Giancarlo Tommasi, the passion of the Amarone Classico

Giancarlo Tommasi

Originally published in 15/12/2016.

Recently we run a feature about Tommasi Viticoltori and another one about their Hospitality. We had pending a conversation with the winery’s chief winemaker. That position belongs to Giancarlo Tommasi, with whom we talk today.

Buongiorno Giancarlo and thank you very much for your collaboration. We enjoyed a lot our visit to Tommasi and were really impressed by the different sizes of oak barrels and casks: 225-, 500-, 600-, 2,000-, 3,500-, 6,500-liter and La Magnifica, with 33,300 liters. How is your approach to work with that many different capacities?

Different oak barrel sizes give us the possibility to manage different ageing period of the wines and then to govern the different characteristics of each vintage. Sometimes it’s really challenging and we have to oversee wine evolutions that can be very slow or very fast. Oak barrels are instruments that we have to use in the best way to have perfect wines and with different sizes we can play in advantage.

How’s the ageing process used for the Amarone Classico Riserva involving French oak barrels and Slavonian casks?

Amarone Ca’ Florian stays in new French oak in its first year of ageing and then three years in big Slavonian oak casks. The new oak is faster in the micro-oxygenation process and in the color stabilization phase. Sometimes it can happen that we need to put Amarone Classico in French oak (it depends on the vintage). In this case we use the French oaks in their 2nd/3rd year of use.

The latest release of Amarone Classico Riserva is 2009, marking your 50thanniversary of Amarone vintages. Does Ca’ Florian produce every year high quality fruit for the Amarone Classico Riserva? Why it is so special?

We are very proud to celebrate our Amarone 50th harvest with such a good vintage as 2009. Amarone Classico Tommasi has remained “unchanged” over time, linked to roots of Valpolicella and mirror the dynamism of the third generation of my family. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico has elegance and sophisticated drinkability. The Ca ‘Florian represents the young spirit of the family fourth generation and my soul. Ca’ Florian is the perfect balance between past and contemporaneity.

The Ca ‘Florian Amarone Riserva is a classy wine, austere and at the same time intense with an enveloping power and elegance in harmony with complexity. Ca’ Florian vineyards are 25/30 years old, the yield per hectare is really short and then the soil composition and the sun exposure makes it really special. This is why we can expect great super quality bunches to press and to make Amarone Riserva. Also in “not good” vintages these grapes are better than the others.

We visited the three main vineyards behind the house: La Groletta, Conca d’Oro and Ca’ Florian. Which are the differences between them?

Groletta Vineyard:

Composition: medium with medium skeleton mixture: PH 7.5 – 8. It maintains a high pH value and good concentration of active limestone. The wines maintain a major structure and finesse of aromas, less femininity. Wines are more direct, frank and robust. It is ideal soil for the activation of typical aromatic precursors where the strength of the spice and the dark fruits prevail.

Conca d’Oro Vineyard:

Composition: medium texture mixed. Rich in texture depth. PH 7.5. The presence of the skeleton implies the active limestone presence that perfects the quality of the wines. That’s why this vineyard can be defined as one of the most prestigious.
The presence of limestone is essential to enrich the fragrant component in the wine, finesse and elegance with an exaltation of cleanliness and neatness floral sensations.

The WA value (water activity) is always constant, and therefore there are no situations of excess or deficiency. All characteristics that enhance the value of the structure, complexity and directness of aromas and fragrances. They are the best land from which you will get long-life wines destined only to improve with the aging in bottle.

Ca ‘Florian Vineyard:

Composition: clay, dark plains, clay. PH 6,5. It is a mixed soil in which increases the concentration of iron and magnesium. They are primarily responsible for the darker color of the soil due to oxidations of the two minerals. This implies the production of aromatic precursors leading to very dark red fruits like cherries and blackberries. The wines made from here are particularly suitable for aging.

This cru is characterized by its simplicity and elegance with notes of cherry typical of the Marano valley, but also with sweet spices. It gives more structure and elegance, referring to the valley of Negrar, which allow, moreover, long aging.

You do employ two different systems for training the vines: Pergola and Guyot.

Pergola is the traditional and historical system and we’ll keep it here on the hill behind the winery forever. We have planted our main vineyards with the guyot system and with high density (6500 vines/ha) in order to have low yield per hectare and the best quality ever.

I do not have a real preference. It always depends on how much you take care of the vines. Pergola and Guyot need different kinds of attention. Quality comes from the terroir and from the work and dedication of the men.

You use Oseleta for the Amarone Classico but not for the Riserva. What this local variety brings into the wine?

Oseleta is not planted in Ca’ Florian vineyard. That is the reason why it is not in the blend. Oseleta gives tannin weave and color intensity. It is really important for our Amarone classic blend.

Amarone Classico and Valpolicella Classico wines are blends. Would these grapes work as single varietal wines?

For all the DOC and DOCG wines (Valpolicella Classico, Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and Recioto della Valpolicella Classico) the wine laws require both Corvina and Rondinella as mandatory varieties, each of them has a minimum and maximum in percentage, and the winemaker choses the final percentage according to its vineyards and the style he wants to obtain.

Other “optional” varieties (such as Corvinone, Oseleta, Croatina and Molinara) can also be used if available, with a maximum of 15% in the blend.

Each grape variety is pretty complete but in the same time it gives something in particular to each wine. Corvina is the most complete grape; in fact we call it “the Queen of the Verona grapes” as it mainly contributes to body and structure but also color and tannins. Rondinella is mainly delivering color extractions but soft tannins, too. All the Valpolicella red grape varieties ripe about the same time, this is why historically and by “mother-nature” reasons, they are blended together to produce the local wines.

The blend is already made during the harvest, so that the grapes ferment together rather than fermenting on their own and then blend final wines. We think that the marriage between them is better to be made this way, so fermenting together from the beginning.

Finally, if you wish to produce a very good wine, which includes structure, color extractions, soft tannins etc., with one grape only among the local varieties, Corvina would be the only one to consider!

Do you use the same percentages of each variety every year or you change them?

On average the percentage remains quite fixed but we change it a bit accordingly to the vintage.

The Ripasso wine has a different blend than the Rafaèl, yet both are Valpolicella Classico Superiore wines before the Ripasso is being refermented again. How come they are different blends? Is not possible to do the ripasso process to the Rafaèl wine?

In theory yes, but our decision is to make two different Valpolicella wines, one straight from the Rafael vineyard, which blend in the wine is also due to the fact that such grapes and their percentages are in fact grown in the vineyards, and one from grapes that we pick from Conca d’Oro and La Groletta vineyards, and for this wine, before it is then re-fermented, we prefer to skip Molinara and have a bigger percentage of Corvina plus the addition of Corvinone that brings some extra structure to it.

Which of the local grapes is the most difficult to work with?

All Valpolicella native grapes are very sensitive, maybe Rondinella is the most vulnerable and for this matter the most tricky to work with.

How does your winemaking team work? How many people is part of it?

We are a good team of 4 people, 5 with my uncle Ezio, who is the wine one. He brings his expertise and clever suggestions to all of us.

Do you oversee the winemaking process in the other four Tommasi-owned estates?

Yes, I am the man in charge of the winemaking process in all our estates, but in each estate we have a responsible.

How’s your winemaking approach?

Full respect of the territory, maintaining the integrity of the terroir without overturning the soul of the land and making fine and elegant wines.

What is ahead for Tommasi in the near future? Adding a new estate to its portfolio? Maybe outside of Italia?

For the near future we have to consolidate all the investments made, work in the vineyards and renewing the hospitality in the winery. We have for the moment none project about new investments in Italy or abroad.

After 50 vintages of Amarone, which of the recent vintages of Amarone Classico wines are you most proud of? And Ripasso?

Regarding Amarone 2007 and 2009 and of course 2015.

About Ripasso 2015 with no doubts.

The 2009 vintage represents our 50th Amarone harvest.

2009 was a modern high temperature vintage of the sort that those who planted their vineyards 20 or even 10 years ago couldn’t have foreseen. Put simply, it is getting warmer; the temperatures greater than 30°C, which were once rare in the Valpolicella, have become common and extend up the valleys.

The higher temperatures result in much riper grapes with higher sugar contents and lower acidities, which in turn result in bigger, softer wines.

The winter was quite wet, and this allowed the accumulation of water in the clayier soils of the area, guaranteeing a supply of moisture to the vineyards that had them. Spring came early and was quite warm, resulting in two-week anticipation in blossoming with respect to the 2008 vintage, and this anticipation in the vegetative phases carried through to the harvest.

With Amarone the harvest is just the mid-point of the vintage; the harvested grapes are laid on mats to dry, and the winemakers fervently hope for cool dry weather that will make natural drying possible. Unfortunately, in 2009 the weather didn’t cooperate, and the wineries were therefore forced to turn on their dehumidifiers. Botrytis can play an important role in Amarone, but in the 2009 vintage the grape skins were tough enough that its influence was quite limited. By the time of pressing, in December, the grapes for Amarone were reduced by about 36%.

Pressing was followed by cold maceration and fermentation, which took on average about a month; we were told the average alcohol content of the newly fermented wines was 15.6%, and they did spontaneously undergo the malolactic fermentation, something that doesn’t happen easily in all vintages.

Vintage: 2007 Classification

It was an unusual vintage, with the earliest harvest in 70 years thanks to an unusually mild spring, with temperatures 2-3°C above normal on average, and a very warm April that caused bud-break to begin two weeks early. The summer was hot and dry, conditions that favored those who still train their vines to the Pergola system, which keeps the fruit much further from the (hot) ground, and also those higher on the hillsides, while drip irrigation proved a godsend for many.

Sugar concentrations, as one might expect, were quite high, approaching those of 2003, while acidities were rather low and PHs high.

The drying during the fall was good with the thickness of the grape skins resulting in little if any botrytis.

Which kind of wines do you like to drink when you are not working?

I love aromatic white wine and red burgundy.

Grazie mille, Giancarlo!