When wine lovers hear the name “Quintarelli,” they immediately think of Amarone. The association is understandable: Quintarelli's famed bottlings are among Italy’s most sought-after wines, even if the family firm has never done any marketing or promotion. There's not even a sign at the entrance to the estate. Yet the wines have attained cult status.
The man behind its rise to greatness was Giuseppe Quintarelli. Born on the estate in 1927, the winery now sits high above the urban sprawl that has invaded the area over the last few decades. The self-taught winemaker took over production from his father, Silvio, in the early 1950s, and throughout his career he painstakingly worked to elevate the quality of the firm's wines.
Giuseppe passed away in 2012 and his eldest daughter Fiorenza now manages the winery together with husband, Giampaolo Grigoli. Their sons, 29-year old Francesco and 21-year old Lorenzo are the heirs apparent, having worked alongside their grandfather in their youth.
Thanks to its lack of high-tech equipment, time seems to have stood still in the winery and this may be the secret of its success. Giuseppe often said that he continued to make wine using the same time-honored techniques that his father and grandfather had employed in the early years of the 20th century.
Time also plays its crucial role in the lengthy aging process, with Amarone maturing an almost unthinkable seven to eight years in large Slavonian casks before bottling. A number of these large casks are elaborately carved, bearing images of grapes, peacocks and a cross. This imagery was highly symbolic for Giuseppe, a devout Catholic.
To make Amarone with such complexity and depth, you need “infinite patience that allows you to wait while the many phases of the maturation process take place,“ claimed Giuseppe. He would say that tasks in the vineyard and in the cellar “need to be performed slowly and methodically. Otherwise it's best not to bother doing them at all.” And once the wine is finally released – usually a whopping 10 years after the harvest – it can easily age for decades longer.
Due to limited production and high demand, Quintarelli's wines are notoriously difficult to get hold of but worth the effort. The current releases include the 2004 Amarone and the 2005 Valpolicella. They are big and bold, with mouthfuls of lush fruit, displaying an extraordinary vibrancy and freshness for their age. Both wines prove Giuseppe's conviction that through patience and perseverance, the slow maturation process would give his wines the level of complexity and elegance he desired.
Giuseppe had four daughters and felt so attached to his wines that he considered them the sons he'd never had. Francesco adds: “He was not kidding, he was serious.“ Indeed, in the late 1980s, Giuseppe refused to sell any wine to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands because the driver she had sent was using a car with no air-conditioning. This was a totally unacceptable proposition for transporting “his sons” in the hot summer.
Francesco recalls his grandfather as being “generous, simple, reserved, cordial and demanding.” As well as imparting his knowledge to his grandsons, Giuseppe was generous in sharing his expertise with younger local producers. Romano Dal Forno, who now has a cult following of his own, first met him when he was 22 and calls Giuseppe “his guiding light”. Rising star Luca Fedrigo of L'Arco estate adds: “Thirty years ago everyone teased him because he was the only one in Valpolicella to produce high-quality wine when the market was demanding mediocrity and quantity. He helped many producers to change this mentality, freely giving his knowledge and experience on how to increase quality.“
To this day, Quintarelli does not participate in wine fairs, does not have a web site, and the estate's entrance does not have a sign. While some might say this stance is outdated and appears standoffish, Francesco claims visitors are welcome and that “it means those people that find their way here are really interested in us.“
One of Francesco's fondest memories is of seeing his late grandparents bottling by hand from a demi-john on a table set up close to the fireplace, and then gluing on the hand-written labels. This was the normal procedure until 1995, when an automated bottling line was installed. It had its drawbacks, admits Francesco.
“This artisanal method meant that there was often notable variability between bottles, but this has actually been embraced by the most die-hard collectors of our wines”.
Looking ahead, Francesco makes it clear that protecting Giuseppe's legacy is paramount: “Just to continue in my grandfather's footsteps would be a great outcome.”
Italy Veneto Valpolicella
Italy Veneto Valpolicella