Wine Tour at Villa Novare
Monday, June 21
[Update, September 2013] Although the account you are about to read here describes Villa Novare as we toured it in 2010, you should know that as of 2013, the estate has been bought entirely by Gaetano Bertani, and is now a separate concern from Bertani Wines. It is now called the Villa Mosconi Bertani. If you are interested in wine tastings and/or touring the villa from this point on, please go to the Villa Mosconi Bertani (english version) website.
The next two days promised to be quite jammed with activities. With Graham and Alanna's limited time, it seemed best to pack three of their desired activities -- wine tasting, ferrata climbing, and a stay in a mountain rifugio -- into two days. So, we did just that, starting with the wine tour.
I had spent time looking for a winery that had a combination of familiarity (i.e. a wine that we recognized and knew), was historic in some way, was not far from our home base of Riva del Garda, and that had beautiful and picturesque grounds -- and which could accommodate our little five-person group on a wine tour. I decided to focus on the Valpolicella area, well-known abroad and which offers a series of wines that we often enjoy back in Canada. Valpolicella (possibly derived from the term 'valley of the cellars') is a broad valley just north of Verona; a hilly agricultural area that has a mild to cool continental climate.
Entrance to Villa Novare
After some searching, I settled on Bertani wineries at a place called Villa Novare. Villa Novare is a 17th-century Baroque villa on the eastern flanks of the Valpolicella. The place is rich in history not only because of its architecture; it also was involved in the invention of the upscale and much-valued Amarone della Valpolicella wine, and was one of the earliest wineries (if not the first) to produce it. It looked like a perfect place to immerse ourselves in Italian wine history.
I managed to call and book us into a wine tour and tasting for early Monday morning of June 21. 8:30 am, to be precise. It may seem like a strange time for a wine tasting and tour, but as mentioned earlier, we had packaging and time constraints. The cost for our roughly two hour wine tour was a very reasonable 21 euro per person, and that included a wine tasting session that included the more expensive Amarone wine and a selection of light food.
Approaching the Villa
After leaving the apartment at a bright and early 7:00am, we drove for about one hour and twenty minutes over to the valley of Valpolicella, and eventually turned up the very discreet gravel laneway to the villa, marked by an old and small blue sign for Villa Novare. We drove up the long narrow gravel-way, lined on either side with rows and rows of young grapes on the vine.
Presently we came to the villa - beautifully landscaped and dominated by a weathered but noble grand old villa. Contructed by architect Adriano Cristofoli, an exponent of seventeenth century veronese architecture, the villa is adorned with pinnacles and statues. It looked every bit as beautiful and impressive as the small promo shots I saw of it on the web. It also seemed very quiet; there was literally no one about, and I wondered at that. Was this place not that popular for some reason that I did not know about?
After waiting and wondering for a bit, a lady emerged from the front door of the villa and approached the wrought-iron gates of the inner courtyard. She introduced herself as Michela Bonomi - the hospitality directory at the Bertani winery and the person with whom I'd interacted with via e-mail. She let us in and we started on our tour. And still, there was no one else about - it looked like we'd have the whole place to ourselves!
We were led through a covered archway into a side courtyard, and from there into the upper floor -- the attic, in effect -- of an old building. The entire space on this upper floor was open: a long, low L-shaped room with an open raftered ceiling that contained hundreds of flat, wooden open shelves. This was one of the drying rooms, where grapes are placed after harvest. She explained that the humidity of the room was carefully controlled to ensure proper development of the grapes.
After getting a tour of these rooms, Michela led us back and down into the next lower floor of the building, where imposing-looking rows of concrete bunker-like tanks were located. These were glass-lined holding tanks used in the fermentation of wines.
Michela explains classifications
At the top of a wide set of stairs leading down into the cellar, Michela explained some of the details of the different types of wines produced in the Valpolicella area, including Valpolicella Classico, Superiore, Ripasso, and Amarone. It was interesting to hear her describe the origins of the process that produces Amarone, which apparently was discovered by Bertani in this very winery in the 1950s. A little bit of searching on the internet gives more details (from www.winereader.com
The first dry Amarone, according to writer Cesare Marchi, was the result of a fortunate accident. In the early 1950s, Adelino Lucchese, Bertani's cellarmaster, discovered a barrel of wine in the cellar that had been overlooked and neglected for some time. Certain that it had spoiled he was about to discard its contents, when curiosity prompted him to take a taste just to see what had happened. He was astonished to discover that the forgotten wine had a velvety texture and a penetrating perfume, a slightly bitter taste, but not at all unpleasant.
After that interesting tidbit, Michela led us down wide and shallow stairs into the cellar (apparently to allow the huge aging barrels to be rolled up and down from the cellar). We were first shown a room containing all sorts of interesting but now outdated wine-making equipment, and then we were led into the dimly-lit vaulted-ceilinged cellar itself, where long rows of Oak barrels stretched into the distance.
Old wine-making equipment
Old wine-making equipment
As we walked along, we could see many different vintages and types of wines being aged, including quite a lot of Amarone. There was a lot of wine down here - most of the barrels we were walking past each contained ten to twenty thousand litres of wine!
After the tour of the impressive cellar, we were led back upstairs and out into the main courtyard, where Michela then led us into the main foyer of the villa.
The foyer is decorated with wonderful 17th-century frescoes, including an impressive 3-D trompe l'oeil ceiling. Simply wonderful. We were then led into the 'backyard' of the estate, where a pleasant open space, a small constructed lake, and a english-style cottage decorate the scene. And more vineyards stretching away into the distance, of course...
We then returned to the villa, where Michela directed us into a distinguished-looking three-hundred year old room that had a long table with five place-settings, one for each of us. At the head of the table was arranged a line of wines, and in the middle of the table were platters of fresh bread, cheeses, prosciutto, and some dessert cookies. Our wine tasting was about to begin!