by Lara Loreti
The darkness beyond the threshold. The correct humidity, north-facing. The cool and constant temperature. The bowels of upper Bergamo breathe life back into the bottles, mostly over sixty years old, placed in concrete niches. Luigi Veronelli’s cellar is a paradise of tannins and emotions: 350 square metres dug underground and enlarged with the aid of explosives, providing space for 35,000 bottles. A masterpiece, developed by the great food and wine expert during decades of experience, and which is now ready to transfer part of its patrimony to the ranks of Fisar. An important part of these precious ‘jewels’ – about 1,500 bottles – were donated by the Veronelli family to the Federation, and will be the subject of research, in harmony with the teachings of the Lombard master. A precious gift, orchestrated by Gian Arturo Rota, curator of Veronelli’s heritage. Rota himself – having spent a lifetime alongside the famous expert – tells us how this idea originated.
When was Veronelli’s cellar born?
“Luigi created his cellar over a long and tiring period of time. When he moved from his city of Milan to Bergamo, during which years he wrote wines of the world catalogues for Bolaffi, he was already a recognized expert. He had travelled and studied all over the world. In the meantime he collected bottles, the result of purchases or gifts intended for tasting. The number of bottles continued to grow, so Luigi looked for a house in the hills that had a large enough cellar. This is how he accumulated a massive patrimony that at its peak reached 70,000 samples, made up not only of Italian wines but also those from other countries. He said that each bottle was unique, while he considered himself more of a wine lover than a collector. Today the Veronelli family is happy to preserve the bottles for sentimental reasons, but at the same time is willing to have their value recognised.”
How will this be achieved ?
“Among the possibilities considered as regards how to best use the bottles, one was to donate them for educational purposes. And through contact with Fisar’s delegate in Bologna, Raffaella Melotti, with whom I had organized evenings on the subject of Veronelli, we chose the Federation. It was a great pleasure for me and for Luigi’s daughters Benedetta, Chiara and Lucia, to enhance the value of part of the cellar through Fisar. I have selected 1,500 bottles, dating from the sixties to the nineties, choosing various wines from all over Italy and seeking not to omit any region. And I would like to thank Fisar’s President, Luigi Terzago, for understanding the great importance of the initiative.”
What do you think would be the best way to enhance the importance of this gift?
“The idea is to organize together various events dedicated to Luigi and his teachings, working with products that are not available on the market and that can be studied with regard to wine conservation. In Italy there is a tendency to exploit the market with the sole purpose of making a profit. Luigi, instead, managed to create an awareness of the quality and value of the wine’s history in a peasant world. He understood that there was a fabulous unknown world to be discovered, and the myth of France was not far off. He therefore created the conditions for a new economy and a different attitude towards eating and drinking. These bottles are the key to realizing that Italian wine can have a long ageing process. Not only Barolo and Brunello, but other interesting wines are also ready to be studied. Even a product from sixty years ago can still be drinkable.”
What ventures could be organized to continue Veronelli’s work?
“First of all tasting sessions, with a professional and popular approach, followed by courses, evenings, official occasions in collaboration with Fisar but also in other locations, with a view to making this heritage as widely known as possible. There is a concerted wish to collaborate, and I am of the opinion that by joining forces we will be able to do many wonderful things.”
In addition to technique and knowledge, how much of Veronelli’s sensitivity have today’s sommeliers managed to acquire?
“As early as the 1960s, Luigi said that the sommelier is not only an unbiased adviser with a rather clinical approach to providing technical information, but should also be able to transmit his cultural heritage to customers, not in order to influence choices, but rather to guide them through the story of that specific wine.”
What is the most important lesson he taught you?
“He made me understand that reality and personal relations can be viewed in many ways. And this prevents one from becoming arrogant, while being prepared to listen. While travelling with him, I admired the way he related to others.”