Harvest With Italy’s Sagrantino di Montefalco


Harvest season on the East End is beautiful, there’s no doubt about it. It’s so clear and cool and despite the visual lessening of the energy—there are fewer people—the visceral energy escalates: a full year’s work will finally come to fruition. The energy is fueled by uncertainty. It still could rain for eight days around Columbus Day weekend dumping 17 inches of rain on yet‐to‐be harvested grapes as it did in 2005. Harvest is like that all over the world. And a good place to be in the fall is Montefalco, Italy, in Umbria, the green heart of Italy, as I was last year.

Montefalco is the home of sagrantino, a deeply purple tannic grape that has been grown in the region for centuries and historically dried to make a sweetish dessert wine that usually accompanied the sacramental Easter meal of roast lamb. By the 1990s, Sagrantino di Montefalco was designated a DOCG, which codified how the wine is made—the percentage of permitted grape varieties, how long it must be aged before release, etc.—and the region grew as dry versions of the wine entered the market. Producers stepped up their game, and a trade group, the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco, spread the word about this modern wine made in a walled hilltop town around since the fall of the Roman Empire, where the museums feature large paintings of scacciadiavoli, or exorcists, forcing devils out of the mouths of the afflicted. Modern wineries designed by famous architects live side by side a harvest festival that takes over the central plaza filling the cobblestones with donkey‐pulled carts covered in grape vines dripping with ripe clusters. Tourists and townspeople taste the freshly pressed juice and local cheeses and salumi passed out to accompany it while rings of people form to dance to beating drums. Keep an eye out for women dressed in the skins of wild boars, the deer of Italian wine country, which love to dine on ripe grapes. Those chingale often end up on the salumi platters.


The festival caps off the three‐day Enologica Montefalco that includes tasting flights, talks, art exhibits and cocktail parties. Attendees light cloth bibs hanging around their necks capable of sturdily holding a wine glass wander the streets in between visiting the tasting hall where the producers show their latest vintages.

Outside the town’s wall, the vineyard‐covered hills turn a distinct orange‐red while the presses flow with the purple juice. Some wineries, like Scacciadiavoli, named after an exorcist, (there’s that devil again) occupy old buildings that surround courtyards where one can taste in the shade of tall trees. The winery was built in 1884 by the prince of Piombino, Ugo Boncompagni‐Ludovisi, as a modern wine “factory” that still uses the 131‐year‐old gravity system.

Not far away is a modern masterpiece, the Carapace, designed by Arnaldo Pomodora for the Lunelli family’s Tenuta Castelbuono. The winery is a low‐layered, rust‐colored dome that resembles the carapace of a tortoise that rises out of landscape.


In a nod toward the reality that vineyards are farms, the Antonelli family sells dried chickpeas and faro biologico (organic) alongside their Sagrantino di Montefalco and Rosso di Montifalco, a wine that permits the addition of sangiovese, the grape of neighboring Chianti in Tuscany.

Montefalco also produces white wines, the unique to the region trebbiano spolentino, a white meant to be aged, and grechetto, a lightly spicy white usually drunk young.

A trip to this region starts late in the morning when a winery owner picks you up at the hotel in the plaza to drive you to his home to taste and afterward will drive you to the next winery, where lunch is ready as it was at Arnaldo Caprai, where Marco Caprai, whose family also owns a textile company, Cruciani, that makes the colorful lace bracelets seen on the wrists of nearly everyone in the wine business. A Caprai employee drives you to the next stop, and so on.

I can’t wait to go back.