BETTER TO BE A HARE THAN A DOG

What do the Pjaföc and Inciostar wines have in common? They are both beautiful bottles, with elegant lines and fine labels, they contain excellent Lambrusco and speak the Mantuan dialect. These bottles encapsulate the philosophy of a prized producer, which worked its way to the spotlight from humble origins, hedging his bets on wines commonly perceived to be less noble, but made to charm the eyes and the taste.

During my previous interviews I learned how a producer selects a grape depending on what the earth can offer, attempting to continuously improve its quality. Now I learn that there is another way to producing a quality wine: studying the market and coming up with a product that… does not exist!

Sitting in front of me is Andrea Virgili. As he speaks, he has a sparkle in his eyes, the sparkle of passion. An agricultural expert and a marketing connoisseur, he tells me what it means to possess the “vocation of the hare”, and how he prefers to be constantly ahead, anticipating the markets: even when he knows that the pack is following, he accepts the challenge and never tires of continuing to be a leader.

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Nobody, not even his own father, wanted to invest in marketing once upon a time: it was him, a little more than a kid, who chose to pay with his own cash the first elegant label. It was him who thought up names which would bring back memories from the past, like the dialect for firefly, or for ink, ever present on the school desk for the older generation: these memories carry emotions.

It is surprising how the man who sits in front of me, telling me about the family, has one leg leaping forward and another firmly planted in our tradition. It’s a great balancing act, don’t you think?

The company has its origins and its roots in the south of the Mantua province, in Bondanello. Granddad Angelo was making wine since the beginning of the 20th century. After the war his sons, Luigi and Leandro, moved to the city to sell it: originally through a tavern in via Galana, then at a wine shop in via Fernelli and lastly by opening the current company on the road leading to Cerese, in 1961. The thick grapes for the Lambrusco bolla rossa came from the land on the south side of the Po river, from their own land – but also from land belonging to their suppliers. In 1979, the brothers went their separate ways, and Luigi inherited the cellar. It was a tough time, when sleeves needed rolling up.

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Paolo, the older brother, and Andrea, witnessed the work in the cellar since they were kids, so the trade is in their bloodstream. Paolo is an oenologist, Andrea is a salesman. Their partnership led to the purchase, in 1992, of some vineyards in the north of the province, in Volta, where a classy Lambrusco was planted. They also started looking at the future of the company through the eyes of their children. “Having an agricultural background – says Andrea – it was important for me to have a vineyard. The hill is a wonderful area, even though we are thinking about investing in the flatlands south of the river: it’s the earth which keeps people together, I love the earth and its never ending cycle.

Pjaföc was born in 2005: spurred on by my brother, who had achieved great things in the cellar as an oenologist, we took a big leap. This wine of high organoleptic quality and price represented an innovation for the time, and was destined – in our intention – for the restoration. It was such a huge success, however, that is began to be sold to the public very soon. Irritated by this, I would often go into the supermarkets to buy back my own wines! I did this for 6 months, then I gave up, in the knowledge that we had tapped into a section of the market which was both free and… lucrative.

These days we export to America, Japan, China, Spain, Germany, France. Our ambition is to be ambassadors of Mantua. We are developing a label which will open, like a book, behind the bottle, and will talk about our cuisine, our wines and our art. So that the reader will be enticed to come and visit our city.

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The light in Andrea’s eyes is that of a visionary, that of someone who can envisage the fruit of his imagination well before a dream is realised. If genetics don’t fail us, his daughter Sara – who is completing her studies as a designer – manages to transform his dad’s intuitions into reality. The label and the bottle for Inciostar are made by her. This is the newborn at Virgili’s: a wine blacker than black, produced in clay: elegant, structured, fruity with a cherry and strawberry aftertaste. A refined yet full-bodied dream from the river Po, wrapped in glass in the shape of an inkwell. Dreams – everyone knows this – don’t come with a price tag!

by Mara Pasetti

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