In the world of winemaking, there are pioneers, visionaries, and trendsetters; those who shape the industry for generations to come. Fongaro Spumanti proudly holds a place among these trailblazers, having left an indelible mark on Italian winemaking. They were among the first to introduce Durello to the market in the mid-70s, elevating it to unparalleled bubbly excellence. To this day, they only produce sparkling Durello wine.
As I navigated the winding back roads of the Alpone Valley on a warm September morning, I couldn't help but ponder the legacy of Fongaro Spumanti. The sun's gentle rays stretched across endless pergolas and terraces, where clusters of Garganega and plump Durella grapes bulged from meticulously tended vines. "Harvest season must be approaching," I mused, captivated by the landscape.
Fongaro Winery was born in 1975, the brainchild of Guerrino Fongaro, winemaker that upon retirement embraced his lifelong dream of crafting his own wines with his own labels. Guerrino, a spirited centenarian, defied age and successfuly contributed to the enduring legacy of Durello.
Upon my arrival at the Fongaro estate, it was evident that the winery buzzed with activity. Grapes were examined for sugar content; some vines had already yielded their treasures, and crates of grapes stood ready outside the processing plant. The air was charged with a sense of purpose; here, there was no room for idleness.
Tanita Danese: Leading with Passion
I was warmly greeted by Tanita Danese, the driving force behind Fongaro Spumanti today. In her thirties, Tanita exuded courtesy and a directness characteristic of Veronese culture. Armed with degrees in Philosophy, Economics, and Oenology, her reputation as a rising entrepreneur preceded her. She commanded respect effortlessly, leaving no doubt that she knew precisely the story I needed to uncover.
Over a cup of coffee, I asked Tanita about Fongaro's legacy. She couldn't resist a chuckle as she recalled Guerrino Fongaro's remarkable longevity. "He remained active and engaged in the cantina, living to the ripe age of 102. Perhaps Durello is the secret to longevity!" she remarked. Tanita then shared how she assumed a leadership role in 2020 when Guerrino's heirs decided to step away from winemaking.
"To be honest," Tanita admitted, "I never envisioned a career in winemaking. As a child, I assisted with harvests and tended to family vines; I could even drive a tractor at the age of ten, but my heart yearned to explore the world beyond the valley I grew up in. With a degree in Philosophy from the University of Padova, I felt worlds apart from winemaking." She smiled again, reflecting on how life had its own plans. "Circumstances led me back to my roots, and I couldn't be happier."
Tanita's eyes sparkled with passion as she continued, "Today, I love what I do. Yes, there are challenges, particularly as a young woman in a predominantly male domain. But once you earn your team's trust, loyalty follows."
Crafting Sparkling Wines and Future Vision
Fongaro Spumanti boasts 12 hectares of cultivable land, 10 of which are dedicated to winemaking. The vineyards span elevations from 200 to just over 500 meters above sea level. With an annual production of approximately 60 thousand bottles across 7 different wine labels, each wine is distinctively named and associated with a unique label colour. Whether it's "Bianca" (white), "Nera" (black), "Verde" (green), "Grigia" (gray), or the signature "Viola" (purple), all are crafted using traditional sparkling wine vinification methods. The common thread? Durella grapes, either in pure form or blended with Chardonnay or Manzoni varieties.
Tanita shared an insider's perspective on the challenge of perfect timing in sparkling wine production. "Durella grapes can be delightfully unpredictable. After the initial fermentation, their high acidity demands anywhere from 42 to 50 months on the lees to craft a top-tier sparkling wine. Thanks to technology and blends, we can now achieve remarkable balance in just 15 to 36 months. Yet, predicting the exact moment a wine is market-ready remains an art, especially in recent years where we are experiencing the effects of climate change."
She also noted that some of their wines mature for up to 85 months on the lees, a testament to patience and precision. "Our terroir is our hidden gem," Tanita emphasised.
The Alpone Valley is blessed by abundant Tertiary basic magma flows and basalt, that weather into mineral-rich clay. The minerals yield the much-needed nutrients that are ideal foundation for the growth of healthy grapevines. The clays provide good surface drainage, which helps reduce the risk of rot. Furthermore, volcanic soils impart unique mineral and earthy characteristics to the grapes. These flavours impart what wine enthusiasts describe as "minerality" which is an expression of a wines origin and enhances its complexity.
"We embraced organic farming early on and have been certified since 1985," she proudly added. With a sense of purpose, Tanita shared her vision for Fongaro’s future: "We're committed to refining our sparkling wines to the highest standards possible. It's a journey we undertake with our team of local workers and outsourced consultants, primarily from Italy and France. Continuous improvement is the way to enduring relevance. "
While we strolled around the cellar together, Tanita briefly showed me a section where some “sperimenti” were lying quietly for future consideration. Experimental blends, ageing in their bottles and biding their time, carefully sectioned off and monitored. Perhaps some of them will yield a new chapter in Fongaro’s story as exciting additions to the range.
“Of course, sustainability is at the forefront of all we do. We use solar panels to generate the greater part of our electricity and heat our water. We have wood burners for the winter. We capture all contaminated water, and our bio-farming certification imposes a tightly monitored use of pest repellent products. Our wines are also vegan, though we are not vegan certified at the moment.”
Fongaro’s Flagship: Viola Brut
In the Fongaro cellar, Tanita led me through dark passageways where thousands and thousands of crown-capped bottles lay on their side. Fermentation taking place inside each and every one of them; yeasts eating up the sugars in the wine juice to produce gorgeous Fongaro sparkling Durello spumante. Every now and then, a missing punt appeared, the bottom of the bottle blown away by the pressure inside, too much for the vessel to contain.
“Our flagship label is Fongaro Viola Brut, the purple label, 100% Durella grapes and no less than 42 months on the lees.” Tanita hands me a glass for a taster.
It is indeed a wonderful sparkling wine with a great bouquet that varies remarkably in a short burst of time. Initially, there are notes of hazelnut and bread crust that then lead to a floral cluster of blossom and violet. Hints of green apple and grapefruit follow with a mild presence of vanilla. The taste is dry and taut yet velvety at the same time with an elegant freshness. Notes of citrus fruit give a well-balanced taste that leaves one desiring another mouthful.
Pairings and Sales
“What would you pair your sparkling wines with, Tanita?” I ask. “The Viola goes well with seafood risottos,” she replies. “The Verde (green label) I find is best with grilled fish, especially turbot. It’s also good with grilled meat”, she says.
I cannot help but notice that these are rather unusual pairings for a bubbly. Tanita seems to pick up on this. “It’s high time for the misconception that sparkling wine is only for celebrations or aperitifs to be debunked,” she tells me. “You know, we welcome and encourage pre-booked guided tours at the Fongaro cantina. We have space for large groups and are happy to arrange tastings and provide a range of food pairings for all our sparkling wines. We do however, emphasise local cuisine from Verona and Vicenza with local cheeses, salamis, and hams, but there is more on the menu if requested. I don’t recall any unhappy customers!”
“What about sales?” I ask.
"Our sales reflect our achievements. Currently, only 20% of our production reaches international markets, with the bulk majority of our wines sold and enjoyed right here in Italy. Expanding our global presence is, of course, something we aspire to. The UK is in our sights as well, where I’m told there is a growing demand for quality sparkling wines, not just Prosecco. Currently, our biggest international markets are the US and Japan."
A Toast to Fongaro Spumanti
As our conversation drew to a close, Tanita's passion for Fongaro Spumanti and the world of winemaking was palpable. Her eyes sparkled with a blend of tradition and innovation, much like the wines she produces. As I bid farewell to the picturesque Fongaro estate, I couldn't help but feel that I had embarked on a journey not only through the vineyards but also through the rich history and bright future of this remarkable winery.
With every bottle they produce, Fongaro continues to invite wine enthusiasts to savour the fruits of their labour, toasting to the legacy of Durello and Guerrino Fongaro. In the world of wine, with so many indigenous varieties available there are always new horizons to explore, especially in Italy. Fongaro is proof to this as well.
Cheers to Fongaro Spumanti—a true testament to the artistry of Italian winemaking and a powerhouse of Durello!
Author's Note: The ideas and content are original, but AI technology was employed in the creative process.