The list of “firsts” that Pieropan can lay claim to is almost unbelievable: the first to label a wine “Soave,” the first to age a Soave wine before release, the first to make a single vineyard Soave, the first to make an Italian native-grape white wine from a single vineyard (both 1971 Calvarino), the first to make a barrel-aged Soave (1978 La Rocca), the first to bottle under screw cap in the region, the first to convert to organic farming in Soave…
All of this pioneering centers primarily around Leonildo “Nino” Pieropan, the third-generation winemaker and mastermind behind the first vintages of Calvarino and La Rocca. With just those two wines, he helped lift the reputation of the Soave region as a whole.
Sadly, Leonildo passed away in 2018. Today, his sons Andrea and Dario Pieropan are the agronomist and winemaker of the estate, respectively. They farm just over 40 hectares in the Soave Classico zone.
In April 2018, Nino Pieropan passed away, leaving behind his wife, Teresita, and two sons, Andrea and Dario. It was the end of an era.
Though they had been the de facto winemakers for years, 2018 was the first harvest Andrea and Dario would undergo without their legendary father. It was also the last vintage they would make all of their wines in the cellar of their ancient family home, located in the medieval heart of Soave, on the road leading up to the old castle.
Wine Spectator memorialized Leonildo as “a traditionalist and an innovator,” which seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true. He was staunchly traditional in grape growing and winemaking; he didn’t change very much in the course of 50 vintages. He was committed to organic viticulture (before anyone knew what organic meant) and native grape varieties. His winemaking could be described with little more detail than “spontaneous fermentations in concrete tanks.” His approach could have been mistaken for “simple” if you didn’t recognize the meticulous attention to detail or the clarity with which his wines rang. Franco Allegrini said that if, “Nino hadn’t become a winemaker, he would have been a watchmaker.”
Leonildo’s innovation was not in the technological sense, but in the conceptual: he elevated the Soave appellation. In fact, it can be said (without hyperbole or boast) that he was the single most important figure in Soave. He advocated for lower yields, higher-quality hillside vineyards, and later harvests. He produced the first single-vineyard Soave Classico, the 1971 vintage of Calvarino, proving to the region, and the world, that great wines of terroir could be made in Soave. He followed that up with another single- vineyard wine, the first oaked expression for Garganega ever sold, the 1978 vintage of La Rocca, which showed the world that native Italian whites could compete with the likes of Burgundy.
Not least of all, Leonildo was roundly considered one of the most gracious and kind men in wine. The Vinous obituary, written by Ian D’Agata in April of 2018, begins: “Simply put, there have been fewer better, nicer, more knowledgeable and more important people in the world of Italian wine than Leonildo (Nino) Pieropan…”
Today, Andrea, the older of the two brothers, is the agronomist, while Dario makes the wine, but it’s fair to say they share responsibilities. Listening to them speak, it is clear they share their father’s passion, but also his belief in innovation.
Beginning with the 2019 vintage, the Pieropans began making wine in their new facility, located among the vines of Soave Classico. The winery is built directly into a hillside, three sides and a roof covered by earth (which Andrea planted to experimental rootstocks); a physical reminder of the family’s deep belief in environmental responsibility and their connection to the land.
The facade of the new winery is a sinuous wave of Vicenza stone, a local material that can last for centuries, but it also continuously evolves as it takes on the patina of time. It’s a fitting metaphor for a family dedicated to both the old and the new, in the belief that true authenticity means having the capacity for change.
“Simply put, there have been fewer better, nicer, more knowledgeable and more important people in the world of Italian wine than Leonildo (Nino) Pieropan…”
– Ian D’Agata in Vinous, April 2018
ESTATE & LOCATION
Region: Soave Classico
Proprietor: Andrea & Dario Pieropan
Winemaker: Dario Pieropan
Vineyards: Soave Classico 40 ha
Environmental: Certified Organic in the EU
Soave is located in the Veneto region, just east of the Val d’Illasi in Valpolicella. The wine growing region surrounds the historic city of Soave, which is roughly 20km from Verona. Soave Classico is 1,500 ha and shows a mix of volcanic and calcareous soils on the hillsides, along with a broad alluvial plain, but production for the top wines of the region comes exclusively from hillside vineyards.
Soave has two primary soil types: volcanic and clay/calcareous. Pieropan showcases both of these soil types with their two single-vineyard wines. Calvarino is primarily volcanic with some calcareous inclusions, which gives the wine electricity and clear minerality. La Rocca, on the other hand, is a south-facing clay and calcareous vineyard, bringing out a Burgundian breadth for the native grape of Garganega.
In total, Pieropan farms 40 ha in Soave Classico, all of it prime hillside locations throughout the Soave Classico, with their winery built into a hillside, just a few hundred meters from the ancient city walls of Soave.
Dario and Andrea Pieropan take a traditional yet fastidious approach to winemaking. Harvest and vineyard management will vary in order to bring out optimal ripeness from vintage to vintage, but in the cellar, their wines are made in precisely the same fashion and from the same vineyards. For them (as it was for their father), it’s about perfecting the process to bring out terroir, not adjusting practices to manage vintage variation. And so, Pieropan has become known for a classical elegance and a world-class transmitter of place and typicity.
Pieropan manages the most difficult trick in wine: to be both pristine and yet full of character, and always with a building tension and freshness in the palate.
IMPORTED PORTFOLIO OVERVIEW
Maze Row imports three Soave Classico wines from Pieropan, including their two well-known single-vineyard expressions, widely considered to be amongst the best wines of the region.