Ancient Wine in Modern Times

Located in the middle of the town of Altripalda are the ancient cellars of Mastroberardino Winery that date back to the 1800’s. I find this one particularly fascinating because, not only is it one of the oldest, but in the late ’90’s they started experimenting with growing grapes on the excavations of Pompeii. They hope to learn more about the viticulture of ancient Romans and reproduce wine like the Romans once did.


The Mastroberardino family has been living the socio-cultural context of wine-growing for over two centuries, based on the most reliable historical reconstructions. The first evidence of their presence in Irpinia dates back to the Bourbon Land Registry, in the mid-eighteenth century, when the family chose the village of Altripalda as their headquarters, in which the old cellars are still located. There originated an offspring that inextricably tied their destiny to the cult of wine. Since then, ten generations have led the family business, through alternate events, as it always happens in the most ancient family business. The first generations were more concerned with the production and the domestic market. The cellar inventories of the time, witness an already well structured company, with a good degree of integration between agricultural and processing activities, capable of sustaining, with its business, thriving satellite, industries of local crafts linked to the supply chain of the vine and wine. In the 1800’s, Angelo Mastroberardino (1848-1934) broadened the horizons for Irpinia wines and design a more ambitious future for the family business.

The house and winery have never had a real separation. They have always been perceived as a unique unit. Since the 1800’s, when hotels were not yet popular, it was a widespread practice that well-off family houses were designed to receive civilian and military authorities visiting the area, and this was also happening at Mastroberardino’s. The Second World War came to devastate a thriving activity, alternating the balance and crashing the values that had characterized the economic and social roles of the community of that period. During the years of the war Michele Mastroberardino got sick and lost his sight. His second-born son Antonio, started taking good care of him, reading the newspaper for him, listening to the stories of his extraordinary travels, sharing with his father his passion for chess and listening to the evening radio news reporting the war bulletins. The older brother, Angelo, was in the army and was imprisoned for a long time. It was Antonio, with the the support of his mother Maria, to run high and low between Naples, Rome, and the Salerno area, among ministerial offices and famine and devastation in the countrysides, to find Angelo and bring him home. So it was Antonio, an adolescent at the time, who became the family reference point in dealing with the military authorities of the German army and with the most delicate and dangerous business to protect younger siblings, family assets, and corporate activities.


The war left the Irpinia wine scene suffering. The peasants had to join the army. The vineyards decorating Irpinia, that allowed it to be one of the first vine-growing areas of the country until the mid-20’s, were decimated and in need of a huge commitment for restoration. It was Antonio Mastroberardino, a great visionary and far-sighted man of the wine, to relaunch and support the project of replanting the old varieties of Irpinia- Fiano, Greco, and Aglianico- by refusing to give up the noble wine cult of his ancestors. Since the death of his father Michele, when he was only 17, Antonio felt responsible for the revival of viticulture in Irpinia. Thus, he started an information and education campaign of the vintners, inviting them to return to the land and slowly recover their heritage, taking part personally, field by field, in all the most vocated areas of the Irpinia provence. He deals with the research and experimentations in viticulture and in the cellar, with the important restoration works of ancient family properties, and he takes on, in quality of technical director, a huge amount of promotional activities on the national market and in many foreign countries. Since the ’60’s, he’s created a laboratory for research and quality control within the company, through which he projects the family business into the small number of the most advanced operators in the field. His view of the world of wine leads him to focus on monovarietal wines, with the awareness of having to fight an unequal struggle against the increasingly widespread international varieties, and having to work more than his competitors to promote memorizing names and sensory qualities of his wines. With this guiding principle he defines the production protocol of Taurasi, Greco di Tufo, and Fiano di Avellino- all signature of the three great indigenous grapes of Irpinia (Aglianico, Greco, & Fiano)- first taking them during the ’70’s to the DOC recognition, then in the nineties to the DOCG.


“An ancient, centuries-old cellar, which gives the sense of welcome typical of the hearth, experienced as a symbol of the rootedness of family values. Destination for visitors from all over the world, it has become an art gallery, following the installation of works by internationally renowned artists such as Raffaele De Rosa, Maria Micozzi, Doina Botez, Patrizia Comand, Felice Nittolo, Coderch & Malavia, Salvatore Fiume and Aldo Melillo. Environments of work and contemplation, characterized by a refined and discreet sobriety, which brings to mind feelings that are now dormant: time slows down, banishes superfluous noises. The precious, guarded with wise serenity, rest and temper their personality until the moment in which they will have to deal with the outside, bringing with them the wealth of sensations accumulated in the long gestation period.
They must carry a message, those precious ones, an ancient and strong message, which avoids compromises and superficiality: the message of wine, blood of the earth.”

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The Villa dei Misteri project was started in 1994, when the investigations of the Laboratory of Applied Research led to the identification of casts of some vine roots that testified to the presence of vineyards in the Amphitheater area. The Archaeological Superintendence of Pompeii therefore decided in 1996 to rely on the Mastroberardino family for an in-depth research and enhancement of the territory through restoration of viticulture within the city walls. The Villa dei Misteri is, by denomination, a Pompeiano Rosso IGT with an alcohol content of 13% obtained from the vineyards of the archaeological excavations of Pompeii as a blend of the Piedirosso (90%) and Sciascinoso (10%). The training system is, according to the ancient cultivation techniques, with a pole vineyard and a sixth plant of 4 Roman feet by 4 Roman feet (1.20m X 1.20m) on a volcanic soil- rich in mineral elements and lapilli- 30 meters above sea level. Furthermore, the harvesting period dates back to the end of October and the winemaking technique, classic in red, involves a long maceration with the skins and an aging period of 12 months in French oak barrels and about 5 years in the bottle. Among the main organoleptic characteristics of Villa dei Misteri that stand out are the intense ruby red color and the complex and persistent aroma, with spicy and red fruit notes. The taste is enveloping, balanced, structured, with fine and elegant tannins. In 2001, the first significant grape harvest in the vineyards of Pompeii excavations allowed the production of 1721 bottles of Villa dei Misteri.


Lindsay View All →

Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!

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