Ilaria Petitto, CEO of Donnachiara Winery in Montefalcione (Avellino), will be in Massachusetts on February 21 and 22 for presentations at Total Wine & Spirits.
Donnachiara produces some of the finest and most internationally respected wines in Southern Italy, consistently scoring over 90 points in the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate. Donnachiara’s Aglianico ranked 71 in the Wine Spectator’s 100 best wines of 2017 – a list including wines from all over the world, not only from Italy.
The town of Montefalcione is inextricably linked with the culture of the North End. Innumerable Montefalcionesi emigrated to the North End during the Ellis Island years. In 1919, they founded the St. Anthony Society. (Current president is Paul D’Amore, son of the late Massimino who opened the eponymous restaurant on Endicott St.). The St. Anthony’s Society organized the first St. Anthony’s Feast in Boston in 1919, closely modeled on the feast that had been celebrated in Montefalcione since 1688. Today, St. Anthony’s Feast remains the largest Italian feast not just in the North End but in all of New England. National Geographic once referred to it as “the feast of all feasts.”
Petitto travels throughout the world, to promote Donnachiara’s wines but also to educate the public about wines from Campania, particularly her native Avellino. “Before Total Wine started importing Donnachiara, they didn’t have any Campanian wines in their portfolio.” Petitto feels that the Campania region produces the best and most interesting wines, and knows the history and science to back up that opinion.
“Campania has a larger number of native grapes than any other region in Italy. Many of Campania’s varietals date back to Ancient Rome. Other regions in Italy produce wine that reflects its particular soil – be it limestone soil, or volcanic soil, or tuffaceous soil. However, Campania is the only region in Italy with a mixed terrain of both sedimentary and igneous soil – the sedimentary soil from the Apennine Mountains, and the igneous soil from Mt. Vesuvius. The terrain of the Avellino province is particularly rich in minerals, especially potassium and phosphorus. Vesuvius’s eruptions generated bursts of lava 15 km [almost 10 mi] high. The sea winds blew the ashes inland to Avellino.”
Donnachiara was named for Petitto’s great-grandmother, Donna Chiara Mazzarelli Petitto. “She was born in 1883 to a noble family on the Amalfi Coast, in the town of Maiori. The family owned vineyards in Montefusco, Montemiletto, Venticano and Torre Le Nocelle, all towns in the province of Avellino.” Donnachiara Cantina was started in Montefalcione in 2005.
International concert organist Leonardo Ciampa is descended from one of the original Montefalcione families in the North End. Ciampa discovered Donnachiara’s wine quite by accident. “It was the end of 2015, and I was shopping for a wine for New Year’s. I was living in Natick at the time. I went to Total Wine, which was 2 miles from my house. I go to the Southern Italy section, and I see a wine called Donnachiara, which I had never heard of. Under Donnachiara was the word “Montefalcione.” My eyes popped out of my head. I went home and Googled the company. My jaw dropped. This winery is located 4/5 of a mile – an 18-minute walk! – from the ancestral church in Montefalcione where generations of Ciampas worshipped. Can you imagine that at a wine store 3500 meters from my house, I found a wine 1200 meters from my ancestral church in Montefalcione?” The church, Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore di Gesù (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), is attached to a former Benedictine monastery which now serves as the Montefalcione town hall. Built in the 1500s, the church was attended by many villagers from the nearby Verzare-Lolli neighborhood of Montefalcione.
In 2017 Ciampa made a detour from one of his concert tours to visit Montefalcione. “The Ciampas still have a strong presence in Montefalcione. My great-grandfather Federigo Ciampa owned and operated the town mill, which he passed down to his son, my Uncle Peppino. The mill is now a park, the Parco Vecchio Mulino on Contrada Verzare-Lolli. Peppino’s brother, my Uncle Domenico, built the chapel at the other end of Contrada Verzare-Lolli. And my cousin Gennaro Ciampa owns the butchershop on Via Aldo Moro.”
Ciampa was thrilled to visit Donnachiara winery and meet Ilaria Petitto in person. “And now things come full circle,” says Ciampa. “Ilaria will be there, in person, at that Total Wine that was 2 miles from my house in Natick, the exact store where I first discovered her wine!”
Ciampa is puzzled that Donnachiara’s wines aren’t easier to find in the North End’s many wine shops and restaurants. “Total Wine is not the only company that imports Donnachiara’s wines. They are also imported by Michelangelo Imports, which is a division of the Charmer Sunbelt Group in New York. Here you have these exquisite wines like Aglianico, Taurasi, Falanghina, and so forth, and they’re scoring over 90 points, and they’re produced literally in Montefalcione, and you have this strong Montefalcione culture in the North End. And they’re imported by a major importer. You’d think Donnachiara wines would be everywhere in the North End.”
Petitto will be at Total Wine in Natick on Friday, February 21, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and at Total Wine in Everett on Saturday, February 22, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.. To make reservations, visit totalwine.com and click on Events.