I was watching the Italian flag flutter behind our vintage Riva named Fata Buona, as we sped from Isola della Rose after a marvelous time in one of a kind Venice to a awaiting car on terra firma to head north to Treviso. We arrived in Follina, a small Renaissance village famous for its silk and wool and for its Cistercian cloister, just in time for an afternoon aperitivo – Prosecco, of course as we were in the heart of Prosecco!
There are three places to stay in Follina, it’s all a matter of taste. We stayed at the Relais & Chateaux property, Villa Abbazia a five-star 18 century mansion with 12 rooms right in the middle of town. It is family run and has the charm and warmth of a real home, letting you know someone is looking out for your comfort. Their Restaurant La Corte was outstanding, serving us a meal that could not be categorized as “homey” it was amazing.
In the morning I had time to go across the street and explore the beautiful Abbey of Santa Maria di Follina, built according to the pure canons of the austere rule of the Cistercian reformed order in the 12 century. The Benedictine monks were replaced by Cistercians, under whom the monastery reached the height of its power and splendor. Its beautiful Romanesque cloister with elegant twin columns also house preserved Medieval paintings. In 1915, the Servants of Mary settled in the Monastery of Follina and they still live there today.
And directly above perched on the promontory overlooking the Valmareno and wrapped in the mild climate of the Treviso hills, is CastelBrando is one of the finest examples of Italian historical, artistic heritage in Italy. CastelBrando is a national historic monument. The careful restoration has brought to light the original beauty of a place with 2000 years of history, home over the centuries of nobles and illustrious leaders. In the oldest wing of the castle, among Roman finds and fascinating mosaics, you can enjoy a moment of relaxation and well-being. The Museum also offers an in-depth look into is history and ancient battlegrounds.
The castle, one of the largest and oldest in Europe, is surrounded by a beautiful park the hotel with 80 elegant rooms and suites located in three different sections of the property. You can even book the Brandolini Count’s suite, that has eight hidden doors in case you are looking to escape to find the wine cellar in the middle of the night, be careful there is also a prison.
There is also a lovely agritourism, La Dolza Farm is located in a breathtaking valley just a mile from Follina. Surrounded by the rolling Prosecco hills, the farm can boast centuries-old agricultural traditions, you will find pigs, ponies, puppies and a pool to keep you busy. Rooms and Restaurant have all the comforts travelers need.
Prosecco is both a place and a grape. There are nine provinces in the Prosecco region and over 600 million bottles are produced annually, that is double of Champagne production. In Italy prosecco is a lifestyle, it is consumed any time of day, as an aperitivo, throughout a meal or saying goodnight to friends. Prosecco is made in three styles 90% is spumante, frizzante and Traquillo (non-sparkling) from the Glera grape. Actually the Charmat method, the five step process for making Prosecco was invented by an Italian named Federico Martinoti – but it was put into production by Frenchman Eugene Charmat. Need to give credit where it is due.
It is mostly Glera but the law allows for 15% to be of other grape varieties. Prosecco has taken a page from France’s champagne region; by making it law to only call the sparkling Prosecco – if produced in the Prosecco region delineated by law. And UNESCO has recognized the region of Conegiano and Valdobbiadene as the 10th site in the world to be labeled as a “cultural landscape”. This place has a unique interaction between man and the environment.
But we are here to travel the “Strada del Prosecco” for discoveries of this specific regions’ DOCG Superior Prosecco, between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. I made note that Conegliano was the site of Italy's first winemaking school, which was opened in 1876.
And our first stop is Col Vetoraz which lies on top of the hill of the same name in Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene with a view of the whole zone. They are at the very top are in the highest part at almost 1200 feet –a very special place where the clouds do their magic. Sweeping from the north where you can just barely see the tops of the Alps are cooling winds. The Miotto family settled at Col Vetoraz in 1838 and immediately started growing vines. On steeply terraced slops vines wrap around every curve and sheer drop. No machine could work here, this demands labor just to remain upright. Slopes like this have earned the name of “heroic viticulture.”
The three principals today are very adamant about their quality production and with the changes to the laws and the renewed popularity of sparkling wines, Col Vetora has from the 2017 vintage, decided to remove the word “Prosecco” from all of its labels and in all its communications media, using just the denomination "Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G" - our wines’ true and unique territorial identity.
We then went on to the town of Valdobbiadene, where archeological findings locate in this area the Roman road called Augusta-Altinate. Plus there is evidence of one of the Roman centurion memorial stones mentioning the celebration of the grape harvest. San Venanzio Fortunato, Bishop of Poitiers (530-607 AD), describes Valdobbiadene as: “an area where vines bud below the high mountains, and in which the lush greenery protects the more barren zones”. This tells us that already in the 6th century, winemaking was a common tradition in that area, though I don’t think it was the Prosecco we are acquainted with today.
Our next visit was to meet the ladies of Bortolomiol! Founded in 1949 Bortolomiol winery is located just outside Valdobbiadene by the brothers Giuliano, Labano and Guglielmo. This was a family experience that will always stay with me. Bortolomiol’s family principles have remained unaltered by the guiding hand of Giuliano. From three boys it has transitioned to four sisters and a guiding hand of their Mother, Ottavia. Sadly, Giuliano passed in 2000 and the sisters stepped up to carry forward producing high-quality wines and support the promotion of their territory. Giuliano’s daughters, Maria Elena, Elvira, Luisa, and Giuliana have honored their father with their flagship wine, Cuvée Del Fondatore. This Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Brut is a single-vineyard wine made from grapes grown in San Pietro di Barbozza; it is a cru wine that uniquely expresses the land and terroir.
There are three different discoveries to this property all of which can be enjoyed with a glass of amazing creamy bubbles in hand. Each different as the four elegant sisters, a restored silk mill on the property, the winery production, the Art & Nature tour of beautiful outdoor sculpture, and the Parco della Filandetta in the stone amphitheater.
When you are in their company you can just feel enveloped by their love and passion. And as women entrepreneurs they also support humanitarian projects. Partnering a project in Benin, Africa called “Donne per le Donne,” which works for the integration of women in the entrepreneurial world. They are also active in "Wine for Life", the most successful AIDS care program in sub-Saharan Africa. So go ahead and buy that extra bottle….it helps good causes.
Strongly recommend to reach out to Max Coppo at The Grand Wine Tour for amazing inside information in Italy. https://www.thegrandwinetour.com/en/