The Phlegraean Fields smell of vineyards and dried salt. As soon as you reach the exit that gets from the Naples ring road to Lake Averno, you can see a land where myth and reality weave together and feed each other, since the time of Homer and Virgil.
The volcanic soils, the yellow tuff, the mirrors of water that get from the lakes to the sea, draw a unique profile, between nature reserves and corners of paradise that resist wild urbanization. The Portolano estate is one of these corners.
Mara Portolano and his brother Stefano welcome us. They are the heirs of the historic Neapolitan family today still engaged in the production of gloves. Less than ten years ago, Mara and Stefano chose to devote themselves not to fashion, but to vineyards and wines, cultivating and taking care of the historical vines of the place: Piedirosso and Falanghina, plus a couple of hectares of Aglianico.
The vineyards are at short distance from Lake Averno, in a steep terrain overlooking the nearby Municipality of Quarto. Suddenly, almost without realizing it, you can abandon the concrete monsters built in the seventies to reach this oasis hug by the view of Monte Nuovo and Capri.
«Here we have about six hectares - Mara Portolano says - plus three others not far from here, where we grow Falanghina. Among these vineyards we produce exclusively Piedirosso and Aglianico, despite the latter being a vine more typical of the Sannio and Irpinia». While we walk with Mara among the vineyards, we can touch the leaves now yellowed from autumn, smell the wind that today blows strong, and carries the aromas of the must to the wine cellar.
Such a reality in an urban center is a rarity. Pozzuoli, the largest municipality of the Phlegraean Fields, is home to more than 80 thousand people. «It is not easy - says Mara as she comes towards the vineyards of Piedirosso - we are like guardians of the territory. We defend it, we try to enhance it and protect it from the most aggressive building speculation». On the other hand, the Phlegraean Fields are born as an immense expanse of land, brushed by dried salt, where vegetables, fruit trees and vineyards grow. One of the most fertile areas of the entire Campania Felix.
The Portolano company strongly believes in a return to origins, to those times that have the flavor of myth, when Campania was the oenological reservoir of Ancient Rome. Then emperors and members of the aristocracy of the Urbe built their villas here: to enjoy one of the most beautiful landscapes and better climates in the world.
Times have changed a lot and no one keeps the illusion of a possible return to noble villas and horse-drawn chariots. But the respect for the territory, for its agricultural vocation and for its ample spaces with healthy air, cannot get old. «This is why we are here: because this is a magical territory - Mara sums it up well - those who make oenology here do not simply produce wine. We tell a place, with its culture and its legends, which cannot be forgotten from one day to another».
Piedirosso and Falanghina, we said. In addition, a little bit of Aglianico. The wines of the Portolano winery really tell a territory. Not with words, but through flavors and aromas: sulfur, red fruit, wild berries, soft and spicy scents. Stefano talks about it: «Our wines are born from historical roots, literally! It is enough to remember that we still work here on ungrafted vine. This means that our plants are not grafted, like most Italian vineyards, on shoots of American origin. They are those that existed centuries ago, before the destructive advent of phylloxera».
A vine pest which, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, destroyed the wine-growing areas of half of Europe. The Phlegraean Fields, being a volcanic area, were not affected because the parasite could not dig its “tunnels” into the ground to reach the plants. One of the many examples that shows how oenology, in these areas, is a specific part of local identity.