Daniele Delaini of Villa Calicantus on Going Natural in Bardolino

Villa Calicantus is a Bardolino estate located on the eastern banks of Lake Garda, 30 miles north of Verona in the north of Italy. The winery was first established in 1860 by current owner Daniele Delaini’s great-grandfather, eventually becoming one of the largest Bardolino producers on the lake. With the death of Daniele’s grandfather in the early 1970s, the family turned its back on winegrowing and the villa was abandoned. 

In 2011 Daniele reignited the family winegrowing passion with a philosophy that turned its back on modern industrial and chemical viticulture, instead looking back to the agricultural practices of his ancestors. Today, with eight hectares, Villa Calicantus is a member of Co.Vi.Bio (Consorzio dei Vignaioli Biodinamici), a group of biodynamic Italian growers. Their wines are fermented with their spontaneous yeast, as long as the vintage requires, and are aged in concrete and wood tanks and barrels. They are not filtered.  

Daniele, talk a little bit about the history of your estate here.

Well, my estate, Villa Calicantus, started in 2011. But the history of my family making wine starts in the middle of the 19th century, when my great-grandfather had a winery in the center of Lazise which is a small village here on Lake Garda. He bought this property where we now have the winery at the end of 19th century, and he gave it to my grandfather in 1923, when he married.

My grandfather established the winery here in 1923, and we had, at that time, a much bigger property. But after the death of my grandfather in the late '70s, my family, then in the '80s, they closed the winery, and they sold most of the vineyards we had at that time. Only a small vineyard remained here on the hill where we now produce our best wine. And the place here, where we are, has been abandoned for almost 30 years, until I decided to come back from Paris to my little village in 2011, with the idea to make wine, to try to make wine from my little vineyard. At that time, we had just one hectare or three acres. So then little by little, renovating piece by piece the winery, and trying to understand what I should do, I started to make wine. So, very easy.

Talk a little bit about the history of wine in Bardolino.

The history of wine in Bardolino is very old. So it started with the Romans surely. Then the recent history, let's say, it started in the middle of the 19th century when the Corvina varietals took place after the phylloxera event. And the appellation, the Bardolino appellation, was created in 1969. And so it's one of the oldest appellations in Italy.

The Bardolino wine has always been known for being a fine, elegant, and complex wine. This was until the '80s. With the arrival of the mass tourism we got here on Lake Garda, and with new techniques in the winery, the wine lost a little bit of its importance. And so now, we are trying to get back to that old history when Bardolino was considered one of the best wines in Italy.

Valpolicella works with the same grapes as Bardolino. You're very close together, geographically, but very different wines stylistically. And in terms of kind of premium pricing, Valpolicella has really achieved kind of a top tier pricing, whereas Bardolino is still, in many cases, considered a great value wine.

The grapes we have in Valpolicella and Bardolino are the same. So Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara usually represent more than 90%. Let's say that these are the three traditional grapes. Basically, you can find these grapes only in Verona, in the Verona area. The soils between Bardolino and Valpolicella are completely different. The border between Valpolicella and Bardolino is the Adige River Valley. And between Lake Garda and the Adige River Valley, you have a morainic soil, coming from the Last Glacial Era, so it's a recent soil, very poor, lot of stones, sand, no limestone. So in this way, the water disappears very quickly. And this soil gives a lot of minerality and saltiness to the wine. And it's the main factor or main reason why our wines are very light in color and in alcohol.

Corvina is very light in color so we can compare it to Pinot Noir. But on this soil, it gives even less color if we compare it to Valpolicella. And I don't think it's a bad factor in a way. In Valpolicella, we have rocky soils, limestone. And so Corvina on that soil gives more alcohol and more color usually.

Then there's the completely different techniques we use. Because in Valpolicella, they use very often, not only for the Amarone, the Appassimento technique. So they dry the grapes, and this concentrates the grapes. So you get more color, more alcohol, more body.

So the difference in prices we have is something very recent, and arrived in the history of the wine in Verona. Because until the '80s, it was completely opposite. The prices of the grapes and wine of Bardolino were double or three times more than those of Valpolicella. Then, with the arrival of the success of Amarone, mostly in the US at the beginning, this has been completely changed. So now the value of the grapes and of the wines are two, three times more in Valpolicella than in Bardolino. So, it's just a cycle.

I think the market will change sooner or later. So I think Bardolino has to find, again, his identity, without losing his roots. So we will be well-known in the future for fine, elegant, easy to drink, but complex at the same time, wines. That is something that the market is starting to accept and look for.

And talk a little bit more specifically about the terroir in Bardolino.

So the terroir of Bardolino is a unique terroir because we have a mix of influences at the same time. On one side, there's the influence of the lake, that is a warm influence that warms the microclimate, because this big, huge mass of water, Lake Garda, is the biggest lake of Italy, so it changed the climate. This water warms the microclimate during the winter. And so we have usually warm winters. Warm and not so cold winters, so it freezes, but not too much. And the summers are hot, but not too hot. Because on the other side, close to here, we have the Alps. And in the evening, we got these fresh winds from the mountains. So in September, that is the key moment for the ripening of the grapes.

We have a very important difference between day and night in temperatures. So in this way, the grapes can ripen the best. The mix of this climate with the soil we have, that is a poor soil, we talk limestone with a lot of stones, gives this kind of wine that I think, in Italy, is a little bit unique because also in the reds, also in the hot summers, we never get much more than 13% of alcohol, that I think that is what I'm looking for now as wine, as a drinker. So I want the wines that are light in alcohol, but complex.

This is what we can get here, even with the climate change. That is something that, in the future, will give us a lot of importance, I think.

Daniele, talk a little bit about the character of Bardolino wines. For somebody that hasn't tried a Bardolino before, how would you describe it to them?

The character of Bardolino wines, I think can be described with few words - fresh, easy to drink, a lot of minerality, saltiness. So it's like if you're drinking a juice of stones in a way, sometimes, of real minerality.

When it's coming from the right hills, and it's worked in the right way in the winery, it can become a great wine with these really rare characteristics. I think that this could be easy to drink and complex at the same time. It's low in alcohol, so you can drink a lot of these wines, but it's easy to drink. Easy to drink and complex at the same time. So this is something that I'm really looking for.

The most difficult thing in the winemaking process is making a wine that is low in alcohol, but is very complex, or is making a wine with a lot of alcohol, with a lot of body, but it seems easy to drink, but it's easy to drink.

So these two opposites, and they're really, really rare. These two things. So usually, you have a wine with a lot of alcohol, a lot of body, and you feel it is heavy. The main characteristic of the Bardolino wines are really not heavy, but they can be very complex.

And talk a little bit about the rosé.

The rosé in Bardolino is another thing that is completely unique. I mean, this mix of soil and climate gives the rosé this freshness, this minerality, these aromas of orange, of agrumes, in general, that are very difficult to find, I think, in rosé. Rosé is one of the most difficult wines to make, in general, because you need to have a good vineyard, a good season, and a precise idea of what kind of wine you want at the end of the process.

And the style of our wine here or our rosé on Lake Garda, of Chiaretto de Bardolino now is a wine with usually a lighter color than the old rosé we have. And this freshness that with time, because I think this is a wine that can age very well, will give a very interesting complexity, a complexity that is not based on alcohol or body, but on finesse and elegance. Again, I think finesse and elegance are the main characteristics of Bardolino wines, in general.

Talk a little bit about your philosophy of viticulture.

So our idea, our philosophy of viticulture at Villa Calicantus is based on the research of balance, first in the vineyard and then in the winery. So the main research, the main work is focused on the very precise work on every vine, in order to get the right quantity of grapes from each vine, so that the vine is able to get at the end of the season with the right amount of grapes, depending then on the wine we want to produce from that vine. So every vineyard, at Villa Calicantus, every wine has its vineyard, and every vineyard has its wine. So every vineyard is worked in a different way in order to get the wine I have in mind, but this has to come from that vineyard. The wine, this way, becomes the true expression of a place and of a vintage.

Every year, this wine is coming from the same vineyard, and it's worked in the same way in the winery. In this way, the vineyard has the possibility to express itself to other wine. So if we tasted this wine, La Superiore, in ten vintages, you will see the differences between one vintage and the other, that are not coming from my work, but from the influence of the vintage of the season, or if it has been hot or cold on that precise vineyard.

Daniele, you farm organically. Why is it important to farm organically, for you?

Well, okay. We've worked organically since the beginning, so since 2011. Then in 2014, we started working biodynamically. I think working in a biodynamic way is a normal consequence of our research of balance that I told you before. Because what biodynamic work or farming gives is the possibility to help the plant, the vines, of working at their best without using chemical products in the vineyard. So, there's a work of the soil, there's a work on the vine itself, there's a use of different kinds of herbs in different kinds of moments that help the vines to work at their best. In this way, we are getting at the end of the process, grapes that are the true expression of a place, again.

Because what is the thing I don't want is to produce a fake wine. I want to produce a wine that is a true expression of a place and of a vineyard in a precise vintage. So we don't filter the wines, we don't change the color, we don't change the alcohol, we don't use selected yeasts. And this is because, again, the wine has to reflect that vineyard and that vintage.