Today the area around Verona and Lake Garda seems peaceful, prosperous, and industrious; however, in 1944 it was anything but. The retreating German Army was determined to hold out as long as possible and to try and dislodge it one of the Allies’ tactics was to disrupt the German supply chain by bombing railway marshalling yards, Thus the yards in Verona were targeted and in one raid alone, on the 6th July, 1944, a firestorm consisting of 84 tonnes of high explosive bombs was unleashed. These were dropped from aircraft flying at 20,000 feet so accuracy could not be guaranteed and the terror of the local population can only be imagined. It is no surprise therefore that survivors gave thanks and a visible reminder is the tiny votive chapel – dedicated to Maria delle Grazie – that a grateful family built in 1947 on a small hill outside Castelnuovo del Garda.
That chapel is still there today, now hidden amongst the vines of the Brutti family winery, and so they chose the name Poggio delle Grazie or Hill of Grace for their cantina. The family purchased the business in 1985 and for nearly 30 years they sold their grapes on, but in 2014 they made the decision to start producing their own wines with all the investment in vinification equipment that that entails. Today, they produce around 60,000 bottles of wine per year from 16 hectares of vineyards.
Vinnie and I were visiting to try something of a local speciality, a white wine called Custoza, and we were shown around by Elisabetta, the wife of Massimo who owns the business together with his brother, Stefano. The first thing that you notice on arrival is the view from the slightly elevated position towards Lake Garda. Here we are on the glacial moraine that holds back the waters of the largest lake in Italy and the climate is determined by the enormous thermal capacity of the waters that ensure temperate weather.
Custoza is a DOC wine and the rules governing how it is blended were relaxed in 2019 to allow for a larger variety of grapes to be used; however, Massimo and Stefano have stayed with tradition and use 50% Garganega, 30% Trebbiano, and 20% Tai, also known as Friuliano. After a manual harvest and a cool fermentation in stainless steel, the wines are left on the lees for about three months before blending. A brief pause for two months in the bottle, and the wine is ready. The colour is a delicate pale straw with a bouquet of green apples with delicious hints of thyme and sage. On the palate there is a pleasant acidity with the mild flavour of Amalfi lemons. This will go well with freshwater fish from the lake or chicken or as an aperitivo.
The brothers produce a range of wines and I could not leave without trying at least two of their other offerings. The first is a red wine called Sette Filari. It is made from a grape variety, Marzemino, that is not well known outside of northern Italy. The brothers have seven rows of this vine, hence the name, all over 30 years old. After a manual harvest the grapes are left to dry – appassimento is the Italian term – for 30 days to allow the sugars to develop. After pressing, the fermentation is in open oak barrels using natural yeasts and manual punching down. The wine is then matured for 24 months in once-used oak barrels. The Italians use the term secondo passaggio or second passage for this. The final bottling is done unfiltered. The colour is a deep ruby with a bouquet that is rich and fruity with plums and liquorice with a little vanilla. On the palate the tannins are soft with a good acidity and structure. This is a great wine to pair with salami or a mature cheese.
The final wine that I sampled is a Bardolino Chiaretto DOC. This is a rosé made with 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinello, both local varieties that are instrumental in the blending of the famous Valpolicella. Veneto is the main producer of rosé wines in Italy where they are called rosato. To obtain the delicate blush that the brothers are looking for the maceration has to be short – 8 to 10 hours followed by a cool fermentation at below 18 degrees. There follows three months on the lees and two in the bottle. The result of all this care is a wine that has more to offer than many rosati. The bouquet has roses and violets while in the mouth there are raspberries and strawberries with a hint of citrus. This is a wine that can be enjoyed as an aperitivo or perhaps with pasta alle vongole or a light risotto.
Lake Garda is a fabulous holiday destination and if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the area make a detour to Poggio delle Grazie. There Elisabetta will make you very welcome and you can sample their wines either in their beautiful tasting room or outside underneath a pergola enjoying the wonderful views.