Italian wine - a family affair
In Italy, the family remains a central pillar of society. Small, independent family-owned businesses continue to prosper, and nowhere is this more so than in the wine sector.
Although the Italian wine and the Scotch whisky industry are of comparable value (approx €5 billion and £6 billion respectively), the patterns of ownership couldn't be more different. Despite what the marketing men may tell you, few Scotch whisky distilleries can claim anything remotely close to family ownership. In fact, only a quarter of Scotch whisky production is owned by Scottish companies and approximately 55% of all whiskies sold worldwide are produced by just two companies, Diageo and Chivas Brothers.
In Italy, even production giants like Veneto-based Zonin, which produces 40 million bottles a year, and the Santa Margherita wine group, the producer behind the Pinto Grigio phenomenon, are family-owned, passing from one generation to the next. In fact, the Italian wine industry, as I discovered time and time again at #vinitaly2019, is still very much a family affair.
Here are some notes on just a few of the family-owned wine producers I met this year.
The Vinum, Il Rosso (bio), Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, D.O.C
The Vinum is a family-owned and run winery that pairs high quality production values with respect for the environment. Using sustainable farming techniques and the latest winemaking technology, the company has vineyards in three of Italy's most renowned wine-making regions - Tuscany, Abruzzo and Piemonte. The organic "Il Rosso" comes from the Nocciano vineyards in the province of Pescara in the region of Abruzzo. Harvested by hand at the end of the September, the best grapes are selected and fermented for 10-15 days before ageing for 6 months in stainless steel tanks, then spend a further 3 months in the bottle.
An intense and lively ruby red, with hints of cherry, cinnamon, liquorice and raspberry, Il Rosso is well-balanced with soft tannins typical of the denomination. Perfect with an Easter Sunday rack of lamb.
Cantina Dolcevera di Marco Benedetti di Villa (VR), Amarone della Valpolicella 2015
Closer to home for this Amarone, the work of exciting young wine producer Marco Benedetti. His vineyards, which he took over at the age of just 25, are located in the town of Villa di Negrar, not far from Verona, in the heart of the famous Valpolicella region. Wine production is in Marco's DNA, and he inherited his passion for wine-making from his father.
The Amarone DolceVera 2015 is made from 50% Corvina, 25% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella grape and 10% from other grape varieties. All of them are native vines cultivated in the town of Villa di Negrar, at an altitude between 260 and 280 metres. The best grapes are harvested in late September and early October. They are then dried on straw mats for about 3 months, during which they lose about 40% of their weight. The grapes are then crushed and de-stemmed, the fermentation takes place in steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 24°C and the maceration on the skins lasts approximately 30 days. The Amarone is then refined in barrels of 7,5 ht and then transferred into larger barrels of French and Slavonian oak for a period of 36 months in a small cellar built near the main vineyard at Villa di Negrar.
The wine is an intense ruby red with glints of violet. Complex and varied on the nose, with hints of cherry, spices, vanilla, coffee and pepper in the palate. A refreshing minty finish, warm, intense and persistent. At 16%, this is a velvety smooth, full-bodied classy Amarone.
Cantina Chiara Condello di Predappio (FC) Romagna Sangiovese Predappio Riserva - Le Lucciole
Chiara Condello is another exciting young wine-producer who inherited her family's passion for wine-making (her father, Francesco Condello, owns the Condè winery). Chiara, graduated in Economics from the Luigi Bocconi University in Milan before completing a Masters in International Management. She began working at Condé in the summer of 2012 where she was involved in every aspect of the family business.
Chiara's own vineyard is located in the heart of the Predappio hills, the notorious birthplace of Benito Mussolini, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Her vineyard embraces organic principles of viticulture and favours traditional hands-on production techniques.
Le Lucciole, which means The Fireflies, is produced using 100% Sangiovese grapes which are harvested by hand and then aged in Slavonian oak. A dark almost impenetrable red, on the nose, Le Lucciole is rich, intense and earthy, with notes of ripe fruit. An explosion of rich fruit in the mouth,, well-bodied and strong. Perfect to wash down a classic steak dinner.
As these three wines demonstrate, wine production in Italy is still very much a family affair.
As vineyards pass from one generation to the next, each reinvigorates the industry with fresh ideas, energy and passion, creating a sector that is vibrant and innovative, but profoundly respectful of the traditions and practices of the past.
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.