Graziano Prà: A Conscious Farmer/Vintner in the Veneto

When Graziano Prà inherited land and vineyards from his family in the early 80s, he started making conscious choices with the goal of producing high quality wine using organic agriculture. He was inspired by Wendell Berry, an American poet, environmentalist and philosopher whom he quotes on his homepage, noting that consumers as well as producers have the responsibility to make conscious choices: “When we buy food, we choose an agricultural model. This is a fundamental issue that determines the future of the planet: it’s survival or its destruction.”

In the morning I spent with Graziano, I saw two facets of his personality. First, there is the generous, outgoing, fun-loving Graziano, who chats and works easily with his wife and the three young people he has brought in to help him run the vineyard. Then, there is his more pensive, quiet side that comes out when he and Otto, his beloved border collie, go out into the vineyards alone.
dog

I saw the latter when we drove twenty minutes up to the Mezzane Valley to Graziano’s Moradina organic vineyard. After a long search, he bought it in 2001 and planted the traditional red varieties (Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Osileta) to make Valpolicella DOC wines (Superiore, Superiore Ripasso and Amarone).

Unlike his white wine vineyards in Soave Classico zone, Morandina is at the highest elevation where grapes can survive in Veneto (450 meters-1600 feet). Graziano and Otto led the way from the car to the vineyard. We passed silently under ancient trees, then, came out onto an open slope facing south.
Mezzane

In addition to the altitude, another extraordinary characteristic of the vineyard is its chalky soil, formed from compressed shells because this land was once deep under the sea. The whiteness of the soil is visible to the left in this photo.
soil

Graziano explains about how this land forces the vines to work. It drains quickly so the roots have to go deep in search of water. The deeper they go, the more minerality they absorb from the soil, lending the wine crispness and earthy elegance.

After visiting the vineyards, Graziano and Otto took me down to see the grapes that were drying for Superiore Ripasso and Amarone. (More below on how the wines are made.)
grapes drying

We drove back passing the town and medieval castle of Soave…
IMG_6606
Just a few kilometers from Graziano’s house and cellar in Monteforte di Alpone.
Pra copy

Some of the Prà white wine grapes (Garganega and Trebbiano) are grown in the San Vittore vineyard near town and others, including the most historic, cru vineyard, Monte Grande, are in the hills behind the house. In Soave, the soil is completely different: dark basalt that comes from eons old volcanic magma.

soave vines best

All are in the Soave Classico DOC zone and many were planted 40-60 years ago by his father and grandfather. Up until Graziano took over in the 80s, Prà grapes were sold in bulk to the local cooperative or “cantina social”. This was the norm in the Veneto (the northern region where Verona and Venice are located) for both the white wines of Soave and the reds of Valpolicella. The grapes were traditionally grow in “pergola” for quantity not quality. Now, Graziano does a lot of pruning to rein the vines in and farms organically. He cannot get certification, however, because of close by neighbors using chemicals.

house

The Prà farmhouse and cantina (attached to the left) were a beehive of activity on the day that I visited. But when it got to be lunchtime, Graziano looked around, counted both employees and visitors and sat us down for lunch on the terrace where we tasted the wines.

First, the Soave whites.
whites
Prà Otto Soave Classico DOC 2013
Graziano makes 150,000 bottles of his “base” wine ($12-17). 100% Garganega. Fermented in stainless steel, it is meant to drink young: a fresh, light, easy drinking wine (12%), nice for an aperitivo or for light, summer salads

Prà Staforte Soave Classico 2012 DOC
100% Garganega. Made from the best grapes of all the vineyards (6-7,000 bottles). Fermentation in stainless steel, then, the wine rests for six months on the lees, giving the wine more minerality and complexity. Clean and dry. (13%) Good with crustaceans, poultry, and pasta. ($18-20)

Prà Monte Grande Soave Classico DOC 2011
Since 1988, Graziano has made this cru from his Monte Grande vineyard (30% Trebbiano + 70% Garganega). He uses “taglio del trancio” (cutting of the branch where the bunch hangs) to do a traditional “appassimento” (grape drying) on the vine. He presses the raisin like grapes, then ferments and ages the wine for 10-12 months in large, oak barrels. It is completely different from the other two Soaves, still fresh but with a golden yellow color, depth and complexity. Best 3-4 years old. More robust (13.5%), it pairs well with smoked ham, tuna and more structured pasta dishes.

Then, the reds.

Prà Morandina Valpolicella Superiore DOC 2013
Moradina Val
A transparent ruby red color, the wine macerates and ferments for 15 days with the skins in stainless steel then rests in oak for malolactic fermentation. Dark cherry and slight spicy, earthiness, but still a light red. ($35-40) 5,000 bottles made.

Prà Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2012
Moradina Ripasso ($40-45)
Same process as for Valpolicella Superiore then the grape skins used to make Amarone (below) are added to the wine. It undergoes a second fermentation (ripasso) in oak, partly in barriques and partly in large, oak barrels. The wine has a more intense ruby red color and deeper aromas and flavors: cherry, plum, pepper and the earthiness of the woods around Graziano’s vineyard. A heavier more structured red (14.5%), the wine pairs well with red meat or pasta dishes with meat sauces. 5,000 bottles

Prà Valpolicella Amarone DOC 2009
Amarone ($50+)
The grapes dry for two months in the drying racks then ferment and macerate with the skins for 15 days. 2/3 of the wine rests in large oak barrels and 1/3 in barriques for three years. The velvety wine has intense aromas and flavors of black cherry, plums and earthiness but is not overly heavy or jammy because of the soil and altitude of the vineyard. A robust, structured wine (16%), it is a “vino di meditazione” (meditation wine that is harmonious enough to drink without food).

Prà
Via Della Fontana 31
Monteforte D’Alpone
370326
www.vinipra.com

Graziano Prà is a member of FIVI.

FIVI copy

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