Harvesting Amarone - Boutinot
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A morning in the vines with Montresor

Vineyard below San Pietro in Cariano

 

At the start of September some of us were lucky enough to be visiting Montresor in the Veneto when their Amarone harvest was beginning. We were each handed some secateurs and a crate, and set loose on a row of Corvina vines under the gaze of the beautiful village of San Pietro in Cariano, in Valpolicella Classico.

 

 

For this first selection of grapes, Montresor’s Nicodemo explained that we were looking for healthy bunches of ripe, fully-formed grapes, not overly large or densely packed. Grapes that are too tightly-packed can prevent adequate ventilation throughout the bunch when placed in the drying room, and lead to rot developing.

 

After removing the bunch, we also had to remove any individual berries that may be a little green, or split. The Corvina bunches are then carefully placed in the crates, not overlapping.

 

 

In this way we each worked up our row of vines – ignoring any bunches that weren’t sufficiently ripe and healthy, or too densely packed to dry for Amarone. Apparently experienced pickers can complete both sides of a row in around 40 minutes, but we were trailing far behind, the heat was stifling. This really is hard work. 

After this, first selection of the grapes for Amarone, there would be another selection for the Valpolicella wines using the fuller, firmer and closer bunches. 

 

Grapes being transported to Montresor’s main winery to dry

 

Our Corvina grapes would be transported to the winery to dry in the ‘frutaio’, for the first stage of the Amarone winemaking process. They remain in these harvesting crates whilst they dry.

We talked about their use of plastic rather than wooden crates for drying. Pierluigi explained that whilst some producers may still use the traditional ‘arele’ (bamboo) mats or wooden crates, these can pose more of a risk to the drying grapes if there is any rot present. Also, wooden or bamboo alternatives rely on large reserves of water (and energy) for steam cleaning. 

Montresor believe that, once purchased, the durability of plastic crates (lasting 10-20 years) means that they provide a practical, sustainable, and more hygienically-controlled environment for the grapes.

The grapes remain in the drying loft (frutaio) from 1 to 4 months after the harvest, depending on the weather conditions each vintage. A combination of the heat in the loft at the top of the winery, and ventilation from the open windows and fans, readies the grapes for the next stage in the process. The holes in the crates allow the air to circulate fully around the bunches.

Amarone grapes in Montresor’s frutaio

 

 

In the vineyard a Babo thermometer and refractometer is used to measure sugar levels within the ripening grapes as an indicator of when the grapes should be picked. Similarly, Michele (the winemaker at Montresor) and his team check the drying grapes every 2 days or so, from the end of the first month, until the ideal balance is reached between sugar / potential alcohol and acidity. Then there’s a handy chute from the drying loft straight down to the press. The dried grapes are pressed and fermented, and the Amarone wine is removed, leaving the ‘pomace’ of fermented grape skins. 

 

 

 

After the second selection of grapes in the vineyard, these are sent to the winery to be immediately pressed ‘fresh’ and fermented. This wine can be bottled simply as Valpolicella, or undergo the ‘Ripasso’ process. For this, the fresh wine is pumped into the tank with the Amarone grape skins, and they’re left in contact for several days to bring about a second fermentation. This gives the wine greater body and richness.

 

Amarone della Valpolicella Satinato is the youngest and freshest of Montresor’s Amarone wines, aged in Slavonian oak casks and small French barriques for 18-24 months.

One of the biggest-selling Amarone wines in Italy it’s easily recognised with its distinctive (patented) bottle shape and frosted glass which dates back to 1921. The founder of the winery, Giacomo Montresor, came up with the ingenious idea of scratching the bottle surface to protect it from sunlight and its harmful UV rays when being exported to America at the start of the 20th Century. Back then the wine was transported in open, straw-packed crates on the ships’ deck, on the long voyage from Genoa to New York. In the early days this ‘satinato’ process was done by hand with acid and wire wool! 

Coffee and chocolate on the nose, ripe crushed berry, bitter cherry and sweet plummy fruit on the palate. Richly-flavoured but with fresh acidity and supple tannins.

 

 

 

Valpolicella Ripasso Capitel della Crosara is a favourite wine of Edoardo Montresor (great grandson of the founder, Giacomo) – he thinks its fresh acidity and minerality gives it the perfect balance to the richness and complexity from the Ripasso process, and means that you can enjoy glass after glass! 

The reason for this freshness and balance is that the Capitel della Crosara vineyard is on a hill around 400m above sea level, and benefits from the proximity of Lake Garda. This brings warmer daytime temperatures in spring and early summer to ripen the grapes, but at night the wind changes direction, instead bringing cool air from the Dolomites. This results in a large temperature difference between day and night (up to 10 or 12 degrees). The dry conditions at the top of the hill also means that the vines grow very deep roots to access water, also sourcing minerals deep below the soil surface. 

Aged in French and American oak for 12 months, the wine has aromas of fresh morello cherry, ripe plum and dried fruits. crunchy black cherry on the palate with spice and vanilla. A long finish with the classic bright bitter cherry fruit finish typical of ripasso.

 

 

These are classic Italian wines – ripe and full-flavoured, but with bright acidity, and best enjoyed with food. They are also the cornerstone of Montresor’s production. Their winery is the closest to the city of Verona – just 1Km from the centre – and has long been part of the landscape. The city has grown up around it, and is part of the winery’s rich 130 year history.

 

Long may it continue.

 

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