Despite our many years working in the north of Italy, the latest addition to our portfolio comes from an area that was completely off our radar. In the foothills north of Vicenza, there is an ancient winegrowing area called Breganze, where the banks of the Astico and Brenta rivers form a natural amphitheater protected from the weather blowing off the Asiago plateau. The Romans, and later the Venetian Republicans, found the area to be well-suited to grape growing, and a diversity of wine grapes flourished there.
The DOC of Breganze was formed in 1969, which solidified the region’s modern-day winegrowing reputation, and also allowed farmers to grow profitable international grape varieties. At the time, throughout much of northern Italy, there was a general trend away from traditional polycultural farming in favor of the efficiencies of mono-cropping and mechanization; the predictable result in Breganze—as in much of the Veneto—was a decline in grape diversity, with lesser-known local varieties like Vespaiolo suffering the most.
Enter Chiara Bassi and Raimondo Zolin, who, in 2010, purchased two-thirds of a hectare of very old vines inter-planted in the “old way” with trees in the shadow of a roccolo, a towering vertical birdhouse. Why? Because, they realized, if they didn’t, the vineyard and the winegrowing history it represented would be destroyed. Working diligently to restore their 90-year-old vines, they have identified more than 20 autochthonous grape varieties under their care, from which they now make three wines in scant quantities: a white, a red, and a vino frizzante. Theirs is a real grassroots operation: their “cellar” is actually a corner of a friend’s garage; fermentations take place in fiberglass and plastic tubs; aging occurs in neutral barrels.
Chiara Bassi and Raimondo Zolin (pictured) purchased two-thirds of a hectare of very old vines in 2010 to form Antico Torre del Roccolo
Giddy from the experience of rediscovering so many “lost” grapes, some of which had never before been DNA-identified, Chiara and Raimondo gathered their neighbors and wine-loving friends and founded the Canevisti, a grassroots group dedicated to protecting and safeguarding the biodiverse heritage of the Breganze region.
Given how little wine is made here, it was pure luck that we chanced to open a 2016 Antica Torre del Roccolo Bianco with dinner one night at Osteria al Cicheto in Venice, where the owner has built an excellent list of terroir-driven wines from his home region. We were transfixed by the wine’s remarkable vibrancy and layered complexity, which evolved beautifully over the course of the evening—a glass of tranquility in the stuffy, crowded back room of the restaurant. The owner was absent that night and none of the staff were familiar with the wine, but we were so inspired that we tracked down Raimondo and Chiara on our own and somehow managed to convince them to export their wine for the first time, selling us almost 20% of their total annual production of around 2500 bottles.
We are thrilled to support this pioneering estate and are pleased to be able to offer all three of their wines to the US market.