Late March I dragged Mio Marito (well, for those of you who know him dragged may be a bit of an exaggeration) to Vinitaly. Vinitaly is the world’s largest wine and spirits exhibition held annually in Verona Italy at the Veronafiere convention center. Italian producers from all twenty regions of Italia participate in the event to feature their wines to importers, wine professionals, restaurateurs, wine enthusiasts, and journalists. The different regions are showcased throughout the halls at Veronafiere; many elaborately designed to entice attendees while featuring the brand varietals. Along with the more renowned cellars, one is able to experience the many smaller family wineries often producing a limited quantity of high quality wines.
We were honored to be traveling with VIAS, a noted importer with a comprehensive portfolio of fine Italian wines. Our accommodations in the charming town of Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige meant that our mornings started quite early in preparation for the drive south to Verona where an intensive day of meetings, exhibits & tastings was in store. Evenings were a mix of dinners hosted by renowned producers, showcasing their wines paired with local seasonal dishes or sampling the typical dishes of Trento at some of the fine restaurants in town along with new friends.
I know what you are thinking – wow Paula, tasting wine all day and dining with wine professionals in the evening, tough work! Although the thought of chatting with charming Italians and sampling wines from morning till early evening may conjure up thoughts of La Dolce Vita, make no mistake – this is intense. If you are serious about wine and truly want to broaden your knowledge of varietals from producers you respect, this is serious business.
We met with wine makers spanning the peninsula from Piemonte, Veneto, Trentino, Abruzzo, and Calabria. Many of the family owned wineries are now being managed by the younger generation; often a savvy internationally orientated thirty-something descendant of the founder, with obvious pride in the legacy their ancestors have dedicated themselves to.
Knowledge of the wine business truly begins in the vineyards with hands on experience starting with the most menial of tasks. The owners’ understanding of the microclimates, soil, weather changes and how this affects the well-being of the crop and ultimately the wine is astonishing. As different regions have their own particular microclimate, vineyard practices reflect the accommodations necessary to nurture the vines. Our time with the family producers allowed us to form special relationships which we hope to flourish in the years to come.
Our whirlwind visit included a trip to the Instituto Agario di San Michele all’Adige, a winemaking and agricultural educational center in Alto’Adige. Set against the backdrop of the Dolomites, the Institute brings to mind a scene from The Sound of Music. Housed in a 12th century monastery, the Institute focuses on an integrated approach to winemaking. San Michele produces a number of fine wines from native varietals including Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Müller Thurgau, Riesling, Nosiola, Lagrein and Incrocio Manzo.
Our Giro di Vino culminated with a road trip back through the majestic Dolomites of Trentino, circling over to the gentle hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, Veneto and at last glorious Piemonte. Away from the congestion of Vinitaly, we were able to visit some of the owners we met, walk their land and sample the wines in the comfort of the family cellar. The commitment to what they have established through the generations, often working hand in hand with grandparents, parents, siblings and cousins is evident throughout.
Our foray to Vinitaly was dramatically different to our many stays in Italy, certainly not for the carefree traveler. The days are long, the pace rigorous and the transitioning between languages often exhausting. Despite all of this, it was a splendid adventure which deepened our knowledge of Italian wine and allowed us to forge wonderful new relationships. Alla prossima volta….