Recently, I visited Contratto, a winery located just 11km west of our wonderful village of Rocchetta Palafea, where I received a full tour of their property and extensive cellar. I was honoured to receive an insight into the making of Metodo Classico, a true labour of love extending over 4 years from vines to wine.
Video: Thor Hansen
Contratto was one of the first producers of vintage Metodo Classico sparkling wine in Italy. Its brand is synonymous with Royal houses across Europe, in fact they have even been personal suppliers of sparkling wine to the Vatican! This winery is one of the longest running in Italy, first established in 1887, and it has lost nothing of its grandeur in the intervening years. The cantina itself is built in classic Italian Art Nouveau style. The vast cellars of the Contratto Winery were cut skilfully by hand into the heart of the limestone hill overlooking the town of Canelli, a process which took over 8 years, and which were the highlight of my visit. I was astounded and in awe of the huge 5000 square metre cellars; which are known as ‘The Cathedrals’ due to their enormous size
and ornate ceilings. If you know anything about underground caverns and caves you will know of their usefulness as dwellings and storage facilities. This is due to their ability to easily maintain a constant temperature and humidity.
In this case, the limestone ‘cathedrals’ are the ideal environment for storage and fermentation of sparkling wines such as Metodo Classico, maintaining a constant annual temperature of around 12 °C. Don’t think for one minute that this place is only about the wine however. When La Spinetta bought the vineyard in 2011, owner Giorgio Rivetti, part of the famous Rivetti family, re-introduced 21st century updated versions of Contratto’s century old recipes for Vermouth, Fernet and Bitter – these unique boutique digestifs are becoming more and more popular with the resurgence of the vintage classic cocktail!
At capacity, the Contratto cellars are able to store 1.5 million bottles, which is almost difficult to comprehend. I was told they hold some real hidden treasures and could happily have spent several more hours wondering through the colossal chambers. I found myself growing more excited about the prospect and the future of our vineyard, imagining the day our grapes will be transformed and reach our own cellars.
The magician of the cellar is Mauro Ferrero. He is an especially fine vintage having began his career at Contratto in 1978 as an
apprentice! Mauro is able to disgorge 300 bottles of spumante a minute, that’s 20,000 a day!! Although manual disgorgement has been mostly replaced by machines, Mauro continues this elegant original art which has earned both him and the vineyard their excellent reputation.
Importantly to note is that the cellars that I toured have not always looked like this. After over 100 years of use they had begun to fall into disrepair until 1993 when Contratto commissioned a full refurbishment of the entire property including the cellars, main building and wine tasting room bringing them back to their former glory. When La Spinetta took over the vineyard in 2011, bringing with them the expertise and passion of Giorgio Rivetti, the brand was thrust back into the spotlight in a powerful way when in 2014 UNESCO were so impressed with the cellars that they included them as part of Piedmont’s UNESCO world heritage classification – a quality they share with our vineyard! For me, wine is about more than simply the appearance or the finish; it’s about the story and the history, it excites my soul before I’ve even tasted the first sip. This is how it is with Contratto Winery.
Take a tour to get a real feel for this incredible business, but be sure to let me know so that I can join you.
For Norwegian readers, some of Contratto's products are available for purchase at Vinmonopolet