Despite its relative obscurity throughout the wine world, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s fourth largest wine-producing region, behind only Puglia, Sicily and Veneto. The region is best known as Italy’s gastronomic hub, where fertile land and a local appetite for hearty fare have created a foodie’s delight. It is also the country’s automotive centre, where names like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati call home. On the surface, it might seem that wine is an afterthought.
Quantity rather than quality has driven wine production in Emilia-Romagna, historically. Only 15% of the wines produced classify as DOC quality, and much of that is of the modest variety, and mostly sparkling. The region is probably best known for producing Lambrusco, which gained significant popularity in the 1970s and 80s with its low price and sweet, bubbly appeal. Like similar wine stories—Australian Shiraz and Argentine Malbec, for example—that international success was both a blessing and curse. The commercial success of Lambrusco brought prosperity and notoriety to the region, but it cemented Emilia-Romagna’s reputation for being an area that only produced massive amounts of usually uninspiring and ordinary wines. It also led many of the region’s wineries to continue to focus their efforts on producing massive amounts of low-quality wine.
Towards the end of the 20th century, pockets of extreme quality began to crop up with increasing regularity. This small, but important group of quality-obsessed producers farmed organically/biodynamically and restricted yields to maximum effect. Whilst the majority of the region’s producers farmed vineyards in rich, alluvial plains, this new breed of wine grower focused on hillsides with poorer soils, often near the borders of Lombardy and Tuscany. And while the international wine buyer has been slow to recognize the quality and incredible value of today’s wine from Emilia-Romagna, the increasingly savvy local market has not.
In the tiny north-west corner of the region, you’ll find the town of Piacenza. Sandwiched between Piedmont and Tuscany, the area, like the region at large, was long known for the production of bulk wine to satisfy the then easy-to-please domestic market. It was here that Felice Salamini decided to purchase a small, abandoned vineyard in the Val Luretta, a small valley at the foot of the Apennine hills. By trade a cattle breeder, Felice had long travelled along the great French and Italian wine routes, dreaming of one day producing equally captivating and delicious wines back home in Piacenza. His ambition and courage were evident from the very start.
He would eschew the traditional profit-oriented model that was prevalent here and throughout Emilia-Romagna, focusing instead on making the very best wine his land could grow. The vineyard, despite its state of disrepair, was blessed with an abundance of old, indigenous grape vines that were capable of producing exceptional wines…in time. He welcomed experts from around the wine world, hosting them for extended periods to glean as much as he could from their varying backgrounds and perspectives. Through trial and error, he soon identified the ‘Luretta Method’ and quickly began to gain recognition for his efforts. As early as the 1990s, the winery was awarded numerous ‘Tre Bicchieri’ from Gambero Rosso and ‘Vini Frutto’ from Luca Maroni, along with countless other medals from its export markets of France, Switzerland, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
The philosophy of the winery is simple: stress the vines, restrict yields and use organic and biodynamic principles to craft structured, elegant wines with incredibly intense and complex flavours. The soils here are composed of a mix of clay, marl, sand and sandstone and are ideal for the type of viticulture Felice envisioned. There is no use of fertilizers nor irrigation. The only pest-control or treatments in the vineyards involve small amounts of copper or sulfur, neither of which are used in production or bottling. The vines are purposely starved of nutrients and water, which severely restricts yields and thickens skins, while long hang times ensure full phenolic ripeness. Incredibly low yields—typically one vine per bottle—mean that the plant uses all of its energy to create the perfect berry and, in turn, grape bunch. The clusters are hand-harvested and meticulously sorted both in the field and at the winery. Fermentation is always carried out via indigenous yeasts, with no fining nor filtering. They use only Allier French oak barrels for aging where wood is called for.
From the beginning, the Salamini family decided to plant international grapes alongside old vine plantings of Malvasia, Bonarda and Barbera. Felice embraced tradition, but he also recognized the potential to work outside the strictures of history to create a new and unique path of his own. This included an ambitious sparkling wine program. While sparkling wine certainly was not new to the region, Traditional Method sparkling wine centred around Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Luretta’s sparkling wines soon gained international attention. They are sophisticated, elegant and as the winery puts it, ‘never boring’. They rival the best from neighbouring Franciacorta and beyond.
Today, the winery is in the hands of Felice’s son, Lucio. The vineyards now total 50 hectares, though the same ‘Luretta Method’ goes into each and every bottle produced. 30 years later, Felice’s dream of producing world-class wines has been fully realized. The labels are much like the wines and the man himself: intense, distinctive, complex and unapologetically confident.