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WINE

Ligurian vineyards under threat

Itslian grape farming traditions in the region of Liguria are in danger because of the higher cost of farming on 60-degree slopes, according to local farmers.

Ligurian vineyards under threat
Photo: Brian & Jaclyn Drum /Flickr

From the vineyards clinging to seaside cliffs to a unique cellar of sparkling wine stored on the seabed, the off the beaten track wine region of Liguria in northern Italy offers an array of spectacular sights.

But as he plucked grapes from his terraced vineyard at the end of harvest, Cesare Scorza said the traditions are in danger because of the higher cost of farming on 60-degree slopes and keeping stone walls intact.

Grape pickers made their way through the vineyard as if suspended between sky and sea, walking up and down wooden ladders and across along the walls.

The crates of juicy grapes are carried up the slopes on a special lift driven like a tractor along a monorail track — one of dozens in this region.

"This type of farming is expensive," said Scorza, who has two hectares (five acres) in Manarola, a colourful clifftop village in the Cinque Terre National Park.

"The labourers cost more than in the valley and you are always having to repair the walls. There aren't many young people with a passion for this!"

Despite the difficulties of cultivation, Liguria was for centuries a flourishing wine region that supplied wealthy merchants in the nearby port of Genoa.

Mass transport eventually made wine from other regions like Piedmont or Tuscany much more competitive but fans say the sea breeze gives the Ligurian wines a distinctive taste that cannot be found elsewhere.

Ligurian producers have also managed to find an upmarket niche for the most prized products of the steep-slope vineyards like Sciacchetra, a dessert wine that can sell for upwards of 70 euros ($90) a bottle.

One particularly imaginative local grower has even invented what he calls the "Wine of the Abyss".

Pierluigi Lugano, a former art history teacher, stores thousands of bottles of his wine at the bottom of the sea near the glamorous seaside town of Portofino — and the unusual idea is proving wildly popular.

Lugano said the inspiration came from his interest in marine archaeology and the recovery of Roman amphoras from shipwrecks that still contained remains of wine or olive oil that had been preserved by the sea water.

"The darkness and constant temperature of 15 degrees are valuable and there are also conditions that you do not have in a normal cellar like the external pressure on the bottles which helps the perlage," Lugano said, referring to the bubbles created in the wine.

The twisting of the bottles to produce sparkling wine — a process known as remuage — occurs naturally due to sea currents and the absence of oxygen ensures a hermetic seal to help the wine mature, he said.

Bottles are stored in large cages on the seabed at a depth of 60 metres (197 feet) and Lugano even uses an actual shipwreck — a 100-year-old yacht that once belonged to the Rothschild banking family.

When they are brought out, the bottles are covered in molluscs and other sea life — a distinctive characteristic that has helped attract customers.

"They look like something out of science fiction," he said.

Lugano started out in 2010 with 6,500 bottles under the sea, which has now increased to 15,000 bottles — more than 10 percent of his annual production.

He now plans to expand further after this harvest.

It is a labour of love for Lugano, who said he hoped this type of initiative could help save seaside vineyards like his that are "at risk of extinction".

"The vineyard terraces have been gradually abandoned, older generations have not been replaced by younger ones. But I believe in recovery!" he said.

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WINE

Italian village residents find Lambrusco wine coming out of their taps

People living in a small village near Modena, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, got a surprise on Wednesday when they turned on their kitchen taps and got wine instead of water.

Italian village residents find Lambrusco wine coming out of their taps
File photo: Flickr/Nardino

Not a miracle, but a fault at a nearby winery meant wine had accidentally been pumped into the local water supply, technicians later discovered.

Residents said the smell of the pink liquid coming out of their taps was unmistakably that of the locally-produced Lambrusco Grasparossa, local newspaper Gazzetta di Modena reported.

The wine ended up being piped into homes in the Castelvetro area of Modena from the nearby Settecani winery after a “technical fault” in one of the winery's silos meant wine was leaking into its water pipes. As the wine reportedly had a higher pressure than the water in the pipes, it began to run through the system and into nearby homes.

The local water board quickly sent technicians to put things back to normal – but not before residents “bottled as much of the precious liquid as they could,” wrote the Gazzetta di Modena, “to enjoy later at a lunch or dinner along with other typical Modenese specialties.”

The local council issued an apology for the incident on Facebook, and while some village residents voiced concern about the safety of their water supply, other complaints were directed at the council and local water company for fixing the problem too quickly.

Though Lambrusco doesn't have the best reputation abroad, Modena's Lambrusco DOC is a well-regarded lightly sparkling red wine with a complex flavour and a history dating back to Etruscan times.

READ ALSO: Not just Prosecco: here are the other Italian sparkling wines you need to try

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