On the final day of the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference, a number of bloggers participated in a tour of the winemaking facilities of Franciacorta powerhouse Guido Berlucchi. Our hosts for the tour were Arturo Ziliani, Vice President and Chief Winemaker and Cristina Ziliani, Head of Public Relations, Communications, and Image. Key elements of the estate's genesis and operations are highlighted in this post.
Guido Berlucchi was founded in 1955 by Guido Berlucchi, Franco Ziliani and Giorgio Lanciani. Guido Berlucchi was a gentleman farmer in Borgonato who produced an unstable, still white wine called Pinot del Castello. His search for a solution to the wine's stability problems led him to Franco Ziliani, a recent graduate of the Alba Winemaking Institute. Ziliani solved the stability problem and then promptly turned to enlisting Berlucchi's assistance in the attainment of his goal of making a sparkling wine in the Franciacorta area. Berlucchi signed on and they were joined by Giorgio Lanciani. After years of effort, Ziliani finally produced 3000 bottles of quality sparkling wine in 1961. This wine was called Pinot di Franciacorta, the first time that the word Franciacorta had appeared on a wine label in Italy.
Grapes for the Berlucchi wines are sourced from 600 hectares of estate and grower vineyards. The climate and soil extant in the Franciacorta region have been described previously, as was the University of Milan zonation study which detailed the soil characteristics. In a project called the 1001 Vineyard Project, Berlucchi has extended the University of the Milan zonation study to divide its vineyards into over 215 different lots. Vineyards on these plots are spur-cordon trained and planted to high density and, combined with practices such as the use of cover crops and green harvesting, are designed to produce low yields of high-quality grapes.
The technological sophistication of the Berlucchi organization is on display in the way in which the vineyards are managed. At the beginning of the growing season, the vineyards are mapped -- using infrared technology on satellites or drones -- to determine vegetative vigor. As the grapes ripen, they are sampled according to the mapped zones and harvesting decisions are driven by the results.
Grapes for the Berlucchi wines are hand-harvested on a lot-by-lot basis by over 1000 pickers. Careful harvesting is designed to retain the freshness and flavors of the grapes. The grapes are loaded onto eight inclined-plane presses in intact bunches and are then delicately pressed to release the must. The wines are vinified by lot with initial fermentation in stainless steel tanks or, in some cases, oak barriques. Some of the wines undergo malolactic fermentation in oak barrels. The result of the vinification process is 200 base wines some of which undergo bâttonage in order to stir up the lees.
In the winter following the harvest, the wines are blended then bottled. They are held in the cellar -- a 17th-century structure that is 10-meters underground -- for 18-60 months while they re-ferment and mature.
Berlucchi produces approximately 5,000,000 bottles of sparkling wine per year. The company's portfolio of wines is shown in the table below.