Friday, September 12, 2014

Meet The Dal Bianco family and learn of their passion for Prosecco at Masottina winery

Masottina is one of the finest wineries in the Prosecco zone

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

Conegliano, Italy-Masottina winery is a commanding presence located atop one of the hills  surrounding this ancient city, known as the "Pearl of the Veneto." Founded in 1946, the winery is an expression of the Dal Bianco family's passion for wine and their love for the land and its history.  Their wines and their winery reflect both the deep traditions of the region and their commitment to the best agronomic practices. Visually and philosophically, Masottina is a profound representation of how a reverence for history can be successfully combined with a progressive view toward the future, all while producing great wine.

Owners Adriano and Franca Dal Bianco, along with their sons Federico and Filippo are the unified team executing the ambitious Prosecco program of Masottina. The winery, which began as a negotiant, drastically changed directions to become one of the largest and most respected Prosecco producers in the area. Located in the Piave area, in Gorgo al Monticano, north of Treviso, the family has established a new, state-of-the-art underground winery facility, which uses cutting-edge techonologies for vinification.

 All the while, the family utilizes best practices to ensure that the winery has a low environmental impact. The new winery was built in such a way that the structure conforms to the landscape. Energy is supplied from renewable sources.

The winery, and its operations, not only enhance the surroundings, but produce wines of incomparable quality. Just 30 miles north of Venice, the lush green hills leading up to the winery are covered with rows of grapevines caressing the steep slopes. The scenic route, known as La Strada di Prosecco, is commonly called the Prosecco Road. This is the home of the yellowish green Glera grape which flourishes here and becomes the straw-colored sparkling wine Prosecco; Italy's answer to champagne. The region is famous for wine and art. In fact, the famous painter Titian lived here. Looking out over the lavish expanse, one can experience the source of his inspiration.

Federico Dal Bianco stands waiting on a windswept hillside on the Masottina estate near the village of Ogliano.  Steps away on either side of him are on the right, rows of grapes that will soon be turned into   wine. On the right, the sloping roof of the subterranean winery where this year's harvest will be processed. Just in front is an ancient monastery that will be transformed into a conference and cultural center in the near future.

Harvesting is now underway. It is the most exciting time of the year in the Prosecco zone. Every member of the Dal Bianco family dispatches themselves to strategic locations in and around the winery to ensure a successful harvest. Enologist Fillipo Dal Bianco and his father, Adriano, are hands-on with workers in the vineyards. Marketing Director Federico Dal Bianco, is their impassioned spokesperson, describing the progress of the harvest to a group of visiting international wine journalists.

"I want to show you something really important," he said breathlessly, as we were entering a row of newly harvested vines. "This is the new, coming out of the old," he said, while stooping to reveal an old root stock protruding from the ground and pointing to the new vine that was joined to it. "What you see here is the new vine that has been grafted onto an old root stock.  We get the richness of the soil combined with the bright, complex flavors of the fruit from the new vines. In this way we get the best of the old and the new together!"

After loading the truck with a new batch of hand-picked grapes in the field, its off to the new winery. Grapes are carefully placed in the conveyor, where they are then sorted by hand to remove leaves, twigs, overripe and spoiled fruit by hand before going to a de-stemmer . The grapes then go for a joy ride down a chute into a special crushing machine. If you are to believe Federico, the resulting action is more of a caress than a crushing. "This is a very special crushing machine," he emphasizes. "We have to be very gentle with the delicate glera grape. This machine is specially made to crush only the most perfectly ripe grapes, leaving the unripened ones almost untouched. With glera, the ripe grapes and the unripe grapes all hang from the same vine. So we need for the machine to sort them out and have the ability to treat each dfferently. With this new technology, it all works out."

Stainless steel tanks stand like sentinels near the crushers, awaiting  receipt of the grapes for fermentation under a constant cold temperature.

Everything about the new winemaking facility speaks to a passion for the grapes and a love for the land. "We must respect the grapes, first and foremost. We must also have respect for the land that produces them. " The first thing you see when you approach the facility are the solar paneled roofs.  This is where the freshly picked grapes are brought in.

The winery was designed by Toni Follina, a famous Venetian architect who is best known for the Italian Space Agency's Rome headquarters. "We designed this Ipogeo Project with an idea to have as little impact as possible on the local ecology," Federico pointed out.

Layers of landfill on top of the underground facility reduce carbon monoxide emissiones. The ground cover also helps to insulate the facility, maintaining temperature and humidity levels that keep the use of air conditioning at a minimum. Inside, thermo-refrigeration systems are powered with energy derived from vineyard waste. The result is a a virtual "closed system" that recycles waste into energy, thus dispensing with harmful emissions.

Later that night, over an elaborate dinner, the Dal Bianco's relaxed from the labors of the day with a wine-pairing dinner that showcased the local produce, meats and fishes of the region with a broad selection of their Proseccos and still wines. At the conclusion of the meal, a special treat from their private cellar that harkened back to the earliest days of the winery.

The visit with Dal Bianco's at their Masottina winery was a rare look at the beating heart and impassioned soul of the people behind art of winemaking and the magic of Prosecco
 The harvest is in full swing at Masotinna winery near Conegliano

 The Glera grape from which Prosecco is made
 Federica Dal Bianco points to a new vine grafted onto old root stock
 Adriano Dal Bianco oversees the workers placing newly picked grapes on conveyor belts

 The hillside winery of Masottina
 The Dal Bianco family relaxes after a hard day at harvest on a meal airing their Proseccos and still wines with local seafood

Fresh, raw Gambero (shrimp or prawns)
Baked fresh Turbot, a local specialty
Rizzardo wine is a perfect match with seafood
Adriano Dal Bianco relaxes at dinner after a hard day in the vineyard

Masottina makes some spectacular reds from both international and native grapes
 The vistas along the Prosecco Road
 Good times at a local Inn along the Prosecco Road
Below: lush views from the Prosecco Road

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