Barile is one of those Italian towns you fly over on the way to somewhere else. A sleepy inland burg in Basilicata, it's about 225 miles southeast of Rome, between the popular destination coasts of Campania and Puglia.
Nestling on the lower flanks of the long-dormant volcano Mt. Vulture, Barile's vineyards are some of the oldest, steepest, highest and most dramatically volcanic in the Aglianico del Vulture appellation, with soils layering ancient lava flows, clay and volcanic ash.
Like the rest of Vulture, Barile has experienced a slow winemaking renaissance in recent decades and is now home to a dozen relatively small producers. (See my blog post, "Young and Restless in Southern Italy," for more on the new generation.)
But Barile has also been shaken up by two dynamic women: Barile native Elena Fucci, 37, who launched her eponymous label from family vineyards, and Viviana Malafarina, 43, a self-taught transplant who runs Basilisco, an outpost of Campania's Feudi di San Gregorio winery.
Fucci and Malafarina are both recognized as leaders for taking big steps to improve and modernize winemaking, practicing organic agriculture and aiming for fresher, elegant versions of Aglianico, traditionally known as a big, tannic wine. But beyond that, they take very different approaches. Fucci, for example, concentrates on one red wine, while Malafarina makes five, as well as a Fiano white.
The two good friends took very different life paths. Fucci grew up in Barile's Titolo district, neighboring Paternoster's vineyards. Her grandfather, born into a sharecropping family, managed to buy vineyards there in the 1960s and sold the grapes. In 2000, when the family considered selling the land, Fucci, an only child, was at first indifferent.
"I said, 'Yes, sell, sell. I will to go the university, and I won't come back," Fucci says. But when a buyer appeared, Fucci changed her tune.
"It hit me—I was born here," she says. "I understood that I was tied to this place."
Fucci studied enology and viticulture and immediately began experimenting with wine under her own label. Her first "real" vintage was 2004, when she produced 1,000 cases. Now with her husband, Andrea Manzani, a Florentine engineer she met at a wine tasting seven years ago, she produces up to 2,500 cases a year of exuberant red Titolo from about 15 acres surrounding her new ecologically friendly winery.
Though she does occasionally offer a longer-aged riserva, and is experimenting with amphora aging, she prides herself on making "one wine, one grape—and doing it well—that's our rule."
Malafarina, a Genoa native, arrived here by chance. She studied Slavic languages, taught in Moscow, and later worked on Mediterranean yachts and as a guide on barge cruises in France's Rhône Valley, where she became interested in wine.
Through a boyfriend interning as a chef at Feudi di San Gregorio's restaurant, she got a job answering phones at the winery in 2011. The winery's young chief, Antonio Capaldo, now 41, was impressed enough by her smarts to offer her a job overseeing administration at Basilisco, which the company had recently acquired.
"When I first arrived here, I found most of the wines to be chewable," she says of Vulture reds.
Malafarina worked with Basilisco's Tuscan winemaker Lorenzo Landi, who left in 2012; famed agronomist Pieropaolo Sirch, who is now Feudi's CEO, and renowned Bordeaux enologist Denis Dubourdieu, who died in 2016. To most everyone's surprise, Malafarina soon took over.
"We didn't expect her to turn into a winemaker and agronomist," says Capaldo, now Feudi's chairman. "Then, after two years, she didn't listen to us—she was making the wine."
Malafarina was convinced that the dramatic differences among the Aglianicos from Basilisco's vineyards—including the 5-acre "Storico," with early 20th-century vines—merited bottling them as single vineyards. "This was a process that needed to be done," she says, "to listen more to the vineyards."
Though Capaldo was initially wary of producing single-vineyard wines in an obscure appellation, he gave in. Today, he says, he's glad for it. "The area needed an external shock," he says of Malafarina's presence.
Now, Basilisco has more than 60 acres under vine and produces about 5,000 cases a year in a series of modernized hillside caves, excavated centuries ago by the Albanian refugees who founded Barile. The three new single-vineyard wines debuted only in the last year, due to the long aging process for Basilisco reds.
"I had great teachers and not a lot to do here," Malafarina says of her success. "If you're curious, you watch, you taste, and then you feel like changing things."