There's a tale to be told behind many of our wines.
This collection of growers' stories shows what comes out of love and devotion, good fortune, tenacity and ingenuity , and sometimes how it is not just what you know but who you know that counts!
The Coffele family of Soave
A story of enduring love and passion for the land
The Coffeles, together with their neighbours the Pieropans, are producers of top-quality Soave Classico. The family live within the ramparts of the 16th-century walled town of Soave itself but their uninterrupted stretch of 25ha of vineyards are situated on prime hilly slopes outside the town at Castelcerino di Soave. Today the company is run by son Alberto, who looks after the vines and the winemaking and his sister Chiara, in charge of after sales and marketing. They run the estate with passion and zeal, something they have clearly inherited from their parents, Giovanna and Giuseppe ('Beppino') whose love and devotion to each other is still clearly palpable.
The home of Giovanni and Giuseppe (Beppino) Coffele with son Alberto and daughter Chiara & their magnificent centennial wisteria!
Alberto, who describes himself as a 'modern traditionalist' is a great believer in biodiversity and after 20 years hard work converting the whole vineyard to organic cultivation, was the first within the Soave DOC to achieve organic status with the 2014 vintage. Chiara is as passionate as her brother in bringing the family's wines to the attention of wine lovers and she spends much of her time 'following their bottles around the world' talking about them and telling people about where they have come from.
Chiara is also a fabulous and inventive cook and she shared some sushi-style recipes to go with their Soave with us a couple of years ago, which you can find in our archives.
Along with the Pieropans, the Coffeles' wines stand head and shoulders above the sea of indifferent Soaves out there. The secret is undoubtedly the superbly located vines and the diligence that goes into caring for them, but if it wasn't for the love and devotion of Giovanna and Beppino, this family property may well have never come into being.
Beppino Coffele and Giovanna Visco were both teachers, Giovanna a primary school teacher and Beppino a professor of classics and Italian literature and later headmaster of the local high school. They met and fell in love and when they married, Giovanna brought a dowry of 25 hectares of vines in Castelcerino. The Viscos had been well known for producing wine from the best vineyards since the 19th century, but the vineyards were no longer in a good state and the crumbling 16th-century cellars and palazzo within the town walls had lain dormant for 30-odd years.
Together their love for wine and for the land led Giovanna and Beppino to split their time between teaching, raising a family and regaining control of the family vineyard plots. Eventually in 1971 they made the decision to retire from their jobs to establish Azienda Coffele and dedicate themselves to wine. Beppino initially had no formal training in oenology but sought out experts for help and advice and brought his own unique perspective to his winemaking. It has been the work of a lifetime involving enormous effort and financial sacrifice to get to where they are today.
If you are ever in Soave, do call in and visit the Coffele tasting room housed in the chapel of the Visco-Coffele Palace not far from Soave's famous castle. A warm welcome and chilled glass is assured.
Read more about the Coffeles in Travels in Wine
A Wine Society favourite brought to us through friendship, history and sheer good fortune!
Native to the Abruzzo region on Italy's Adriatic coast the montepulciano grape makes easy-drinking great-value wines, much of it in the hands of the co-operatives that are still common in this part of Italy. But getting your hands on wines that go that bit further in terms of quality can be challenging, so when Sebastian Payne MW heard that the grapes from one of Italy's legendary winemakers, the late Edoardo Valentini were finding their way to the Roxan Co-operative, he was immediately interested.
Rocco Pasetti of Contesa previously consulted for the local Roxan Co-op and was instrumental in securing the best grapes for our Society's Montepulciano
At this time Rocco Pasetti whose wines we now buy from his own venture, Contesa, was a consultant winemaker for the Roxan Co-op. Rocco, proved a wonderful ally in ensuring Valentini's grapes were vinified separately from the masses and allowing us first dibs when it came to putting together a Wine Society blend for our members. Valentini was notoriously eccentric and perfectionist retaining only small amounts of his grapes for bottling under his own label. His son is apparently equally perfectionist, now not making any reds at all, believing that global warming has meant they no longer reach the correct level of phenolic ripeness. Such high standards are great news for us and the team at the Co-op are overjoyed to see that the fruit of such good-quality grapes are not blended away to nothing in a big commercial brew.
If you are interested in reading more about Rocco Pasetti and the story of his family's wine business and the reclusive genius, Edoardo Valentini, there's more on this in a previous edition of Travels in Wine
A property whose story isn't just entwined with that of Chianti but is at its genesis
This famous Tuscan estate with its imposing castle (open to visitors and well worth the trip) has been the ancestral seat of the Ricasoli family since 1141. The current Barone Francesco Ricasoli has done wonders to restore his property's wines since taking back control in 1993 after a spell under outside management.
The estate has one of the best sites in the whole of Chianti Classico with vineyards all south facing looking towards Siena. The castle was strategically placed almost mid-way between Florence and Siena with the side facing Siena constructed of red stone mirroring the buildings there and the north side facing Florence made of 'green stone' (limestone), in homage to the architectural style of that city on whose side the Ricasolis fought for generations.
It seems that the castle has always been caught in between these two warring rival cities, but the 'Iron Baron' Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) is credited with bringing about peace and unifying Italy, going on to become prime minister of Italy not once, but twice! He is also recognised as having come up with the original formula for Chianti wine (Chianti Classico as we now call it) in 1872.
Castello di Brolio – the birthplace of modern Chianti
There's a museum within the castle set up to display his many accomplishments. He was a real polymath – an artist, philanthropist, scientist and politician. He took an interest in the education of the children on the estate; he studied soils, collected shells and carried out early research into phylloxera, the vine louse which devastated European vineyards in the nineteenth century. But it was his studies of grape varieties and experimentation in wine which led to the first written formula for Chianti as we know it today and it was he who identified the importance of the sangiovese grape in the blend.
Although the 'formula' as such, has been modified over the years, sangiovese is still recognised as the most important variety in the mix and today must make up at least 70% of the blend (80% for DOCG wines). The rest is made up of either native canaiolo or colorino, or non-native cabernet sauvignon or merlot. White grapes, which were included in the original formula (their acidity helps to fix the colour of the wine, among other things), can no longer form a part.
Francesco Ricasoli (the 32nd baron) has been engaged in a massive replanting project. Using modern techniques, help from the university of Florence and also with the knowledge passed down over generations, he has set about replanting the vineyards, matching terroir to variety and identifying the best clones of sangiovese, matching vines with the best root-stock and increasing the vine density.
If you'd like to learn more about Chianti Classico, expert and master of wine Nick Belfrage wrote an excellent article – Clarifying Chianti – for us.
Conquering Calabria and Campania
The importance of people in the know and local knowledge
Buyer Sebastian Payne MW said that Calabria and Campania were the two regions of Italy it took longest to crack:
'Campania was awash with second-rate or overpriced wineries and the La Guardiense people were a godsend. The key to Calabria was native Calabrian, Domenico Sette, who works for Vinexus and found them for us. It really is a place where you need a local guide.'
The La Guardiense Co-op (Janare) is made up of more than 1,000 members farming over 1,500 hectares. A lot of what is produced is sold as bulk wine but their top wines sold and bottled under the co-op's Janare label and are its greatest achievement. The focus here is on native grape varieties ideally suited to the region's volcanic soils, such as falanghina (in fact, the co-op cultivates the vast majority of the world's falanghina vines), fiano, greco and aglianico. Since building up a relationship with the team at this forward-looking innovative co-op we have gone on to source our Society's Falanghina from them and we are proud that they set aside their best vats for us to make our selection from.
The La Guardiense Co-op (Janare) is made up of more than 1,000 members farming over 1,500 hectares.
On Calabria, further south, Sebastian told me: 'We were impressed by Santa Venere samples, and even more impressed by Giuseppe Scala when Tim Sykes and I first visited in Autumn 2016.
His father had been managing director of a co-op for 30 years, but it went bust. Giuseppe studied to be a solicitor in Bologna and married a Bologna girl (they have three young children). He decided to return to Calabria and buy back vineyards from his family. In 2016 he had 20 hectares of certified organic vines and another 80 hectares of virgin hill land overlooking the sea, which he was beginning to re-plant. It is an idyllic spot and you can see why he wanted to return and build up the winery. They propagate their own vines and rootstock, using local varieties, (gaglioppo, greco bianco, nerello cappuccio, guardavalle, marsigliana nero) and the land is filled with butterflies and wildlife and the local vegetables and fish are great. Santa Venere, incidentally, is the name of the river which runs down the hill through the estate and Vescovado is the place where his mother still lives.'
Overlooking the vineyards at Santa Venere, Calabria
Read more about the allure of Southern Italy here
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