The Ferretti family vineyards are in the Bassa Padana half way between Parma and Reggio Emilia, truly the land of plenty where there is a commercial cheesemaker for every thousand people and where the noble pig rules, with every part of the animal turned into delicious cuts of meat, notably of course the famous prosciutto of Parma and numerous types of salami. And only a few miles away is the production area for the undisputed king of prosciutto, Culatello di Zibello.
When we wrote about the warmth and generosity of the Romagna people after our visit to Poggio della Dogana last year, we included a quote by a mid-twentieth century cultural historian from Rimini that celebrated Romagna hospitality in a way that was slightly disparaging about their close neighbors here in Emilia.
After our visit to Ferretti recently and experiencing the welcoming nature of an Emilian household we can happily refute any suggestion that the Emiliani are any less warm than the Romagnoli. Not being Italian myself I can state without fear of bias that in the whole of Italy both Emilia and Romagna are only matched in this regard by the Abruzzesi.
This was our second visit to a wine producer in the Lambrusco area after our trip to Gianluca Bergianti almost a year ago and we were so impressed with his wines that we looked long and hard to find another small scale winemaker who shared his approach and philosophy. Denise Ferretti is exactly that person, someone who displays an obvious passion to revive traditional Emilia winemaking and push back against the carpetbaggers with their prosecco-imitating autoclave wines that have no historical foundation in Emilia.
As well as sharing a winemaking philosophy, the family experiences of Bergianti and Ferretti have certain uncanny similarities. The forefathers of both families suffered the same unfortunate fate almost a century ago of losing their vineyards in the depression that followed the financial crash of 1929, and in the last few years both have gained a reputation for producing high quality traditionally made Lambrusco wines in the most natural way possible.
But this is where their stories differ because in Ferretti’s case the land they reacquired in Campegine in 1970 was their true ancestral home where Denise and Elisa's great-grandfather Sante started out and where, having been forced to sell his property, he had little choice but to continue working the land in the employment of the new owners. Sante's son Bruno was the person who got the family land back and his son, also named Sante, learned his craft making wine for the local Cantina Sociale which bought grapes from many local growers including from the Ferretti vineyards.
In 2011 the Cantina Sociale closed its doors and so a couple of years later it was time for the Ferretti family to stop selling their grapes and start to produce wine under their own label with Denise, who by this time was an oenology graduate, at the helm and her sister Elisa and their father Sante both helping in the enterprise.
They have over 7 acres under vine and a slightly higher amount of grassland that is available but not yet in use. Because of the long history of this estate there are vines dating back as far as the 1930s; many of these are different varieties that are planted in separate rows within the same vineyard as was the habit in many parts of Emilia. They have also preserved one old tree in the middle of the vineyard (below) as a living example of the custom many decades ago of using trees, mostly elms, to support the vines.
The soil here is fertile mix of sand and clay and the water table is very high on these flat plains so this is one of the few areas in Italy where the winemakers don’t suffer too much in the increasingly dry summers experienced in Italy in recent years.
There is also some better heat protection for the grapes in the Bassa Padana as the vines grow rapidly here and the leaf canopy is lush and dense, but with the water presence comes humidity that can encourage diseases, proving once again that nature always finds a way to challenge winemakers. The estate is farmed organically, including plant infusion sprays for the vines to ward off the problems with humidity, and Denise is one of many winemakers we have met recently who have embraced the Simonit & Sirch method of pruning and training the vines.
The goal of which is protect the continuity of the natural sap flow through the vine and reduce the overall area of cut surfaces; this has the twin benefits of reducing the incidence of disease and prolonging the productive life of the vine. It also reduces the quantity of grapes at harvest time because as every winemaker knows, there is an inverse relationship between quantity and quality that is summed up by the following quote:
Fammi povero che ti farò ricco
However, Sante, being an old school winemaker, is not a huge fan of the Simonit & Sirch method because he feels that it doesn't sufficiently encourage the vine’s roots to go deeper into the sub-soil and at this point we were reminded of our conversation with Gianluca Bergianti who likes to stress his new vines with closer spacing and no irrigation to force the roots down through the water table. In his opinion it is in this sub-strata where the saltiness comes from in his wine, that attractive sapidità that Gianluca stresses should not be confused with mineralità.
In the cellar Denise has much in common with Bergianti. Fermentation is always allowed to happen spontaneously from the wild yeasts present on the grape skins and she prefers to add minimal amounts of sulfur just after the grapes are crushed rather than at bottling. She gives every wine extended contact with the lees for a minimum of 6 months in stainless steel tanks where the wine also undergoes malolactic conversion.
Immediately before bottling she adds the additional sweet wine must to the tanks and then bottles them quickly before the secondary fermentation can begin. Not having any temperature control in the above ground cellar, nor her own bottling capability, this requires very precise timing and a speedy hand-bottling process that is not always under her control so individual bottles of her Lambrusco may differ with regard to their fizz; just one more challenge for a winemaker determined to do things the traditional way but there have been no complaints from her growing band of admirers, quite the opposite in fact.
Every wine Denise makes undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle and whether dégorgement takes place or not, the finished wine is never filtered. Current production is about 20,000 bottles per annum, not including the vino sfuso made to serve the local community, one of the great Italian traditions that I hope continues in the modern winemaking world.
Denise produces two metodo classico wines that undergo remuage (above photo) and dégorgement in the usual way and three Lambrusco wines that are interesting for their wide variety of indigenous grapes including lesser known varieties like Barghi and Ancellotta that give intense color to the wine and others like Foglia Frastagliata (or Enantio as it is known in Trentino where it is mostly grown) which have greater botrytis resistance. All three of the Lambrusco wines are dry, red and sparkling; two are metodo ancestrale (ie. the deposit from the secondary fermentation remains in the bottle) and the third is metodo classico (ie. the deposit is disgorged).
Not content with the five wine types already mentioned, Denise is increasing the vineyard space devoted to the white grape varieties Malvasia, Trebbiano (various types), Pignoletto and Moscato, all of which are used in one way or another in her Stropél Bianco bottling and the Al Biond sparkling wine.
In addition the Fortana grape (known locally as Uva d'Oro) has grabbed her attention in recent years, a variety that was documented as far back as the 16th century in Emilia-Romagna and which has always had a reputation for producing favorable wines. The metodo classico rosato called Nina is from 100% Fortana and the white metodo classico called VispA is from 100% Malvasia Bianca.
Interestingly, for both of the metodo classico wines Denise brings in a specialist to perform what is known as à la volée to expel the deposit using only the pressure inside the bottle rather than the traditional method of freezing the deposit in the neck of the bottle, known as à la glace. It's a delicate task that requires experience to quickly and deftly remove all the sediment without losing too much wine.
Stropél Bianc 2021 - Bianco dell'Emilia IGP - Frizzante Secco (11.5% alcohol)
(25% Malvasia Aromatica, 25% Malvasia Bianca, 20% Trebbiano, 20% Moscato, 10% Pignoletto, 2,000 bottles produced)
Aromatic and fruity on the nose with hints of acacia honey. On the palate there's ripe white fruit and a savory, persistent and slightly sour finish reminiscent of grapefruit. Suitable as an aperitivo and perfect with light lunches. 12.40 euros
Al Biond 2021 - Bianco dell'Emilia IGP - Macerato Frizzante Secco (11.5% alcohol)
(98% Trebbiano of various varieties, 7 days skin maceration, 700 bottles produced)
Stunning yellow color with citrus on the nose. Less aromatic but noticeably fuller on the palate than the Stropél and a pleasant slightly bitter finish.
Al Cēr 2021 - Lambrusco dell'Emilia IGP - Rosato Frizzante Secco (12.5% alcohol)
(25% Lambrusco Salamino, 20% Maestri, 15% Grasparossa, 15% Ancellotta, 10% Marani, 8% Oliva, 5% Barghi, a few hours skin maceration, 3,000 bottles produced)
A lighter red in the glass due to the short maceration time there are notes of raspberry and blueberry on the nose and a refreshing yeasty tang on the palate. This wine spends 20 months on its lees before dégorgement giving some added depth to the flavors. Pairs really well with salumi from Emilia because that is its role! 10.40 euros
Al Scûr 2020 - Lambrusco dell'Emilia IGP - Rosso Frizzante Secco -
Metodo Ancestrale (11.5% alcohol)
(25% Lambrusco Salamino, 20% Maestri, 15% Grasparossa, 15% Ancellotta, 10% Marani, 8% Oliva, 5% Barghi, 3-4 days skin maceration, 5,000 bottles produced)
Remember to rotate the bottle gently before pouring to re-integrate the flavorful sediment. There's a touch of funk on the nose that blows off quickly to reveal a full, ripe wine with flavors of pomegranate and cherries that will cut through any fat on your dinner plate and refresh the palate. Given that so many Italian dishes have pancetta or guanciale in them it's surprising that this sort of wine isn't much more popular because it's the perfect foil. 10.40 euros
Caveriol Ros 2020 - Lambrusco dell'Emilia IGP - Rosso Frizzante Secco -
Metodo Ancestrale (10.5% alcohol)
(20% Lambrusco Salamino, 25% Maestri, 25% Grasparossa, 1o% Ancellotta, 20% Marani, 3-4 days skin maceration, 2,000 bottles produced)
Again, make sure to rotate the bottle gently before pouring. Inky purple in the glass this has a very evolved and slightly tertiary nose that belies its youth. Lightly frizzante there are jammy notes of plum and raspberry with good acidity, spices and soft tannins. This is a food wine so drink this as we did with a classic slow-cooked Emiliano ragù and tagliatelle and you'll understand why traditional Lambrusco merits a place in your cellar. 11.60 euros
Nina - Spumante Metodo Classico - Rosato Pas dosé (11.5% alcohol)
(100% Fortana, a few hours skin maceration, 1,000 bottles produced)
Brilliant cherry red color in the glass and a slightly sweet nose of strawberry and pomegranate. On the palate it's completely dry with a chewy texture and notes of raspberry. Refreshing and pleasantly bitter on the finish. A very interesting grape for a spumante that shows very well. 18 euros
VispA 2019 - Spumante Metodo Classico (11.5% alcohol)
(100% Malvasia Bianca, 1,000 bottles produced)
Aromatic on the nose and a very distinctive wine on the palate, bone dry and slightly salty.
We don't come across many sparkling wines made 100% from Malvasia and so this was a pleasant surprise for us as to how suitable this grape variety is for making spumante. Very enjoyable. 18 euros