Unlike the wines of northern Italian regions like Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto, those of Emilia-Romagna are less well known and haven’t the marketable reputation of the others. Its best known wine is Lambrusco, whose own reputation as a sweet bubbly wine is based on oceans of plonk from big name wineries like Reunite. Working hard to change the region’s reputation is the 50-year-old winery Umberto Cesari, which specializes in Sangiovese wines, along with Albana, Pignoletto and Trebbiano as well as international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Innovations and a focus on terroir at eight ‘poderi’ or fields (Claterna, Casetta, Parolino, Laurento, Ca’ Grande, Miravalle, Tauleto and Liano) spread over 355 hectares of clay-rich vineyards protected by the Calanchi Azzurri “badlands” and enjoying a mild climate.
To find out what the current plans for Umberto Cesari are, I spoke with Gianmaria Cesari, son of the late founder.
1. Your winery has been a champion of the wine of Emilia-Romagna wines, which has not had anything close to the reputation of Tuscany and Piedmont. Why do you think that has been the case?
I think that Emilia-Romagna has not promoted its wines, and its territory, like other regions in Italy, but I still consider Emilia-Romagna to be the best kept secret of Italy and yet to be discovered.
2. What potential did you see in ER back in the 1960s, when Albana and Lambrusco were the only wines most people knew? Do you make a Lambrusco? If not, why not?
Back then it was a completely different world. Albana wine has been very popular in the past and I still consider Albana one of the best white grapes of Italy. Albana has a special bond with Romagna, which geologically and climatically is very different from Emilia. Indeed, the attempts at cultivation in other areas have not produced interesting results. It is no coincidence that in 1987 Albana was recognized as the first white wine DOCG in Italy, which is attributed only by virtue of a deep link between the vines and the cultivation area, both in terms of territorial vocation and cultural tradition. Albana is also a particularly acidic white grape, rich in tannins, and this means that even in the past, when there was no technology, it was possible to make a wine that would maintain the white color (Albana derives from the Latin term albus, which means “white par excellence”) and ages very well over time. Furthermore, Albana has shown itself to be particularly resilient with climate change; indeed, at times it expresses itself better now than in the past.
As far as Lambrusco is concerned, it is important to notice that Lambrusco wines are native grapes of Emilia and are best expressed in that specific location. Umberto Cesari vineyards are in Romagna, which is why the company has dedicated its attention to typical grape varieties of this area and, in particular, to Sangiovese and Albana.
3. Does Emilia-Romagna have many different terroirs?
Italy has so many different terroirs, and so does Emilia-Romagna. There is a huge difference between the flat parts and the terroirs that you can find on the hills. Geologically speaking, Emilia-Romagna is divided into three macro areas: alluvial plain, hills of Emilia and hills of Romagna. Each area differs in terms of soil, climate, and grape varieties. In particular, the hilly areas are affected by the exposure of the slopes, and in Romagna also by the proximity to the Adriatic Sea. All these variants therefore influence the respective productions.
4. Why did you plant Sangiovese? Was it ever grown in Emilia-Romagna before?
I planted Sangiovese because it has always been the most important grape of Emilia- Romagna. Emilia-Romagna was the first region in Italy to have been granted a DOC appellation dedicated to the Sangiovese grape, back in 1967 (Sangiovese di Romagna DOC) and for a long time it was the only one, long before Tuscany. Moreover, there are a lot of books talking about the Romans planting Sangiovese in the region.
5. Who else in your family is involved in the winery? The winery is owned by me, my mother and my sister and we are all involved in the winery operations.
6. Please give me a little of your own biography. Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1975, I am the son and first child of Umberto Cesari, the founder of the company. I inherited the passion for wine from my father. I graduated in economics at the University of Bologna, and today I am managing the winery, but still travel around the world to promote Umberto Cesari wines.
7. Is your rosato of Sangiovese unique?
I think it is unique. Making a rosé with Sangiovese grapes certifies its unicity. But it is also a completely new way of thinking a “rosato” wine in the region. Until today a rosé made with Sangiovese grape was like a light red wine, while we wanted to create an easy-to-drink, pleasant and elegant Provence-style rosé.
8. You also seem very devoted to eco-tourism and even a gelato museum. Please tell me more about them.
Eco-tourism is part of our philosophy. We are a sustainable winery, so tourism is sustainable as well. We promote and organize e-bike tours with electrical bikes. Everything we do is dedicated to preserve nature, because we live out of nature. The gelato museum is one of the excellences of this region. Maybe some people don’t know the name Emilia-Romagna, but they probably know some of the masters of excellences that are based here. You can think about the “motor valley” with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Pagani, the Ducati motorbikes, and next to Ducati we have one of the oldest gelato machinery companies that is called Carpigiani. They are so good that people come from all over the world to see how they make gelato, so they created a gelato museum.
9. How has climate change affected Emilia-Romagna?
Climate change has affected all the world. We have dedicated one of our wines to this important topic. It is called Resultum, a name taken from the Latin term resilire, which means resilient, because we have seen that our vineyards have adapted and reacted positively to climate change. We get very little rain in the winter and then tropical storms in the summer, and every single year a hailstorm. We believe that climate has changed for sure, but we cannot do anything, we know that we have good vintages and other times not so good.
10. Why do you make so many wines, rather than concentrate on a few labels?
Because, talking about terroirs, we have different estates, and we want to emphasize the peculiarity of each terroir. For us it is important to make wines that are the expression of every single terroir.
11. How do your wines compare with other Sangioveses?
Talking about our reds, that are made mainly with Sangiovese, the closest comparison is with Tuscan wines. I think that our tannins are softer and riper compared to the Sangiovese grapes grown in Tuscany. But again, it is difficult to make comparisons, because every single terroir and philosophy is different.