by Chris Santini
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.
$56.00 per bottle $604.80 per case