Picture Patrimonio, Corsica, back in 1920. On an island desolated and neglected by colonial French rule, with no tourism and no industry, locals had only the dream of leaving to keep them going. Their choice was subsistence living or emigration, so most chose to leave (my own family among them). A few brave—or perhaps crazy—families chose to stay. While others packed their bags, the Arenas continued to plant and tend vines for themselves and a minuscule local market. By the 1970s, when Antoine Arena was old enough to head for better shores himself, his family encouraged him to leave, since the outlook was unchanged. The measly two hectares of vines that had allowed the family to survive until then were not sufficient to provide any kind of future for Antoine. He reluctantly acquiesced and left the island for a new life, yet the memory of his family’s vines haunted him. Would his be the generation that let this history disappear forever from the island? Would that be his cross to bear and explain to his children?
Unwilling to assume that role, and inspired by an island-wide riacquistu, or “reappropriation,” of Corsican language and culture by his generation, he returned home against his parents’ wishes and decided—much like his ancestors had—to plant, develop, and expand, even if he had no market to sell his wine to. A sort of “If you build it, they will come” faith and determination. To make this happen, Antoine knew right where to start: the oldest parcel of vines in all of Patrimonio, planted by his grandfather in 1920, which had never seen a drop of chemicals or fertilizer, and provided a pure, direct connection with the Patrimonio of the past. From here, Antoine selected his cuttings and propagated his vines to the fourteen hectares they occupy today. He thus launched a revolution that would take the Paris wine scene by storm and eventually woo wine lovers the world over, bringing Corsica the fame it greatly deserved. It all began right here in the Arenas’ vineyard, this living connection with memories and struggles of the past.
Antoine has always vinified the fruit from these old vines separately, yielding just a few barrels of wine. More often than not, the treasure was kept and enjoyed only by family and visiting guests, too rare and intimate to release anywhere else. The 2013 is the last vintage Antoine made from these vines before handing off the vineyards to his son Antoine-Marie. As a sort of parting gesture, Antoine is allowing us, for the first and last time, to share this wine in a very limited fashion with you. Mémoria is a deeply personal wine, with notes of black fruit, tapenade, chimney embers, and smoked meat—the scents and savors of a shared family meal in the Arena home, past or present. Ti ringraziu, Antoine, for sharing your final Mémoria with us.
Antoine Arena, like most Corsicans of his generation, grew up in a family that earned a modest living working the land on an island largely unknown to the outside world. To survive there, Antoine knew he would need to show the world outside of Corsica what Patrimonio wine was capable of. And so his mission began to make the best his land could make and to spread the word. He started identifying the best parcels and vinifiying them separately, worked the vines organically and vinified without added sulfur. Antoine and his wife Marie worked tirelessly to put Patrimonio on the map, and with quite a success. They brought fame and respect to their appellation, recognized nearly unanimously as being the best there is on the island.
I first set foot on the island in 1980. I remember looking down from the airplane window seeing alpine forest and lakes and thinking, uh oh, I got on the wrong plane. Then suddenly I was looking down into the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean. Corsica is a small, impossibly tall island, the tail of the Alp chain rising out of the blue sea.—Kermit Lynch
Kermit’s first trip to the island proved fruitful, with his discovery of Clos Nicrosi’s Vermentino. More than thirty years later, the love affair with Corsica has only grown as we now import wines from ten domaines that cover the north, south, east, and west of what the French affectionately refer to as l’Île de Beauté.
Corsica is currently experiencing somewhat of a renaissance—interest has never been higher in the wines and much of this is due to growers focusing on indigenous and historical grapes found on the island. Niellucciu, Sciarcarellu, and Vermentinu are widely planted but it is now common to find bottlings of Biancu Gentile and Carcaghjolu Neru as well as blends with native varieties like Rossola Bianca, Minustellu, or Montaneccia.
As Kermit described above, Corsica has a strikingly mountainous landscape. The granite peaks top out above 9,000 feet. The terroir is predominantly granite with the exception of the Patrimonio appellation in the north, which has limestone, clay, and schist soils.The wines, much like their southern French counterparts make for great pairings with the local charcuterie, often made from Nustrale, the native wild boar, as well as Brocciu, the Corsican goats milk cheese that is best served within 48 hours of it being made.
Drinking distilled spirits, beer, coolers, wine and other alcoholic beverages may increase cancer risk, and, during pregnancy, can cause birth defects. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/alcohol
Many food and beverage cans have linings containing bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical known to cause harm to the female reproductive system. Jar lids and bottle caps may also contain BPA. You can be exposed to BPA when you consume foods or beverages packaged in these containers. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/bpa