By Anneli Rufus
Thirty miles north of Venice, the scenic route called the Prosecco Road — La Strada di Prosecco — is drawn in broad swatches of green on green on green: green hills, green vines, and yellow-green Glera grapes that flourish here and are destined to become the sparkling straw-colored wine that is the local specialty — and is Italy’s answer to Champagne.
In this region, where the artist Titian once lived, the Dal Bianco family grows grapes to be used in their award-winning Masottina Prosecco, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot and other wines. On a hillside near the village of Ogliano — part of the Dal Biancos’ 77 hectares — is a major construction project, still underway: Excitingly state-of-the-art, eco-friendly and being built at a cost of over 25 million Euros, the Ipogeo Project will, when completed, comprise a horseshoe-shaped, 30,000-square-meter winery/wine cellar/wine store/conference center where hyper-modern machinery and cutting-edge sustainable construction mixes with ancient local traditions.
“In this area, the wind comes unobstructed from the north and east. The crosswinds give these grapes and the resulting wine exquisite structure,” said Masottina marketing manager Federico Dal Bianco, grandson of the company’s founder, as he toured a group of foreign journalists around the construction site last month. He pointed across the courtyard to a former 15th-century monastery that will be transformed into the vineyard’s conference and culture center.
On ground level, in the open air under solar-paneled roofs whose colors complement that of the local landscape, we watched winery workers pouring freshly picked grapes onto a conveyor belt, from which a sorting crew removed leaves, twigs, overripe and rotten grapes and other debris. After exiting the de-stemmer, the grapes whooshed down a chute for further processing:
“We use a special crushing machine, a very soft one,” Dal Bianco explained. It is specially made to be gentle with the delicate gleras, crushing only the most perfectly ripe ones while leaving the unripe ones un-crushed.
“The problem with Gleras is that ripe grapes and unripe grapes hang from the same vines at the same time,” Dal Bianco said. “That’s why we need this machine to sort them out.”
Stainless-steel tanks and other equipment stand sentry throughout the winery, doing the work that has distinguished this unique region for centuries. Cool echoey chambers and tunnels loom like cathedral naves.
Designed by noted Venice architect Toni Follina, whose past projects include the Italian Space Agency’s Roman headquarters, Masottina’s four-level Ipogeo Project was designed with the local ecology in mind. A layer of landfill topping the underground portion reduces carbon dioxide emissions outside while maintaining temperature and humidity inside, thus reducing the use of air-conditioning systems. Also inside, a thermo-refrigeration system is powered by energy produced by bio-masses obtained from vineyard waste products. Part of the finished complex is meant to resemble a huge gondola — a nod to local Venetian culture. A tasting terrace and wine shop will provide views of the surrounding hills.
“We respect the grapes,” Dal Bianco said, “totally and completely.”
You can click on each photo to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Kristan Lawson.