Italy’s mountainous province of Trentino, usually linked with Alto Adige, is in the extreme northeast of the country, bordering Lombardy and the Veneto as well as Austria, so it shares in all those cultures’ history and language. Indeed, many of the region’s best-known dishes, like Spätzle, Graukäse cheese, Speck bacon and Zelten Chritsmas cake have German-Austrian names. So, too the region’s wines overlap with the others’, with Gewürztraminer, Sylaner and Riesling among the varietals.
Trentino has its own large DOC zone, but its wines have yet to achieve the worldwide reputation of other regions like Tuscany and Piedmont. Cantine Monfort is one of the area’s finest producers, with four generations of family passion behind it. They are fine examples of dedication to the particular terroir. To find out more about their wines and about Trentino’s reputation in the modern market, I interviewed winemaker and family scion Federico Simoni.
Lorenzo, Federico and Chiara Simoni
1. Can you tell me more about the particular terroir of Trentino?
Trentino is a small mountainous province located in Northern Italy (70% of the surface is above 1,000 meters of altitude!). Viticulture takes place in the valleys surrounded by the Dolomite mountains where the soil—a unique result of diverse geology, and Mediterranean and Alpine climate—strongly influences the grapes. In particular, our Trentodoc from Cantine Monfort is born in the vineyards located in Val dell’Adige, Val di Cembra and in Valsugana at an altitude between 200 and 900 meters above the sea level. Here you’ll find significant diurnal temperature variations, giving grapes aromatic complexity, elegance and freshness and with terroir that is rich in limestone with a high siliceous component.
2. Do the wines share anything in common with Austrian-German wines?
From a tasting point of view, the wines of Trentino represent a bridge between the Latin world and the world of Austria-Germany. We combine both the pleasantness and sweetness of the Mediterranean but also the verticality typical of Nordic wines. These are the wines that best represent Trentodoc. From a historical point of view, we have a long history and strong influence from the German wine culture and I think that the most important legacy for us oenologists from Trentino was the famous school of oenology, the now called Edmund Mach Foundation, founded by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1874.
3. Can you tell the similarities of your sparkling wines with Champagne, Piemonte sparkling wines and Prosecco?
Trentodoc was born from the intuition of Giulio Ferrari in the early 20th century. In fact, after having worked in France, he began the production of metodo classico in Trentino. Today, following in the footsteps of this famous pioneer, the Trentodoc denomination allows for the use of four varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco and Meunier, and guarantees second fermentation in the bottle. Trentodoc is like Champagne in this way, and the shared classic method is a commitment to make wine of the upmost quality. The similarity I find with Prosecco and Piedmont sparkling wines is the “Italianness” of the final result: our Italian way of putting boundless passion and creativity into the things we do.
4. Your wines spend a good deal of time on the lees. What is the purpose of this method?
Thanks to the research by the Edmund Mach Foundation (in addition to the school there is a lot of research!), they discovered that the contact with the lees following the second fermentation in the bottle increases both the number of aromatic molecules and their quantity, which continues to develop over time. Here we can enjoy a Trentodoc aged for a long time on the lees as well as those disgorged after extraordinary lengths of time, both types showing a different evolution and maturity. In this regard, we will shortly propose our first Monfort Rare Vintage 2008, disgorged in January 2020 after 11 years of aging on the lees. Just a few bottles that demonstrate that aging on the lees is good.
5. What is your own background as a winemaker?
I grew up in the family business and was raised right in the vineyards. I was lucky enough to have a dad who was able to let me do it, let me make mistakes and thus learn from my mistakes. During my studies at the Istituto di San Michele and immediately afterwards I had internship experiences that helped me a lot: Fontodi (Tuscany), Albrecht-Kiessling (Germany), Château Margaux (France) and Spy Valley (New Zealand ). No experiences with metodo classico but all based on the high quality wines. However, the production in the company is not entrusted only to me, but to a team of people that I respect a lot, with the senior oenologist Maurizio Iachemet, flanked by Lorenzo Pellegrini, my fellow student, also trained as an oenologist.
6. Why do you think Trentino has not gotten the same attention that other Italian regions have?
Given that Trentino represents 2% of national production, I think that after the war it has undergone numerous changes and has only began to establish itself as an area that produces high quality in the last 30 years. I’ll add that as mountain people, we are hard workers but of few words, so we have always found it difficult to describe our products. I am convinced that the new generations, who are open and traveling the world, will be able to take the baton that our parents have passed us and move forward with the development of alternative techniques and a different approach to the market.
7. How many different sparkling wines do you make?
Cantine Monfort produces three Trentodoc: base, reserva and rosé. Starting from the latter, the Trentodoc Monfort Rosè is a product that was introduced with the 2008 harvest. We immediately understood that we liked to make rosè. We seek its maximum expression in elegance, and the consumer continues to appreciate it more. This 2020 ends with the presentation of Monfort Cuvée ’85, a Trentodoc made from a selection of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes, elevating the original recipe of the cuvée produced for the first time in 1985. Moreover, at the end of the year we’ll release, for the first time, our Monfort Rare Vintage 2008, a late disgorgement of great character. In 2021 we will start the year with the evolution of our Monfort Riserva, which will come out with a new cuvée that enhances the territory and its vertical characteristics. I cannot reveal the name yet, but in January we will be ready to start 2021 in the best way. We are also refining another Trentodoc that I am particularly fond of: our Blanc de Noir which comes from Maurizio’s old Pinot Nero vineyards in Val di Cembra, he is our senior winemaker. However, we have to be patient a little longer.
8. What are the principal wine varieties you use?
Cantine Monfort uses Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Over the last few years, we have defined the vineyards we allocate for the various types we produce, and this is really something interesting. It surprises me every time how vineyards managed by the same winemaker, vinified by the same winemaker, give different characteristics in relation to the geological component of the soil. Very beautiful.
9. How has climate change affected Trentino?
Trentino is an area affected by climate change whose aspects of most concern that are intensely being manifested over the last 5-6 years are the very strong winds, the hailstorms that can hit large areas and the unprecedented heavy rain storms. We face global warming by raising the share of Trentino’s viticulture and in this, compared to other territories, we have an advantage, but honestly, in recent years, production has become very complex.
10. How has Covid affected Trentino, its wine sales, tourism, etc.
Trentodoc is something that brings people together; you can pop a bottle of metodo classico when you want to celebrate or when you are in good company, but since the lockdown made this impossible, sales have gone down. During the summer of 2020 we recovered sales and today we are happy. At the end of October, we can only hope that the new restrictions will not affect consumption too much since the last months of the year are very important for our sales. The same thing goes for tourism. We had a record summer for the winery; in fact, many tourists, mostly Italians, literally invaded the region (lakes, excursions in the Dolomites, wine tourism). However, winter tourism linked to the numerous ski resorts throughout our Trentino is at risk. As far as exports are concerned, each country reacted differently: we have not been affected by the crisis in countries with very strong domestic consumption; indeed, in some we have also increased sales (Sweden, Germany, Holland), while in more tourist locations we have had a strong slowdown with positive signs only in recent months (for example Mexico).