Some years ago I had the occasion to interview Pia Donata Berlucchi, CEO of Fratelli Berlucchi and President of Le Donne del Vino, an Italian association of women in wine started in 1988. She was extremely intelligent, very professional and really impressive with sharp and piercing blue eyes. I remember being a little intimidated by this tall woman from Lombardy in the interview. She was a real donna manager as they say in Italian, tough and practical. We spoke about what qualities women bring to the wine business and the difficulties that they sometimes face. I spoke with Pia Donata Berlucchi as part of a project that I have been working on for a number of years. She has been at the helm of her family company since 1977 and President of Le Donne del Vino since 2003. In 2008 she was given an award for female manager of the year for her work with both entities.
Fratelli Berlucchi is a family business. She is one of five, three brothers and a sister. The company headquarters, in a 12th century building, is located in Borgonato di Cortefranca. They have 70 hectares of vines split between DOCG and DOC areas. The soil is limestone based while the temperatures are mild. Franciacorta became a DOCG in 1995. Just like Champagne, Franciacorta does its secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Franciacorta is a beautiful area in the Lombardy region, near the city of Brescia and Lago di Garda, which is extremely well known for its sparkling wine. Franciacorta is not quite as well known in the United States as I think it should be. I was happy to learn that a relatively new company dedicated to promoting <a Franciacorta was launched in the United States. I have always felt that Franciacorta can legitimately compete with Champagne. The incredible rise in sales of both Prosecco and Cava in the United States is further proof in my eyes that Americans will embrace other types of sparkling wine, especially if the price is right.
This year during Vino 2009 I met her daughter Tilli and was able to taste many of their wines again and a new wine, Brut 25 DOCG
for the first time. The 25 in the name of this wine refers to the number of months between the harvest and the bottling of this wine. Brut 25 is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes which were picked a tad earlier than those that go into the other Berlucchi wines. Eminently drinkable immediately, this wine is a departure from the Fratelli Berlucchi style which tends to be more traditional. One of their wines that I love is the Saten 2004 . This is a blanc de blancs made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Blanc. The wine spends at least 32-33 months on its lees and two or three months in the bottle before it is sold. The wine is made slightly differently than other sparkling wines of this caliber. Most Champagne stays at 6 atmospheres of pressure whereas Saten made in Franciacorta can be under less than 4.5 atmospheres. Also, a smaller quantity of yeast and sugars are added. Saten always tastes like raspberries and strawberries to my palate. It is refreshing and delicious and was one of the first wines I ever tasted in a wine class in Milan. My teacher at the time, Luigi Amore, used to say that Saten caressed your mouth. The wine is elegant and minerally with beautiful acidity. A winner with me every time. I also tried a delicious Franciacorta Brut DOCG Millesimato. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, this wine had more of the expected nutty and yeasty flavors as well as citrus notes.
I hope that Franciacorta will become a well known quantity in the United States. It’s a great alternative to Champagne. I love to drink sparkling wine on its own and to eat my whole meal with it. The versatility of these wines always amazes me. I’m excited for my upcoming trip to Italy where I know, I can find Franciacorta at every turn.