Nino Pieropan fondly remembered in son Andrea’s Masterclass
In the 1960s, Soave wine came from the Classico region. But the economic boom of the 70s, saw Soave (like Chianti) expand beyond the original area. And it proved a disaster.
During Tuesday’s Liberty Wines organised online masterclass, Andrea Pieropan explained: “The DO expanded into the flat area where the yields were higher, the season shorter and there was less personality in the wines.” He explained that no area in Italy has such a difference between the classico and the surrounds.
So, quantity reined. Soave was everywhere, being sold abroad (primarily in North America) in 2-litre bottles. Soave became something of a dirty word. Many avoided the wine but, according to Vino Italiano, that meant “missing out on the elegant floral whites of Leonildo Pieropan whose Soaves show off the plump mouth-filling character of ripe Garganega.” “..taste Pieropan’s single-vineyard wines (..Calvarino … and La Rocca) and suddenly Soave is no longer a dirty word”.
|Grown on dark volcanic soil|
Such was the impact of Leonildo (popularly known as Nino) who took over from his father in 1970 and was the first producer to make a single-vineyard Soave, 'Calvarino', in 1971. This vineyard, owned by the Pieropan family since 1901, is on the classic volcanic basalt of Soave Classico. The other single vineyard 'La Rocca' was released for the first time in 1978, this vineyard is situated on the castle (“Rocca” in Italian) of Soave, on the only limestone outcrop in the zone.
|Garganega (2019 vintage)|
“My father was thinking single vineyard when no one else was,” said Andrea. And he was up against popular opinion as many thought you had to use the international grapes (Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc) to make a top class white. Liberty MD David Gleave confirmed that Nino had great courage and foresight in doing so and admires “the bravery of doing something like that in the 1970s, he trusted his own powers of deduction. He was a modest man but when you visit (as I have many times), you know you’re in a great vineyard.”
“He did not care about trendy,” said Andrea. ‘We have to show what we have and what we have you cannot find in many wines. We have a test: put bottle on table, bottle finished, good sign!”
|April bud - Covid19 notwithstanding|
“Urged by the great Luigi Veronelli to take the high road of quality, Nino started to prove, with that wine, that the best wines of Soave could age beautifully and could, in the right hands, be considered among Italy’s finest white wines,’ said Gleave.
The Pieropan family has been producing wines in Soave since the 1890s. Indeed, they were the first producer to bottle a wine with the name Soave on the label in the early 1930s. Calvarino (little calvary) has been owned by the Pieropan family since 1901, is on the classic volcanic basalt of Soave Classico. The other single vineyard 'La Rocca' was released for the first time in 1978, this vineyard is situated on the castle (“Rocca” in Italian) of Soave, on the only limestone outcrop in the zone.
Andrea recalled his father saying that Calvarino was the greatest expression of what Soave should be and important too is the use of cement tanks for aging. “The wine does much better in concrete… we use it always for Calvarino, even in the new winery.”
|La Rocca, grown on limestone|
They started with cement also at La Rocca but here the soil is “completely different” and they switched to large barrels/tonneau and the wine spends 12 months on oak before bottling and blending. Also, it is not released for another 12 months. All in all, it shows that Garganega “could make a great white wine to compare with International whites wines.”
In the interesting Q&A at the end, Andrea was asked about the use of amphorae. He acknowledged that amphorae were “beautifully shaped and trendy” but didn’t see “much difference”. “You can have cement in same shape. In terms of material, I don’t see a big difference, both are inert.”
Attention to detail, year after year, seems to be a family trait. The Modern History of Italian Wine lists Nino as one of the most important winemakers of the 70s. “With him, viticulture and the Soave grape changed their look. He was the first to adopt green pruning methods… the first to plant espaliered vineyards (1969)…. and, subsequently, to reduce the buds from 50 to 10 in the pergolas of Garganega. .. the first to use the horizontal Vaslin press..the first to restore the value of Recioto as a wine.. In 1970, with the blind tastings, his wines came to be considered extraordinary.” And the decade just got better with Calvarino and La Rocca
|Brothers in wine: Dario (left) and Andrea|
When Nino died two years ago, Andrea and brother Dario stepped up to the plate. Each is a winemaker. At present, Andrea oversees the vineyard while Dario takes care of the vivification.
The two sons could have rested on the their father’s laurels for decades. But, like Nino, neither is for standing still and there’s a string of projects on the go, a new one involving Valpolicella, and they recently completed a wonderful winery (underground in a mountain) in Soave itself; organic now, they are becoming more environmentally friendly; they are planting a vineyard on the winery roof to investigate the effects of copper and sulphur in the soil; and, for another label, have planted a vineyard at 500 metres. “We continue in the same line as father,” Andrea said. I reckon Nino would have been quietly pleased!
|The new winery during construction|
Previous masterclasses in this current series:
The Day The Vines Died in Alto Piemonte with Luca de Marchi
Matt Thompson's Blank Canvas in Marlborough
Matt Thompson's Blank Canvas in Marlborough