WINE ARTISANS

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Between the end of August and the beginning of October, the Gozzi brothers’ vineyards are buzzing: it’s harvest time! They start with the early grapes and finish with the late ones, thereby giving birth to a huge series of products, from sparkling to still wines, starting with Pinot Nero, followed by Chardonnay – which is the base of champenois sparkling wines, or ‘metodo classico’ in Italian, then Merlot, Rondinella, Trebbiano, Garganega, Moscato Giallo and Cabernet: a rich collection of grapes originating from their vineyars, which extend on 25 hectars of land belonging to the farm. On these rolling hills, the earth gives nourishment to every crop, thanks to a temperate climate and the almost complete absence of humidity. Cesare Gozzi quotes an old saying: “the owner of a vineyard never runs out of work”. We run the whole productive cycle, growing grapes, making wine, then commercialising it.

The first bottles to come out in January/February are Chiaretto, Bianco Colli Mantovani and Chardonnay. The reds follow, and eventually come the reserve ones, which are only bottled 3 years after the crop and meanwhile rest inside the vats to mature. Some of our wines go into barriques (durmast vats containing 225 litres), others in tonneaux (500 litres tubs), and big 25 hectolitres vats.

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The farm has been standing on this property since 1920, when Cesare’s grandfather bought, as a sharecropper, this small portion of land, which was then passed on to his two sons until it reached Cesare and Franco. The turning point was in 1985: until then this farm operated a mixed production, rearing cows and meat producing bulls as well as a vineyard, but it all changed with the introduction of the milk quotas.

At that stage the owners had to make a choice, and the farm was entirely converted from mixed production to wine production. It took 18 years, but they completely revolutionised the farm, the livestock was turned into tanks and the stables into cellars. Everything works in an integrated manner and everything was intended to mirror this plan.

The investments in building work and machinery were huge, but Cesare proudly remarks that his children are currently working in the farm. All his three children graduated and are currently at work, together with 8 employees, each one with a precise task reflecting his inclinations: brother Franco looks after the land, the sister in law takes care of the shop, Cesare looks after the cellar, his wife runs the administration, one of the children looks after the export and public relations, the daughter – a herbalist – cultivates officinal herbs for the infusions she produces, and one of the nephews, as well as looking after the land, also produces honey.

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At the end of the fermentation, wine is left to mature in the tank. Following this the reserves mature in the tanks of French durmast from the Allier forests, or Slavonic durmast. From Easter until September the wine is packaged and commercialised. The best foreign market for the Gozzis is Germany. “We are extremely proud of five great wines, judged by our own preferences and those of our consumers, during contests or tasting session: first of all, is the metodo classico spumante.

Furthermore, Cesare maintains that in order to obtain the best results it is vital to introduce technology into the wine making process. This doesn’t mean using chemical products, but “for instance, we monitor temperature during fermentation very closely – which is a modern thing to do – and we try to grow less grapes per plant. Once upon a time, they tried to grow as much as possible, as wine was consumed as food, whereas now wine is consumed mainly for leisure”.

In the field, pruning has changed dramatically. Less buds are left, more plants per hectare are planted so obtain the best production per plant, and consequently the best quality of the finished product.

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One of the firm’s flagship products is the Saline red, a historical wine for the Mantuan hills, as it was the first wine borne of a different philosophy. Until 1987, it was recommended that wines produced in the Mantuan hills should be consumed within the year, as they can’t take the ageing process. Cesare went against the grain. He thought that 80% of the quality comes from the field, not the cellar. So one fateful  Sunday in 1987 him and his brother decided singlehandedly to thin out the grapes, whilst their father and uncle were away from the field, at Mass. If they had known, they would never have allowed it to happen. “I can’t repeat their reactions on the Monday morning! They never acknowledged the fact that we might have done the right thing. However, one morning in 2003 I could see my father heading for the vineyard, scissors in hand. When I asked him why, he said: “that vine over there has too much grapes on”. How pleasing that was! Today, harvest isn’t a celebration anymore. However, even amidst many bureaucratic difficulties, the firm welcomes students from all over the world every year who come here to do their work experience.

After observing the vineyards and the first stage of the pressing, we move to the cellar, to learn just how many phases there are until a bottle of wine can finally reach our table and tickle our palate.

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Cesare is here to illustrate the “metodo classico” for me. In spring the sparkling base is collected. Yeast and sugar are added to start the fermentation and transform it into CO2 and alcohol. This is how the production of bubbles is  finally obtained and the alcohol volume increases. The bottles are laid flat, and at the end of the fermentation the dead yeasts end up on the bottles’ belly. At this stage, a phenomenon called yeast lysis takes place.  This releases the special aroma and aftertaste of the spumante metodo classico.

Laying the bottles flat allows for a larger contact between the dead yeast and the wine, which in turn can absorb the aromas better. By law, the yeasts have to remain in contact with the wine for at least 12 months, but we have chosen to leave them in contact for at least four years, because we noticed that the longer a wine lays over the yeasts, the more it acquires a ‘soul’. The dirt is eventually removed. The bottles are placed in special wooden moulds with holes called “pupitre”, where the inclined bottle is laid to rest and gradually turned upwards with a daily manoeuvre called “remuage”. After 10 days the bottle will be completely vertical and the dirt will have accumulated in the cork.

At this stage the neck of the bottle is inserted in glicole, an antifreeze, at -30 degrees, thereby forming a icicle which divides the ‘dirt’ at the top of the bottle from the wine. Now the bottle can be upturned and uncorked, the internal pressure expels the dirt and the ice, the bottle is filled and the bottle is finally corked. It is then washed, and after a month is ready to be commercialised. Our firm produces 100.000 bottles a year, but we sell just as much loose.

These are big numbers for someone who defines himself an artisan – but at a closer look, how can his claim be disputed?

by Mara Pasetti

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