Discover Joy Kull's story of La Villana 🐏

Written by Michelle Negron on

La Villana is the story of a city girl who made her dream come true. Joy Kull farms native grapes on the volcanic soils of Gradoli on the hills above Lago di Bolsena, a crater lake north of Rome. Her fresh, crunchy wines are an expression of not just her terroir, but of her person and her life. We are so excited to be able to bring you her latest vintage which is truly stunning!

The fairy-tale story of how La Villana came to be

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View of Lago di Bolsena from Montefiascone during my visit in July 2019

Wine was always a part of Joy's family life. Her father was in the cigar business in the 80’s and 90’s, so fine wines were frequently brought home from client events to share at the dinner table. In the early 2000’s, Joy’s father opened a wine shop, and she worked there during the summer of her first year of hotel school. She fell in love with wine and switched majors to Beverage Management at her university.

Joy has always found wine deeply fascinating. Her first venture into wine was conventional: she got her WSET certifications up to almost her Diploma, worked in catering in L.A., then moved back to Connecticut to run her father’s wine store. That is when she began to discover more artisanal wines, and her curiosity was piqued. She had had a stint in every single part of the wine business except in winemaking. So, in 2013, she packed her bags and decided to embark on a journey to Italy and learn how to make wine!

natural wine italy

The beautiful town of Gradoli on the hills by Lago di Bolsena

Joy thought she would stay in Italy for a while and then head back to the U.S., but after only a week, she was certain there was no going back. Gian also felt her intense conviction, wanted to support her and the idea for Vinatur! was born. Joy found a job working as a stagiaire with a producer in Gradoli, in the Lazio region of Central Italy, about 100 km north west of Rome.

Gradoli is a town in the province of Viterbo and is about 35km from the capital of the same name. It lies nestled on the north-western tuff hills of Lago di Bolsena, in the Monti Volsini area. Volcanic tuff is a type of rock that is made up of volcanic ash that was ejected during an eruption. Joy explained that the lake is not one huge crater as many believe, but lots of different craters.

I was there last July and have often dreamt of going back. It is a truly wondrous place: stunning views of the lake, gorgeous hills, unique, delightful wines, and delicious food. You can rent a boat to cruise on the lake, visit Joy’s vineyards, or enjoy lovely meals by the lake.  

natural wine la villana

Everything is done by hand: Joy sorting grapes during harvest
Photo: Sheyla Castellanos

A scene from “A Walk in the Clouds”

Things got off to a great start for Joy. She was working each day from 7am until 10pm, learning every single aspect of the farming and winemaking processes. By the winter of 2014, Joy decided it was time to write a new chapter in her winemaking story. Joy rented a vineyard while she set up her own company and made her first vintage in used resin tanks in a garage-like cellar in the village. She had no electricity. Everything had to be done by hand. She bottled around 3000 bottles of the 2015 vintage, many of them Magnums she would later drink at her wedding...

The wedding

In 2014 Joy met Simone, a shepherd who took his sheep to graze in the vineyards where she was working. Simone would sing while working in his farm while Joy pruned in the vineyards below. “He’s singing for you” the other workers would tell her, “he’s trying to impress you”. Turns out Simone is an exceptionally good singer, as well as a wonderful person!

natural wine joy kull

Joy, Simone and Theo

Joy admits that without his help, she would not have gotten far in Gradoli. He was a huge support, knew what lands and vineyards were available and helped her start much quicker than she would’ve otherwise. They moved in together to a tiny apartment until they eventually found the breath-taking property where they live and farm now. The first Magnums were popped on July 9th, 2016 at their wedding and Theo was born in May 2018. Joy also had the help of her angel investor and friend, Karen Slovin, a farmer in New York who also runs a non-profit organization that teaches inner city kids how to farm and stay out of trouble.

natural wine la villana


Now you know why her labels all have beautiful sheep! They were drawn by her friend and illustrator Jamison Odone
Photo: Chambers Street Wines

"I make saline, very linear wines. My Rosso, which is 100% Sangiovese, is quite different to a Chianti, for instance.”

Joy's first vineyards were a little under 1 HA, between 700 and 1000 meters ASL. She was desperately looking for more vineyards and a cellar to vinify. She finally came across a tiny cellar in the town that she still uses and finished renovations a week before she began harvesting the Aleatico, the first variety she picks.

Joy is currently on her fifth vintage if we count the 2015 which was “garage-y” and “unofficial”. She now farms around 3HA of old vineyards, 1 ½ Ha that started producing last year and another 1 ½ Ha that will start producing next year. These parcels are behind the house and are called Anfiteatro and Vigna Lunga, and Il Poggio.

They also have 8 HA of olive groves, pasture, and forest. La Villana Extra Virgin Olive Oil is absolutely delicious!

Vinatur Natural Wines presents: Harvesting La Villana Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The soils in her parcels are volcanic, black, mineral, and drain very well. Roots must dig deep in order to survive. The cool Tramontana wind from the North, the south eastern Scirocco wind from the South that brings desert sand with it and the sea wind from the Mediterranean create a special microclimate by the lake. Grapes are not extremely ripe and the result, Joy says, are “saline, very linear wines.

“My Rosso, which is 100% Sangiovese, is quite different to a Chianti, for instance.”

natural wine la villana

The family property with stunning views of Lago di Bolsena

Farming - A constant evolution

Farming, Joy said, is a constant evolution of attempting to find what is best for her precious few vines. She does not come from generations of winemakers, so every year is a new adventure. She uses no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers except composted sheep manure. She does use some biodynamic preparations and is currently looking into Effective Microorganisms (EM), mixed cultures of beneficial naturally occurring organisms that can be applied as inoculants to increase the microbial diversity of soil ecosystem. Her goal is to learn how to properly cultivate her soils to create a habitat where the vines are in balance with nature.

natural wine la villana

Procanico grapes from Gradoli

A few words about the latest vintage from Joy

2019 was a great year. The growing season started out slow due to cold weather in the early spring, but it quickly caught up in late May and off we went trying to keep up! Luckily, disease pressure was low throughout the season, with little rain and humidity, and by mid-July we stopped spraying the vines. The crop was abundant, allowing us to make all of our red and whites with 100% grapes from Gradoli. We even have more Rosato this year (finally!) made from 100% Aleatico; 80% from Gradoli and 20% from a few towns over. We had a fun harvest with incredible help from dear Canadian friends, my sister, and our local team.

The Poggio that was planted in March of 2019 with the American rootstock will be grafted with Ciliegiolo and Sangiovese this August 2020. Like the Anfiteatro and Vigna Lunga behind the house, we have to wait a year to graft to allow the rootstocks to grow a bit more. The Anfiteatro and Vigna Lunga vineyards are doing well – we even harvested a couple of hundred kilos – a nice surprise from these 1-year-old vines! This spring I will release the Rosso, Bianco and Rosato. The Bianco Uovo and (all new!) Rosso Uovo will be released this winter, after spending a year in the cement eggs. We are also holding back the MO and MIX wines to allow them to finish fermenting.

Rosso 2019

100% Sangiovese (“Greghetto”), destemmed by hand. Maceration on the skins for about 10 days, with gentle pump-overs, in resin tanks. A jammy nose and a clean, linear finish that is so definitive of Gradoli’s Greghetto. 11.5% abv.

Bianco 2019

100% Procanico. 70% crushed by foot and pressed directly. 30% macerated on the skins for a week. Resin tanks. This year we added a bit of macerated Procanico to balance out the typical laser-like acidity. It is still fresh, bright and ready-to-drink but also a bit more elegant. 11% abv.

Rosato 2019

100% Aleatico, crushed by foot and pressed directly. Resin tanks. Beautifully aromatic nose, distinctly Aleatico, with a bright acidity in the mouth. A personal favorite! 13% abv.


Michelle Negron Brought to you by Michelle, our Head of Gastro Sales and resident Spanish wine geek / IG:  @michinegron


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