Wine cellars and Venetian Villas - We came in the Valpolicella region on the occasion of the last grape harvest, which was excellent and predicted a good year. Everyone was busy around the harvesting of the grapes from which will come out the red gold, the oil of these lands: not only the refined Amarone, which already became an international brand for its full, warm and smooth flavour. But also the Recioto, with its characteristic and accentuated smell, even though it has a more delicate taste; and the Valpolicella, Classico and Superiore, that also tends to ruby red with aging: but it is a less strong ruby red than the one of the Amarone that became fashionable also as a colour. Amarone colour.
The cradle of this wine is the territory of Gargagnago and San Giorgio di Valpolicella (one of the most beautiful villages of Italy), from which our journey starts. In front of the Romanesque parish church of San Giorgio, we slept in the B&B La Grande Casa that was recently opened.
B&B La Grande Casa
The facility welcomed us in a renovated setting where there is also an exhibition of a rich collection of contemporary art. The convenient location allows you to enjoy a beautiful panorama from every room: south west towards Lake Garda and east towards Pieve. In the area, there are other B&BS that are very affordable, like Casa Iole in Domegliara - obtained by the home of the counts Rovereti Zurla’s farmer, the Venetian nobles of the XVIII century whose villa is 200 metres away - or Valentina, which is located within a typical court of Valpolicella.
From San Giorgio’s square you can clearly see the Azienda Agricola Boscaini Carlo, extended over 14 hectares and managed today by the grandchildren and the son of the owner, who reached the beautiful age of 102 with the motto "drink little but good". The 60,000 bottles produced exclusively with grapes from local vineyards, include the Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto, in short all the wines of the small valley blessed by the sun of Lake Garda.
From Sant'Ambrogio we reach in just a few km San Pietro in Cariano, following another parallel route compared to the one of wine: the itinerary of the Venetian villas. The volume Centootto Ville della Valpolicella (Dalmograf publishing company, 2016) was recently published and it is illustrated with photographs by Fulvio Roiter and Lou Embo. These residences coincide with a cultural climate and a way of living that make them unique: that is to say that their presence could not be perceived outside the geographical boundaries of Valpolicella. The first one we see, in Ciengia, is Villa Giona, to this day transformed into a luxury hotel. The villa, as it is written in the book, "is one of the most mature examples, in Valpolicella, of the application of the Venetian outline in which the stately home is the keystone to a complex which is expanded in symmetrical wings". Dating back to the late 1400, it was restored between the XVII and XVIII century and is surrounded by a romantic English landscape garden.
Not so far away we meet the family business Nicolis that since 1951 produces with daily attentions, in the heart of the classic area of Valpolicella, the award winning Recioto and Amarone, Valpolicella Classico and Valpolicella Ripasso, all of these as the outcome of genuine and refined wine-making.
From San Pietro we reach the Romanesque parish church of San Floriano, of which we heard of for the first time in 905, to climb up then to Marano di Valpolicella. Here, in a hilly environment of orchards, olive groves and vineyards, we visit the estate Santa Maria Valverde, in one of the most suitable cru in Valpolicella for the production of great red wines. Nicola Campagnola is the visionary winemaker that from these hill vineyards, owned by his family since the end of 1800, obtains wines that are all ascribable to a plot of land: great wines with an aroma of cherry, typical of the Amarone of Marano, of red berry or - as a particular marker - of bramble.
Santa Maria Valverde estate
Now let’s take the road to Negrar where, near the village of Prun, by observing carefully the slopes of Monti Lessini, we notice the open-air stone quarries or dug with tunnels and caves, from which derives the "Prun stone", known today as the "Stone of Lessinia". The quarries of this rose chip make the famous Venetian white-rose limestone, mentioned already in the XIV century, when the quarrymen of Prun used to bring in Verona a large amount of wagons with this soft and easy to extract stone.
Stone quarries in Prun di Negrar
Always in Negrar but in the area of Pojega, you have to visit Villa Rizzardi, with its magnificent garden of the end of 1700 that imitates the model of Venetian villas of the sixteenth century. Designed by the architect Luigi Trezza ordered by the count Antonio Rizzardi, is considered one of the greatest examples of the geometrical Italian garden. You can visit it from April to October on Thursday and Saturday from 15 to 19. Always open, instead, are the wine cellars of the Azienda Agricola Guerrieri Rizzardi that has been cultivating grapevine for three hundred years and was born from the union of two ancient families, Guerrieri di Bardolino and Rizzardi di Negrar.
From Negrar we descend for a few km to Santa Maria and we arrive in Pedemonte, where the Azienda Agricola Santa Sofia is waiting for us. It is named after another prestigious villa, known in the past as Villa Serego, whose construction was entrusted in 1560 from Marcantonio Serego to Andrea Palladio and for this reason it is inserted in the Unesco World Heritage Site list together with other houses built by Palladio.
Villa Santa Sofia
You can visit the ancient cellars hosted inside the villa, used already in the XIV and XV century for ageing wines. The quality of these wines – to this day handled by the enological enthusiasm of Begnoni family that in 1967 took over Santa Sofia winery from the countess Rizzardi - was already renowned in 1811.
By pursuing its "strategy of excellence", Giancarlo Begnoni has brought this cellar at the top of the oenological tradition of classicism from the Fattori family from 1735. The villa is annexed to a large agricultural land cultivated with vineyards by the business of the family Bertani, crossed by a path between the grapes of Valpolicella that you can travel by foot or by bicycle. The final destination of our route is Verona, where we are going to visit five churches on the river Adige included in the Itinerary Verona Minor Hierusalem of which we will talk about in the next article.
Verona Minor Hierusalem
For further information, you can contact the Strada del Vino della Valpolicella in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella (tel. 045 6888467, firstname.lastname@example.org).