A Tale Of Wine And Passion
Italy’s oldest producer of Amarone wine was embroiled in a family feud for nearly two decades. Now, the curtain is opening on a new act.
Verona is known for being the backdrop of literature’s most famous family feud — that between the Capulets and Montagues in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
But it was also here that a convoluted 18-year quarrel took place between the members of the 400-year-old Bertani family, one of Italy’s most prestigious wine makers.
The feud took place over the Bertani name, which had become synonymous with producing some the best Amarone wine in Italy. The Bertani family can trace its viticultural roots back to the 1600s, and it started operating as a winemaker in 1857 — six generations — making it among the oldest Italian wine-making families and Verona’s oldest wine maker.
In the 1850s, Giovan and Gaetano Bertani established the name as the top producer of traditional Valpolicella, Soave and Bardolino wines. By 1938 Bertani was producing its first Amarone, an intense dry red wine redolent of cherries and chocolate, made by partially drying the local Valpolicella grapes for four months so they almost resemble raisins. It requires a long ageing process (at least four or five years) in big wooden barrels to soften out the tannins and create a balance.
From the 1980s onwards, the cachet of Amarone soared. The Amarone Classico della Valpolicella DOCG 2007, for instance, was awarded 94 points by Robert Parker, who called it “an impressive wine built to last, with notes of dried fruit, toasted almond, resin, cola and grilled herb”.
As the prestige of the wine grew, so did the financial value of the Bertani name. The majority of the members of the Bertani family, who were no longer active in the wine-making business, began to sell their shares to Angelini Group, a large pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods company based in Rome.
Eventually, Angelini had acquired a 60-70 percent stake in Bertani. They wanted to scale up production and reduce the ageing process, something that the existing wine-making members of the family felt would compromise the quality.
For Guglielmo, along with his brother Gaetano and his father Giovanni, the sole winemakers left in the family, the idea of commercialising the brand into a ‘€19 supermarket wine’ was anathema. “Amarone should be a wine of exclusivity, not a mass-market wine,” he adds. Guglielmo says that since the wine’s star has risen, many substandard copy-cat Amarones have popped up.
“People take short cuts, exaggerating the drying to make the ageing process quicker; making it sweeter and stronger with low acidity. But by not being balanced they are not long-lasting,” explains fifth-generation family winemaker Guglielmo.
A truce eventually came about between the two sides of the Bertani family through an agreement to sell the historic family name to the Angelini Group and continue its traditional winemaking under a new name: Tenuta Santa Maria.
The split took place in 2012 (so any Bertani wines since then have had no input from the old Bertani family), but as they continued to rent some of the facilities to Angelini, it was only this year that the divorce felt complete, says Guglielmo.
In return for sacrificing the 400-year-old name, the winemakers kept the Villa Mosconi Bertani in Negrar, Valpolicella Classico, from where was born the Amarone in 1938, its historic bottle collections, and the family’s precious lands in the Valpolicella Classico.
“We see the business not as a business. We see it as heritage, pride. We are the standard bearers of a business that goes back six generations,” says Guglielmo.
Tenuta Santa Maria is named after the ancient church on the land and spans three wine estates in Verona over 41 hectares of vineyards.
The land also includes the historic Villa Mosconi, built in 1735 and home to the cellars where the Amarone was born. They hold tours, wine tastings and weddings on the estate and hope to one day open a boutique hotel element. A beautiful property with a walled orchard, the house still has the original 18th-century kitchen in the main palazzo, dominated by the presence of the huge original hearth.
The family is also developing Ca’ del Merlo in Grezzana, Valpantena, a property that the Bertani family is currently developing and whose wines will reach the market in the years to come.
Guglielmo hopes that wine connoisseurs — and Bertani’s not insubstantial fan base — will come to understand that, despite the difference in name, the wines of Tenuta Santa Maria continue the great Amarone wine-making tradition set by his great-great grandfather, Gaetano Bertani and, indeed, that a rose by any other name does smell as sweet.