VISSO — Francesco Sbaffi was recouping after a long day during a busy wine harvest when a powerful earthquake struck this idyllic town in the Apennine Mountains 11 months ago.
The grape must was already fermenting in barrels at the Coppacchioli winery, where Sbaffi works as an oenologist, when the earthquake hit. As thousands of people in central Italy awoke to find their towns reduced to rubble, the Coppacchioli family found most of their winery destroyed. The wine cellar, however, was intact.
They could not bear to let a year's hard work go to waste. Every day after the earthquake, two Coppacchioli brothers made the journey from Visso to the small hamlet of Cupi, perched above a plateau where the family has lived for generations, to continue working.
The vineyard needs to suffer to produce a great wine.
Sometimes an aftershock would shake the building, forcing them to seek shelter before resuming work. Despite the obstacles, the 2016 vintage is set to become a symbolic one for a winery that was founded only four years ago. "The vineyard needs to suffer to produce a great wine," says Maria Coppacchioli, who runs the family business.
The vineyard, two hectares at a height of about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) in one of the few mountainous areas of Italy that produces wine, is just meters from the quake's epicenter. But the Coppacchioli winery is the only producer to have put the disaster behind it so quickly.
Visso is still struggling to rebuild. Schools have finally reopened, but the temporary homes promised by the central government have yet to arrive. Tourists are nowhere to be seen but the town's artisans and workers have not abandoned it, not least the Coppacchioli family. Visso has been ravaged by drought, earthquakes, heavy snowfall and ice over the last year, but the winery has continued to operate throughout.
"This is a miracle vineyard, it always manages to surprise us," says Maria as she samples the must of the 2017 vintage. The first surprise came four years ago, when the oenologist Sbaffi decided to help the family put the vineyard back in production.
He climbed up onto the rugged terrain behind the town's small cemetery to retrieve a small grapevine, a variety that had not been cultivated in almost a century. Many were skeptical, but Sbaffi pressed on and replanted the vine on the family's land. Four years later, he has been more than vindicated.
"We're still here, committed to go on. In the spring we'll be opening a new winery in Cupi, and we have many ideas to develop with other producers in the area," says Ginevra Coppacchioli, 21, the titular owner of the vineyard. "Only by working together can we overcome this difficult moment."