditions production costs are extremely high and it takes an incredible amount of hard work. The people involved push themselves to these extremes because this wine is important to them and is a fundamental part of their heritage. It is thanks to their pride and strength in purpose that this tradition still survives, deserving them the name of Angeli Matti.

Grape pickers harvesting on the island Grape pickers harvesting on the island Grape pickers harvesting on the island Grape pickers harvesting on the island Grape pickers harvesting on the island Grape pickers harvesting on the island

It is also a story of the relationship between man and nature in which plants and geographical conditions have played a determinate role in the shaping of social, cultural and economic dynamics in the daily life of people. Stefano Mancuso writes, in his book Plant Revolution: Plants have already invented our future, that the entire vegetal world is beyond compare to other living things in virtue of its unquestionable indispensability for the survival of other forms of life. He states that plants are like sophisticated and evolved social organisms, resistant in extreme environments and extraordinarily adaptable, with the capacity to produce substances which can manipulate the behaviour of animals and humans.

This certainly rings true on the island of Ischia, making its wine not only a testament of nature’s influence  on our lives but also a living artefact of culture.

Sources:

http://www.dambravini.com/it/

Le radici della viticoltura eroica a Ischia

https://www.prontoischia.it/articoli/isola-ischia/enogastronomia/viticoltura

La viticoltura a Ischia

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