I was introduced to the wines of Azienda Agricola Boccella through Mario Carrabs, my local butcher in Gesualdo who happens to be famous throughout Southern Italy, because if there is anything good to eat or drink in Irpinia, Mario knows about it, talks about it, and wants you to try it. Finding the best local products is one of his life gifts, and let’s be honest, maybe the one I’m most grateful for.
I’d popped over to Mario’s store one day for a few steaks and as we chatted about olive oils, wines, and cheeses, he learned I didn’t know the husband & wife team behind Azienda Agricola Boccella; he was appalled. He told me I had to meet Raffaele and Angela, and that he’d set something up for me. That same day, or maybe the day after, I ended up at a meeting of winemakers and local politicians in Castelfranci for their yearly celebration of the local wines from the seven wineries in their community of 2000 people, a number that of course doesn’t include the countless families in the village making their own wines for friends and family the way they have for the previous few thousand years in Irpinia.
After the event, we were all invited to try the wines from the village and completely by chance, I was introduced to Raffaele Boccella and his wife Angela. I was thrilled! I remember clearly how Raffaele had his ever present cigarette in hand, and the warmth of his and Angela’s personalities filled the cold fall night air. We decided we shouldn’t wait another day for me to see their winery and agreed we’d all meet up the next morning to spend more time together and sample their wines. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited.
The next morning, I zigzagged my way up a few hundred meters to the Azienda Agricola Boccella winery, which was perched atop the highest hill in Castelfranci. Their breathtaking views and vines extend down the steep slope of a hillside that leads to the river that separates Castelfranci from Montemarano. The difference in elevation in their vines ranges nearly 100 meters from top to bottom, with olive trees, fruit trees and what Americans would consider to be a small organic farm on the property as well.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you this place was special, the vineyards are surrounded by forests where they can forage for wild asparagus, mushrooms, and truffles, which is why they have Billy, their trained truffle hunting puppy. In addition to their pigs, chickens, and rabbits, they also have geese that are let loose in the vineyards to clean the wild flowers and grasses from the roots of the vines.
Upon arrival, with one foot still in the car, true to form for Irpinia hospitality, they asked if I could stay for lunch. I was crushed to have to decline, especially with the incredible smells wafting from the kitchen. Heartbroken, I hadn’t yet learned that scheduling a 10:30am meeting meant you were likely also staying for lunch here in Irpinia, I promised to eat with them another day. A promise I’ve gladly kept many times since.
Angela is an absolutely astounding cook, and I’ve eaten more than a few incredible meals at their large kitchen table, which easily seats 14 people or more. We’ve tasted their insane older vintages of their wines, and the newest wines to be bottled, around this table. These meals are paired with incredible conversations led by Angela and Raffaele on the merits of hand pressing the grapes, or schooling me on the ideal time to prune the vines in the winter, or learning how to make the perfect maccaronara pasta.
And when you come visit, you’ll be warmly welcomed to join the family table as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
During my very first visit, I learned the winery’s first Taurasi was produced in 2005, and the first Campi Taurasinis and Casafette Fianos were released in 2007, all grown on land purchased by Raffaele’s father. The family had made their own wine for generations prior as well, and Raffaele continues to use the traditions that have been passed down in his family to naturally craft stunning wines that are some of my favorites in Irpinia. Their dedication to crafting quality wines from start to finish is unparalleled.
Their wines are incredibly drinkable, and are full of the signature tastes, body and structure of the Irpinia Aglianico and Fiano grapes they’re working with. Since our first meeting, I’ve spent days if not weeks with them, learning how they make wine without clarifying, filtering, or controlling temperature during the winemaking process, I’ve learned about the traditions of living in Irpinia, the importance of how you work in the vineyards, how to harvest olives among their nearly 700 trees scattered throughout their vineyards, and most importantly the meaning of good friends.
Think I’m exaggerating on that last point? Raffaele and Angela even took me with them to Matera when the town hosted an event there to promote Castelfranci. We spent two days together, and Angela and I even shared a hotel room and bed. So when I tell you we’ve become close, or when I tell you I take the time to get to know the winemakers I work with for the club, you can be sure it’s no lie.
But that’s just Irpinia. Raffaele and Angela, like many of the other winemakers of the region, embody everything I love most about this little hamlet in Southern Italy. It’s hard to put into words really, but it’s something you can feel the second you arrive in the area and are greeted with warm familial hugs, the moment you first let the wines touch your lips, and with the first bite of food you take. You know you’re in a magical place.