I was pleased to be invited to interview Olga Bussinello, Director, of the Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella here in Vancouver recently. The Consortium for the Tutelage of Valpolicella Wines is an association of wine producers, winemakers and bottlers of the wine production area of Valpolicella, a territory that includes 19 municipalities in the Verona province. Excellence in the vineyard is the purpose of the Consortium and boasts environmental sustainability and wealth of the land. This is the orientation of the program “RRR – Reduce, Respect, Retrench”, which attests to environmental respect by companies, adopting innovative and sustainable techniques in the vineyard and landscape protection. The RRR project now involves 114 companies and almost 1,000 hectares of vineyards in Valpolicella.
In 2016 almost 60m bottles of Valpolicella wines (Valpolicella, Amarone, Recioto and Ripasso), were produced for a value of approximately 565m euro per year (Italy’s highest for any PDO) with Amarone generating 330m.
(The above information was provided to me by the Consorzio.)
My Interview with Olga Bussinello
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Consorzio Valpolicella?
I have two different challenges. One is the concept of the vineyard. Sustainability is not the normal rule in Valpolicella for the production of grapes. Their goal is the quality of the wine, not the grape. The quality in the grape is analyzed for appassimento purposes. For me I think sustainability is the future of communication for our wine. Giving the full answer to the consumer. This is my first challenge.
The second challenge is to communicate about our Protected Designation of Origin (DOP). Every winery organizes their own promotion, but their promotion is for their wine blend, not for the region’s denomination. Denomination is the big umbrella while the winery is one level below. My challenge is to organize to the activities of the wineries. I have many wineries, cooperatives and grape growers. It is very a very complex world in Valpolicella. 2347 grape growers, 7 cooperatives, and 213 wine companies.
What do you want the Consorzio Valpolicella to accomplish over the next year?
For the next year I will organize the promotion of Valpolicella for 5 countries. I will organize the activity in the USA, Switzerland, and Europe (London and other major cities). These are mature countries for my wine. There are other interesting countries, but not historical markets for me. There is China for example, Ukraine, Canada, and other countries. Canada is a big market and historical market for wine, but Valpolicella wine in BC is not very big. So there is a big opportunity for me. I look in Vancouver and I see many different restaurants. There are Italian, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese restaurants in Vancouver, and the people in Vancouver like to try different cuisine and are curious to try different food and wine pairings. It is for me a challenge for next year and more. In the next year I will go in two different times and events. In the spring, first week in June I will have an event and I think more specialized, and in autumn I will attend the Italian Cultural Week and I will organize one or two activities. I don’t know exactly.
I like Valpolicella wines. There is different levels of quality from basic Valpolicella to full-bodied Amarone.
Valpolicella is multitasking DOP. It is possible to enjoy Valpolicella wines in every season with different cuisine. For me I love my wine because it has an opportunity for drinking in every moment. Valpolicella is not only for eating but for more for aperitif. Amarone is for meditation. It is good with bitter chocolate. Ripasso is in the middle of the price to Amarone and middle for quality of wine. It has more body than Valpolicella but less alcohol than Amarone.
I was surprised that Valpolicella Ripasso DOC sales are 45.3% in the world, Valpolicella DOC is 32.3% and Amarone DOCG is 21.9% Many people are price sensitive so I assumed Valpolicella DOC would be the highest sales.
Ripasso sells more. Valpolicella has more acidity and minerality, freshness and fruit, but it is a simple wine. This is for me an opportunity. Some people they may feel that Valpolicella is not a good quality wine and this concept paralyzes Valpolicella. But I think the new generation of young adults and mood for wine to be not too alcoholic helps Valpolicella in the market.
Where is Canada and BC in sales of Valpolicella wine?
BC is a low percent in quantity, but there are many wineries in the liquor board and in private stores. I think 50 wineries in BC. But the quantity of sales are low. Amarone is in first position with 13% in sales in Canada, 8% Valpolicella, and 7% Ripasso.
Besides wine do you also cover tourism for the Consorzio Valpolicella?
Yes I organize activities for wine lovers and for experts in my zone. Verona is a very interesting city, it is not very big. In the summer there are 2 different festivals. In the historical Roman building there is the Arena di Verona Festival. It is a very empathetic activity because the actors address historical events.
I organize private tours and support tours to visit the wineries. Five years ago I started new app; it is a Valpolicella wine app that is on the iOS and Android system. With the app it is possible for you to choose where to sleep, to eat, and where to walk. <Here is the URL for the Android app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=it.consorziovalpolicella.android&hl=en >
So people can organize their own wine tour or is it better to have you organize it?
For yourself to organize, it is OK. The app has many winery addresses and walking tours. People can organize their own activity. If they want they can contact my office and I can help organize the tour, at a different level.
Are all wineries open for tours or only some wineries?
In the summer, in the family wineries, it is very difficult to organize a visit as they are working in the vineyard. In the autumn and winter it is not good to visit Valpolicella.
Do you get snow in the winter?
Not much. More like rain in Vancouver. We get snow in the mountains and can ski in the Valpolicella region.
Vancouver people are used to rain, so we do not have a problem to visit you in the winter.
Tell me about the 2017 harvest. Was it a good year? As we know France had terrible weather.
I think it was a good harvest because in Valpolicella we didn’t have problems with sun or hail. The only problem is lack of rain in the Spring and in the Summer. This is a problem for quantity in the vineyard. But the analysis and the quality of the grapes is fantastic. There is more sugar in the grape which makes more alcoholic wine, and there as well is more glycerin, polyphenols and reservatol. It is same to the 2015 vintage.
What draws people to the wines of Valpolicella, compared to Tuscany or other regions?
Because Valpolicella is a round, velvety drink. It is complex in aroma and has softer tannins.
Is Valpolicella always a blend?
Yes it is always a blend using indigenous grapes. In Valpolicella the principal and secondary grapes are indigenous. International grapes are a small part.
What are typical Italian dishes to enjoy with Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone?
For Valpolicella, for me, it is very good with Pasta Pomodoro or Caprese. Valpolicella is fantastic in the summer. Ripasso is good with homemade pasta with cheese cream and with medium-old cheese. Amarone is fantastic with meat, wild meat, goose, duck, beef, old cheese, and bitter chocolate. Reciotto is a sweet wine and is very good with blue cheese and honey, also with desserts like cheesecake and Sbrisolona tart.
I didn’t see Recioto in worldwide sales. I assume it is less than Amarone?
It is less than 1%.
Getting back to the land. Does Valpolicella have defined terroirs like in Burgundy or Tuscany?
In Valpolicella there are 3 regions and 13 valleys. Each valley is an area with a different microclimate. In general in Valpolicella there are 4 different soil types; Limestone, volcanic, tufo, and calcareous soil. The River adds alluvial soils in the bottom of the valleys. The mix of the soil and microclimate produces different aromas in the wine. In the Valpolicella Classica area you get character of fresh cherries, flowers, rose or lily. In the Negrar valley you get a very alcoholic, stronger wine. Valpolicella Valpantena is the balsamic centre with herbal medicinal aromas. This area has red wild berry fruit and violet perfume, and strong body with high alcohol. For me when I taste the wine I don’t look at the label, but I can guess the area of production. It is a very interesting activity. classic map showing the Valpolicella Regions and Valleys is at this link.>
Can you tell me about Alteprima Amarone and its special tastings for the 50th anniversary of the Amarone DOC (started 1968)?
Next year is a very important year because it is the festival of 50 years of start of the Amarone DOC. It is very difficult to organize a tasting showing step by step the historical progression in the DOC. I can have two options to show people the Amarone wines. One way is to present wines from more than 100 wineries with each winery offering two different vintages for a tasting; a young and an old vintage of Amarone. The wineries get to choose the vintages of their best production. That makes a total of 200 different Amarone to taste. The second way is to organize a tasting with two very representative vintages over 50 years; one very old and one at least 10 years ago.
Thank you Olga for sharing your thoughts on the wines of Valpolicella, what makes them different and special, and about the upcoming festivities with the 50th anniversary of the Amarone DOC.