Bubbling with excellence for over 150 years
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Bubbling with excellence for over 150 years
5,000 square meters of UNESCO-protected 150-year-old underground cellars excavated by hand from the tuff limestone hills of Canelli, a pretty town in the heart of Piedmont. It took over 200 people and a little more than five years, from 1867 to 1872, to manually dig the splendidly evocative historic “Cathedral” where Contratto Winery’s Metodo Classico sparkling wines ferment and come of age.
Reaching a maximum depth of about 38 meters, these dazzling cellars boast a uniquely distinctive feature in the naturally present sedimentary marl rich in calcareous tuff, that favors the maintenance of a constant temperature of 13 degrees.
Impressive, and extensive, the Contratto Cathedral Cellars are able to house up to 3 million bottles of the winery’s excellent signature Metodo Classico wines, those very special sparkling wines made by adding sugar and yeast to still wine, bottling and corking it, thus allowing for secondary fermentation to happen inside the bottle. After resting for a set period of time, the bottles need to be rotated, manually, to loosen the sediments and redistribute the yeasts.
A complex and time-consuming process, that many producers avoid in favor of the quicker “Charmant” method, where secondary fermentation takes place in tanks and the wine is bottled under pressure. When Giuseppe Contratto moved to Canelli in 1867 he had no interest in being fast or making money. What he did want to do was make excellent sparkling wines.
And so, in the midst of the rolling hills where spectacular still wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo come to life, he started harvesting Moscato grapes in the Monferrato area, and using them to create one of the very first Italian sparkling wines produced by in bottle refermentation.
Because he needed space to store the wines as they fermented and aged, he started building the historic cellars, which were eventually completed at the beginning of the following century.
The first Contratto blends to access the market were excellent, and success virtually immediate. Around 1910 the Contratto Winery began to export, the wines’ reputation soared, and Giuseppe Contratto’s visionary creations were soon to be seen on the tables of the Kings of Belgium, of the House of Savoy and within the gilded walls of the Vatican.
Following Giuseppe’s far-reaching vision the Contratto family developed Italy’s very first vintage sparkling, Extra Brut 1919, a daring innovation, and diversified production by starting to manufacture premium vermouth, a spirit very much beloved in Piedmont, and liqueurs.
Meantime, the demand from Britain and the Empire appeared to change, and to appease it Contratto launched a dry brut called “For England”, still on the market today.
Contratto wines played an important role in Italian style and lifestyle too starting in the 20s when the winery asked Cappiello, the famous French-Italian poster designer, to create a publicity campaign for two of their products, one a sparkling wine, the other a vermouth, and the artist produced two glamorous-looking, vividly colored, lithographs.
Times change and wineries change hands. As it was, the Contratto dynasty continued managing the company until 1993, when the Bocchinis, owners of the namesake distillery, purchased it and embarked on the titanic venture of restoring the famed wine cathedral, as well as the tasting room and lovely internal courtyard.
At the time, the Bocchinis were cooperating with sparkling wine-lover Giorgio Rivetti, heir of the famed La Spinetta wine estate. Young, dynamic, and passionate about great blends, Giorgio Rivetti immediately realized what a fabulous potential lay behind the ancient history-filled walls of the Contratto Winery. In 2011 the Rivetti family decide to add another jewel to their crown, and purchased the winery, today lovingly managed by Giorgio Rivetti in person.
Ask Giorgio Rivetti what lies behind a great wine, and he’ll be sure to say “exceptional grapes!”. To honor and enhance Contratto’s historic prestige, the first thing the Rivettis looked for was land, and finding it in Bossolasco, in the gentle Langhe hills. Fertile, generous soil, and a climate suitable for farming the rich Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes used in the production of Alta Langa DOCG wines.
It was Giorgio Rivetti who decided to invest in these hills, convinced that the unique characteristics of the white soil, so similar to that where Nebbiolo thrives, and mild climate endowed with remarkable temperature changes in summer provide ideal conditions. And so, after over 100 years from its founding date, the historic Contratto Winery accessed the prestigious Alta Langa wine consortium.
Today, under the caring, dedicated attention of Giorgio Rivetti and his team of committed skilled farmers and expert oenologists, Contratto Winery yields a gorgeous collection of sustainably produced superlative sparkling wines.
Aiming to safeguard the superbly diverse local natural environment and respect the rich local heritage, Rivetti is dedicated to sustainable farming practices and traditional winemaking techniques. Thus, all the Contratto vineyards are organically farmed, and all phases of vinification and fermentation, including the rotating of the bottles, are carried out manually.
Tradition, history, and passion for excellence live on at Contratto Winery, and blend with technique and respect for the environment, creating a veritable concerto of Italian aromas and heritage.