Antonio Caggiano’s winery at the edge of the Italian hilltop town of Taurasi is a temple to his irrepressible creativity.
First there are his medieval-looking cellars that wind under his winery with catacomb-like tunnels and barrel rooms on five descending levels. These were designed by Caggiano and his son and built by Caggiano’s construction company nearly 30 years ago using stones repurposed from ancient buildings destroyed by an earthquake.
Then there are the furnishings: geometric hanging lamps he fashioned from barrel hoops, along with chairs and tables he made from barrel staves.
Finally, there is his artwork, including expressive human-like sculptures made from the roots of old vines and paintings of verdant landscapes around Taurasi’s Irpinian hills. But his greatest creative pride was his globetrotting work as an amateur photographer, and his subjects ranged from polar bears at the Arctic circle to female nudes sprawled on the dunes of the Sahara.
“My father is interested in everything,” says Caggiano’s rail-thin and energetic son Giuseppe, 46, an architect who has run the winery for the past 15 years.
Caggiano, a leader of the Taurasi appellation’s wine renaissance in the 1990s, is still very much a presence at his namesake winery—a solid producer of full-bodied Aglianico reds and the Campania region’s noteworthy whites, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino.
On a late morning in September, he putters up to the winery on a vintage moped. As Giuseppe opens bottles of recent vintages on a shaded outdoor tasting area, Caggiano pulls out a series of large-format photographs from a series called Seduzione, with a lot of artistically sensuous female portraits. “The strongest sensations of life are women and wine—and to enjoy life,” says Caggiano, a playful 83.
After he puts away the photographs, he picks up a glass of his flagship single-vineyard Taurasi Vigna Macchia Dei Goti 2016, the latest release of a complex wine whose 2015 vintage was one of Caggiano’s best (93 points, $58).
His face—sunburned to the tip of his substantial nose—lights up as he holds the glass up and slowly swirls it, watching the legs run down the sides. “The purpose of wine is to give pleasure … sensations,” he says. “It’s never to get drunk.”
Caggiano, born the son of a farmer and grapegrower in Taurasi, trained to be a surveyor as a young man and worked in Milan in his twenties, before his father lured him home.
“My father stopped school in the third grade, but he was a genius, a visionary,” Caggiano says. “He always said, ‘Wine is a product that travels the world.’ He understood the future of our wine, the potential.”
In the 1970s, Caggiano worked with his father in the family’s vineyards. Then, in the wake of the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, Caggiano launched a small construction company to help rebuild. By 1990, his focus turned again to wine: He was determined to make a Taurasi-designated bottling in the town of Taurasi with only Aglianico, though appellation rules allow up to 15 percent of other varieties.
“No one was doing that,” says Caggiano, who began excavating and building his winery. At the time, there wasn’t much of a Taurasi wine scene at all; few examples were exported other than those of the historic producer Mastroberardino, in nearby Atripalda.
Caggiano’s wife had inherited the Macchia Dei Goti vineyard, a short walk up the road from his winery, and he began cultivating the 10-acre, sloping clay-and-limestone site. He also began buying other vineyards.
In 1993, the year the Taurasi appellation was upgraded to Italy’s highest appellation status of DOCG, Caggiano joined a group of local growers and producers for a tour of Burgundy with enologist Luigi Moio, a Campania native who was finishing his PhD research in Dijon.
“After I got to know Luigi, I said to him, ‘Come back to Italy—to Campania. There are new wineries being born, and there’s work to do there,’” recalls Caggiano.
Some months later, Moio returned as Caggiano’s enologist—a role he still holds while teaching at the University of Naples, consulting and running his own nearby Quintodecimo estate.
For the debut 1994 vintage, Caggiano and Moio made three Aglianico reds and one white blend. Moio brought with him a precise and French-influenced winemaking style, along with the use of new French oak barriques for aging Aglianico.
“It was a new thing in this area to put wine in barriques,” remembers Giuseppe. “And when the wine came out, there was a boom.”
A decade after their first vintage, Giuseppe convinced his father to return to a more traditional approach using less new oak and incorporating bigger barrels. But Caggiano doesn’t seem to have ever sweated these stylistic changes.
“First the wine was strong. Then it was more elegant,” he says with a shrug. “I like both.”
Today the Caggianos cultivate about 75 acres of vineyards and produce 13,000 cases of wine annually. They have grown their white range to include single-variety Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo and a Fiano-Greco blend. The three original Aglianico bottlings remain the core of the estate: Taurasi Vigna Macchia Dei Goti (barrel aged for 18 months and released after three years) and a pair of Irpinia appellation reds, barrel aged four and eight months, respectively.
“The beauty of Aglianico is that, after a few years, it is good,” Caggiano says. “But then the more it ages, the better it gets.”
“It’s like me,” he says and laughs quietly. “I think I am better now than when I was a boy.”