Corte Sant’Alda: Getting to the Root of Amarone wine (Veneto)

For Marinella Camerani, these luscious grapes grown with biodynamic agriculture represent the sum total of a myriad of daily decisions and actions accumulated over thirty years. “Everything choice I make has a consequence,” she told me, “I’m ultimately the one responsible for the grapes and the wines at Corte Sant’Alda.”

Standing high up in her vineyards looking down over the Val di Mezzane near Verona, she reminded me of the fearless captain in Master and Commander. In the mid-1980s, Marinella began restoring the house at Corte Sant’Alda that her father had bought as a weekend retreat. She also started learning about grape growing and winemaking from scratch. With determination, force of personality, and the sweat of her own brow, she took the estate’s vineyards seriously.

She made hard choices in favor of quality like pulling out old “pergola” vines to plant intensely with “guyot” and doing extensive soil surveys to understand the composition of her vineyards. In the meantime, she and her husband had three daughters, one of whom, Federica, helps to run Corte Sant’Alda.
It turns out that the soil and location of her vineyards are unusually good, as she explains in the video below. At the top of the hill, there is never fog or humidity. Even when it rains a lot, the white, stony, limestone/calcareous soil drains quickly unlike the clay that is found in many of the vineyards in other parts of the Valpolicella.

“If you want to change the way the leaves and the grapes of the vines look,” she told me, “you don’t work on them. You work on the roots.” She reversed her perception of the importance of vine and roots when she moved from organic to biodynamic agriculture. The vineyards were lush with growth even in the late fall. She sees organic agriculture as a method in the vineyards whereas choosing to work biodynamically means adopting not just methods but a philosophy, a complete way of life.

On the afternoon I arrived, Marinella was in the middle of harvesting and at the sorting table with her vineyard workers. 2014 was one of the rainiest years on record. The grapes had still been green when Marinella had begun the harvest (with most of the neighboring vintners) a month earlier. Not pleased at all, she stopped harvesting and decided to risk leaving the grapes on the vine. If the rain had continued, the grapes would have rotted instead of ripening. But this year, her bet was a good one. The sun shone for for four weeks, and she was taking in splendid grapes.

sorting table

After harvesting and sorting, grapes that will be used to make Valpolicella and Valpolicella Ripasso ferment with indigenous yeasts in these large wooden containers. The grapes for Amaraone are first left to dry until late January or early February before fermenting here. (Her white wine, Soave, ferments and ages briefly only in steel containers.)
tini better

Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso, Amarone and Ricioto wines all age in this cellar deep underground where the temperature naturally stays right.
steps up from cellar

The large or small barrels made from either oak or cherry.

After the vines and the cellar, Marinella offered men a taste of her flagship wine, Corte Sant’Alda Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2010. The grapes come from five vineyards, some planted in 1986 and some in 1999. (In fact, all Corte Sant’Alda wines are “cru” meaning that they come from specific vineyards.)

Marinella’s Amarone is elegant and full of vitality. Even though it has 15.5% alcohol, it is tense and dry, not at all like the sweet, fruity, “modern” versions of the wine that have become common. 2010 is the most recent vintage, still very young for an Amarone, which can age for twenty plus years. Even so, the wine clearly has personality…

glass of amarone

…a lot of personality. Just like Marinella herself.
Marinella profile

Corte Sant’Alda website

Corte Sant’Alda belongs to FIVI: Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers

FIVI copy

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