For generations, the Santero family has guarded over a pristine patch of Italian land. Once they produced bulk wines, but now they take care and pride in what they produce – including the lovely Prosecco in June’s Bubble Box.
Mario Santero has a saying: if you grow your land with love and care, it will reward you with good grapes. “Your land will never betray you,” he says. And he should know.
Now the patriarch of the Santero family, Mario himself is the latest in a long line of descendants to own and manage a lovely slice of land rich with grape vines. Here, he and his family grow 750 tonnes of wine grapes every year – but that’s just the start.
They also rely on local farmers from a number of Italy’s protected Denominazione di Origine Controllata to produce the finest of their local varietals. From sun-soaked Sicily to rainy Veneto, Mario and his family oversee the production of Italy’s best known wines. Barolo, Asti, Moscato and Chianti – and, of course, the lovely Ponte Villoni Prosecco in June’s Bubble Box.
From the Abbey
The site of the Santeros’ winery is steeped in rich history. Amongst the patchwork of emerald vineyards and rolling hills stands an ancient monastery. Once a centre of politics, religion and culture, it stands on the site of a Roman temple that was built in the ninth century. Inside, ancient bas-reliefs depict mythological animals and the first crops of Muscat grapes harvested in the area.
Not too far away from this ancient building are the 60 hectares overseen by the Santero family, and the winery where grapes from all over Italy become glorious wines. The journey for the Ponte Villoni Prosecco in June’s Bubble Box starts east, in the drizzly Veneto region of northern Italy.
Here the prized Glera variety of grape has been grown and turned into wine for more than 300 years. The sparkling variety of Prosecco is a relatively new invention, but it’s by far one of Italy’s most popular and recognisable styles of wine. According to European Union and Italian law, Proseccos must be at least 85% Glera; the wine in this month’s Bubble Box, and many other Proseccos, are made entirely of this grape.
In previous decades, it was very common for Italian winemakers to produce wines in bulk and sell them cheaply on international markets. For many years, the Santero family did the same. But things have changed. Worldwide, the appreciation of fine Italian wines has grown, and people have started seeking out specific varieties – Prosecco included. Seeing this change, the Santero family switched tactics, focusing on channelling their generations of experience into crafting lovingly made, high quality wines.
To do that, they use a process honed over hundreds of years.
Tank to Table
When Glera grapes from the hillsides of Veneto arrive at the Santeros’ winery, they are cold pressed. This method, the Santeros have found, preserves the original flavours of the grapes best. The skins, stalks and seeds are filtered out (they’re sent to a nearby distillery, to make Grappa) while the must, or juice, is filtered multiple times until it’s as clear as possible.
Proseccos are made using the tank, or Charmat, method. This means that the wine is put into special, pressure-controlled tanks (called autoclavi) with yeast and sugar. As the yeast eats the sugar, it releases carbon dioxide. With nowhere to escape to in an enclosed space, the gas goes into the wine, and makes it sparkle.
What sets the Ponte Villoni in this month’s Bubble Box apart from other wines is that the Santeros put the wine through this process at a very low temperature. The yeast, made sluggish by the cold, works very slowly to consume the sugar, giving the wine a longer fermentation period and producing many small, delicate bubbles with finesse and elegance.
For the Santeros, quality is everything – and likewise for the Italian government, as far as Prosecco is concerned. When the wine is done fermenting, it’s bottled with a special lot number that allows the winery to track every element of its production, to ensure that every Prosecco has the Santeros’ seal of approval, and the wine is quality-checked and legally authorised. With the rubber stamp of approval from the Santeros, the Italian government and the local consortiums, you can be sure that this is a Prosecco worthy of the name.