Bardolino is a village on the shore of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona in northeast Italy. The same name is also used to describe the biodiverse wine appellation that stretches over the eastern shore of the lake, Italy’s largest.
In the past, Bardolino wines didn’t have a great reputation because winemakers tended to emphasize quantity, sometimes at the expense of quality. However, a new generation of winemakers is raising the bar for these regional Italian wines. They are coupling passion for the land and respect for tradition with thoroughly modern sensibilities and know-how.
In 2018, it was recognized that there isn’t one singular Bardolino wine, per se, but three varietals based on the different subzones of the region: La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna, areas that had been there historically.
The most important grape variety in the Bardolino region is, of course, Corvina, which expresses itself in many different types of wines, based on its terroir.
Two pioneering female winemakers, sisters Claudia and Giulia Benazzoli, are part of this changing paradigm in Bardolino. They joined the family business, Benazzoli winery, 13 years ago, after completing studies in oenology and agronomy, respectively.
When their father died, they took over the helm of the family business that was known for its light-bodied, Bardolino red wine and for Chiaretto, a dry rosé wine.
Forbes.com spoke to Claudia Benazzoli to find out more about the Bardolino wine region, her ambitions, and her travels:
Precisely where is the Benazzoli winery located?
Claudia Benazzoli: Our winery is located in Pastrengo, on the hills between Lake Garda and the Adige River. The grape growing area surrounding the lake comprises four circles of hills, each with different soils and climates, and also distinctive identities and history.
The subzone where our winery, Benazzoli, is located is characterized by the highest average temperatures and the most rainfall within the Bardolino area. For this reason, cherries and black pepper are the predominant aromas in our wines.
What types of wines does Benazzoli produce?
CB: We have vineyards in two different wine regions: Bardolino and Valpolicella. Since we took over the winery, we have greatly expanded our portfolio. We produce whites, rosés, and red wines: Pinot grigio, Rosato spumante, Chiaretto di Bardolino, Bardolino, 100% Corvina, Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone Classico della Valpolicella.
We bottle about 70,000 bottles per year, about 70 percent of which is exported. Our main export markets are in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
What was it like to transition from a male to a female dominated winery?
CB: At the beginning of our “adventure,” we faced two types of prejudice: gender and age. Because we were women, some people thought we were incapable of properly leading a successful business. Because we were young, others considered us inexperienced and unprepared.
Our dad only passed away recently. But during his lifetime, he provided us with the skills, expertise and self-esteem that would be essential for our work, as well as the passion and pride for what we do.
Being honest, it’s not easy, but we are learning how to ignore negative and useless criticism. I believe our work and products speak for themselves.
Your eye-catching labels stand apart from others on a shelf. Can you explain their genesis?
CB: Even the terms and language of wine has traditionally been masculine. But behind every great man—and the grapes, the vineyard, the land and the harvest—there has always been a great woman.
So we decided to tell the Benazzoli story in a new, feminine language. We don’t talk about “pink” wines, use italic characters, or depend on gender stereotypes. Instead we talk about “Wine Made By Women,” a new language that describes wines that know how to be strong, kind, feminine, sensual and passionate.
Our wine labels were designed by a friend who is a tattoo artist, part of a project called Sogni di Donna (women’s dreams). The women portrayed on the bottles have names, their own character and style, and an exquisite, very personal taste. Each of them describes different aspects of the Benazzoli women and their wines.
Although sisters, you and Giulia have different personalities. How, how has that influenced the division of labor?
CB: This is how I would describe each of us:
Claudia is tenacious, headstrong, and thoughtful.
Giulia is a dreamer, pragmatic, and passionate.
We have two different personalities but both of us bring substance, independence and worth to our jobs as female wine growers. Sometimes it’s not easy as we both have strong characters, but we know that we are stronger together.
Especially now that our father is no longer with us, we have consolidated our bond of sisterhood and we are always looking out for each other. We support each other: two heads, four hands and one big heart.
If wine tourists come to the Lake Garda region, what types of experiences can they expect?
CB: Lake Garda attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. It is an ideal destination for visitors seeking tranquility, hospitality and culture. The Mediterranean climate makes it a place with perfect weather, warm in summer and mild in winter, thanks to the protection of the Alps from cold winds.
The landscapes around the lake are very varied with mountains in the northern part, green hills in the south, beaches with rocks, sand or even grass, and crystal clear waters.
On the shores of Lake Garda you can find countless historical sites—from ancient ruins to castles—villas, fortresses, caves. Everywhere you go, you will discover stunning scenery and views filled with vines, olive trees and lemon groves.
Here at Benazzoli, we say that “wine is nothing without hospitality”. Our wine shop is a meeting place where experiences can be exchanged, because wine is not just any drink. It is best appreciated, tasted, and especially shared with others.
We host daily tours and tastings throughout the year. And we also organize various events at the winery linked to the world of wine. Our Cene in Vigna (dinners in the vineyard), for example, are moments of conviviality, light-heartedness and joy, at which people are able to enjoy a nice glass of wine with friends in the shade of our vines. We also host private events.
What role does travel play in your own work?
CB: We travel to different countries to find new clients and to help our distributors in New York, Canada, and different European cities promote our wines. This is one of the most important parts of our job, as people love to know the person and the story behind a bottle of wine. While technology is very important, personal relationships are much more so.
When we travel for pleasure, we go where our hearts take us. I (Claudia) have an unconditional love for Australia and nature. Just a few weeks ago I went on safari in South Africa – one of the most emotional experiences in my life. My sister, Giulia, loves South America and she will soon visit Argentina. She loves adventure travels and next year she’s going to go for a snowmobile tour in Lapland.
What are your thoughts about your future as winemakers and women?
CB: We see ourselves as part of a new generation of young winemakers who bring their personal way of being into this business of creating wines—a new and international way with solid foundations from our past, seeing the entire world as borderless yet not losing local family traditions.
We hope to move our story forward in an innovative and sustainable way. Our grandfather and father taught us that being winegrowers means being respectful. Respect for traditions, for an authentic life punctuated by the rhythm of nature, which has the scent of hands accustomed to caress the branches. Respect for the territory, with its perfumes, its products and people.
Now, we do this job with the creativity and stubbornness of which only women are capable, in harmony with the natural elements. In harmony with the earth, the water, the vineyard, the light, and the grapes.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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