Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Interview with Marzia Varvaglione Highlighting the Varvaglione Primitivo Wines

Earlier this year I highlighted the wine region of Puglia, but following that month’s feature I had the opportunity to sample a couple of wines from the Varvaglione winery in Puglia and connect with Marzia Varvaglione, 4th generation of the Varvaglione that helps run winery today. Before I jump into this month’s feature on the wines of the Veneto let’s learn about the Varvaglione estate and their flagship wines and grape, Primitivo di Manduria. 

The winery – Varvaglione 

The Varaglione family has been making wine from over 100 years and is one of the oldest wineries in southern Italy. Located in Leporano, outside of Taranto in Puglia. Initially the winery focused on bulk wines, but today with the 4th generation, siblings Marzio, Angelo and Francesca, along with their parents, Cosimo, whom is the owner and winemaker, and his wife Maria Teresa, the winery has advanced significantly from their beginnings.  

Varvaglione wine family

The focus of Varvaglione is on the native grapes of Puglia to include for the red grapes Susuamaniello, Primitivo, Negroamaro, Aglianico and Malvasia Nera. For white native grapes of Puglia they produce Verdeca, Malvasia Bianca, Fiano and Falanghina. Their wines span across IGT, DOC levels along with the Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG.  

Varvaglione’s wines are produced from grapes covering about 1,360 acres with about 370 acres that are family owned and the rest from farmers and partner growers that they’ve been working with for over 30 years. Today the winery produces over 5 million bottles and has also become a certified sustainable winery by Equalitas. 

Varvaglione winery in Puglia
Interview with Marzia Varvaglione 

I had the opportunity to connect with Marzia Varvaglione, whom is the eldest sibling in the family. Her career started as a semi-pro basketball player at the age of 17. She continued her education and studies in marketing management and business strategy while pursuing her WSET3 and decided to engage in the family business and help get Varvaglione to where they are today handling the marketing and sales for the winery. Marzia was also recently elected as the President of the AGIVI, the Association of Young Viticulture Entrepreneurs.  

Marzia Varvaglione
Marzia Varvaglione

How did Varvaglione begin?  

Varvaglione 1921 started with my great-grandparents, passed down to my grandparents and then our family. My brother Angelo and my sister Francesca and I are the 4th generation. My father, Cosimo, along with my mother, really made the big push forward, as he is an enologist who had a vision of the future: combining technology with tradition, now all rigorously sustainable. 

Tell me about fond memories of your childhood at the winery.  

When I was small, harvest was almost like Christmas for me, a moment of sharing and joy. In the morning, you got up at dawn with the scent of fresh pastry and coffee in the vineyard. My brother and sister and I played in the mounds of freshly squeezed grapes. The plants tell a story that is different every year, something new and engaging: the land is a blank page, and the wine is our story. 

What is unique and attractive about the Taranto area and Salento to draw in visitors? 

Taranto is the city of the two seas: Mar Piccolo and Mar Grande. It was the capital of Magna Grecia, so there is a lot of history (and a beautiful archeological museum with many treasures!) Our seaside is amazing, with the stunning scenery of the Ionian Sea: crystal waters and little coves. Of course the food is fabulous: from our taralli to orecchiette and broccoli rabe, the Puglia cuisine is quintessential Mediterranean diet. 

I see that the winery owns 150 hectres of estate vineyards, but that there are also a number of partners. How many do you work with and how is their production utilized under the Varvaglione brand?  

We work our land, and the tradition is to have many grape growers who confer their grapes as well. The partnership has been going on for generations, and it is a way of sustaining our area as well: these growers know their grapes are going into our wines. All through the year, we are in constant contact, surveying the vineyards, and working together to obtain the best results for that terroir. Everything is within a 100-kilometer radius of our winery. 

Was it your dream as a child to always follow in the family’s footsteps or at what point did you change your vision of your career? 

I went to University in Milan and in Switzerland, and did professional training abroad, like in the United States. But aside from my career as a semi-professional basketball player, I always knew I wanted to be a part of developing my family’s winery, in particular with my skills in marketing and sales. I love that aspect and have worked quite a bit on image and brand identification. 

How has the winery changed over the years and are there any major milestones or events that have taken place in the 100 years of existence? 

The winery has transformed greatly over the past century. Our centennial in 2021 was a moment of celebration, and my father created a new wine, a cru that is a blend from the vineyards around our Masseria. Acquiring the Masseria that had a historical relationship to our family for many decades was another big step that we took in 2018. In the 90th year of our winery, my father created our iconic Primitivo di Manduria, Papale Oro. This is a special wine, another cru, that is the result of careful selection and only released in the best years. And our millennial line, 12emezzo, with its lower alcohol content and easy-drinking style, has also celebrated its 10th anniversary with a restyling of its packaging. The 12emezzo line is well-known for its annual Christmas edition with innovative packaging that changes every year, as well as the fashion edition, where the bottles are dressed in black and white representations of fashion’s most famous fabrics. 

Which grapes or wines are considered the pride and joy of Varvaglione? 

We are specialized in Primitivo, Puglia’s most famous native grape variety. Clearly Papale Oro is our flagship wine and it truly identifies our winery. And our newer rosé Primitivo, Idea, won the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri in its first vintage. The Private Collection that bears the signature of my father has two iconic wines: a Primitivo di Manduria DOC and a Negroamaro, another classic Pugliese grape variety, which have both received very high ratings from the critics. And we also make the DOCG version of Primitivo: Dolce Naturale, which carries my sister’s nickname, Chicca. 

Are there any special or unique vineyards or terroir that you grow your grapes on?  

Our wine, Papale Oro, gets its name from a plot of land where the grapes that go into the wine grow. Contrada Papale belonged to a Pope from Puglia, Benedict 13th, in the 1700s. The old vines located here give great results for us. And of course the vineyards around our Masseria, where we grow Primitivo, but also Negroamaro and Aglianico, are very special. From the grapes in this single vineyard we make Masseria Pizzariello, a blend of these native grapes. 

Why did you choose to create a reduced alcohol wine like 12 E Mezzo? 

This project was created as an answer to wines that were getting really too alcoholic, 15 % or even higher. The 12.5% abv is actually how wines were made a long time ago, and it allows you to enjoy the wine without worrying about overdoing it. Just to be clear: the alcohol is not taken out; the wine is made with temperature control that allows for obtaining the best and most delicious results without allowing the fermentation to drive the alcohol level up. This line is now over 10 years old, and we are the market leader in low-alcohol Primitivo. 

I see that the vision of the winery is to evolve by keeping an eye on the trends and modernizing the winery while holding true to traditions. What particular traditions of the family do you continue to follow today? 

Our family is super traditional: we still eat together every Sunday with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and my immediate family often eats lunch together during the work week. It’s a way for us to discuss the winery and the various aspects that each of us follows, but also just to hang out and laugh and relax together. My father started the big modernization of our winery by using the best technology available and keeping an eye on the market, and now we siblings are carrying on that tradition: my brother Angelo is Mr. Sustainability, my sister Francesca has just completed her degree in wine making and is already active in the laboratory. I’ve been with our company the longest, since I’m the eldest, so I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the market. We try to anticipate the trends, not follow them. 

What are the plans for the future of Varvaglione?  

Great question.... Just watch us and see! 


The Wines 

I tasted two of Varvaglione’s wines, both their Primitivo di Manduria wines.


The 2020 Varvaglione “12 e Mezzo” Primitivo di Puglia IGP is from their line of wines called 12 e Mezzo, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. They wanted to produce a line of wines that had reduced alcohol, hence the name 12 e Mezzo, which stands for 12.5% alcohol. They produce this line of wines using modern technologies.  

This wine was ruby colored with garnet edges. Aromas of cherry, blackberries and licorice. A dry, medium-bodied wine that is smooth on the palate with juicy fruit flavors of cherries and blackberries with some spice. Soft tannins and approachable with a touch of vanilla. An enjoyable, flavorful Primitivo!  

2020 Varvaglione “12 e Mezzo” Primitivo di Puglia IGP

The 2019 Varvaglione “Papale Oro” Primitivo di Manduria DOP is a wine that is only produced in the best vintages from old vines that are 40-90 years old. Their Papale Oro grapes come from the Papale Contrada and are old vines that belonged to Pope Benedict XIII in the 1700’s. Pierfrancesco Orgini, before he became pope, cultivated these vines, and the name of the vineyard changed after he became pope. This wine was launched in 2011 to celebrate the winery’s 90th anniversary.  

The Papale Oro has a long maceration for more than 2 weeks. After malolactic fermentation the Papale Oro is aged for 1 year of which 10 months is spent in French oak barrels and 1 month in American oak. This wine was an intense deep ruby color. Aromas of dried dark berries to include blackberries, blueberries, black cherries and a hint of licorice. This wine was full-bodied with juicy acidity and jammy notes of blackberries and currants with moderate tannins and a touch of spice and vanilla. ABV 14.5% 

2019 Varvaglione “Papale Oro” Primitivo di Manduria DOP

*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.

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