FROM THE LITTLE CELLAR TO THE RISING SUN

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There is a high proportion of the north side of the Mantuan province cultivated with vine. It’s a true spectacle to see the rows of vines following the sinuous hills.

In a small hamlet named “Ricchi” since time immemorable, at the start of the 20th century, grandfather Enrico Stefanoni began his plan to plant a vineyard on his land. His family of origin was made of 4 brothers: he inherited a portion of the house and a small section of the land where a few vines were scattered, rather inhomogeneous due to the different quality of vines cultivated together. He understood that the setting the land, due to the drought, could provide some income if converted to a vineyard.

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His intuition was eventually confirmed, and his son Vittorio used to hear him muse about the fact that what he started would eventually become a great vineyard. It was thanks to his work that a cellar was built, ever more hectares were cultivated as a vineyard and the first bottles were produced bearing the DOCG denomination “Garda colli mantovani” in 1976 – with a chiaretto, a red, a white and subsequently merlot chardonnay, a pioneer of the production of the metodo classico sparkling white. Meanwhile, the small livestock rearing facility was phased out together with the production of cereals, and the farm became exclusively a wine producing one.

This small cellar, set within the hill, grew little by little in every direction until it became the current building. New methods of productions were introduced by Vittorio, Claudio and Giancarlo’s sons – the philosophy completely changed thanks to them. The quantity of crop per hectare became very low: next to the concrete vats new wooden vats started appearing which would help the maturing of some of the reds. The whole productive process was completely renovated marrying up tradition with technology. With great respect to the field and the cellar, putting quality first. Furthermore – and it’s not an irrelevant detail – there was a renewed attention for the environment, thanks to the introduction of solar and biomass plants employing the wood resulting from the pruning of the vines. Today, the production amounts to about 360.000 bottles with 42 hectares devoted to vine growing.

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The development of the firm carried on at the same pace. Chiara, Claudio’s wife, tells how it conquered new markets by banking on marketing: Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Brazil, Japan, and obviously Italy. This year Ricchi’s bottles started travelling to China, too. A completely new market for the Ricchi brand.

When I ask Chiara what the foreign buyers are like, she lingers with satisfaction on the Japanese: they are extremely attentive, they want to know about all the details of the wines that they choose. The Chinese know about Merlot and Cabernet, which are wines widely produced by the firm. They are keen on not spending much, but are very careful about the bottle’s appearance.

I look around in admiration for the atmosphere that can be felt during the harvest. There is a group of foreigners at the table and Chiara serves them a wine tasting. With calm and professionalism, even though there’s mayhem all around!

The Stefanoni family is made up of six people, joined by 4 full time employees. They employ six/seven seasonal workers becoming twenty for the harvest time. This is an important detail because a part of the crop is left maturing in little baskets for the production of more complex wines.

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When Chiara talks about the cellar she glows with pride, and rightly so. “The wines that give us most satisfaction are the sparkling and the crus, the Garda line – for the respect of the vines, and the Garda colli mantovani.

But the Ricchi firm isn’t all here. In the immediate future it will take part to a new project which will see the opening of a rural tourism structure with 14 rooms, a small relax area and catering facilities. The complex, named La Casina, lays in Cavriana on 12 hectares of land owned by the Stefanoni family.

Everything will be of the highest quality, as the local tradition requires, and great wine will definitely be on offer. Cheers!

by Mara Pasetti

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