On our recent wine tour in Trentino in north-east Italy we had the chance to visit the cellars of the famous Metodo Classico sparkling wine producer Ferrari. After a cellar tour and a rather special tasting of their wines, we were given not only a guided tour of an extraordinary 16th century villa owned by the Lunelli family, owners of Ferrari spumante, but also the chance to eat at their fine dining restaurant in the hills. Certainly we felt like we were in the fast lane of life in Italy.
Ferrari spumante was founded in the city of Trento by Giulio Ferrari in 1902. His family owned vineyards and he had been trained in wine production at the local prestigious San Michele all’Adige agricultural school and later in Montpellier, France and Geisenheim, Germany. He also spent some time in Epernay, Champagne and thought that Chardonnay would be ideal to grow on the high altitude limestone hills of his home area in Trentino, so he smuggled in some vines.
From the start Giulio Ferrari aimed to make high quality spumante using the Champagne method, today known in Italy as Metodo Classico. Until the 1950s production remained highly limited (less than 10,000 bottles a year) and much in demand all over Italy, but with no successors Giulio finally sold the company to Bruno Lunelli, who ran a successful wine shop in Trento and had long been an admirer of Ferrari Spumante. Giulio continued to work in the firm until his death in 1965 aged 86. The biggest change Bruno Lunelli made was to increase production to create a viable business and the company has never looked back. Today Ferrari spumante remains owned and run by the Lunelli family and produces nearly 5 million bottles of Metodo Classico sparkling wine.
The current offices and three hectares of cellars are on the outskirts of Trento and are open to visitors. The reception area is quite sumptuous with a wonderful display of pop art-decorated Ferrari bottles and a shop where you can buy period posters and other related artefacts as well as the wines of course. If you’ve never visited a Champagne house then the visit through the cellars is well worth it – it’s usually available with an English guide if you are prepared to wait a little while, though always better to make an appointment.
All the sparkling wines under the Ferrari label are Trentodoc – the name developed for Metodo Classico wines from the Trento D.O.C. and Chardonnay is the dominant grape variety. We tasted their excellent non-vintage 100% Chardonnay Maximum Brut which has three years on yeast before disgorgement alongside its rosé partner from a blend of 70% Pinot Noir base wine made as rosé with 30% Chardonnay. Both had lovely freshness and delicacy with the rosé ideal for food as was proved later that day. The Perlé vintage 2004 (again 100% Chardonnay) was a tremendous wine with elegance joined by roundness and real length. As we were part of a group of British wine educators, we were honoured to be given a taste of the latest vintage of their single vineyard Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 1999 produced in very small quantities only in good years: it was mature, spicy and sumptuous – and has been described as “one of the four wines that have changed the story of Italian wines.”
Joining us to taste the Giulio Ferrari was Franco Lunelli, one of Bruno’s sons. Marcello Lunelli the oenologist commented “my uncle always turns up when we open this wine”, but Signor Franco Lunelli, now in his 70s worked hard for his share. He was our knowledgeable guide around the extraordinary Villa Margon owned by the family and set in parkland in the hills a few kilometres above the winery. The situation and the collection of buildings including an 18th century chapel are simply beautiful in themselves, but it is the actual villa and the art that it contains that is the highlight of a visit here. It was built in 1540 by the Basso family, who had purchased the land from the Bishop of Trento. The villa became a summer retreat for prestigious guests travelling through Europe, including cardinals and other church dignitaries, and it is believed that Emperor Charles V was a guest too.
Between 1540 and 1560 artists were invited to the villa from Belgium and from Venice to paint frescoes on the walls and these have never been restored. All the rooms of the villa are adorned with these allegorical and historical frescoes, which remain in amazingly perfect condition with colours so bright that experts continue to debate what materials must have been used to paint them nearly 500 years ago. The frescoes in one room illustrate the battles in which Charles V was involved; in another they are devoted to bible stories from the Old Testament and a further room has stories from the New Testament. My favourite room had 12 frescoes each representing the typical activities occurring in one month of the year. At least three were wine related with March showing the pruning, August preparing the barrels for the new harvest and September illustrating the harvest itself. Two months that amused me were January showing the men playing cards whilst the women work in the kitchen and December which was the shopping month – prospecting for wood amongst other purchases. For further insight, check out this recent visitor’s blog post.
Close by on another side of the hill the Lunelli family have opened a restaurant Locanda Margon, which now has one Michelin star. In a beautiful setting above the Adige valley, but only a few kilometres from Trento, it would make a fantastic summer evening’s excursion and the food we experienced was high class country food, beautifully served.
Over lunch, Matteo Lunelli, another family member working in the company explained something that had intrigued me, namely whether there was any relationship between Cantine Ferrari spumante and Ferrari Maranello, the car company. Matteo told us that that Ferrari was, along with Rossi, one of the most common names in Italy – the equivalent of Smith or Jones, so it was crucial for both companies to protect the use of the name commercially. The two companies are good friends and Matteo explained that they were “two expressions of luxury lifestyle”. Some years ago they came to an agreement giving Cantine Ferrari the exclusivity of the name for the world of drinks while Ferrari Maranello has the exclusivity for all other products. When Ferrari wins at a Grand Prix race, the team always celebrate with Ferrari spumante.
A perfect wine tour day should include all these things: interesting cellar visit, great wines, a superb meal, good views and some sort of cultural experience. Thanks to Ferrari you can get these all, close to a major city too.
Contact Ferrari via their website to arrange a visit to the cellar or to Villa Margon. Villa Margon is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays, plus a few special opening days.