If anyone sums up the small but extraordinary character of so many of the farmers in Valpolicella, it is Ca’ La Bionda. For over a hundred years this family-run winery has been dedicated to getting the absolute best out of what it has, and now it is a true leader in innovative and sustainable winemaking, not just in the region but in the whole of Italy and indeed Europe.
Founded in 1902 in Marano di Valpolicella, a village right in the middle of the old Valpolicella Classica region, by a farmer and grape-grower called Pietro Castellani.
Now, all these years later, the family is still in charge, into its fourth generation, and all of them are unusually involved in all aspects of the winemaking, from growth to selection to harvest to bottling. The vineyards now cover 29 hectares of land 150-300 metres above sea level, and since the year 2000 they have been increasingly farmed according to sustainable, organic practices (the first vintage officially certified organic arriving in 2016). This means, of course, not using pesticides and herbicides to ward off insects or weeds, but that in turn requires some imagination, which luckily La Bionda have in droves: not only do they use a practice known as ‘sexual confusion’, by which carefully timed releases of pheremones confuse insects into not reproducing, but they also use their own sheep as a particularly fluffy and adorable way of clearing the weeds.
This commitment extends into the winery, which is itself a new construction built according to the principles of minimal intervention. By being structured in a series of gradations, the Castellani are able to make wine without aggressive pumping (a method used for releasing carbon dioxide during fermentation), relying instead on gravity to essentially do the job for them. It goes without saying of course that they only use the wild yeasts which settle naturally on the grapes in the vineyard, as well as the barest-minimum use of sulphites at bottling to preserve the wine’s natural flavour.
Everything they make, right up to the single-vineyard ‘Ravazzòl’ Amarone (from the family’s pride and joy, the tiny Ravazzo vineyard), is infused with this extraordinary care and attention – a precious commodity made even more precious by the small quantities of wine they produce. One the real jewels of the region, then, and one not to miss out on.