Dal Forno's wines are prized around the world for their concentration and complexity. They are bold, powerful expressions of what the Valpolicella appellation can do. Critics charge that Dal Forno has the same mentality as a Napa cult Cabernet producer: He makes big, powerful reds and charges an arm and a leg.
Valpolicella has never enjoyed the reputation of prestige regions such as Montalcino or Barolo. And Illasi lies outside the more respected Valpolicella Classico region, in a valley one rival producer says is fit only for growing corn for polenta. Dal Forno proudly declares that his wines are proof that Amarone, even from the lesser areas of Valpolicella, can rival the best red wines of Italy. "To others, it's as if I'm a Fiat producer and I charge Ferrari prices," says Dal Forno. "People think of Barolos and Brunellos like Ferraris. They think Valpolicella makes mediocre wine. I wanted to make an example."
From a distance, Dal Forno, 53, is fairly average-looking- of medium height, with a solid build and a receding hairline. But up close, one begins to sense his intensity. His bright blue eyes shine with piercing focus and confidence. He has always been driven, but wasn't always so sure of himself. In 1979, at age 22, Dal Forno decided he wanted to make his own wines. "My father thought I was crazy," he says. His father was a farmer who had spent his life growing grapes for the local cooperative, the third generation to work in the vineyards. He wasn't the only one who thought his son had lost his mind. "In the village, I suddenly became the new idiot," Dal Forno recalls.
But he had ambition, coupled with discipline. "I wanted to be proud of my work," he says. "If you sell your grapes to the cooperative, you don't care what happens to them. I wanted to have my own voice." Unsure of how to get started, Dal Forno chatted with a local cork retailer who recommended that he contact Giuseppe Quintarelli. Located a few valleys to the west of Val d'Illasi, Quintarelli's winery was well-known and highly respected in Valpolicella.
When Dal Forno arrived at Quintarelli's winery one morning in 1979, however, Quintarelli was one of the few winemakers focusing on quality over quantity. Dal Forno was terrified. "Oh God, I knew nothing about wine," he says. "And everyone was talking about how great [Quintarelli's] wines were." Quintarelli met Dal Forno in the cellars and began offering him some barrel samples, explaining his approach and how he painstakingly dried only the best grapes and let fermentation slowly progress. But what struck Dal Forno was Quintarelli's voice-he spoke in a soft whisper, barely audible. "I was confused. I thought, maybe he's speaking softly out of respect for the wines, so he doesn't disturb them. I started speaking softly too. Finally, he turned to me and said, ‘You don't have to speak like that. I'm losing my voice.' "
It was the start of a long mentoring relationship. Their styles have diverged over the years-Dal Forno embraces more technological control in the winery, while Quintarelli remains more traditional-but Dal Forno still embraces the philosophy Quintarelli imparted at their first meeting. Quintarelli stressed the difference in mindset for a winemaker versus a farmer, the attention to detail, the focus on cleanliness in the winery. And above all, he told Dal Forno that a winemaker has to have a vision of what he wants in the bottle. Dal Forno released his first wines in 1983, but it took almost a decade of work before he was making wine he felt proud of. He took courses at viticulture school to better understand how to reduce yields. He began planting to increase density, eventually reaching more than 5,000 vines per acre. He trained the vines in the Guyot style, which produced more concentrated grapes.
Today, in addition to his own land, Dal Forno farms 32 acres owned by relatives, with the help of brother-in-law Cesare Spada and cousin Matteo Dal Forno. The soil is partially volcanic-the ridges that form the two sides of the valley were created by the ancient eruptions of Monte Lessini, the volcano to the north. There's limestone and clay as well, and lots of pebbles. The traditional Valpolicella varieties-Corvina, Corvinona and Rondinella-are all represented, as is Oseleta, an older, almost forgotten variety. Each summer, the vineyard workers perform a particular type of green harvest: They cut off the bottom half of each grape bunch. Dal Forno explains that the top half ripens more than the bottom, making it better suited for Amarone.
The family produces 12,000 to 13,000 bottles of Amarone in an average year, and about 36,000 bottles of Valpolicella. In a good vintage, there's more Amarone, in a bad year, more Valpolicella. In 2005 and 2007, Dal Forno produced no Amarone.
Wines Dal Forno
|Wine Amarone della Valpolicella Doc Monte Lodoletta||Region Veneto||Vintage 2008||Unit 0.75lt||Price/unit 280.00€|
|Tipe RED WA 95 WS 94 Avail 2||INFO BUY|
|Wine IGT Veneto Vigna Sere||Region Veneto||Vintage 2003||Unit 0.375lt||Price/unit 140.00€|
|Tipe RED WA 92 WS 94 Avail 1||INFO BUY|