I first fell in love with wine working for my father in his wine store in Connecticut. The clientele that came through the door bought conventional wines, but even then I was always more drawn to natural wines. I wanted to know everything about wine, and so off I went to hotel school to study beverage management.
At first, I wanted to be a sommelier. I wanted to have the highest level certification and know everything there was to know about wine. But at some point I realized I was working 14 hours a day at a desk, studying this product that I’d sold in every conceivable way - but I had no idea how to make it.
SO I DECIDED TO MOVE TO ITALY TO LEARN HOW TO MAKE WINE
I had sold some natural wine at my dad’s shop, but I didn’t know a lot about it. I just knew I wanted to get my hands dirty and learn from a small family winery with a small production. After a few months in Rome, a friend introduced me to a small family-run natural winery in Gradoli, a small town in northern Lazio. I worked for them for 15 months in 2013 and 2014, including two harvests, and learned an incredible amount.
AND THEN I TOOK THE LEAP TO START ON MY OWN
In the beginning, I just wanted to make something that I knew I would like to drink. I didn’t want to drink wine made with additives. Between my own preferences and my experiences at the small family winery where minimal intervention was key, natural wine just felt like such an obvious choice for me. I rented some vineyards locally and set up a cellar in an underground garage to see if I could do it.
In 2015, I produced my first vintage, all by myself! No help but also no pressure, no stress of producing to sell, just me having fun making wine. That’s when I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do.
Early in my time working for the small family winery in Gradoli I met a local shepherd who brought his sheep into the vineyards to graze. He would ride around on his tractor, cracking jokes and singing in a beautiful baritone. One year, while we were pruning, his sheep were lambing right there in the vineyard with us…
LONG STORY SHORT, WE GOT MARRIED IN 2016!
And drank all the wine I had made that year in the celebration. One day after we were married, my husband and his uncles, also shepherds, were telling me how things used to be in the Gradoli countryside.
There were mainly two types of people who made their lives here:
IL PECORARO AND IL VILLANO
Il pecoraro was the shepherd (pecora is sheep in Italian) and il villano was the farmer who worked the wealthy landowners' villas. And they didn’t exactly get along.
The farmers thought the shepherds were pretentious and entitled and the shepherds thought the farmers were ignorant and provincial so the name turned into kind of an insult, definitely derogatory.
BUT IL VILLANO WAS MISUNDERSTOOD
il villano was just a man who took care of the land.
I loved the idea of having this misunderstood term for my winery because I am in a way the “black sheep” here. I didn’t study wine making but here I am, an American woman deep in the Italian countryside making natural wine.
AND SO LA VILLANA WAS BORN
The most important part of winemaking happens in the vineyard. We take great care to respect not only the grapevines but also the rest of the biodiversity surrounding the vines. We only use a fraction of the permitted doses of copper and sulphur in organic vineyard management and supplement with various biodynamic preparations and practices. During the winter months, our sheep graze under the vines and help to fertilize the soils. We do not consider ourselves purely "organic" or 'biodynamic" but rather aim to nurture nature, respect our environment, and listen to the natural rhythms of the earth, sun, moon, and stars.
Our old vineyards are small parcels rescued from retired “villani” in Gradoli. Most are planted with Greghetto (Sangiovese) and Procanico (Trebbiano) and other local varietals including Aleatico, Ciliegiolo, Montepulciano, Malvasia, and Moscato.
Our new vineyards will be planted within the next two to three years using the "mass selection" method: grafting American rootstock with hand-picked buds from the healthiest autochthonous vines in Gradoli.
The wines of La Villana are the result of very simple, but clear, objectives in the winery: no manipulation, no interference, no additives. The wines are complete, pure expressions of the grapes, vinified in tanks that do not impart any thermal energy or influence the natural fermentation process. There is no interference to speed up or slow down the fermentation of the natural yeasts and there are absolutely zero additives. The result is a series of wines that purely express the local grapes, the local soil and the local terroir.