It's been a few weeks since I got back from Italy and the most brilliant camp ever created — wine camp. Each time I talk about my visit to Ferrari winery in Trento, I find myself starting with the same story.
I don't start my story by describing the excellent Ferrari sparkling wines or the amazing walk across a wooden bridge over a moat to enter the castle or the sigh-invoking views of the vineyards framed by a mountainous backdrop.
I always start with the Ferrari family — except their name is not Ferrari, it's Lunelli, and it's not only the Lunellis who make up the Ferrari family; it's everyone who works for Ferrari. And for one week, it was also a group of wine professionals and journalists from all over the world who accepted an invitation to learn about sparkling wine done the Italian way.
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The story of how the Lunellis came to own a winery with the name Ferrari is everything you'd want from a story about an Italian winery. In 1902, Giulio Ferrari returned to Trento and realized that the conditions in the region were ideal for producing great sparkling wine. Obsessed with quality, he cultivated chardonnay vines and produced a world-class, 100-percent chardonnay sparkling wine that became respected internationally.
Ferrari had no heirs and after half a century making wine, he handpicked Bruno Lunelli to be his successor. He chose the local shop owner over those with more money because he wanted someone who he knew would continue his vision. So, in 1952, Lunelli took the reins of Ferrari. The winery is now run by Bruno Lunelli's grandchildren, who are exuberant about wine, sustainability and people. I love this story of two families that spans over 100 years and how they've pushed for sustainable viticulture in the Trentino region of northern Italy.
Ferrari's agricultural sustainability
I invariably end the story about the family with, "They are the real deal." That real deal refers to the hospitality, warmth and passion of Marcello, Matteo, Camilla and Allesandro Lunelli — the third generation carrying on Ferrari's vision — along with everyone I met who works for them. It also refers to the wine, and the essential element that will turn a great wine into an exemplary wine: sustainability.
Ferrari's vineyards are organic, but they go beyond that. The Lunellis are committed to biodiversity, and in 2015 they earned the Biodiversity Friend (BF) certification for all Ferarri-run vineyards. To earn this certification, a farm must meet specific standards in methods of parasite and weed control as well as methods of soil fertility reconstitution. In addition to those mandatory requirements, standards in areas of water, woods, air quality, renewable energy and other essentials of biodiversity must be met before certification is granted. The end goal of this certification is to do more than simply not harm the biodiversity of the land. The goal is to move "the farm towards a progressive increase of the biological diversity and an improvement of the quality of the products."
For wine, improving the quality of the product starts with the soil. Ferrari improves the soil that nurtures their vines by using ground cover to fertilize and manage pests instead of using chemicals. Alternate rows of green manure and legumes are planted in between the vines. The ground cover keeps out weeds, a more sustainable alternative to using herbicides. Eventually, the plants are plowed into the soil, becoming part of the nutrient-rich food the vines need to flourish and the perfect habitat for the oh-so-essential worm.
"In every village, there should be a monument to the worm," vineyard manager Paolo Fontana told us. "We cannot find another organism more important. Worms produce soil."
Marcello Lunelli, Ferrari's vice president and winemaker, joked with us: "Next time you drink a glass of Ferrari, think worm." And while there may have been a smile on his face when he said it, worms are serious business when it comes to healthy soil. Soil teeming with worms is an indication of healthy soil, and the vineyards we visited were filled with them.
Bees are also serious business when it comes to biodiversity, and Ferrari recognizes the peril bee populations face. Fontana keeps bees at the vineyard to help pollinate the diverse plants that grow in and around the vineyards. To eliminate unwanted pests, bats are also part of the management system.
As Ferrari plants new vineyards, climate change drives where those vineyards will go. Instead of changing farming methods to accommodate the climate that has warmed over the past 10 years, they're compensating for warming temps by creating vineyards at higher altitudes. The mountainous region is ideal for the chardonnay and pinot noir grapes needed for their sparkling wines, so the plan is to continue to go up into the mountains as long as the climate necessitates it.
Ferrari's social sustainability
As the largest seller of sparkling wine in Italy, Ferrari supplements the grapes from the vineyards with grapes grown by local farmers. The relationships they have with more than 500 farmers in the Trentino region contributes to the local economy.
Farmers who grow for Ferrari are guaranteed strong economic stability over the long term. When they choose to grow grapes for the winery and follow the sustainable standards, they're ensured a continued working relationship with Ferrari, even in the event of a poor harvest. The farmers aren't required to have BF certification, but they do need to farm organically. Ferrari provides education to help them continually increase their sustainable practices and follows them from winter to harvest to check for top quality.
When it comes harvest time, around 100 seasonal workers handpick the grapes in the vineyards. About 50 percent are Italian and non-Italian students, including 10 percent from Poland. Repeat workers who come from abroad are provided housing during the grape harvest. Ferrari also hires people the local government identifies as having special economic needs, particularly poor and vulnerable members of the community.
Ferrari's sparkling wine
On my trip, I had the opportunity to sample several Ferarri sparkling wines. I became familiar with four in particular:
- Ferrari Non-vintage Brut (SRP $25), made exclusively with chardonnay grapes from the region. For the price, this is an excellent sparkling wine that's buttery and creamy. I have never thought of sparkling wine as an everyday wine before, but this brut changed my mind. I will no longer be reserving sparkling wine to only celebrations and New Year's Eve because I've found one that's both affordable and every bit as good or better as other sparkling wines that cost twice the price.
- Ferrari Rose ($36), a non-vintage sparkling made from chardonnay and pinot noir grown in the region. This nose-tickling sparkler has the elegance of chardonnay and the structure of pinot noir. It smells of roses and berries and is food-friendly.
- Ferrari Perle ($38), a vintage sparkling wine made from chardonnay grapes from their estate-owned mountain vineyards. Aged for six years, this was my personal favorite of the Ferrari portfolio. It's a wine that tastes just as you'd expect it to, and its pear and apple flavors suggest to me it would be a complementary sparkling wine for the fall season — perhaps the right sparkling to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.
- Giulio Ferrari Riserva ($120), made from grapes grown at a single vineyard and aged for at least 10 years (SRP $120). I'll admit that I don't have a lot of experience with wines in this price range. This wine is aged for at least a decade and continues to improve with age. I enjoyed it, but without a history with high-end sparkling wines, I can only say I would never turn down the opportunity to drink this wine!
About a week after I returned from Italy, I met some of the Ferrari family in New York City for a dinner. That evening, Marcello Lunelli said that in Italy, it's often said that the first generation of a family starts a business, the second generation increases it, and the third generation closes the company. The Lunellis are certainly not following that pattern.
They now produce 4.5 million bottles of sparkling wine a year, and Ferrari is gaining recognition and respect quickly. In September, they won the title of "Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year" at The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2015, an international competition. From my experience in their vineyards and winery, I believe it's a well-deserved accolade.