Le Ragose sits at the highest point in the Valpolicella zone just north of Verona. In 1969, enologists Arnaldo Galli and his wife Marta bought the Le Ragose estate, which had previously been abandoned.
Le Ragose has 40 acres of terraced vines that face southwest on steep slopes. The soil is clay laced with magnesium, calcium and iron on well-draining tuffaceous subsoil. The vines sit on an above-the-fog location; a climatic characteristic which is suited for the production of Amarone.
Working without any machine help in the vineyard, and with no irrigation, Le Ragose works with local grapes Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella as well as local ancient varieties.
Marta Galli, often referred to as “La Signora del Vino,” was voted “Winemaker of the World” in 1990 by her peers, in part because of her influence in re-establishing Valpolicella as a classic in Italian wine and helping it achieve a DOC designation.
Grape Collective talks to her granddaughter Marta about Valpolicella and the unique Le Ragose estate.
Jason Borrows: How has the region changed since your family started producing wine there?
Marta Galli: When my family started, there were not many estates. Now, there are more than 300 estates in Valpolicella. A lot of estates were born in these last 50 years, it's very much changed there.
Your family was one of the first?
Has the winemaking evolved in the region as well?
I think that we are a traditional estate and we want to produce a traditional wine also because of our more than 300 estates, obviously not all the estates produce wine in the traditional way. But we want to keep our region and the region of our soil, our place, so our wines are so, so close to the tradition. Also because our place is special as it is known for the Appassimento method. That is the method that we use to produce Amarone, to produce with dry grapes.
We are so traditional. We are so close to our place, to our terroir. We are also introducing new techniques in both the vineyard and in the cellar, but we want to stay as close as possible to our ancient zone. In fact, my uncle decided to keep 10% of our local varieties that are ancient varieties. Now our wines are produced from the three main varieties which are Corvina, Corvina Rondinella, and then 10% of our local ancient varieties.
Talk a little bit about the terroir.
Yes. We have a specific soil that has a mix of minerals and in this place, Le Ragose, there have been vineyards for years and years. The climate is unique because there is the cold of the mountains, there is the lake, and we are above the winter fog so there's not so much cold making it a very, very special place.
Is there a philosophy of winemaking at the estate?
Yes. Our philosophy is to produce wine that we don't put on the market until it is ready for consumption. We prefer to keep our wines in cellars so this is Amarone '07, and this is '05. We don't put wine on the market that is not ready. We prefer to keep it in our estate, even if we can produce more if we put it on the market, because you're not aging. Big barrels take place, a lot of place. But that's our philosophy. Our wines are made with dry grapes. They need to stay in oak and need to stay there for several years before they are ready to consume. It's our philosophy to produce a quality wine, and not focus on quantity.
Amarone spends a minimum of five years in big barrels of Slavonian oak. This is the traditional one. The Marta Galli, this is a small, small selection, and Marta Galli was my grandmother, stays a minimum of five years in French oak, in barrique, in tonneau. This is our philosophy. We focus on quality and so we don't want to put wine on the market and then tell the consumer, "Oh, wait, wait, wait for five, 10 years and then it's ready." No. We prefer to keep and then sell.
Talk a little bit about your philosophy of viticulture, about growing the grapes.
Our philosophy is to stay close to our place. We don't produce biological wines (organic) but we want to produce a wine that is so close to our place, to our nature, to our soil. For us, 80% of the work is in the vineyard with good human labor in the vineyard and then 20% is obviously in the cellar with modern technologies but it is so, so important to have a good materials to work with. We have to do that in a natural way.
Talk a little bit about some of the wines that you make.
We make Valpolicella, that is a basic Valpolicella. Then we do the Valpolicella Ripasso. Ripasso is the second fermentation of the simple Valpolicella on the skins of Amarone. Amarone gives to the wine 5% to 15%. It gives body, structure, color, and power. It is in the first part of the vineyard we select the grapes for Amarone. The best grapes for Amarone we put in plastic cases and then we put in big barrels for three months. After that we put in stainless steel for around 12 months. Then after that the Amarone stays in big barrels of Slavonian oak for a minimum of five years before bottling.
The only difference between these Amarones is the oak. One spends time in a big, big barrel of Slavonian oak and the other in French tonneau of five hectoliters so it's small. This is the only difference. My grandfather was the first one who in 1983 produced Amarone that way with French oak instead of big barrels of Slavonian oak.
Marta, you are one of the few family estates in Valpolicella, correct?
In Valpolicella there are more than 300 estates and we are only five that produce wines with our own grapes. The Le Ragose estate is 50 acres of vineyards in the same place and we produce our wines only with our grapes. We don't buy anything. We want to focus on quality and our family estate.
Your grandmother had a lot of recognition, a lot of critical recognition when she started out.
Yeah. My grandmother had a lot of critical recognition when she started because she was one of the first women who worked in the region and she was so recognized.
What are the soil types?
The soil types are marl and clay. I think that the climate gives an important influence on our soil. For our grapes it's not just soil but also the climate, and we are above the fog as well. We are at the highest point in Vallpolicella.