Q&A: Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards

As much as I love all things Italy, especially with regards to food & drink, there’s also something abundantly Italian about supporting and utilizing local purveyors, regardless of nationality. The idea of shipping some delicacy halfway across the world, on the other hand, seems to go against the core principles of Italian food culture – local, fresh, seasonal.

This is the circuitous way of saying I support east coast wineries as much as possible, even if my vinous heart lies in Italy. Thankfully, there’s one Southeastern PA vintner – Anthony Vietri – who can offer the best of both worlds. Nestled in the heart of Kennett Square mushroom country (which produces the vast majority of US-grown fungi), Vietri’s Va La Vineyards grows mostly Italian varietals while carrying on the winemaking traditions of his family.

For a more detailed background on the winery, I highly suggest reading Jeff Alexanders wonderful piece, “Grapes and Ghosts of Chester County Wine Country,” which we published here at Undiscovered Italy last week. (Seriously, go. I’ll wait.)

As for now – we recently caught up with Vietri to ask him a little more about his Italian heritage, and how it influences his winemaking and beyond. His responses follow:

Where is your family from in Italy?
My maternal family is from Liguria & Piemonte (Giusvalla+ Malvicino). My paternal family is from Campania (Vietri sul Mare).

What are some of your favorite characteristics of each area?
The food is just wonderful. Wild mushrooms, truffles, chestnuts, and wild game in the north, and the fish, incredible fruits, vegetables, and crystal clear waters in Campania.

What are some of the traditions you still honor from this area and your family?
All of our cooking, although we lean toward the northern influences. Our farming is heavily focused on Piedmontese varieties, chestnuts, etc.

Describe an undiscovered Italian wine region you love.
I lived for a while in a village called Riomaggiore, in Liguria, before there was a road for cars, and I very much loved it there. At the time (1980s), it was still the 19th century. Folks hung from ropes to pick some of the grapes on the cliff terraces. Every morning women would scale the steep hillsides with baskets balanced on their heads, filled with fruit, wine, cheeses, and bread for the men tending to the vines on the terraces.

How about some undiscovered Italian foods ?
Strangely enough, my maternal family was big into Mate, because some of our folk had migrated to Argentina and brought this custom back with them. They foraged wild greens to make it. They also made a sheep cheese called formagiatto, which I remember hanging in a bag over the sink whenever I washed my hands. Also, as farmers, the family foraged a lot, and ate a lot of small wild birds on polenta. To this day, we love to pick a wild green in the spring called poke, which we serve scrambled into eggs or in omelets.

What’s a favorite food pairing with one of your wines?
I love to have La Prima Donna with wild local goose, and oyster mushrooms. Silk with prosciutto crudo, or fresh warm bread dipped in sauce cooking on the stove. Mahogany with lamb chops from Meadowset Farms in Landenberg, PA. Roasted rabbit, and chestnuts from our yard with Cedar. Sorry, I could go on all day…

You grow many Italian grapes (including some rare ones). Were you inspired to do this because of your heritage or because you felt they were best suited to this climate?
Both I suppose, but that is a very long story!

Which grape has surprised you most?
I love all of our babies, but to be honest I would have to say that out of all the varieties that we have grown, Nebbiolo is the one that truly haunts me.

Photos by Jeff Alexander