The region is blessed with Alps extending beyond the northern borders of Italy and sheltering the region from the rains, edged by the alluvial debris of River Po, the limestone matrix of basalt peaks and chalky blue waters of Adige River at the base of jagged dolomite peaks in the Northern Verona. The region is also influenced by cool and moderating weather between Lake Garda in the West and Adriatic Sea to the Southeast. All these factors make the region of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia ideal for the viticulture related activities. It was this region that I was fortunate to visit and get a feel of the real Italian ‘wine culture’ and the passion, creativity and pride behind the regional produce. It was a heavenly experience that went beyond the feel of just technical experience of Italian wine production.
The Visit started with introduction to the Italy’s wine regions and wine tastings at the Vinitaly, an Italian wine treasure in my opinion. What followed thereafter was just a dream-walk through a series of wineries which had personalized touches, passionately cultivated dream of wine making embedded with traditional yet creative procedures.
Sartori di Verona
This was the first in the list of my visits. It was founded by the entrepreneurial spirit of grandfather Pietro in 1898, when he bought his first vineyard in Negrar. After a walk through the vineyards and the cellars with Daniele Cristanelli, the Export Manager it was time to taste their wide range of stunning Rosso, Bianco and the Spumante.
The Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC is a beautiful combination of the trio of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara indigenous grape varieties. One distinctly felt the sour cherry flavour of Corvina with delicate aromas of plum and rich ripe berries on the palate. It is slightly tannic with good amount of acidity and alcohol, lighter structure, harmonious easy to drink wine.
The winemaker chooses to leave the fully ripened berries on the vine to be picked towards the end of harvest. The grapes are then spread out on mats, or strung up from the ceiling. Drying the grapes in this fashion forces them to shrivel, leaving concentrated sugars and flavours in them. Finally, when the grapes are crushed and fermented, the resulting wine is opulent and full-bodied Amarone della Valpolicella DOC.
Cooling influences that come from altitude, exposing the vineyards in the foothills to a large diurnal temperature range and featuring volcanic soils, are well-suited to white varieties like Garganega, Trebbiano and Oseleta. The Soave DOC ‘Still Wine’ appeared to be bright and lemon-yellow with fresh aromas of apple, pear, almond and herbaceous, crisp and refreshing on the palate and rich in minerality. Recioto di Soave DOC is a sweet straw white wine made from dried Garganega grown in the Soave. Rich in texture with candied lemon and honey flavour.
The next in line was a winery in the Breganze DOC appellation, close to Asiago in the North-Centre of Veneto. Breganze is of volcanic origin, with basalt and calcareous and alluvial deposits left by the glaciers, rich in minerals, favourable climate, warm but ventilated summers and humid winters.
The owner of the winery, Andrea Mazzucato explained ‘why’ the name. “You can blame me or compliment me for my wines”, he adds, “I am solely responsible for my wines”. I was excited to taste his wines and visit the vineyards.
Amongst all the white varieties - chardonnay, pinot bianco and pinot grigio, Andrea likes to cultivate Vespaiola more, as this grape narrates a story of this territory. The first written notes date back to 1754. Purely native of Breganze doc, it is a pretty rustic vine. He makes Vespaiola wine with the best of these bunches and then produces Torcolato, a sweet dessert wine with the rest. The bunches undergo Appasimento after harvest.
The Vespaiola grape is best suited to sweet wine production. Resulting into naturally intense acidity, dry wine style, light bodied and aromatically subdued wine. However, when used to make sweet dried-grape wines like Torcolato, Vespaiola, can produce sweetly spiced, honeysuckle scented and nectarine wines, with an ideal sugar and acid balance. The Breganze terroir is varied. Many red berry varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Marzemino, Syrah and Merlot are also found here.
The next stop was Val d’Oca and Astoria wineries close to the Venice Lagoon between the hills of Treviso, the plain of River Piave and Adriatic coast. It is typical to produce the famous Prosecco exclusively from Glera grapes and also a few other varieties like Merlot, Carmenere, Verduzzo, Refosco, Verdiso and Marzemino.
It was established on 14th April 1952. Located at the base of the Veneto’s Pre-Alps, in the delightful hilly region between Asolo and Conegliano, it was started by a handful of vine growers who had a strong belief in the benefits of cooperative as a solution to face the economic difficulties of the time.
Today there are 602 grape growers with almost 959 hectares of vineyards, predominantly growing Glera on moraine and argillaceous soils. This winery is recognised as one of the leading companies in the Valdobbiadene area, tracing the lines of the development of prosecco production from a local wine to an international best seller.
Today it is recognized as one of the oldest companies growing, processing and bottling Prosecco. It is on a Landscape of colours and scents, embroidered by vineyards, rich in woods and rugged slopes, historic towns and picturesque villages, a place where over the centuries vines have taken on a central role in the material and productive culture. It’s the Land of Prosecco. While tasting the Prosecco facing the vineyards, Mr Aldo Franchi - the procurator of the winery - took us into the past explaining the historic foundation of the winery, its success story till date as an international brand on co-operation basis.
Astoria’s Prosecco has peculiarity of fruity aromas and freshness. It is easy to drink wine. These conditioning aspects are assured by the environment and viticulture practices fundamentally, I believe. Mr Giorgio the wine producer himself and Paolo Favero the export manager clearly mentioned the fact that the clayey or marly soil with Mediterranean influence ensures a good acidic heritage essential for the freshness and aromatic characteristics of the Prosecco. Before the harvest, the medium-high temperatures and drier climate bring the bunch to complete ripening. Ideally that is the right time for them to harvest while the grapes are a perfect balance of its components. We were served with Astoria’s fine Prosecco wines with the local Italian cuisine, a perfect food and wine combination made for each other.
I Feudi di Romans
Entering into the Friuli- Venezia- Giulia, we visited ‘I Feudi di Romans’ winery. Here, Enzo Lorenzon, along with his sons Davide and Nicola, successfully manages about 90 hA of vineyards with tenacity and passion, the land his father Severino bought in the ’50s. Together they grow best grapes, supported by the River Isonzo, and by the flora found on its banks, an ideal habitat to thrive in.
"I Feudi di Romans" is the top label of the Lorenzon Winery, born in the early ‘90s from the desire to captivate and conquer the lovers of the Friulian wine tradition. The Winery, located in the Friuli Isonzo DOC, produces prestigious wines, as advantaged by the Mediterranean micro-climate. Nicola revealed the facts about the variety selection.
Since last 40 years they have been carefully selecting the clones that best suit the territory. These are Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Striana, Verduzzo, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. The Friulano was much lively and fruit driven with citrus and almond flavours, rich in minerality, crisp acidity and balance of alcohol. Ribolla Gialla had firm acidity, peach, citrus and apple notes, floral aromatic profile and was very smooth on palate. Malvasia Bianca goes in for dry, sweet, sparkling and speciality wines. The minerality is its main character in terms of palate.
It was indeed a great experience to meet Roberto and Ilaria Felluga. In 1967, Marco Felluga (father of Roberto) purchased Russiz Superiore one of the finest estates of Collio hills. Collio region is the first DOC of Friuli Venezia Giulia, covering the Marly hills of Gorizia. In the middle of the vineyards a coral reef was discovered, with plenty of fossils. These minerals give their character to the wines.
Roberto introduced many innovations to a classic style of wine making such as choosing elegance and minerality, balanced structure with longevity. He loves to play with the three historic varieties of local grapes Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Bianco with partial and well-balanced oak-ageing. With a long term vision to make world’s finest white wines, Ilaria - daughter of Roberto and the rising star of Russiz Superiore, is sharpening her knowledge of oenology by pursing higher studies from Udine University.
The personality of Italian wines is shaped by its indigenous grape varieties; undoubtedly the soil lends the wines their structure, freshness and salinity. The micro-climate of the vineyard contributes to its identity. But the Italian wine culture fosters highest degree of its nobility. Also, the passionate people with a long term vision characterize pride in their regions focusing creative mindsets to produce world class top-selling wines.
A memorable visit that lingered on my mind, long after it was over.
Mumbai-based Sheetal Kadam is a graduate in Agriculture with an MBA in International Business.She is also a Certified Level 3 in WSET and a Certified Cultore by Alfiere Italico- Wine, a certified wine course designed and organised internationally by Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IICCI) outiside Italy, in Mumbai . She has worked with Indian wine producers in marketing in Pune for a year. She was part of the delegation organised by IICCI as a member of Italics Wine Club- Mumbai Chapter.