Vigne del Pellagroso
Antonio Camazzola has a special feeling for drinking good wines, an incredible curiosity and a professional background non related to vineyards and cellars! Being an outsider has helped him to approach viticulture and wine making without being judgmental.
Let’s start from his name, Antonio. Well … many people call him by the nickname Billy and we’ll stick to that. Born in the 80s, while he was still a restaurant owner, he began in 2011 to recover 7 old vines rows, planted with mixed grapes (mainly Merlot) ) near Monzambano (in the Mantova’s province) by the Mincio river on the Morainic hills of the Garda Lake. The Southern shore of Peschiera del Garda it’s only 7 km away. The soils of the Morainic hills are characterized by a stratification of compact calcareous clay and high salinity due to a mineral sedimentation left by an ancient glacier present 500,000 years ago.
This tiny plot was in difficult conditions, having been abandoned by human beings (and maybe even by God) for many years and, after a severe pruning, Billy decided to avoid any chemical treatment. His first amateur vintage dates back to 2012 with just few bottle of wine produced to share with his family and friends. Officially it’s Lombardia and actually this area is a real crossroad to the Verona district in Veneto, allowing a constant interchange of wines’ experiences, grapes cultivated and adopted training systems.
This tiny plot is adjacent to an ancient small county side building (also in a state of neglect) in which the Il Pellagroso newspaper was printed. Billy came across the story of this independent popular media which was devoted to the peasants’ cause. Published in Castel d’Ario from December 1884 to March 1885 and founded and directed by Tito Melesi, after the thirteenth issue, the newspaper Il Pellagroso was forced to permanently suspend the publication due to the arrest of its’ director, accused of having fomented the strikes of the local farmers. The media was very critical of the working conditions and overall of the society’s iniquities, and at the same time striving for human justice.
Billy was so fascinated by this publication’s scratchy contents and hence decided to name his wine project Vigne del Pellagroso after it. His viticultural methods are radical and completely reject the use of chemicals and his wine vision refuses to compromise with any form of agricultural manipulations.
in 2016 decided to leave his main working activity by investing a good amount of time and money renting a vineyard (less than 2 hectares) near Monzambano (in the Mantova’s province) on the hills over of the Garda Lake.
His professional debut dates back to the 2017 vintage, coming from this small organic certified plot cultivated chemical-free since 1985 and trained according to biodynamic methods since he started to manage it.
In 2018, the vineyards’ hectares increased to 7 coming from 6 different plots, all farmed and converted to biodynamic regulations, through the use of the classic preparations, micro organism, compost, green manure planted during the fall season, etc.
Biodynamic wine is made by farming all components of the vineyard as one whole entity, eliminating the use of chemicals and using natural materials and composts. Following the biodynamic calendar is another integral part of the process. Sometimes, these farming practices, from pruning to harvesting, are controlled by the biodynamic calendar. It breaks all the tasks associated with farming into four kinds of days: root days, flower days, fruit days, and leaf days. Each of these days has certain tasks associated with it that are reflective of Earth’s four classical elements: Fruit days are meant for harvesting, leaf days for watering, root days for pruning. On flower days, the vineyard is left alone.
Guess what … Billy Camazzola has invested so much time in viticultaral research and biodynamic methods that, beginning from the 2020 harvest, he achieved the official certification released by Agribio. All the wines produced start with the spontaneous fermentation triggered by indigenous yeast, are unfiltered, without the use of temperature control technology. The wines are barely sulfited just to provide a constant stability.
Nowadays Billy cultivates many grape varieties. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Molinara, Rondinella among the reds, while for the whites Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Garganega, Malvasia, Malvasia di Candia and Moscato.
Billy’s wines are all deliberately declassified and not belonging to any specific DOC. Had his wines however part of a specific one, it would be the Garda Colli Mantovani DOC (for more info check the last chapter “The Garda’s lake wines”)
The grapes are harvested by hand in plastic bins and promptly carried to the cellar in order to be immediately processed. According to the specific wine Billy wants to elaborate, grapes are destemmed (or not), pressed, pressed with or without maceration and fermented in different type of tanks (fiberglass, stainless steel vats and concrete) or wooden barrels. In 2019 Vigne del Pellagroso has carried out the harvest in its brand new property cellar. Some of Andrea Marchetti’s wines are vinified here (G-Ray Pinot Grigio Ramato, Luci Rosse, Explosion Pet Nat)
After several harvests under his belt, Billy has increased the yearly production to 35.000 bottles and his wines are exported to Europe (mainly Denmark) and USA. In addition to the vineyards, Billy farms ancient grains, barley and potatoes. Every year part of the crops varies and a wide array of flowers are planted in order to protect the bees and their habitat.
Starting from the 2018 vintage, Steep Hill has imported mainly two wines: Light White and the Light Red. Both wines have a different name and label in all the other markets (respectively Lugar and Trentotto).
Light White 2020: Light White chemical free grapes are grown in the Via Sale and Monte Oliveto tiny plots with the same type of soil characterized by a stratification of compact calcareous clay and high salinity due to an ancient mineral sedimentation. It’s a field blend of different varieties (Riesling, Garganega and Moscato) co-harvested and processed all together with 7 days of skin contact. The must ferments in concrete vats with indigenous yeast avoiding any kind of external additive. Bottled roughly 9 months after the harvest.
It’s a perfect thirst quencher enhanced by awesome aromas, a fruity palate with some earthy notes, following the old school tradition of Garda’s lake winemaking. The Light White is a minimal wine with no cellar manipulation. Unfined and unfiltered. Only 5.000 bottles have been produced from this harvest. Serve it slightly chilled but not too cold in order to enjoy the awesome aromas. Regulations don’t allow for the name of the grape varieties to appear on this label.
Light Red 2019: Light Red’s grapes are chemical free (no pesticides, no herbicides, etc.) and come from Vigne del Pellagroso estate vineyard (only 5,5 hectares) near Garda’s lake in Lombardy. The soils of the Morainic hills are characterized by a stratification of compact calcareous clay and high salinity due to a mineral sedimentation left by an ancient glacier present 500,000 years ago. This wine is a field blend of different varieties co-harvested and processed all together (40% Merlot plus Cab Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Molinara and Rondinella). The must ferments in concrete tanks with indigenous yeast avoiding any kind of external additive. Bottled roughly 9 months after the harvest.
The short skin contact (2 days only) makes this wine the perfect thirst quencher, displaying some earthy and grippy notes, following the old school tradition of Garda’s lake winemaking. The Light Red is a minimal wine with no cellar manipulations. Unfined and unfiltered. Only 3.800 bottles have been produced from this harvest. Serve it slightly chilled but not too cold and let it breathe for a while.
The Garda’s Lake (Lago di Garda) is the largest one in Italy, and a popular destination for travelers searching for deep blue transparent waters, wind-in-your-hair yachting, and la dolce vita the area is known for.
The rich and famous may head for the northern resorts towns of Riva del Garda and Torbole, while families and backpackers head for the farmhouses of Bardolino, Castelnuovo del Garda, or the fortified town of Sirmione in the south.
Formed by the movement of glaciers thousands of years ago, Lake Garda is tucked between the regions of Trentino, Veneto and Lombardy. Its upper half, shaped somewhat like the handle of an axe, reaches into the Italian Alps, while the southern section, shaped like the blade of the axe, stretches down into an undulating plain. Such a shape is typical of a moraine (glacier-formed) valley.
The lake is 32 miles (51 km) long from north to south, and about 10 miles wide at its widest point. In addition to lovely towns, ferry boats, orange orchards, and olive groves, the shores of Lake Garda are host to a variety of vineyards, which including several DOCs and one DOCG. These wine districts are overwhelmingly overlapping, interlocking, discontiguous, and straddling the boundary lines of cities, towns and regions.
A lot of wine lovers are familiar with the Bardolino wines which is located in Veneto only and is undoubtedly the most famous of the Lake Garda lakeside DOCs. Bardolino produces mainly red wines and some rosé (a much-beloved Chiaretto) from a blend based on 35–80% Corvina Veronese grapes (a portion of which may be replaced by Corvinone). Small amounts of Rondinella are required, and small amounts of Molinara, Rossignola (Gropello), Barbera, Sangiovese, and Garganega are allowed. Many different versions are allowed by the regulations, including the chiaretto (rosé) which may be released as normale, classico, or sparkling. Bardolino is known to be a light to medium-bodied, fresh-tasting red wine.
Bianco di Custoza DOC: The Bianco di Custoza DOC, tucked below Lake Garda on her southwest side, is located within the Veneto region. The DOC overlaps with the Bardolino DOC quite a bit, but also extends past the boundaries of Bardolino a bit as well. Bianco di Custoza, sometimes simply called “Custoza,” is a white-wine only DOC, but does allow for sparkling wine, sweet wines made via the passito method, and a superiore version, in addition to the normale dry, still wines.
All of these versions of Bianco di Custoza may be made using the same palette of grape varieties–but from there things get a bit complicated. The basis of the wine starts out with at least 20% (and a maximum of 40%) Garganega. Next, it includes a minimum of 10% (and a maximum of 40%) Trebbiano Toscano (otherwise known as Ugni Blanc). Another 5% to 30% is an interesting grape known as Trebbianello, which is a local clone of the grape alternatively known as Tai or Friulano. Other grapes that are allowed in varying amounts include Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese), Malvasia, Riesling Italico, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Manzoni Bianco.
Lugana DOC: The Lugana DOC straddles the Lombardy–Veneto border at the southern edge of Lake Garda. The name Lugana is as picturesque as its surroundings; the word is derived from the Latin for “Lake in the Woods,” reflecting the dense woodlands that existed here not-so-long ago. Lugana is a white wine-only DOC, producing wines in a range of styles from a minimum of 90% Trebbiano di Lugana grapes. The Trebbiano di Lugana variety is also known as Trebbiano di Soave, Turbiana, or Verdicchio Bianco. The DOC produces mainly fragrant, dry white wines (often compared to Soave in style), and also allows for superiore, riserva, late-harvest, and sparling versions.
Valtènesi DOC: Located in Lombardy’s Brescia province, the Valtènesi DOC produces both red and rosé (chiaretto) wines based on a minimum of 50% Groppello (Gentile and/or Mocasina). The remainder of the blend may include any of the red wines approved for use in Lombardy, with Sangiovese, Marzemino, and Barbera most often used. The Groppello grape is native to this area of northern Italy, and is grown in very small amounts, mainly in Lombardy and Veneto (where it may be known as Rossignola).
Garda DOC (and the rest of the Garda family): The Garda DOC extends along the western shore of Lake Garda (in Lombardy), and continues on to the Veneto side, overlapping portions of the Lugana, Bardolino, and Bianco di Custoza DOCs along the way.
Two small portions on the Lombardy side overlap with smaller Garda DOCs: Garda Colli Mantovani DOC overlaps a small section at the southern end of the lake, and a small section near the northern edge overlaps with the Garda Bresciano DOC. All of these regions produce a wide range of wines, including red, white, rosé, sparkling and novello versions, from a range of grapes representing the typical varieties of the area.
In a nutshell