Portraits of Bardolino
The depth of a wine region inevitably hangs on its people. Traveling, then, I am listening as much to those we meet as I am tasting the wine.
While his grapes were sold for a few years to a local cooperative, Gianni was never satisfied with the wine they produced.
Additionally, cooperatives tended to push for the planting of international grape types. Until the end of the 1970s, vintners were legally forbidden from growing and selling Italian varieties. The push for international grape types was seen as a necessary economic strategy by the government.
Gianni was determined to retain the already established indigenous varieties. So, to keep his vines from disappearing into a morass of uninteresting wine, he began making wine himself in 1980.
Following is part of the story he shared with us on our visit. It has been translated from the Italian.
Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni
Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni, March 2015
We are in the Southern most portion of the Bardolino DOC. It is less rocky. We have moranic soils.
The [white wine] Custova is a blend. It can have Trebbiano, Garganega, Tocai, Cortese, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling. I was on the wine counsel. Trebbiano is not a very interesting grape, so I worked to reduce the portion. Now it can have more of the others.
Then, I found Tocai [Friulano] in the vineyard. It was in the garden. I had a discussion with a professor of the Wine Institute, and they said it is not Tocai. They have not found the DNA yet. We do not know what it is. It still grows in the garden.
I was the first one to do the sustainable system of farming in this region. It is almost organic. It is almost organic because we tend to do everything organic, but just in extreme cases, if it is needed, we might use low impact non-organic methods.
My wines have a tendency to improve with age. The minerality of all these wines is due to the moranic soils, and specifically in this location, and possibly also the methods of vinification.
The wines are all consistently around 12% alcohol. We work very hard for that.
With Bardolino, people talk about only up to 5 years of aging. That is because people used to focus too much on quantity and not on quality.
Gianni and Mattia Piccoli, Corte Gardoni, March 2015
Mattia, Gianni’s son, begins to add to the story.
My father started the winery in the 1980s, and he thought if he did not have a Cabernet, Merlot blend he would not survive. It was impossible.
My father started with 3000 bottles [of the Cabernet, Merlot blend], and now we produce 3000 bottles. Just like that – even. [He moves his hand in a flat motion through the air, then holds up 1 finger.] Just 1 hectare. The rest is local wines.
We grow 25 hectares total. 200,000 bottles.
Gianni returns to telling us his story.
My parents and grandparents, my ancestors, were here and for them the fruit was the most important, not the wine. It went to the cooperative. I started the winery. The first year was 1980.
They had potatoes, corn for the livestock, and some vines. Even 50 years ago, it was like this. Sometimes they would have to postpone harvest of the grapes because they had to take in the corn for the livestock.
Many years ago, another winery, asked me if they could sell some of my Chiaretto. Their winery was well-known. I was not well-known. They did not have any rosé. So, I made it, and they sold it as theirs, but I also sold it as mine.
A famous enologist came and tasted my Chiaretto, and he said, I think there is a flaw in this Chiaretto but I cannot tell you what it is.
So, I brought him to the other winery. They were embarrassed because they knew it was the same. I said, I think this man would like to taste your Chiaretto.
The enologist, he tasted it, and he said, ah! this is a good Chiaretto! but it was the same.
I did not tell him.
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