Mamoiada is a village close to Nuoro in Sardegna where the inhabitants have viticulture and winemaking in their DNA. If Venetians say they get fed Prosecco in the baby bottle as small babies, in Mamoiada the importance of viticulture and winemaking is imprinted in their minds probably from before being born. Mamoiada is so much more than a village in central Sardinia, it is a community where the inhabitants are living in symbiosis with the surrounding vineyards. Viticulture and winemaking are so much more than a job in Mamoiada, it is a raison d’être, i.e. a reason to exist. I had the opportunity to visit Mamoiada in early June thanks to the invitation to the Mamojà Vives event organized by the Mamoada Vintner’s Association.
September with the #ItalianFWT
This month, the wine theme in the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group is Sardinian Food, Wine, and Travel. As you might know, there are many undervalued and hidden treasures in Italy when it comes to wine. Cannonau in Sardegna is one of those grapes and wines many of us probably have tasted at some point but know little about. In this article, I will talk about the Mamoiada Vitners’ Association and its work to valorize Cannonau and Granazza.
On Saturday, 3 September, at 11 am ET / 17.00 CEST the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group looked further into Sardinian Food, Wine, and Travel in the #ItalianFWT chat on Twitter. All those of you who are interested in wine, food, and travel in relation to Sardinia are very welcome to type in the hashtag #ItalianFWT in the search field on Twitter to see what we discussed during the Twitter chat that day.
Sardinia, The Island of Viticulture Not Only Tropical Like Beaches
I wanted to show you a wine map of Sardinia here with Mamoiada clearly visible. I was convinced that Wine Folly for sure would have a map of Sardinia or that a quick search on Google would give a good result. However, in the wine maps, I found online of Sardinia, most of them do not even mention Mamoiada as a place of viticulture and winemaking! Not even Wine Folly, in their general Italian wine map, mention Cannonau and Mamoiada for Sardinia. Something to rectify, don’t you think?
Anyway, Mamoiada is located just south of Nuoro in inland Sardinia.
Sardinia is the second largest island of Italy and in the Mediterranean, next to Sicily. However, Sicily has a much larger wine production than Sardegna, six times as large. Back in 2016, Andrew Jefford wrote that “Their fascinating wines deserve to be better known.” See the article Jefford on Monday: Sardinia’s Secrets in Decanter.
When Andrew Jefford wrote his article a lot was still to happen in Mamoiada and in the rest of Sardinia. Jefford reviewed Sedilesu in 2016 when still only 3 vintners in Mamoiada bottled their wine. The development has been extraordinary since then to a fresh, elegant, and youthful style without ever being trivial.
Sardinia share a lot of history with Spain, they were conquered by the House of Aragon in the Middle Ages, and remnants of that dominion remain still today. Catalan is, for example, still spoken in some areas around Alghero. The general belief has also been that the Cannonau was brought from Spain – where it is known as Garnacha – during the Aragonese dominion. Recently, Italian research argues that Cannonau would be indigenous to Sardinia as one in 2002 found Cannonau grape seeds in the archaeological site of Duos Nuraghes close to Nuoro. The theory is now that Cannonau would have been introduced from the Orient by the Phoenicians. Mamoiada is situated right in this historically crucial area for Cannonau close to Nuoro.
Mamoiada, A Wine Area in the Heart of Sardinia
If we look closer at Mamoiada, it had only 65 ha of land under vines in 1855. It was mainly during the post-WWII era that the vineyards were expanded in the 1950s to reach 420 ha under vines. This coincided with the establishment of the local cooperative that would start producing wine on a larger scale in Mamoiada, upon demand of local funding for the south, Cassa per lo Sviluppo del Mezzogiorno.
The Mamoiada Vintners’ Association today stresses that the small local vintners did not identify themselves with the kind of wine that was produced by the cooperative, in fact, they called it “vino di cantina” (wine from the winery). The cooperative went bankrupt and was shut down in 1980.
It was only at the beginning of the 2000s that the vintners of Mamoiada started to slowly think of producing not only wine to sell in bulk locally but also to bottle their wine again. During the years, the vintners of Mamoiada have largely stayed true to themselves and their concept of winemaking. They believe in valorizing their land – their vineyards with often hundred-year-old vines – staying organic and having as low an impact as possible on nature.
Many of the vineyards sit at an altitude of up to 700 and 800 meters above sea level. The soil is mainly of granitic nature and the climate favors large differences in temperature between day and night. The grape variety with a big G here is Cannonau (to 95%) and lately, they have also started to revalorize the native white Granazza grape. The historical training system for Cannonau has always been alberello, even if that is starting to change a bit today for newly planted vineyards.
Today, there are about 350 hectares of vineyard plots that surround the village of Mamoiada. An interesting detail is that the work in the older vineyard plots is still made with a plow drawn by oxen. In the newer vineyards, they use tractors. However, tractors for the larger needs so to say, as most of the work around the vines is still made by hand. When it comes to the processes in the cellar, most of them have historically used indigenous yeast and wild fermentation, and as little added sulfur as possible. This is what makes them stand out today.
The Mamoiada Vintners’ Association
In this village with 2500 inhabitants in the central part of Sardegna, there are 200 family wineries, i.e. families who have some vineyard lots and produce wine for their own consumption. Of these 200 vintner families, 33 are today bottling their wine with a total production of 400,000 bottles. The Mamoiada Vintners’ Association was reorganized in 2019 and is now made up of 70 member vintners of which 22 wineries. During the pandemic, it had time to further restructure itself as an organization. The president right now is the young vintner Giovanni Ladu.
Since the restart, many younger vintners have emerged, and in collaboration with the more established ‘older’ and experienced wine producers, they are taking significant steps forward. This has fueled beautiful energy and a change of style in the winemaking toward lighter and fresher wines. In Sardegna, this is not only limited to Mamoiada but we can see the same tendencies in the Mandrolisai area and probably also in other areas of the island. (See more in the article How Radici del Sud Highlights the Potential of Southern Italian Wines.)
Wine Tasting at the Mamojà Vives Event 2022
At the Mamojà Vives wine tasting 2022 organized by the Mamoiada Vintners’ Association this year, there were 21 wineries present with their wines. In the Sardinian language, “vives” can have several meanings such as to drink (bevi), inhabit (abiti), and live (vivi). We sure did taste (drink), inhabit, and live, or rather experience, the essence of Mamoiada in the 3 days we were there. We tasted 6 rosé wines, 24 red wines (10 from 2020 and 14 from 2019), and 2 Granazza wines.
I found the tasting very interesting and instructive, also because I realized that the idea of Cannonau wines and wines from Sardinia that I had in general, has completely changed and gone through an evolution. Step by step, glass by glass, I got introduced to a lineup of wines that taught me a lot about Mamoiada, Cannonau, the change in trend, and the goal of the Mamoiada vintners. The 2020 vintage were wines that felt vibrant and alive, with a freshness, fruit-forwardness, and elegance that was fascinating. The 2019 vintage still had half a foot in another era or trend, the style of more full-bodied and opulent wines with a more dominant touch of wood. Still, you could clearly feel the change being evident and wanting to break through in the 2019 vintage.
Some voices expressed a certain doubt about the 2019 vintage, defining it as tired and not up to par in comparison with the so vibrant and joyous 2020 vintage. I think that critique needs to be constructive and also put into a broader context. The Mamoiada Vintners are in the process of entering a new style or trend. In history, we would call it to be at a watershed, i.e. a turning point of a new winemaking style, or paradigm. It takes time to step out of the “old” and enter the new style completely.
It is not only to look at one vintage and the other but to put it in a social, mental, historical, climatic, agricultural, and whatnot context. I often refer to the French Annales School and how they focused on long-term structures rather than the importance of single events, and the slow change that occurs gradually over a long period of time. Fernand Braudel wrote the monography The Mediterannean to show that geography and culture are at the center of change, not only politics and economics. Well, very briefly explained, it is a bit more complicated than that. I am not trying to explain a historical school or theory here. However, just to say that viticulture and winemaking are a mix of history, tradition, agriculture, climate, culture, human action, and the desire of the market.
Change takes time, right now we are still moving from a parkerized wine world to a world of fresher and lighter wines, with wood used with more finesse. A larger change takes time whether it be in a smaller commune in Sardegna or in a larger wine area. There are many factors that play into the development. I find it more interesting to look for the signs of change in the 2019 vintage and at what point that change was or is, rather than looking for the faults. In the 2020 vintage, the Mamoiada vintners have arrived one large step further in their aim of expressing the idea, terroir, and concept of the Mamoiada wines.
Encounters with Mamoiada vintners and their wines
From the first moment I set foot on Sardinian soil on the weekend in early June, it was a constant meeting with people, vintners, tasting wines, and learning. So many impressions. Pietro Fadda from Mussennore winery showed me the surroundings, the landscape, and the vineyards surrounding Mamoiada, and brought me to meet his fellow vintners. Pietro and his children are the perfect example of a family who recently decided to start valorizing the family vineyards by focusing on making and bottling quality wine.
On the first day, Pietro brought me to the cabin of Mattia Muggittu and his parents just outside of Mamoiada. Mattia is a young guy, in his early 20s, who is studying enology and at the same time managing the family vineyards and winery. They were organizing the welcome lunch. I asked Mattia if he would also have his wine at the official tasting the day after. Mattia answered:
No, I decided to not bottle this first vintage I have made because I did not think the wine was good enough. It has too many green notes.
Mattia sells his 2020 vintage as bulk wine and we got to taste it at the lunch in their cabin. When I tasted it I was just amazed, it is a really good Cannonau wine. I told him so, and I think several other wine writers were of the same idea. This does not only look promising for Mattia and his winery, but it also says something about the quality of the wine produced in Mamoiada. Most of it is still sold as bulk wine. Remarkable, right?
Other producers that I visited in Mamoiada and that I want to mention here are, for example, Piergraziano Sanna, Francesco Cadinu, Giuseppe Sedilesu, Cantina Teularju by Francesco Sedilesu, Cantina Mertzeoro by Soddu Maria, and Osvaldo Soddu.
The three brothers of Sedilesu winery have split into three different wineries where Giuseppe Sedilesu and his sons have retained the buildings of the classic family winery. Francesco Sedilesu has created a smaller and newer winery – Cantina Teularju – where he is doing some very interesting things. Furthermore, Francesco Cadinu is making clean, vertical, and fresh wines in light and elegant styles that speak the Mamoiada language very clearly. Osvaldo Soddu’s small winery is built with care and taste, and it is located in a beautiful corner of Mamoiada with a view of the surrounding landscape. He makes wines that reflect very much the Mamoiada character, low-intervention, mostly no filtration, still a bit hard on the oak at times, a real pleasure to drink. He only makes about 5000 bottles so far!
Piergraziano Sanna is the garage vigneron par excellence, protecting his small garage (really!) from curious eyes, only letting a selected few people look at what he’s doing. He makes low-intervention wines with character, experiments with macerations, and pushes the limits overall. His rosé wine and his macerated Granazza make you into a Sanna fan.
There are still so many things to tell about Mamoiada and its vintners in Sardinia, such as that there is so far no appellation, no DOC Mamoiada but the wines produced mainly fall under the DOC Sardegna appellation. There are several other appellations too within which the Mamoiada wines can be categorized.
A New Voice in Evolution…
that is Mamoiada right now. As I have tried to show in this article it is a vibrant area in constant development when it comes to viticulture and winemaking. They have gone from 3 wineries that bottled their wines in 2015 to 33 this year. The Mamoiada Vintners’ Association is working as a community to give an expression to the local territory, its terroir, climate, culture, history, and traditions in their winemaking. Organic viticulture and low-intervention vinification are key concepts for the Marmolada vintners.
See what the others in the ItalianFWT group write: