Sublime REDS from a region famous for whites

The exceptional Nasi Rossi DOCG wine has a label designed by the owner

Renu Chahil-Graf is excited about her discovery of Maso di Villa wines in the hills of Conegliano

The glass was swirled, the aroma breathed in deep, and breathed in again, it was already unbelievable. Eventually the first mouthful had to be taken, swished around and finally swallowed. The effect was instant. It had been at least three decades for me since the same feeling had arisen. To make one jump from one’s chair and run to the owner. Who had produced this magnificent wine?

The previous experience had been in Burgundy where a friend and I had taken a weekend trip to be away from work and stress in Geneva. That secret was well kept till a few years ago — when it was discovered by me listed in the French Guide Hachette. A pure Pinot Noir from Haute Côte de Nuits, about a stone’s

throw from Beaune in Burgundy, France. But this time I was in Italy, and this time I was escaping the anxiety of attending the Venice Film Festival during the coronavirus pandemic — dashing back and forth by vaporetto to the festival location on Lido island, having temperature checks at every spot, keeping appointments with more and more hand sanitiser. Not forgetting running up and down the innumerable stairs on bridges criss-crossing the many Venetian canals. Searching for respite in wine country in the Veneto region where Venice is based, I hit gold — the Maso di Villa vineyard, ( with a

Maso di Villa Relais di Campagna. Maso di Villa was the original name of an ancient stone farmhouse renovated and transformed by the owners into a charming country inn

country inn of just six rooms, individually decorated. It had views facing south from all rooms, overlooking acres of vines, an organic vegetable garden on the left and a swimming pool tucked away in the hillside on the right. Idyllic!

In the evening, I was brought a plate of mozzarella and tomato sprinkled with local olive oil and generously topped with home- grown basil, offered with a taste of their premium wine — Maso di Villa 2009. That was when the second lifetime experience struck. I literally jumped up, chasing the bearer of this nirvana into the kitchen.

Patiently, over the next three days, in between her managerial and maternal responsibilities, Chiara Lucchetta, daughter of the owner, describes the evolution of a vineyard abandoned for over 20 years into an oasis of pure joy. All thanks to the unwavering commitment of her stubborn father.

Giuseppe Lucchetta (Beppe for short), trained as an architect but turned to fashion design in the hallowed halls of trendy Milan. Twenty-five years later he decided to experiment with his secret passion: wine. Scouting around the area where he had lived in another avatar, he came upon the perfect south-facing spot: a crumbling farmhouse, acres of wilted vines set in a picture- perfect landscape on gently rolling hills — and the property, Maso di Villa, was born. Beppe’s initial objective to produce a small quantity of high quality red wine holds good till today. Luckily, for wine aficionados, it was an objective well met and testified by the best with awards in blind tastings, but more so by the fidelity of lovers of exceptional wine.

The property was bought in 1999, the first planting done a year later and the first production of the wine named Maso di Villa appeared in 2004. Despite scepticism from Lauretta, the owner’s wife, daughter Chiara, and other family members and friends, Beppe was confident. He persisted. He persevered. He ignored the nay-sayers who said that a red would never take off in this region, a region well known for its whites, specifically the world famous, popular — and profitable — Italian bubbly, Prosecco.

Off on his tractor, then as now, Beppe hastens to survey his grapes, assessing them for their readiness for early or late harvest, troubleshooting, jumping off to tackle a wayward branch. A phantom, at age 70, moving fast — now he’s here, now he’s gone! I never did succeed in chasing him down. Luckily, Chiara was more than forthcoming, furnished with a wealth of knowledge, having been involved in the project from the earliest days of doubt and dismay. But before that, she had quite a history herself as a world traveller with three trips to India under her belt!

The first, with a tour operator, starting in Mumbai, covered Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho, you name it. The next time, independently, it was a two-week exploration of Kerala, its backwaters and more. And then another three weeks of Rajasthan, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, visiting old havelis and most importantly, and memorably, meeting the man who became her husband, Giovanni.

See also  Saint Émilion’s Jewel: Château Figeac’s Rise

In between these travels, Chiara trained in foreign languages and literature. Her siblings were living in Milano, one in advertising and the other in public relations, both with two kids each, but neither of them available for the vineyard. So her parents found her to be the perfect person to get involved in the new business, especially in running the renovated farmhouse as a small hotel. She would make the ideal host, with extensive travel experience, facility with languages and an accessible, warm personality. Chiara agreed, but being a perfectionist, she started by first taking a degree in tourism. She now welcomes guests from around the world.

Breakfast laid out in the beautiful garden of the five-acre property set in the midst of rolling hills and vineyards

Meanwhile, Beppe started by clearing the land, analysing the soil and hiring an experienced winemaker, Federico. Despite the fame of the white wine in the region, they started with Colli di Conegliano Rosso and grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, buying the vines from the best producer in the Friuli region, Rauscedo, who is sought out by all Italian winemakers. While 10,000 vines are planted per hectare, intense pruning is done, with 40% of the grapes discarded so as to keep only the best. Weeds and leaves are removed daily to maximise the sunlight reaching the vines. More sorting is done during the harvest, cutting the end of the bunches if they are less mature. When harvested the grapes are arranged in a single layer in boxes so that they are not crushed while being transported but arrive in perfect condition in the winery.

Everything is done by hand — hard labour, but achieving a great result. Assembly is done in big tanks to make the cuvée, with the winemaker taking the lead. The first bottle produced in 2004 ,three years after  the planting was a small production from a small vineyard gaining popularity with restaurants and seeing good results. The current production is about 5,000 bottles, with two styles. Using the same grapes and the same harvest, the difference lies in the quality of grapes and maturity. The best ones saved for Nasi Rossi. Maso di Villa is aged for 20 months in oak barrels, at 18°C, with the 2012 production now in the market. The high end Nasi Rossi, stays two years in the barrel and then an incredible nine years in bottles before being made available. This is what makes it extraordinary. Moreover, it is an organic production, with an absence of fertiliser and no irrigation.

Not visualised as a business, but as a desire to make a dream come true, the first 10 years comprised just expenses and losses. Five years later there was enough to pay workers and cover the running costs of the winery. Following the blind tasting in 2008 with many famous wines, Nasi Rossi hit the jackpot, was discovered more widely and finally could achieve some financial success.

The attention to quality continues. Each bottle is numbered, noting also the total number of bottles produced in that vintage. It carries the prestigious DOCG label signifying the highest quality. In the words of Chiara, it is “a product of passion and hard work”. A small family enterprise, all of them working 24×7, hiring seasonal labour just for the harvest. Even the label has been designed by Beppe, depicting six friends after imbibing too much of the good stuff and ending up with “nasi rossi” — red noses!

While the starting point is the same for both the Maso di Villa and Nasi Rossi wines, the latter is aged longer which gives it its distinctive flavour of small red fruits, raspberries, cherries, cranberries, some plum, combined with flavours from ageing in oak barrels like vanilla, coffee, green pepper, tobacco. Currently 3,370 bottles of Nasi Rossi, Colli di Conegliano Rosso 2009, Riserva and 103 magnums, at 14% alcohol by volume, have been produced.

To complement the vineyard and winemaking, Chiara runs the small hotel, each room designed with a specific colour and ambiance in mind. A setting of peace and tranquillity that lifts the spirits. The vegetable garden, organic as is the vineyard, is tended by Lauretta and monitored by her precocious five-year-old grand-daughter, Caterina. It’s a family enterprise, indeed.

Maso di Villa, Via Col di Guarda 15, 31058 Susegana loc. Collalto, Treviso. T +39 0438 841414.