The Bertani name represents centuries of wine-making experience. Brothers Giovanni Battista Bertani and Gaetano and founded the historic cellar in the second half of the 1800’s, confirming an already firmly established viticultural heritage dating back to the 15th century. Combining their deep respect for tradition and appreciation for the land with an innovative and courageous spirit for quality wine-making, the two brothers gave birth to a highly successful enterprise that was quite trailblazing for the Veneto of that era.
The oldest winemaking family in the Verona area, the Bertani name can take credit for a long list of local wine firsts and novel ideas. They were the first in the region to bottle and sell typical Veronese wines on a large scale, creating a worldwide demand for Soave, Ripasso and apassimento-style wines that continues today. The family was also the first to adopt innovative cultivation techniques (such as the Guyot method for high-density, low-yield) in the vineyard as early as the 1860’s, having been exposed to such techniques during time spent in France in political exile during the battle for Italian independence. Further enological innovation, such as the Ripasso method (a second fermentation of Valpolicella created by “passing over” Recioto grape skins), brought national and international recognition to the family as one of the highest quality winemakers in Italy.
In 2012, the historic Cantine Bertani family label was sold, resulting in the division of assets and formation of “Agricola Gaetano Bertani e Figli,” a company comprised of the family patriarch, Gaetano (great-grandson of founding brother Gaetano), and his two sons Giovanni and Guglielmo. In addition to the acquisition of over 123 acres of vineyards spanning all three of Verona’s premier productions areas, the venture allowed for the expansion of Tenuta Santa Maria estate wines, a project conceived by Gaetano focusing on top echelon wines.
Today the Tenuta Santa Maria wines are produced from grapes grown in three of the most characteristic terroirs of the Verona region: Valpolicella, Val d’Illasi and Val Grezzana. In keeping with the innovative traditions of this renowned wine family, Gaetano Bertani was among the first vintners in the Veneto to experiment with international grapes (and was actually the first to plant Syrah), giving rise to a selection of labels produced from Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay that stand alongside the more “classic” lineup of the region’s fine wines Valpolicella, Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore and Amarone Classico Riserva.
Winemaking (vinification, ageing and bottling) is carried out at two locations: the Estate in Colognola ai Colli and the Villa in Negrar (Valpolicella). More than 50 acres of high-density (9,500 vines per hectare) vineyards, are planted around the splendid 16th century farmhouse estate in Colognola ai Colli. Here, the Garganega grapes for the Lepiga Soave are planted, while the cellar is dedicated to the production of Merlot Decima Aurea and Chardonnay Torre Pieve. The elegant Villa Mosconi Bertani, in the heart of the Valpolicella classica, is the home of the Bertani family’s prestigious Amarone and Valpolicella wines.
Until 2020, the continuation of this historic family winemaking tradition was steered by Gaetano Bertani’s able hand, together with his two sons Giovanni and Guglielmo. After the sudden passing of the winery’s head, Giovanni and Guglielmo have taken the helm, guided by years of extensive wine-making experience with their father and a continuing drive for excellence and innovation.
When talking about what’s next for the winery, Giovanni explains, “I have been involved, alongside my father and brother, in the winery operations for 15 years, during which time we have implemented some important changes. Driven by a spirit of exploration himself, my father always supported these ideas with enthusiasm. One of the most important developments was the decision to obtain certification for the conversion of all our vineyards to ‘organic.’ We have been practicing sustainable farming in our vineyards for many years, limiting the use of chemicals to an absolute minimum, essentially working organically. We finally decided that it was time to certify what we had already been doing. We actually encountered a similar situation actually with our Amarone Riserva some years back. We have always aged the Amarone for nearly 5 years before bottling and therefore had technically always produced a ‘Riserva’ (which according to regulations requires 4 years aging before bottling), but had never made that distinction on the label. It’s just how we believed the best Amarone should be produced. One day, I looked at my father and said, ‘Do you realize we’ve been making a Riserva all this time? Let’s put it on the bottle!’ And so we did. Same with the organic certification. We’ve been working this way in any case, it’s time to make it official. Really, with today’s technology and know-how in both the vineyards and cellar, you can no longer justify doing things the ‘old way’.”
To produce the fine wines of longevity, elegance and balance for which Tenuta Santa Maria is known, scrupulous attention to detail accompany every phase of the winemaking process. An ideal example is found is the production of Amarone, the Estate’s (and region’s) flagship wine. A manual harvest of four indigenous grape varieties is carried out early, helping to confer elegance and acidity, preserve varietal character and avoid raisiny sensations in the wine. Fresh grapes are left to dry on bamboo arelle (traditional drying tables) until they have lost about 40/50% water (appassimento).
“This is the most expensive, but also the most effective drying process to achieve elegance and a unique bouquet of aromas in the Amarone. We are among the very, very few wineries to still use this method instead of drying mechanically,” says Giovanni.
Following the appassimento, slow, separate macerations and vinifications of each different varietal and parcel are carried out, as each indigenous varietal and vineyard has its own unique characteristics. The wines then spend a lengthy five years in large oak casks before bottling. The long aging period helps refine tannins, allows for lower and more integrated sugars and alcohol, more overall balance and elegance and longevity – an essential in the wines of Tenuta Santa Maria.
Giovanni recalls, “My father began producing Amarone in the late 50s. Not entirely satisfied with the results, he called an oenologist from Piedmont to help him craft a more refined and balanced wine, drawing from the elegant style of the Barolo wines, an approach that he had always appreciated. In fact, today our “modern” Amarone is a result of that collaboration — a wine that places elegance over strength, highlighting complexity and finesse rather than power.”
As the winery looks to the future, once again the influence of place, territory and terroir, takes center stage with a revived emphasize on autochthonous grapes, with two ancient clones to be added to the production soon, and research into the concept of the “Cru.”
“Amarone differs by nature from the Cru/single-vineyard wines of Piedmont or Burgundy, as the very definition of the wine implies a blend of local varieties, but the concept that place is important remains a constant. We have begun researching these unique characteristics that differ among the Valleys of our region. Wine consumers today are more educated, and perhaps interested, overall and are open to even more sophisticated wines, wines that tell a story of where they have come from, each crafted in respect of its unique vineyard, hillside, exposition…” explains Giovanni.
Combining traditional methods, advanced technology, exceptional vineyards and experience passed down through generations of family tradition with dedication and passion, respect for the vineyard and a constant pursuit of the latest advancements in oenological technology, also this next generation of the Bertani family continues to produce authentic wines that express a timeless elegance, complexity as an expression of terroir, each wine truly a reflection of its territory.