Tiny San Marino has big dreams for local wine

Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:02am EDT
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By Deepa Babington

SAN MARINO (Reuters Life!) - Tourists flock here for the postage stamps rather than the local reds and its only winery needs a makeover, but the tiny republic of San Marino is boldly pushing ahead to make a name for its wines.

Perched on a hill just a few miles from the turquoise waters of Italy's Adriatic coast, San Marino has cultivated grapevines on its slopes for nearly 2,000 years -- mostly in the shadow of more famous wines produced in nearby regions like Tuscany.

Sammarinese vintners are hoping to change that, setting their sights on higher exports and building a distinctive brand tied to San Marino's curious 1,700-year history of surviving medieval invasions and intrigue to remain independent today.

"Wine should become a symbol of San Marino," said Renzino Gobbi, director of the local consortium of winemakers, waving his arms across an expanse of dusty, green vineyards dotting the landscape of rolling hills. "We have such a long tradition and history of making wine here."

The earliest written records of viticulture in San Marino stem from the 13th century, but Gobbi says the remains of a press and other wine-making objects dating to the 1st century A.D. have also been found by archaeologists.

"Our dream, which is slowly coming to fruition, is to have our wines linked to the country's image and tourism, just like regions like Tuscany or Piemonte boast of their wines," he said.

About 85 percent of the intense, ruby red wines like Brugneto or crispy whites like Biancale produced here are sold within San Marino, but Gobbi says the aim is to bring that level down to 60 percent and boost exports to 40 percent.

Looking beyond the Italian market just outside its unmanned borders, San Marino winemakers -- who produce about 1 million bottles a year -- have begun selling wines in Germany, Japan, the United States, Switzerland and since last year, England.   Continued...

<p>Wine is displayed for sale at a shop in San Marino August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>