- Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
Carlo Venturini and his wife Alessandra Zantedeschi both come from winegrowing families and struck out on their own to buy property in 1995. It was named Monte Dall’Ora after the hill on which it sits, in Castelrotto in the southeastern part of the Valpolicella Classico zone, not far from Verona or the Adige River that flows down from the mountains just to the north. What they found on the curvy, steep hill of Monte Dall’Ora were abandoned 500-year-old terraces, barely supported by long-neglected, crumbling stone walls, where grape vines and other crops once grew, by then overrun by wild growth and forest. They set out to rebuild these walls, restore the terraces and to plant vines, while leaving much of the natural growth intact. They chose the traditional mix of Valpolicella varieties—Corvina, Corvinone, Oseleta, Molinara, Rondinella, Dindarella, but no Cabernet or Merlot or other permitted international varieties—and planted them in the old-fashioned pergola veronese formation. Annual production is around 3000 cases.
Today, those vines are 20-25 years old and thriving on these crumbly limestone-rich clay soils over limestone mother rock about a meter below the surface. From the very beginning, Alessandra and Carlo farmed organically and eventually biodynamically, striving to engender the richest possible microbiotic life in the soils as well as a robust natural habitat, full of wild plants and flowers and herbs and trees and creatures. They refer to the woods in and around their vineyard as the “the lungs of Monte Dall’Ora”. Their imperative is to express this terroir as purely as possibly through their wines. Their youngest, freshest wine Saseti, as well as the longer-aged Saustò and the Amarone, come from the 5 or so home hectares; these vines are also the source of all cuttings for new plantings. The two “cru” or single-vineyard wines, Camporenzo and San Giorgio Alto, are younger plantations; each is a mix of local varieties, planted on limestone and farmed biodynamically, trained in guyot rather than in pergola.
The microclimate of Valpolicella is unique. Cold mountain air from Trentino-Alto Adige clashes with the warm air off of Lake Garda just to the east. The resulting temperate climate allows olive, cherry and citrus trees to thrive side by side, an unusual combination this far north and inland in Italy. The main weather issue caused by the competing natural forces is hail. There is also high humidity, so Monte Dall’Ora’s choice to work organically and biodynamically is quite rare in this productive farming zone. Up on their warm, sunny, southeast-exposed hill, they defy what is typical, so complete is their commitment to all things pure and local. As Alessandra put it, their choice is less a political one than a “trust in tradition”. Wild native plants grow in and around their vines, and ten-year-old bee hives thrive in the midst of the vines as well.
Pergola training tends to be looked askance at in the modern viticultural world, but Carlo and Alessandra find numerous advantages to this method. Vines produce more and less concentrated bunches, but less fruit per hectare, given the wide spacing between vines, compared to vines trained in guyot. Desides appealing to the Monte Dall’Ora preference for traditional methods, pergola is quite practical: the grapes are shielded from hail and hot sun; the roots can go deeper in these sandy soils with the greater room between vines; greater air circulation promotes healthy fruit; hand harvest and strict selection are much easier, as is general observation of the bunches throughout the season.
The Monte Dall’Ora cellar is carved out of the soft calcareous rock below the house just above the vineyard. Their work is light-handed, just as it is in the vineyard. Fruit is carefully harvested into small bins by hand; it is destemmed and sorted berry by berry on a table at the winery. The grapes are gently pressed with no addition of sulfur. Fermentations are strictly spontaneous--Carlo and Alessandra believe firmly that natural yeasts magnify the natural character of the soils—in steel tank for the various Valpolicellas and in open wood vat for the Amarone and Recioto. The Monte Dall’Ora vineyard fermentations are broken up into 20-25 separate lots, so that every parcel can be followed. Most of these lots are blended into the early-drinking, tank-aged Saseti; a small selection of the very best lots become Saustò, which is macerated longer, sometimes made as a ripasso, and aged in wood. Camporenzo and San Giorgio Alto are vinified and aged separately but similarly, spending time in botti of various sizes. The Monte Dall’Ora approach is a reductive one with little racking and little to no sulfur employed; the wines are bottled unfiltered.
Amarone is clearly a primary interest of Valpolicella winemakers and drinkers: notably, the appellation allows a full 50% of a winery’s fruit to go into Amarone, but Carlo and Alessandra use at most 15-20% of theirs. Those bunches are harvested early in order to maintain acidity and over a period of several weeks to gather the very finest fruit. The bunches dry in single layers in small, open, wooden crates in an airy granary next to the house for around 3 months. The dried grapes are pressed and the juice fermented with ambient yeasts in open wooden vats, taking up to about 40 days to get to full dryness. Aging lasts around 3 years in used barrels before bottling and aging several years before release (e.g. the 2010 was released in 2017).
While Amarone fans in general expect and desire wines that are rich, full-bodied, unctuous and even sweet, Monte Dall’Ora’s is a more savory, structured and subtle version. Indeed, that is the hallmark of all of their wines, which are not styled to meet market expectations of “typical” Valpolicellas (though they certainly qualify for and bear the DOC/DOCG classifications on the labels). Every choice made in the vineyard and the cellar emphasizes quality over quantity. The restraint at every step is reflected in the complex minerality and acidity accompanying the beautiful fruit character of the wines. This highly individual, natural and ultimately traditional path chosen by Alessandra and Carlo is not common in the world of Valpolicella and Amarone, and neither are their alluring results.