Bellavista: exceptional details
(fine)wines ¹3 winter 2007-2008
What if Dom Perignon had happened to work in Franciacorta?
Perhaps, we would have saved his famous phrase “I am drinking the stars” for its sparkling wines. A small area in the north of Lombardy in Italy vies with Champagne in production of quality sparkling wines. For the evidence, it is best to go to Bellavista estate that has long conquered the world with its superb wines.
The view is perfectly spread before the eyes from the top of the hill. Wild growth sprawls next to clearly cut pieces of fields and vineyards. Lake Iseo is glistening in the background. The horizon is hidden by a wall of the Alpine mountains. “A beautiful view” that’s how the name of the hill is translated from the Italian, and there is nothing more to say. The nature created another perfect landscape, and the agricultural presence of man has blended into it very well.
Vittorio Moretti, who was born in the area, bought the Bellavista hill and built a house. He started to make wine rather to entertain himself and to serve the wine for his friends and business partners. Then he work in construction business in line with his family tradition. The house was adjoined by three and a half hectares of vineyard that was to become the starting ground for the first winemaking experience. The wine was made in the basement of the house. Making wine captivated him, and he decided to start a serious project.
After several trial vintages Moretti produced the first wine under the Bellavista marque in 1979 this is the official year of birth of the winemaking estate. Two years later Mattia Vezzola, current managing director and chief winemaker, joined the project. In thirty years the estate has gained a reputation to be envied by any champagne house. Bellavista wines are the same benchmark for Franciacorta like Krug wines for Champagne.
Bellavista’s development is closely connected to the story of Franciacorta where a new tradition of classic sparkling wines was created within just a few decades. Winemaking in Franciacorta has existed since ancient times, but the farmers didn’t care much about the varieties planted and chose them without proper consideration. The same was true about the styles of wine. Such situation lasted until the mid-twentieth century. In 1960s first experiments with the champagne method were held. They were successful, and the leading estates didn’t hesitate to use the opportunity to produce classic sparkling wines with the second fermentation in bottles. Guided by the Champagne model, winemakers started to cultivate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Nero), but took Pinot Blanc (Bianco) instead of Pinot Meunier. In 1996 vineyards for sparkling wines were put in a separate zone and received a DOCG the highest in Italy status for a winemaking area. In 2003 Franciacorta’s uniqueness was accepted on the European level. Its wine labels (like labels for champagne) don’t require a full name of origin. It is enough just to mention the word Franciacorta.
Bellavista philosophy remains constant since the time when the estate was founded. In essence, it is about turning the potential of the terroirs and grapes of Franciacorta into wines of exceptional quality. Having started from 3,5 hectares, Moretti increased the vineyard area to the current 187 hectares. The plots were chosen on slopes with the best exposition in ten communes of Franciacorta. The soils are the debris of rock brought by the glaciers from the Apls. They slightly differ in structure, but all contain chalk which gives them something in common with the Champagne vineyards. Grapes grown on chalky soils produce wines with a particular, fresh mineral tone.
The microclimate of Iseo Lake is more temperate and with a less marked difference between the day and the night temperatures than at the neighbouring Garda Lake. In the south Franciacorta is protected by a long stretch of Mount Orfano that in winter prevents the arrival of very cold air and in summer stops the heat from coming. If the climate at the shores of Garda Lake is rather Mediterranean (lemons and capers are grown there), the summer temperature at Iseo is usually three degrees lower. The period of ripening of grapes is longer, but one shouldn’t forget that Frianciacorta is much more southerly than Champagne. Grapes are picked at ideal ripeness at the beginning of September, yet sugar levels remain low. After the first fermentation wines get only 9-10 percent of alcohol.
The character of Bellavista wines is dictated by two main varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Most vineyards are planted to Chardonnay. Pinot Nero plantings account for 27 hectares this is the largest vineyard area of the grape in Franciacorta. The estate runs a detailed research programme since the time it was founded. Within the programme of clonal selection vines most adapted to local terroirs are chosen. Eighty percent of the new Pinot Nero plantings come from mother vines which grow in Bellavista. A harmonious union of the vine and the land bears wines with own personality and confirms the uniqueness of Franciacorta.
Young vineyards of Bellavista mature for six years before the first crop is picked. The age is two-three years older than commonly accepted for harvesting. This is another example of the attention to the quality of wines. The harvesting, as one would expect, is done by hand.
As soon as the harvest arrives to the winery, it goes into Le Marmonnier press. Presses like this have long been used in Champagne. They are especially praised for gentle treatment of grapes. Pressing of one load takes about five hours and produces five different fractions of must.
Bellavista winemakers note several factors that influence the style of wine: grape variety, vineyard location, chosen fraction and a fermentation vessel for base wines. The clearest juice, or the first fraction, is fermented separately. Fractions obtained in the end of the pressing are never used in production of Bellavista wines.
Wines from different plots and of different fractions are fermented in two types of vessels stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels. Traditional barrel fermentation is done in the same way like 200 years ago. Bellavista winemakers view them as a neutral environment that helps stabilize wines better. They are not interested in additional aromatic features provided by newly toasted oak. In order to protect wine from unwanted aromas, all barrels for fermentation come used at least several times. Compared to stainless steel vats, they fix the wine’s colour and aromas better. It becomes more stable and acquires more body. Usually almost all Pinot Nero is vinified in barrels. Stainless steel tanks, though, also play important role. Wines fermented in them preserve more freshness and fruit. About a third of all musts is fermented in barrels, the rest in steel vats. The amount of barrel wine in the final blend depends upon the style. Thus, a lighter non-vintage Cuvee Brut has 15-25% of wine fermented in wooden barrels. Its share rises to 40% in the vintage Gran Cuvee Brut.
The blending is done in April of the following year. There are around 80-90 base wines at the winemaker’s disposal. They will be used to make various marques. The most challenging job is perhaps to keep the consistency of the non-vintage Cuvee Brut as the signature wine of Bellavista. At least 30-35 base wines are used for its blend. About 20-25 wines are taken for Gran Cuvee Brut and 10-15 for Gran Cuvee Saten.
Then the wine is bottled and sent to the cellars for the second fermentation. It is kept on the lees in the bottles for the minimum of two years. The chief winemaker is currently working to increase the aging of each wine for another 12 months. This exceeds the standard aging period for champagne. It means that Cuvee Brut will be released for sale after four, and Grand Cuvee Pas Opere after 6 years of the cellar aging. Thanks to the fine lees, wine flavours become more complex and acquire volume, textures are also improved. Wines rest in a kilometer long underground tunnel where nothing disturbs their rest.
Bellavista range consists of five sparkling wines. The flagship Cuvee Brut, Chardonnay dominated with 20% of Pinots, is followed by vintage Gran Cuvee Brut. Here the amount of Pinot Nero is increased to 28%. Other wines also come from specific vintages. Gran Cuvee Saten is the equivalent of the Blanc de Blancs champagne, it is aged only in barrels and demonstrates the feminine side of Chardonnay. Gran Cuvee Brut Rose is obtained by short maceration of Pinot Nero on skins, it consists of approximately equal parts of Pinot and Chardonnay. Finally,Grand Cuvee Pas Opere a classic, fundamental cuvee with the Chardonnay base (65%), the harvest is picked from the oldest vineyards.
Curious nuances are found in the design of bottles. A stylishly laconic shape of bottles, in the spirit of the best Italian design, was created by Vittorio Moretti. If you carefully look at the wire ring at the neck of the bottle, you notice that it is turned up over the capsule. A small thing, but the capsule has to be put by hand. Attention to details is crucial at all stages of production.
Rounded and impeccably balanced sparkling wines of Bellavista are a true pleasure for those who drink them. The difference between the styles, though, allows finding individual gastronomic partners for each wine. Cuvee Brut will be best suited to light snacks and canapes, while Gran Cuvee Brut will make a good match with white meat and fish with sauce. Sumptuous Gran Cuvee Pas Opere demands refined gastronomic partners such as oysters and fish carpaccio, and Gran Cuvee Brut Rose will be excellent with fresh berry desserts. Gran Cuvee Saten is probably best left without food the wine is self-sufficient. The same can be said about well aged vintage Bellavista wines. After 10-15 years of life they create most unforgettable impressions.