By Sunny Brown on May 1, 2006

Category: Winery of the Month

This is a story. Like life, stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes from the end a new story is born. Some cultures call this rebirth, or even resurrection. Sometimes what may seem like an end is merely the beginning of something new, something greater and more brilliant than what was before. This is a story about one such resurrection.

From the ashes of antiquity, Elisabetta Foradori has single-handedly restored one of Italy’s ancient treasures to its former glory. Some would say that she has even surpassed the fame that was once bestowed upon Teroldego, a red grape variety found in the mountain vineyards of Trentino, in northern Italy. From what could have been an end she has created a new beginning through tireless dedication, skillful cultivation and back-breaking hard work. Through all of this she has done it with grace, panache and a wry smile. Because of her efforts Teroldego is poised to join the pantheon of famous Italian varietals: Brunello, Nebbiolo, Teroldego?

Perhaps not quite yet, as acres of Teroldego are still described in hundreds as opposed to thousands, but for those who have sampled the delicious wines of Elisabetta Foradori it is clear that the potential is there, and that this story is merely at its beginning. Elisabetta’s wines aren’t so much made as they are inspired by the mountainous terrain in which they are born. The rocky subsoil made from gravel and alluvial deposits that have flowed from the river Noce nearby provide a perfect breeding ground for a grape that was described in the 19th Century as having “the body and robustness of Bordeaux,” yet possesses a combination of elegance, finesse, power and purity that is hard to compare.

Nestled in the Dolomite Mountains between the Trentino and the Tyrol, the plain of Campo Rotaliano is described as a crossroads of culture, language and life. An intersection of Italian, German, Swiss and Austrian influences contributes to a unique culture and way of life that is none of the above yet all of the above. This is the home of Teroldego, and the home of Foradori. The vineyards of Teroldego thrive here as they do nowhere else. As Elisabetta describes it “Great wines are born from great vineyards, and there is more and more to do here in my vineyards.” In fact, there is a conscious effort by Foradori at maintaining the link between the vineyards and the wine. But it was not always so.

Two decades ago Elisabetta was just a teenager. Her father had been taken tragically early by cancer. Her mother Gabriella was tending both the vineyards and the family. The fields of Teroldego had been planted with a version of the grape that lent much in the way of quantity but little in the way of quality. Life was hard. But if this feels like the end of the story, you have vastly underestimated the drive and determination of Elisabetta Foradori.

She took over the family winery, and began what would be a life long quest to improve the virtues and quality of Teroldego. Along with the fortunes of this lively grape, so too have gone the fortunes of the Foradori estate. Elisabetta sought to expand the diversity of Teroldego. Through careful selection and cultivation of only the best clones she has brought back the unique qualities of this unique grape. In addition to clonal selection and development, other practices such as careful pruning in the vineyards, replanting old sites to take advantage of the unique terroirs of Campo Rotaliano, and drastically reducing yields have all improved the quality of the fruit. Despite vine density that now reaches two to three times what their once was, yields remain half or less of their former level.

The vines have improved. The wines have improved. This is due in no small part to the way that Campo Rotaliano rests in the shadow of the Dolomites. Blessed with a warm climate that never gets too hot, yet sheltered from extremes by the looming mountains, Campo Rotaliano has been famous for growing grapes for centuries. But it is only in the last ten years that international fame has come. Foradori has taken Teroldego from obscurity to the lips of Sommeliers and wine-store owners in many parts of the world. “I love the history and the uniqueness of the grape,” says Elisabetta. “I am always trying to identify the best terroir and character for Teroldego.”

Life is still hard. Trentino is a rugged place, and being an internationally famous winemaker and mother of four is no easy task. Still, Elisabetta’s love for the vines and the region always shine through. “They didn’t say I had to do this. I was born in the vineyards. I always remembered that.”

After 20 years of research into Teroldego, the rewards are now evident. The Teroldego Rotaliano is a fantastic introduction to the grape, with a velvety texture that silkily holds the spices and zippy acidity therein. Her reserve bottling of Teroldego, the Granato, is made from the best clones and rockiest soil. It is a monument to the olfactory senses, and has a set of aromatics that surely is what a good dream smells like. It is of note that this wine is made from younger vines than the Rotaliano, an example of what clonal selection can do.

Foradori also makes a white wine called Myrto, which is a delightful blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and the hybrid varietal Manzoni. It is a crisp and delicious white built for lunch on a summer day and has floral notes that remind me of an Alpine meadow. I wonder why? Foradori also produces tow other reds in tiny amounts and only in the best vintages. The Karanar is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Verdot, while the Ailanpa is pure Dolomite Syrah.

Attention to detail is paid at every turn. Through this the new and the old are always linked by a common thread. A newly constructed winery houses new barrique barrels for aging the wines, but they rest atop ages old gravel pulled from the Noce River nearby. Even the wines are named for elements of the past that hold special meaning to the Foradoris of the present. The vineyards are planted with a grape from the past but treated with the care of the present. At every turn an element of the old dances closely with the nuances of the new.

Elisabetta carries herself with a quiet confidence that stems from a life of hard work combined with well-earned success. She has single-handedly brought an obscure and ancient varietal back from the valleys of Trentino and put it on the wine map. She could certainly take all the credit in the world for the success of her winery and even of Teroldego, since it is her care and dedication that has given the grape its recent fame. Instead I believe that she is content to proclaim that the success was always there, and that the grape merely needed a little stirring of the embers to re-ignite the flames.