On a recent company trip to Italy, a handful of Black Star Farms’ seasoned employees got the chance to research Italian vinification techniques and of course, taste a lot of wine! With a background working in Italy, our winemaker Lee Lutes and owner Kerm Campbell found it only natural to visit various wine regions in Northeast Italy and bring along part of our winery team.
To kick-off the trip, our team visited the Veneto region, which is classically known for Prosecco. This sparkling white wine is made solely from the Glera grape, a varietal with a long history in the area. At Miotto Winery in Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Andrea Miotto, a fourth-generation winemaker, hosted a tour and tasting for our team. Everyone sampled fresh Prosecco right from the tanks and then were shuttled to one of their dramatic terraced vineyards. There they tasted in an open-air patio, part of a historic building used for vineyard workers to rest and have lunch during busy days. Talk about a destination winery!
Traveling Northeast from Veneto the next stop on the trip was in the sub-zone Collio, part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region that hugs the Adriatic Sea and snakes upwards along the Slovenian border toward the Alps. Here you find countless small, family-run producers with a refreshing sense of authenticity rooted in tradition. Wineries the team visited with this rich sense of tradition included; Ferruccio Sgubin (also owning the agri-tourismo where they stayed), Grillo Iole, and Petrussa. Some critics believe this area is making some of the best, and under-rated, white wines in Italy, such as Friulano, Ribollo Gialla, Sauvignon (Blanc), and Pinot Bianco (Blanc). Just like our own white-wine heavy region, they are also producing some very interesting reds; Schioppettino, Refosco, and Pignolo, all of which have ancient ties to the area.
Tasting Room Manager Jill Chumbler remarked that Schioppettino was one of the most expressive wines she tried. “It reminded me of an old vine Zinfandel that had pronounced fruit characteristics and was well-balanced.” Some Schioppettino is being grown in Northern Michigan, but we have yet to incorporate it into our portfolio. Maybe we will see it join our list of red wines in the future!
At Cantina (Italian for winery) Kante in Carso, a subzone next to Collio on the Adriatic Sea, our team learned more about natural winemaking techniques, toured their underground stone cellar, and were treated to an extensive wine tasting that included local cheese and cured meats like prosciutto. Grapes grown in this area must be hardy because they have to stand up against “Bura”, the sudden strong, cold, gusty winds coming off the sea. White wines, including the regional Vitovska, showed pronounced minerality and salinity due to the extremely rocky soil and proximity to ocean waters.
A popular, traditional dish that our team dined on in Friuli was Frico. Technically heated cheese, sometimes layered with potatoes, and served with polenta. As a complement to its savory flavors, it paired wonderfully with a local Merlot. Before leaving the area our team was treated to a multi-course wine paired dinner at the restaurant at Ferruccio Sgubin, Al Cjant Dal Rusignal. Our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were poured next to similar regional wines for them, and their Italian hosts, to enjoy during dinner. Our wines showed beautifully with the regionally inspired menu including a favorite among the BSF crew, Ricotta Souffle with White Asparagus and Pumpkin Oil. Creamy gelato was also enjoyed by all as much as possible, including tableside service at a restaurant in Cividale Del Friuli.
Though it was hard to leave a region with such incredible hospitality, our team moved Northwest to the stunning Trentino-Alto Adige landing at Foradori, a sixty-year-old winery nestled in the Dolomite Mountains. Pushing the envelope of natural winemaking, Elisabetta Foradori is also known for preserving and elevating the Teroldego grape, an ancient variety native to this alpine region. Now retired, her sons Emilio and Theo carry on her vision of natural wine rooted in their land.
We are growing Teroldego in the Summit Vineyard on Leelanau Peninsula and this grape can be found in some of our red wine blends. If you visited our tasting rooms this past summer you may have had the opportunity to try the Isidor’s Choice Wine Club Selection, a full-bodied, dry red blend based in Teroldego.
Theo began the tour of his family’s beautiful winery in their stunning vineyard where they employ bio-dynamic practices. The tour continued to the cellar where they are using cement, large clay vessels called amphorae, and barrique in the winemaking process. The tour concluded with a wine tasting and lunch prepared by Theo and Emilio’s sister Mrytha featuring a regional venison stew over polenta. In addition to Teroldego, they are producing white wines from Manzoni Bianco, a cross between Rhine Riesling and Pinot Bianco and Nosiola, an ancient variety native to their area. Kim Zacharias, Winery Promotions, remarked that wines made in these natural methods were like “nothing I had ever tasted before.” Describing the 2016 Granato Teroldego she said, “this wine was a little wild, yet extremely elegant with deep flavors of blackberries and blueberries complemented by an extremely long finish, in one word, stunning!”
One interesting perspective our team took away from their tasting experiences during the trip, was the focus placed on the connection of the wine to its land and tradition. Tastings in the U.S. seem more focused on describing aromas and flavor profiles of wine, while in Italy more emphasis is placed on the winemaking processes and the story behind each bottle.
We are happy to have our team members back, mostly because they brought home wine with them! We’d love to hear about your experiences with Italian wines and swap stories sometime.
About the Writer: Olivia Kiel
As a Tasting Room Representative and the new blogger for Black Star Farms, I get the opportunity to write and learn about wine (two of my favorite things!) every day. I’ve worked at both Traverse City area tasting rooms and developed a passion for everything Black Star Farms by working alongside the company’s best and pouring its finest wines. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Ferris State University where I studied Writing and Business and have been a Northern Michigan resident for about three years. When I’m not at work, you’ll likely find me with a good book, enjoying the outdoors, or at a local winery tasting something new and exciting.