I was enamored with two high grade guns at the beginning of construction in Gitti's and Fioretti's workshop, an SO 10 being built with Damascus steel sideplates and a side by side hammer gun, the Diana model, also being constructed with Damascus steel sideplates, trigger guard, top lever and external hammers. Both guns were being built for Pietro Beretta. Lucky man!
As I admired these two stunning guns, watching them birth, Jarno told me that he had arranged for me to visit the facility where this Damascus steel is constructed. I was thrilled. I enjoy the history of firearms as much as holding and studying them.
Located less than an hour's drive from the Beretta factories, entering the forging house in Ome is to walk back into the Middle Ages. This visit was one of the greatest moments in my writing experiences. The building was non-descript, made of stone and severely weathered wood framing. The forging house is often referred to as the Averoldi Hammer of Ome. The air was damp and heavy. It smelled of wood and burning charcoal. You don't breathe the air as much as chew it.
This very forging house, precisely where I was standing, was the site of the construction of some of the first Beretta barrels, over five hundred years ago. The realization was soul churning. Now, this same water driven hammer is making Damascus steel for the finest, most sophisticated firearms on the planet and for Beretta heirs sixteen generations later. Incredible!
Telling a Secret
I begin by describing the most delightful moment in my writing career. Beretta had invited me to Gardone to write an article about a collection of guns made as a surprise birthday present for its patriarch and CEO, Ugo Gussalli Beretta (see The Double Gun Journal, Spring 2003, ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. Beretta'). I was taken to Lo Sparviere, Beretta's vineyard in Franciacorta, to interview Sra. Monique Gussalli Beretta, wife of Ugo Gussalli Beretta.
During our discussion I was enthralled by Sra. Beretta's grace and effortless ability to make me feel at ease. After all, visiting with Monique Beretta is the equivalent of visiting with royalty-indeed, higher than royalty. She works for a living! I felt so comfortable with her-seven bottles of wine may have had an influence-I leaned toward her and said, "Monique, I will tell you a secret. I like wine more than guns!"
"Michael," she replied, "you and I are going to be friends." "Thank you, God!' I said silently.
Good fortune granted me another visit to Beretta a few weeks ago, including another visit with Sra. Monique Beretta at Lo Sparviere. I have been honored to write about many of Beretta's finest guns. This time I write about Beretta's extraordinary wines. Beretta owns three vineyards; Lo Sparviere, in Franciacorta (pronounced Frahn-cha-cor-ta) , Castello di Radda in Tuscany and Orlandi Contucci Ponno in Abruzzo, the latter two acquired since my first visit to Lo Sparviere.
Think of Italian wine and you probably think of the lush robust reds of Tuscany or the aromatic red and delicate white wines of Piedmont, which are unsurpassed anywhere in the world. However, thoughts of Italian sparkling wines (spumante) tend to be of the overly sweet bubbly varieties often served as cheap substitutes for champagne. Such thoughts about their sparkling wines are incorrect.
Italy, and Franciacorta, specifically, produce sparkling wines of world-class stature. Italy has been crafting sparkling wines since Roman times and produces more kinds of sparkling wine than any other country and Franciacorta produces much of Italy's finest sparkling wines. In 1967 Franciacorta sparkling wines were awarded the rating Denominazione di Origini Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), the most distinctive and honored appellation. In his magnificent book, Franciacorta, Burton Anderson writes: "Franciacorta DOCG established the longest and most rigidly disciplined process of elaboration in bottle of any of the world's classified sparkling wines."
According to Anderson, the region was first documented in the 13th century as Franzacurta, possibly in reference to the tax exempt status (franchae curtes) of its towns under auspices of the clergy. Franciacorta is located between Lake Iseo and the city of Brescia in the northern Italian province of Lombardy. The Alpine climate is tempered by the lakes of Garda, Iseo, Como and Maggiore in the north and the Apennines to the south. Lago d'Iseo, carved by a glacier from the alps on the Oglio River, sits at the foot of steep sloping mountains in the center of the Franciacorta region. The movement of glaciers millions of years ago created a terrain of light perfectly drained soil comprised of pebbles, silt and sand that is ideal for grape vines.
Franciacorta's reputation has been built on the outstanding bottle-fermented sparkling wines which are made using the Metodo Franciacorta, based on the classic Champagne method. In this process the wine undergoes a far costlier second fermentation in the bottles rather than in a vat, leading to smaller more plentiful bubbles and a more subtle taste. Franciacorta sparkling wines are made using a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes. The wines are dry, complex and have hints of almond, vanilla, and yellow ripe fruit. According to Italian wine law, Franciacorta must be aged for at least 18 months and vintage Franciacorta for 30 months.
Lo Sparviere is in Monticelli Brusati within the Franciacorta region, about a forty minute drive from the Beretta factory in Gardone. It dates back to the 16th century, quite coincidentally approximating the time of Beretta's ‘official' birth, based on the receipt from the Doges of Venice dated October 3, 1526, to master Bartolomeo Beretta for 185 arquebus barrels. The Lo Sparviere name and symbol derive from the sparrow hawks gracefully portrayed on the escutcheon above the grand fireplace in the great room and on the stone doorways of the house.
Upon my arrival I was honored with a hug from Monique Beretta and introduced to Silvia Sabotti, director of Lo Sparviere. Me and Jarno Antonelli, Beretta's skilled translator and guide who I now count as a friend, toured the cool fragrant cellar containing tens of thousands of bottles, more than enough for a successful weekend party, and then went to the elegantly rustic dining room for a wine tasting.
Silvia, an exuberant young woman who speaks flawless English, had prepared an array of chilled sparkling wines, several red and white still wines and a lavish presentation of cheeses, salamis and crackers. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!
Lo Sparviere blends its wines to attain their own perfection, and even uses their own yeast for the sparkling wines' second fermentation, as if they were selecting their own personal engraver for their firearms.
I can't speak knowledgeably about all their wines, but I can about the several I tasted. The Lo Sparviere Rose Franciacorta, 2004 was outstanding. It is made with chardonnay grapes and with about 15% Pinot Nero grapes. The pinot grapes are fermented in contact with their skins to make a pink or red base wine. This sparkler would be a tantalizing complement to appetizers, shellfish, aromatic cheeses and game birds.
The 2002 Franciacorta Brut Lo Sparviere di Gussalli Beretta was fabulous. Made with 100% chardonnay grapes, it was crisp, beautifully structured with acid and fruit, and was simply delicious by any measure. For pastas, chicken and veal, especially with mushrooms, sharp cheeses and mild-flavored game, rich Gorgonzola, buttery Fontina or tangy Asiago, this wine is as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned, other than, perhaps, the bank-account-draining big-name champagnes.
I like strong red wines, however, if I have a choice, and the Poggio Selvale 2004 Chianti Classico from Beretta's Castello di Radda vineyard in the Classico region of Chianti was simply outstanding. This is not only my opinion; it won the prestigious Radda Nel Bicchiere award. Boasting power and delicacy, this wine would be majestically paired with venison, partridge, pheasant and other tangy game.
I was impressed with other Lo Sparviere still wines, such as its luscious red Sergnana and white Bianco Riserva. All could be proudly placed on the table no matter what the occasion. Made by Beretta, it is not surprising that they are as exquisitely crafted and as deliciously distinct as are Beretta's finest shotguns and rifles.
Beretta's two other vineyards are undergoing considerable expansion and up-grading of equipment. I mentioned the luscious Poggio Selvale, made with the fiery sangiovese grape, which is produced by Castello di Radda in Chianti, in the heart of the Tuscan hills between Siena and Florence. The vineyard was acquired by the Gussalli Beretta family in 2003.
The third vineyard is Orlandi Contucci Ponno in Abruzzo, on the Adriatic Sea directly east of Rome. The vineyard currently produces eight different bottlings of red and white still wines. However, I look forward to the vineyard's evolution with enthusiasm. With soil identical to much of the Bordeaux region, Abruzzo is considered one of the best ‘new' wine regions developed in the last decade. It is mouth-watering to contemplate what Beretta will do with such a resource.
As Beretta refurbishes, expands and modernizes its three vineyards, it expects within the next two or three years total production to be about one-third million bottles of the highest quality wines the regions can offer. Then its marketing efforts in the United States will begin. I, for one, can't wait. For information about Beretta wines, visit the website: www.losparviere.com.
A Magical Place
My fabulous visit ended with a trip to the Costello di Radda vineyard in the region Radda in Chianti, located in Tuscany. The region is part of the larger wine producing region named Chianti Classico. Marina Orlandi Contucci was my guide and host. She is energetic, highly knowledgeable about wine and its production and in every way a gracious host. Beretta bought this vineyard in 2000. Its first year of production was 2004. I had already tasted two of their bottlings at Lo Sparvieri. Construction of a totally new facility is reaching completion, including a cellar, a production facility and a building with half a dozen guest rooms.
A quick Google search will yield endless websites that tell you all there is to know about Chianti in general and pertaining to Chianti Classico and about Radda in Chianti, specifically. There are three zones in Chianti: Radda, Gaiole, Castillini.
Excavations at Poggio La Croce show that the area around Radda has been inhabited since the 11th century BC by Etruscan and Roman. The town of Radda itself is first mentioned in a manuscript in 1002, in which Emperor Otto III confirmed the village of Radda as belonging to Badia Fiorentina. In 1191 the Castle of Radda became property of the Guidi Counts. Florence later took absolute control of the castle. Radda became the seat of the Podesta and chief town of the Chianti League from the late 13th century.
I purchased a thoroughly delightful book by Dario Castagno titled "Too Much Tuscan Wine." It is drenched with personal anecdotes and marvelous quotations and sayings, such as "Wine makes you feel the way you should feel without wine."
And perhaps my favorite, "Quando il capello tira al bianchino, lascia la donna e tieni il buon vino." (When your hair starts to whiten, leave the women and keep the wine.")
Chianti Classico is the most prestigious region in Chianti. The soil has a higher silica content, which gives a refined elegant softness to the grapes. There has been much blending and experimentation with Chianti wines, and, indeed, some flourishes of criminality, fraud, scandal and dubious naming and blending.
The predominant grape used is San Giovese and generally speaking, the best Chianti Classico wines are made with 100% of that grape although, by law, a producer may add up to 10% of other grapes to the wine, such as Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, etc. and the wine may yet be denominated as Classico. The Riserva must, by law, be aged longer, for at least three years in wood.
The Beretta vineyard bottling Poggio Salve is 100% San Giovese. The Riserva bottling is outstanding. I write candidly that Chianti has a magical allure. It is a place to be savored more than visited. One can sit at any of the dozens of wine bars or on the luxurious patios of the numerous hotels and vineyards, sip some of the finest wines we humans can produce, and feel wholly fulfilled.
At sunset I sat on the patio of the Ristorante Al Chiasso Dei Portici, built on the upper level of the old fortress in the center of Radda and ruminated about my trip. I went back to the beginning of the gunmaking craft and then peered into its future. All in all, it was an extraordinary journey through time. Grazia, Beretta.
(To read the first installment of in this series, please visit An Extraordinary Week With Beretta Traveling Through Half a Millennia. The second installment is located at An Extraordinary Week With Beretta Traveling Through Half a Millennia, Part 2)