He knows his vineyards like the back of his hand, he speaks fluent English and produces two wines that rank among the best expressions of the Marche regional white wines. Here's Leopardo Felici, best winemaker of the year.

Andrea Felici had no doubts: before fueling his son Leopardo‘s love for the Apiro countryside and for Verdicchio he sent him around the world to make him understand what it meant to work, what sacrifice was, for a different look at life and the way of dealing with it. So Leo – as everyone calls him – went to London to work as a sommelier before ending up at the Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence. In 2007 he returned home to take care of the family business (Azienda Agricola Andrea Felici) in person.

Today he knows his vineyards like the back of his hand, he speaks fluent English and produces two wines that rank among the best expressions of the Marche regional white wines: Verdicchio dei Castelli of Jesi Classico Superiore Andrea Felici, and his Riserva Vigna Il Cantico della Figura. His strength is knowing how to dress both work clothes and the elegant double-breasted suits he wears when traveling around the world to promote his creations.

Leo, introduce your winery, your wines, the territory where you work to those who don’t know you

Love and infinite attention to detail: these are the characteristics that have always distinguished me. I was born in the land of Verdicchio, between Matelica and Jesi, in a small town of just 2,000 inhabitants called Apiro. This is where generations of us take care of our vineyards, with all the love in the world. My goal is to make real wines, that is capable of expressing the full potential of our wonderful land.

What does it mean for you to be a winemaker nowadays?

I am convinced that today’s winemaker must not only limit himself to managing the vineyard and making wine, but must also be able to travel, speak to make his territory known, especially if his wines come from a little-known area. We must be ambassadors of our land, as well as of course our wine.

Yours is a complicated job caught between an increasingly capricious nature and rather pressing bureaucracy. How do you see the future of this profession? Will it still be this attractive for the newer generations?

Faced with a rather obvious climate change and a suffocating bureaucracy to say the least, I certainly can’t say that it will be an easy job. However, I am a firm supporter of young people who approach their profession with passion and enthusiasm. Certainly their “smart” way of seeing things will help them understand how important it is to delegate all the bureaucracy part in order to concentrate all their attention and energy to the vineyard.

Dealing with climate change by undertaking an increasingly sustainable type of agriculture will be a key aspect to success.

Few people know that your farming approach is organic, and that you are certified. Show us the positive and negative aspects of this choice.

The choice to undertake organic farming was dictated by a personal challenge: carrying out an agriculture in compliance with nature’s balance. The decision to not certify it on the bottle stems from the need to avoid that equivalence, which is not always so true, is as that the wine “is good because it’s organic.”

One of the positive aspects of working in compliance with natural balances, is knowing you’re not contributing to environmental pollution. The only negative aspect remains the bureaucratic burden.

You received your first Tre Bicchieri with Vini d’Italia 2013 for Cantico della Figura Ris. 2009 and turned it into an overwhelming success in a short time. What are the strategies to remain a point of reference for the name of the Castelli di Jesi?

If someone in 2012 had told me that in such a short time I would have reached these important goals, I would have certainly said it was impossible. Today, looking back, I understand how crucial it is to never take anything for granted and never think of having made it, otherwise there will never be room for improvement. Therefore, beyond the prestigious acknowledgments I received, I can still say that I don’t feel at all a point of reference for the denomination, on the contrary: I think I still have much to learn and to perfect myself. So give me more time to study an optimal strategy.

Markets: Italy or abroad?

Abroad, hands down! Although undoubtedly Italy remains a showcase for the world.

You were the first to bottle a Verdicchio Riserva with a screw cap. Are you still convinced that it’s the best solution?

Since the beginning of my experience I have promised myself to always strive to continuously improve and bring value to my territory through wine. A first big question I asked myself was choosing between a cork stopper and a screw cap. Unfortunately, the quality of cork is no longer what it once was, leading to organoleptic alterations that modify the original aspects of the wine. Hence the choice to adopt the screw cap, a suitable closure to guarantee and protect the quality of the wines and therefore to protect the hard work done in the vineyard. Ultimately I still consider myself a firm supporter of this solution.

Winemaker of the year according to Vini d’Italia 2020. Lend advice to those who will follow.

In the world of wine we must always remember that you never stop learning, so the first advice I can give to my successors is to always keep a margin of doubt in everything you think you know best, because actually say you don’t know anything yet. Furthermore, from my life and professional experience, I realised how crucial it is to surround yourself with people who can fully embrace the project you have in mind. On your own you are just a drop in the middle of an ocean. Finally, I am convinced that in this work the main ingredients are and will always be humility, passion and a healthy dose of ambition.

Az. Agr. Andrea Felici – Apiro (MC) – Contrada S. Isidoro 28 – -0733 611431 – www.andreafelici.it/

by Pierpaolo Rastelli