Recently we visited Zenato Winery, producers of great wines in Lugana and Valpolicella. We wanted to talk to the winery’s winemaker, Nadia Zenato, about their wines and also about her personal project Sansonina.
Buongiorno, Nadia, and thank you for your collaboration. First of all, we have to say we loved each of the wines we were fortunate to taste during our visit to Zenato.
Buongiorno, I am very glad that you enjoyed the visit and especially that you appreciated our wines. It was a real pleasure to have you here in our land and to introduce you to our story made of passion and tradition.
The vineyards in Garda are so close to the Alps and at the same time close to a big body of water such as the lake. How this translates into the wines?
Actually I have to admit that we are in a very lucky geographical position. Thanks to the influence of the Alps and the Garda Lake, we have a very mild climate that makes the viticulture particularly favorable.
You produce wines under two DOCs: Lugana and Valpolicella. What are the main differences between them?
Today Zenato counts 60 hectares of vineyards on the S. Cristina estate in San Benedetto di Lugana, perfect for Trebbiano di Lugana, and 35 hectares on the Costalunga estate in Valpolicella, with the renowned Corvina, Rondinella and Oseleta vines. In 1960, my father saw the enormous potential of the native Trebbiano di Lugana vine and he decided to concentrate on this variety, at a time when no one believed in it, in order to bring out its untapped potential. So it was that Lugana became a great white wine, winning recognition as a DOC.
Then in 1990 my father invested in a new challenge: he bought a magnificent vineyard in Valpolicella, Costalunga estate, to make his own Amarone. From the pressing of the withered grapes of Amarone, over which Valpolicella wine is passed, comes the Ripassa, one of our most significant wines.
Today, together with my mother Carla and my brother Alberto, we extend the quality, the labels and the markets, disseminating the excellence of Zenato wines in more than 65 countries around the world with the same values and passion.
The Trebbiano di Lugana is a variety that surprised us a lot. How do you like to work with it?
I was born here in Lugana, where the Trebbiano di Lugana is the typical grape. My father passed down to me his art and passion to work this kind of grape and few years ago I started to vinificate it only with indigenous yeasts, creating our first Lugana Spontaneous Fermentation by Sansonina Winery.
With the Trebbiano you produce three dry wines: San Benedetto, S. Cristina and the Riserva Sergio Zenato. Then two sparkling wines (a Classic Method Brut and a Classic Method Pass Dosé), a Bianco Passito and a Grappa. How do you manage this versatility with this variety?
We use just a single variety in order to work with low yields, we select by hand the grapes in different moments of the harvest and we press them very gently to keep all the typical aromas. Then we work the grapes in a different way for each wine to give them a personal style, every wine has its own identity.
How are your two sparkling wines?
We consider our Lugana Brut and Lugana Pass Dosé as complementary wines. The decision to produce a sparkling wine from Trebbiano di Lugana grapes dates back to the foundation of the winery in 1960s. The creation of the classic method enhances the features of this grape itself liberating all its purity.
Our Lugana Pass Dosé, however, was born after a very particular harvest in 2007: tasting the wine, we realized that it was already complete without the addition of liqueur; the result was a wine that expressed even more our territory, only 3.000 bottles “alla vole” with a jasmine and lavender scent.
We discovered your personal project Sansonina. What moved you and your mother to start with this vineyard in 1997?
Sansonina is a project, a personal challenge to revive an ancient Merlot grape variety, launching the production of a red wine in the land of whites. The project began with a trial vinification of the grapes of the ancient vine and we found that the result was excellent. Sansonina’s purpose is to promote the Garda territory not only with white wines but also with the red ones. I try to do my best!
And why do you use Merlot, a variety which is not local?
Actually this variety was already present, there was an ancient vine and we started a series of analysis with some of the best agronomists, who told us that our area was similar to the Grand Crus in Bordeaux. So we decided to revive this ancient vine and to produce a red wine in a land of whites.
How’s the character of your Sansonina Merlot?
Sansonina Merlot is an elegant, determined wine with a strong personality. In Sansonina there is my whole being, it is a wine that represents me, with roots firmly planted in the territory, but with the drive to dare, to experiment.
And how do you elaborate the Sansonina Fermentazione Spontanea?
Our Lugana Fermentazione Spontanea is the first Lugana fermented with the indigenous yeasts naturally present on the grapes.
The project started in 2012 and, after three years of painstaking experimentation, with the 2014 vintage, we finally achieved our goal: we bottled the first cuvée of Lugana Vigna del Moraro Verde through a spontaneous fermentation technique.
The integrity of the grapes, coming from a 40-year-old vineyard, is extremely important for this kind of winemaking and slow fermentation with the indigenous yeasts of the grapes guarantees a unique bouquet of aromas and scents.
Back to Lugana wines, we find the Riserva Sergio Zenato 2014 incredibly balanced with the combined use of oak and steel.
The history of Lugana Riserva dates back to 1993 when my father discovered this technique just for fun and proposed the Lugana in a renewed style.
After a slightly late harvest in our Cru, the fermentation takes place at around 70% in oak casks and 30% in steel and the ageing follows for around 6 months in barrels and 12 months in the bottle. The result is a unique expression of this wine in structure and significant longevity.
Considering that you are making wine in Lugana, in Sansonina and also in Valpolicella, what’s your approach to each site for their wines? How do you transmit different characteristics to your wines? Is it a totally different approach from the traditional Amarone methods to the Lugana ones and then to a more personal project like Sansonina?
Zenato is for sure synonym of tradition; on the other hand Sansonina means innovation. Both in Zenato and in Sansonina we try always to outdo ourselves, to do our best enhancing and safeguarding territory, nature and sustainability. The preservation of the environment is one of the most important values for us and for this reason we use the least possible chemical treatments. Sansonina especially is moving towards organic certifications. Every wine has its own personality and story, but each one tells the passion with which we produce them.
What would be the main difference in ‘personality’ in Lugana and Valpolicella for you?
Lugana and Valpolicella are two very different territories. The soil in Lugana is full of clay, whereas in Valpolicella it is very rocky, cretaceous and almost red.
Lugana represents for me my childhood when I played among the vineyards and Valpolicella reminds me my first harvests and the careful selection of the grapes. Zenato is the soul of Lugana and the heart of Valpolicella.
Which is the wine you are most proud of? The one you see yourself better reflected?
The wine I am most proud of is our Amarone for its strong personality, its link with the territory and its method of production (appassimento and very long aging). It is a unique wine and I like to call it the king of our wines. The wine I see myself better reflected is Lugana Sansonina Spontaneous Fermentation, because it represents for me a challenge as winemaker. In this wine I can see my personality, my continuous desire to innovate and learn.
What kind of wine you drink when you are not working?
I love Burgundy wines.
Grazie mille, Nadia!!
Nadia Zenato Pictures © by Zenato