Carlo Paoloni

The Green Amphora Manifesto

12
Feb

The Tombolini “100 years” amphora project

The amphora-shaped bottle represents the identity of the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi appellation since almost 70 years. But it is also an image of unique power, deeply rooted in what Carl Jung would call our collective unconscious: the amphora is the first wine vessel in history.

In Georgia and Armenia, the most ancient wine regions of the world, evidence of viticulture dates back to almost 8.000 years ago. According to Hugh Johnson, one of the most respected scholars on the subject, the Georgian terracotta amphoras (kvevri) date back to 5.000 b.C. and are proof of systematic winemaking taking place already in that era in the region.

The first examples of glass-made objects date back to 1.500 b.C, when extremely fragile glass vessels were buried in Pharaohs tombs as funereal decoration and regarded as particularly precious – second only to gold and silver.


On the left : a Georgian kvevri; on the right a modern concrete egg

In the 1st century b.C, in Tyre and Sidon a glass-maker had the brilliant idea of using a a blowpipe, introduce the end into a crucible, take a certain amount of molten glass and then blow inside the tube itself; the glass bubble that was formed this way marked the birth of "blown glass".

With the birth and spreading of this technique, glass became the material of choice to preserve beverages, but those vessels were still too fragile. It’s only in the XVII century, with the birth of lead glass in England and crystal glass in Bohemia, that the modern bottle becomes the perfect solution to preserve and transport wine.

What was the colour of the first wine bottles? Since wine started being preserved and sold in glass bottles, their colour has always been green, in an array of shades and tones.

At the beginning, this was due to a technical glitch in the production process. Impurities in the blown glass, in particular iron, were causing the glass to turn green.

Subsequently, the green colour became a deliberate choice: some colours, chiefly the darker ones, protect wine better from light. Marketing research demonstrated that green is a particularly attractive colour for the consumer and immediately linked to tradition. The green colour remains extremely in focus today: green it’s the colour to choose to save our planet. And it is extremely important for us – green, verde in Italian, is where the name of Verdicchio comes from.

Over the years and in different wine regions, the producers customized their bottle shapes. France sets the standard, with the Burgundy and Bordeaux bottles. Germany followed with the Alsatian “flute”, a shape explicitly designed to achieve the best efficiency in transporting the bottles on long barges navigating the river Rhine (bottles lying down horizontally).

The Italian contribution comes much later. It’s the Tuscan fiasco, a flask made in blown glass and wrapped in straw, a solution which allowed the bottle to stand vertically and protected it from the bumpy Italian countryside roads.

In Piedmont, in 1973, the wine producers create a consortium to re-vitalize the Albeisa bottle (from Alba, the capital of the Langhe) and since then used for Barolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. This marked the rebirth of a bottle shape dating back to 1700 and the unique association of wineries from the Langhe with this unique packaging.

Twenty years earlier, in 1953, the green amphora designed by the architect Antonio Maiocchi was born between Milan, Rome and Cupramontana - possibly one of the first “design” bottle in history. The same celebrated Italian design which was creating the Vespa and the Fiat 500, applied to the first global champion of Italian white wine: the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. Today, the Verdicchio amphora shaped bottle is listed as one of the few original bottle shapes in the world.

But we were not the first to use an amphora shaped bottle. The first amphora-shaped bottle dates back to 1930, when in Provence René Ott designed the bottle called “Domaine Ott”, an icon of that historical winery and of world famous Provence rose’ wines still today.

 

The Domaine Ott bottle of René Ott

 

Sante Tombolini purchased our first vineyards in San Paolo di Jesi in 1944, amongst the first to understand the potential of Verdicchio as the Marche main autochthonous grape variety. He passed on to us evidences that a more “baroque” amphora-shaped bottle (not a “design” one) was already in use before 1953 in Italy – there are examples in liqueurs and also wine, including Verdicchio, pictures are easy to find on the internet still today. In 1954 Giovanni Tombolini chooses the amphora for its Verdicchio, as the other most important wineries of the Marche of those years - the amphora becomes a globally recognized symbol of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi much before the appellation/ DOC was born (1968).

 


The evolution of the Tombolini’s amphoras since 1954

 

In 1972 Giovanni Tombolini engages an illustrious Milanese designer, architect Luigi Massoni – known for his collaborations with historical Italian design brands such as Alessi, Boffi, Poltrona Frau – to develop a custom amphora-shaped bottle for the first Verdicchio of his new winery in Staffolo: the Castelfiora amphora. After a two-years long study with architect Simonetta Doni from Florence, and 100 years from the first venture of Sante Tombolini - our new Tombolini 100 anni amphora was born. In 2021 we rank as one of the very few wineries in Le Marche to have two trademarked amphora-shaped bottles designed by renown architects

 

The two wines marking the new direction of Tombolini: Doroverde and Castelfiora, both in the 100 years amphora

 

Why we bet on the amphora? The new amphora is our way to celebrate our family tradition, hitting the 100 years mark in 2021. But first and foremost it’s our effort to immediately identify the peculiar features and value of the Italian autochthonous grape variety Verdicchio and that of the Castelli di Jesi terroir. True, over time and in some markets the amphora-shaped bottle, this beautiful shape so rich in history and meanings, has been exploited to cover poor winemaking and commercial practices.

So, we decided to re-invent it. Inspired by our “modernist” Castelfiora from 1972 but designed to be completely different from any other amphora seen before: tall as an Alsatian flute, slender - not curvy. Elegant geometries and labels which communicate history and territory. Ease of serving, thanks to the straight lines of the foot allowing for an easy grip and pouring. Perfect closure, to let the wine pour impeccably. Green, because it’s at the same time the colour which named Verdicchio, the colour of the tradition and, at the same time, the colour of our future.

Our green amphora is not born out of nostalgy. It’s our “Back to the Future”. It’s a weapon in the Italian wine arsenal, which should be sharpened again. Yes, because Verdicchio, other than being autochthonous from le Marche – we are not the only ones saying it – it is one of the best white grape variety in the world (see Wine Enthusiast Top 100 2021). Why shall we not use the best dress for this extraordinary wine? Why shall we skip the opportunity to show our identity? But, there is a but. This amphora MUST only be used for the best Verdicchios – starting from the Classico Superiore (soon DOCG) and above,  as a symbol identifying the highest quality, the best terroir, the most strict farming and winemaking practices, and sold at prices which must be consistent with the cost of being owners and farmers of our estates, and work with the highest standards in the cellar.

P.S.: Some misinformed are often confusing the ugliest bottle in history - the fish shaped bottle - with the Verdicchio amphora. This must stop. It is true that some big name from le Marche used that bottle at some point, however - they were in excellent company in doing so – if the Soave 1977 of the first Italian private winery, a brand that is a cult for wine lovers around the world, was also using it (Antinori). We shall be proud to be from le Marche and of our centuries old winemaking history, with nothing to envy from other Italian top wine regions.

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