When I visited Morella, it was at their garage winery in the town of Manduria, Puglia. The all new, singing and dancing affair was still being built, midst their old-vine vineyards, a few miles out of town.
Truthfully, it was the sort of place where the tasting could go either way. A wished-for hasty retreat, or the discovery of a splash of wine magic. And result because magic it was.
Morella is owned by Australian winemaker, Lisa Gilbee, and her (very quiet!) husband, Gaetano Morella. Their USP is that they have worked hard to hunt down and secure old vine, dry-farmed Primitivo vines, planted on terra rossa soils. The yields are ludicrously tiny, but the results are hugely impressive.
The estate is managed biodynamically, and the vinification is judiciously minimal. Gilbee talks about basket pressing, open-top fermenters and no filtration. What you see, standing and tasting amongst the fermentation tanks and oak barrels, is that everything is carefully overseen and spotless.
In the spirit of honesty, I will say that I am not a big Primitivo fan. It’s a variety I’d never lean to on a wine list, nor is it a wine I would previously have chosen for my wine stash at home. To say then that I was blown away by the Morella wines, should not be taken lightly.
The rosé was delicious and moorish and exactly the sort of wine you want to drink in heat. The 2016 Mondo Nuovo Primitivo was an altogether more serious proposition and truly fantastic. There was telling black figgy ripeness but also a terrific savoury edge, sparkling freshness, and a fine underscore of acidity. The wine’s limestone soils origins were clear to taste. Across the range the wines were elegant and bristling with energy – not a racing certainty in Primitivo wines.
I was a bit scared of Gilbee, truth be told! I can imagine she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and she seemed just a bit too chipper at England’s fall to the batsmen of Australia, on the day I was there. But she’s deeply knowledgeable and generous in sharing what she has learnt. It’s a treat to meet winemakers like Gilbee, whose keen sense of humour and spirit made for an entertaining visit. I enjoyed watching her whizz towards her precious old vines in her 50-year-old Fiat 500, that had been given to her on her very own 50th birthday.
The Morella Primitivo wines are worth exploring and I believe that Forty Five 10 are UK stockists.