Sunday, April 29, 2012

Catine Ferrari's Matteo Lunelli: a young lion continues a fabled family legacy-Part One of Two

Cantine Ferrari’s Matteo Lunelli: a young lion continues a fabled family legacy-Part One

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

VERONA, ITALY—Matteo Bruno Lunelli’s enthusiasm is uncontainable. He has recently been named Chairman of Cantine Ferrari, one of the most storied names in Italian sparkling wine. In his upper floor, temporary private office and tasting room in the Ferrari Pavilion in the massive Veronafiere convention complex at Vinitaly 2012, he shared his vision for the company, while also sharing tastes of his superior Trentodoc Metodo Classico Wines in celebration of the 110th anniversary of the Winery while presiding over a special luncheon of specialties prepared by their Michelin-starred chef, Alfio Ghezzi of Locanda Margon.

Prior to the luncheon, Matteo Lunelli made a major address to the media at the OperaWine news conference, a gathering of Italy’s top 100 winemakers held in conjunction with Wine Spectator Magazine. OperaWine was the premiere event of  Vinitaly,  the world’s largest gathering of wine producers, distributors and industry professionals with its more than 4,000 exhibitors and 150,000 participants from 94 countries. In his statements at OperaWine and during this personal luncheon and interview at his pavilion, Lunelli showed that he is fully aware of his newly gained stature at the helm of one of the most revered names among European sparkling wines. 

The words Champagne and Italian and not words that you would normally associate. In fact, by law, it is not possible, but that is precisely where the roots of Ferrari sparkling wines are germinated. At the dawn of the last century, it was Giulio Ferrari’s vision to create an Italian wine that could compete with the best French Champagne.

“He went to France, to the famous School of Viticulture in Montpellier to learn how to make Champagne,” Lunelli tells the story, while an assistant pours 2001 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore , Trentino, Italy ($100).
“In 1902, there were only 400 bottles produced after he smuggled  Chardonnay grapes back to his native Trentino.”

Ferrari’s sparkling wines gained a small, but loyal following. It was in 1952, that the destiny of Ferrari changed when he sold the winery to Bruno Lunelli, who owned the most famous bar in the city of Trentino. “ He and my great grandfather were great friends. Giulio Ferrari continued to work at the winery until his death and in the present day, his sons Gino, Franco and Mauro continued to work at the winery.”

Matteo is the third generation of the Lunelli family to run the winery. With his appointment as Chairman at 38 years of age, this marks the affirmation of  the winery’s continued primacy in the industry.

Many years ago, a wine critic described Ferrari spumante as the “Rolls Royce of Italian sparkling wines. “  Crafted only from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that are grown on restricted soils, the wines are “champagne” in all but its name and place of origin.

“This comes from the founder, Giulio Ferrari, who started a small production with an obsession for quality,” Matteo explained. “In that day, he was a pioneer. Nowadays, everyone speaks about quality of wine, but Giulio Ferrari did it in 1942. In fact, he started at the beginning of the 20th century, when wine was sold as bulk wine. Then, it was considered more of a food than a pleasure.

“Giulio Ferrari was a pioneer in many ways. For example, he was the first one to bring Chardonnay to Italy.  There was no Chardonnay at that time in Italy, and he was the first one to bring it to Trentino.

“ He also had a strong knowledge of viticulture. He maintained a vineyard just for nursing vines. There’s a nice anecdote about the fact that Giulio Ferrari sold some Cabernet Sauvignon vines to the founder of Marchesi Antinori to use for their Tignanello (2008 Antinori Tignanello-$79.99).

“So, at the heart of our company is a culture for the quality of our products. We control the production of our wine from the soil to the table. We don’t buy our wine grapes from just anyone. We cultivate our grapes at our own estate and when we do buy grapes, we buy them from providers that we know and whom we constantly monitor.”

Lunelli maintains that because of this link to the small growers in the region, “there’s a strong bond between Ferarri and  the people of Trentino.”

Ferrari remains, essentially, a family operation. With the baton of chairmanship officially passed from patriarch Gino Lunelli, to his nephew Matteo, a legacy continues. Cousins Marcello, the oenologist, is head of production and vice-chairman. Camilla Lunelli is in charge of communications and external relations, while Alesandro heads the technical area and planning and has become a member of the board of directors of Ferrari and of the other companies in the group. While Gruppo Lunelli has been opened to external contributions at the highest level, the company maintains the features of a family-run firm, with regard to ownership and governance.

The stories of Ferrari sparkling wines and the Ferrari and Lunelli family legacies are only the beginning. There is a vision for the future that is evident in the dazzling array of Ferrari wines, both sparkling and still, that were unveiled in a private media tasting at the Ferrari Pavilion within the Trentino Hall at Vinitaly 2012.  More in Part Two.

1. Ferrari Chairman Matteo Bruno Lunelli
2. Ferrari sparkling wines
3. Chef Alfio Ghezzi
4. His cuisine
5. Chairman Lunelli shares a toast with Dwight The Wine Doctor

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Vinitaly 2012 and OperaWine: where Italian Icons converge

Photo gallery
-Dwight The Wine Doctor with the Frescobaldi Dynasty; Lamberto, Tiziana and President Leonardo
-a delightful reunion with wine photojournalist and worldwide wine consultant Anna Pakula of Chicago and the world
-with Francesco Zonin, Executive Vice President Casa Vinicola Zonin
-A frieze of one of the Kings of Verona buried beneath the Pallazo
-with Marco Caprai, President of Arnaldo-Caprai Viticoltore in Montefalco
-Piaza Erbe at dawn
-Pio Boffa, President of Pio Cesare wines with his nephew, the next generation
-Dwight The Wine Doctor with Jalopo Bondi Santi, and panel members Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor Wine Spectator and Matteo Lunelli, Executive Board Member Altagamma
-Verona at dawn
-with Cristina Mariani-May, Co-CEO Banfi
-Veronafiere CEO Giovanni Mantovani holds court with VIP guests on the steps of the Pallazo della Ragione in central Verona
-Dwight The Wine Doctor with Santo Versace, Chariman of Altagamma Foundation

Vinitaly and OperaWine, where Italian Icons meet

By Dwight Casimere

Verona at dawn photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

VERONA, ITALY---Walking thru the cobblestoned streets of the walled city of ancient Verona at dawn, one can feel the presence of the Kings, Queens and Popes who are buried beneath its stately monuments. It was in such an historic setting, the Pallazo della Ragione, in the city’s central square, Plaza Erbe, in the shadow of a statue of the great author, Dante, that a first-ever event was held, OperaWine.

The new premiere event of Vinitaly 2012, OperaWine was the presentation of Italy’s finest wines poured by more than 100 of its Great Producers, as selected in cooperation the world's preeminent wine publication, Wine Spectator magazine. Frescobaldi, Antinori, Gaja, Pio Cesare, Sassicaia are legendary among Italian wines and their owners and winemakers were all there to personally pour their wines.

Dwight The Wine Doctor was privileged to participate as one of the OperaWine Guides, along with fellow wine blogger and charismatic Sommelier Charlie Arturaola and first Master of Wine in Asia and celebrated wine journalist and TV personality Debra Meiburg. We learned first hand the iconic winemaker’s great insights and shared in their expertise while conducting interviews with the aid of our video camera teams. Live feed updates were carried on Twitter and interview segments will be webcast on the Vinitaly and OperaWine websites at and

As the winery owners, winemakers, and their VIP guests walked up the Red Carpet along the marble stairway leading to the upper galleries of the Palazzo, the star-studded evening took on the air of Oscar Night. In a sense, this was its equivalent with its collection of Italy’s Best Performers on wine’s world stage.

Among the first winemakers I encountered was a familiar face from my first experience at Vinitaly four years ago, Lamberto Frescobaldi, Vice President of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi. For Lamberto, OperaWine was a family affair. In the company of his uncle, company President Leonardo Frescobaldi and his niece, Communications and Public Relations Director Tiziana Frescobaldi, he presented his ultra-premium Toscana Momoreto 2006 ($60). "This is a special blend, because it is the most prestigious wine of our Castello, produced from vineyards of the same name. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which is produced from vines that were planted 150 years ago on our estate. It really shows the bond between the wine and its terroir, which accounts for its unique qualities.“ Lamberto represents the 30th generation of the Frescobaldi family, one of the longest traditions in Italian winemaking history.

In a separate event, Lamberto hosted a special presentation in one of the Palazzo’s upper galleries of his Luce ($26) and Lucente ($30) 2009 wines, produced in collaboration with another name which is legendary in the world of American wine, Robert Mondavi of Napa Valley, California.

Luce was the first wine ever produced in Montalcino by blending Sangiovese and Merlot grapes. It is Lamberto’s pride and joy as a winemaker. It’s a supple wine with pungent notes of wild herbs and blackberries. Aged cheese is its best companion, but roast pork, wild boar (or “white pork”), stewed rabbit or other game meats would make for an excellent combination. Lucente reveals its typical Tuscan character with its robust flavor and elegant structure. This is a versatile wine also designed to go with modern, fusion cuisine.

Just across the aisle, Jose Rallo and her brother, Antonio, of Donnafugata wines of Sicily, were overseeing a tasting of their Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye’ 2009 ($45). “I call this “meditation wine,” the effervescent Jose Rallo told me while pouring a glass of the crimson colored, naturally sweet wine. Intense notes of ripe peaches and apricots greeted my nose. The taste invited sensations of Mediterranean figs and honey. “This is a great wine to have with foie gras,” she said, slyly referring to my culinary passion. “It’s also great with blue cheese. I like to have it while reading a book or listening to music. That’s why I call it my “meditation wine!” Jose has one of the sweetest jazz singing voices you want to hear. She’s even sung at the Blue Note in The Village in New York, where she accompanied her music with a tasting of her wines. I bet I can get a CD of her’s online and enjoy listening to that while drinking a bottle of her wine. Neat!

Cristina Mariani-May is one of the bright stars of the Italian wine world and she presents the “new face” of Italian wine with her emphasis on hospitality and cuisine at Villa Banfi. Family proprietor and co-CEO of Banfi Vintner’s, America’s leading wine importer, her Castello Banfi Vineyard Estate in Montalcino, Tuscany is one of the crowning jewels of the region. Her Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2007 ($56) was one of the highlights of the evening.

“This is a really special wine and unique to our estate because it comes from dedicated vineyards that flow down from our historic Poggio alle Mura Castle, which is the crowning focus of our estate. The grapes are 100% Brunello Sangiovese and the vines were planted after over a decade of research in 1992 with the idea of isolating the ideal selection of clones to make consistently great Brunello di Montalcino.” Mission Accomplished!

In the afternoon previous to OperaWine, Vinitaly 2012 opened with a ground breaking symposium highlighting the preeminence of Italian fashion, wine and design "Opera Wine meets Altagamma-Italian Icons: Fashion to Wine." Santo Versace. Chairman of Altagamma Foundation, the organization dedicated to the promotion of all things good and lively among Italian luxury brands such as Versace, Ferrari and now, Italian wines, gave the keynote address. Versace’s speech was preceded by a distinguished panel hosted and moderated by Stevie Kim, Senior Advisor to Veronafiere CEO Giovanni Mantovani and General Coordinator of Vinitaly International and OperaWine, consisting of Ettore Riello, President Veronafiere, Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor Wine Spectator and Matteo Lunelli, Executive Board Member Altagamma.

Besides the cooperation of Wine Spectator, OperaWine was sponsored by Air Dolomiti, Asiago (which hosted a spectacular presentation with a live cheese monger, dramatically slicing wheels of Asiago cheese for tasting. It was one of the most popular stations of the evening), as well as Bormioli, Ferrarelle and Levoni.

Only 500 guests were allowed at each of the two tasting sessions of Opera Wine. Aficionados from across Europe, Asia and the United States came to this premiere tasting of the finest wines that Italy has to offer. I even ran into a long-lost friend of mine from Chicago, fellow wine photojournalist and author Anna Pakula, who is also a distinguished wine panel judge and passionate worldwide wine consultant.

There were two very fortunate people who got to attend as winners of a video essay contest, sponsored by OperaWine and the Wine Spectator, in which they told why they love Italian wine. For a wine enthusiast, the evening was like being in the Green Room at the Oscars, rubbing shoulders with the winners, but not even they would have had the experience of tasting these one of a kind, exquisite, handcrafted wines.