An Interview with Speri Winery
The Speri Vineyards
What is the history of the land you are on?
Valpolicella, one of the most prestigious areas on the Italian wine scene, has been dedicated to viticulture since ancient times. It is located in western Veneto, between Verona and Lake Garda, delimited by the Lessini Mountains in the north.The area called Valpolicella Classica, is most suited to the production of prestigious and quality wines, thanks to its hilly location. There are 5 comuni (municipalities): Sant’Ambrogio, San Pietro in Cariano, Fumane, Marano and Negrar. The nature of the soil is prevalently calcareous and from a geological standpoint, researchers believe it goes back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The climate is generally mild and temperate, with precipitation around 900-1,100 mm per year. The territory, crossed by valleys and small torrential waterways, is rich in history and culture; next to inviting country landscapes, visitors can find ancient parish churches, Renaissance villas and important examples of rural architecture. Vineyards were cultivated even in Roman times. In the hilly countryside, cherries and corn for polenta and oil were cultivated in addition to wine.
What was it used for before your winery owned it or did someone else owned it previously?
Our family began its journey in 1874 – the first cellar was built then, next to the historic home of the family. Then in 1962, a new cellar was built – the main one, which is where the barrel room, warehouse and offices are. Before, there was nothing here, just land, vineyards and cherries.
What clones and selections are used?
We use only native grapes from Valpolicella: The main traditional grapes we use are Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara, but we also use small percentages of other minor but historic varieties, such as Oseleta, Negrara and Rossignola.
Where does the water sources for the vineyard(s) come from?
We have many vineyards that even though they are close to each other, have different characteristics, such as soil, altitude, zone, microclimate. To take a closer look, go to this link from our website: https://www.speri.com/en/vineyards/
Specifically, we have two different situations: for the La Roverina, Lenguin, Brolo di Villa Giona vineyards there is a well, from which we get water to distribute by way of dry irrigation for the entire property. But for Sant’Urbano and La Roggia, our most treasured hillside vineyards, irrigation is not necessary. One of the most important characteristics of this Cretaceous calcareous soil is its great ability to hold water. This allows the soil to “reserve” water for a long time, and to fight the draught conditions of the hotter months.
What trellising systems does the winery use? Why do you prefer that system?
With respect to biodiversity of the terroir, and the goal of maintaining a very high level of quality, the Speri family, after years of observation and experimentation in the field, the Speri family made significant changes to the Pergola Veronese traditional training systems in the early 1990s. The most significant improvements include the inclination of the metal arm on which the vines rest and the central opening, which guarantees the grapes more sunlight and ventilation. This new training system is called Open Inclined Pergoletta but in the area, many still call it the “Speri Pergoletta” training system. Today it is the most widely used type in Valpolicella and is the most effected for hillside cultivation and Amarone production.
There are many advantages over the more popular Guyot (or spurred cordon). One of the most important is ventilation. In fact, the rows are 3.2 meters across, which is useful for the movement of air. In addition, the leaves extend over the row along the traditional “arms” of the . The fruits descend from the canopy created by the leaves. So, both elements – the leaves and the fruit – receive this vital ventilation during the growing season, which prevents mold-driven disease, such as downy mildew or powdery mildew, by keeping humidity low. With the Pergola training system, the fruit is about 1.6 meters from the ground. So, it’s far enough from the soil’s grass to avoid humidity and this is fundamental in preventing botrytis in the last processing.
Another advantage, which has become increasingly important over the last few years, is the protection from the sun that the leaves provide during the hottest hours of the day – this prevents the grapes from burns during July and August. In recent years, also because of climate change, sunlight has gotten hotter and more powerful.
The Inclined Open Pergoletta training system is also very practical during harvest, because the grapes are at eye-level and vertical. A possible limit is that this system can’t be mechanized but this isn’t a problem for us as we do everything by hand.
What are the different soil types from each of the vineyard sites? What do these soils do for your wines?
Sant’Urbano: The soil has volcanic origins with Basalt components mixed with calcareous-cretaceous schist. This leads to grapes with a rich extract and fresh, fine perfumes; these characteristics go perfectly well with the production philosophy our winery, which concentrates on elegance and tradition.
La Roggia: The soil is loamy; about 50 cm down, there is a gravelly layer that helps with water drainage, resulting in healthier grapes, rich in minerals; sweet and loosely packed grapes, ideal for Recioto production.
La Roverina: Calcareous with alluvial origins, with a good amount of gravel, rich in organic material and minerals. Juicy grapes, with excellent aromatics, perfect for fresh, young wines.
Do any of your vineyards have names? If so, is there a story behind those names?
Our single vineyards are all places named in the past.
Vigneto Sant’Urbano takes its name from Sant’Urbano di Langres, a bishop from the 4th century BC who lived in Langres, a French city. Sant’Urbano is the patron saint of winemakers. Because of this, many gave the name Sant’Urbano to the best and most suitable parcels, the ones that led to the best wines. This is why many wines have this name.
Vigneto La Roggia: This name refers to a small river that passes through the vineyard, feeding a small lake on the Villa Giona property. This magnificent sixteenth-century villa is one of the most important in the area.
Vigneto La Roverina: This vineyard is named for the enormous old oak trees (rovere means oak in Italian) that surrounded the vineyards.
If you have large vineyards, do you only use a portion of the vineyard to produce specific wines? How did you choose what portions to use?
Since the 1970s, we’ve been vinifying each single vineyard to highlight the uniqueness of each parcel. In this respect, we were true pioneers in Valpolicella.
For Amarone and Valpolicella Classica Superiore Sant’Urbano, we select the grapes from the vineyard of the same name, our most important single vineyard because this hillside vineyard is particularly suitable to viticulture and produces fruit ideal for the drying process: thick skins from vast day/night temperature swings, a great richness in anthocyanins due to better sunlight in the vineyard.
For the Valpolicella Classico Superiore La Roverina, we have different requirements: a very fresh and young wine. We get ideal juicy fruit from the Roverina vineyard for this wine.
Il Recioto della Valpolicella Classico La Roggia comes from La Roggia vineyard. The yield is very low and gives us grapes that are rich in every way for a unique, juicy and sweet wine.
The Speri Winery & Winemaking Process
What makes your winery different from others in the region?
Our winery is very unique: we are the biggest of the “small” wineries in that we work totally artisanally. But at the same time, we produce a significant number of bottles. Our winery is totally independent with 60 hectares of estate-owned vineyards – only in Valpolicella Classica – that allow us to produce over 400,00 bottles from only our grapes. In our area, there are very few medium-sized wineries that don’t buy grapes or wine from others.
We are also totally certified organic.
We focus only on DOC and DOCG Valpolicella wines.
We are one of the top Amarone producers and we produce one Amarone from our best single vineyard. When the vintage is not up to par, we don’t produce it.
In addition, every phase of production is managed by the family. There are eight of us, including two enologists (Alberto and Giuseppe – father and son) and an agronomist (Giampietro). Thanks to this, and to being extremely attentive and meticulous, we are positive we can totally transmit our style – something that is very important to us.
In Italy, we are considered a historic company that has contributed to the history of Valpolicella. We are respectful and faithful to the area, with a genuine and individual style.
What is the winery’s long-term plans regarding production levels, vineyard replanting, style of winemaking, consumer targets, etc.
Our goal is to main these dimensions, to guarantee direct and meticulous control over every phase of production and to find ways to improve quality. Our strength has always been agriculture. It has always been a starting point for us when we do new experiments and improvements and we’ll continue this in the future. In addition, we are always very conscious of sustainability, respect for the environment and the people around us. We are currently the most important organic winery in Valpolicella Classica in terms of production and vineyards: this is an important feat for us, and we’re not done. We’ll continue to improve on our journey and become ever more sustainable.
In terms of style, our wines are classic and will stay that way: we want to faithfully represent our area with the production of elegant wines, full of personality.
What vintage had the most challenges and what were those challenges? How did you overcome them?
Each vintage presents new challenges. In fact, the balance of a vineyard is always at the mercy of nature. In recent years, and in addition to climate change, vineyard life is also slowly changing, making each season challenging. In recent years, the most particular was 2014. Until June, conditions were stable, and encouraging, but then from mid-June to September, we had rain almost every day (an anomaly in Italy) with very high and constant humidity. Fortunately, the Sant’Urbano vineyard is often shielded from this problem due to its natural characteristics. The result in terms of fruit was very good, but not excellent, and surely natural drying would been difficult. So, we decided not to produce the two wines that require a long drying period: Amarone Classico Sant’Urbano, our only Amarone, and Recioto: this wine requires excellent grapes so when the weather doesn’t allow for excellence, we prefer to skip the vintage. On the contrary, we were surprised by the fragrance of the Valpolicella Superiore Sant’Urbano of that vintage. It was able to withstand a short drying period without any problems and as the Amarone wasn’t made, all of the best grapes went into the production of that wine.
What cooperage does the winery use?
We mainly use large casks (20 25, 40 and 50 hl) in Slavonian oak and French oak tonneaux (500L), which is considered a large cask, as it’s about twice the size of barrique).
Is there a philosophy around cooperage?
Our philosophy is to reach the ideal balance during the entire aging process. They are never easy decisions because they play with the palate of the final consumer. Ours is a mix of staunch tradition, which doesn’t want to excessively overburden the wine with oak, but to accompany the natural evolution of the wine.
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