A small team of wine enthusiasts works at the winery. The most modern knowledge from the world of vinology is adapted here to the peculiarities of each site. Kerstin Bernadi is a sommelière and wine academic. The title of wine narrator would suit her much better, as vividly and entertainingly she talks about viticulture and vinification. An extensive tasting, preferably in the late afternoon, rewards with a fantastic view of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains.
The visit begins in the cellar. Kerstin Bernardi has been part of the team of Mike Rudolph, whose grandmother bought the land above the bay of Agno in 1940. At that time, there were only a few trees here, but not a single vine. Father Urs Rudolph planted the first vines. But he remained a grape supplier without his own wine press. A good 80 years later, Mike Rudolph is assisted by two female wine experts in the self-pressing operation of Tenuta San Giorgio. Rea Fellmann is the expert for viticulture and cellar. Kerstin Bernardi works wherever she is needed, whether on the vines or in the cellar. However, events and tastings are the core tasks of the sommelière.
Welcome to Merlot Land and more
Ticino equals Merlot equals Grotto, or so it is ingrained in people’s minds, says Kerstin Bernardi, but that has long since ceased to be true. A lot is happening. The more grape varieties, the more possibilities there are to combine grape varieties and degrees of maturity. Currently, Tenuta San Giorgio produces 20 percent white wines and 80 percent red wines. In addition, there is always time for experimentation. Sparkling wine from pressed Merlot grapes in bottle fermentation, not further disgorged, could become a new product.
Another experiment from which a product has already sprung is Orange Wine. We stand in front of the concrete eggs and Kerstin Bernardi explains the principle. In the concrete egg, the yeast swirls permanently. There is no oxygen influence because of the material. For Orange Wine, white grapes are treated in the same way as a red wine. The grapes are fermented on the mash, and the light to dark orange aroma is altered by contact with skins and pips, depending on the oxygen supply. Tanins are added to the wine and this also makes Orange Wine a good food companion. The aim is to find a different color and a different structure in the palate. This type of winemaking has been practiced for a long time in Georgia, the country with probably the oldest wine tradition.
Barrel management and the personal touch of the cooper
If all the components are the same and only the barrel is different, the result is a different wine, says Kerstin Bernardi. Where grown? How grown? When felled? How toasted? All these factors combined make barrel management a complex issue. What is beautiful is the blend. Once the wines have rested in barrel for a year, the assemblage from the different barrels begins. At Tenuta San Giorgio, they like to work with French oak for the barrique barrels. A Ticino Merlot in chestnut barrels, says Kerstin Bernardi, could also be exciting. But the strong tannin slowed her down in this experiment. Taste and finesse come before the idea of home. On average, about 90 percent used barrels are used. Because the wood should only ever provide a framework and never emphasize the taste.
Gentle pruning and sensational views
They work from January to September and all of a sudden they are gone, says Kerstin Bernardi and we walk through the vineyard, which no longer bears grapes at the end of September. At Tenuta San Giorgio, they are currently switching to soft pruning. According to Bernardi, we try to prune only at the edges. The classic method is to pull up a fruit cane. The cane is trimmed so that it only strikes out to one side. However, dead pieces are susceptible to pests. With gentle pruning, the flow of sap should work to both sides and the vine should no longer be confined in such a strict corset. The more the vine is given the opportunity to grow naturally, the healthier it will be. The team received confirmation of their work at the beginning of 2021 with the certification of Fair’n Green with the seal of sustainable viticulture.
Just a moment ago you saw nothing but vines, but after just a few meters down the narrow path that leads to the vineyard, the view of Lake Lugano opens up. The winery’s location makes it perfect for events. Ticino ambience and flavors can find each other here. Kerstin Bernardi finds this spot of earth and the very special light in the late afternoon to be howlingly beautiful.
Green events at the blue hour
From the Tenuta San Giorgio near Cassina d’Agno in Ticino, you have a view of the bay of Agno and across the arm of Lake Lugano to the mountains of Italy. So much atmosphere should be shared with others. This gave birth to the format Picnic in Vineyard together with a young Ticino company called BeFreeGoGreen. For the events, small picnic islands overlooking the lake are spread loosely among the vines. Hay bales become seats, pallets become tables, tree slices become plates.
An Affetato Misto lies decoratively on the wood, stocked with Ticino delicacies such as the cheese specialty Zincarlin from the Valle di Muggio. Cheese with walnuts, lardo, the green bacon of the pig, Ticino salami and raw ham, as well as figs, nuts and almonds. The appetizer platter is followed by a soup and later a cake. In between, you can get advice on the Tenuta’s wines at the bar and order a wide variety.
Ticino is Merlot country and thus, for all the team’s love of experimentation, the Merlot grape is also the linchpin of the wine family. The Sottoroccia is the business card and makes customers curious. It is a perfect food companion, goes well with Ticino dishes such as porcini risotto, polenta or chestnut dishes. Sottoroccia is an assemblage of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. With a share of 15 percent, the Cabernet Franc provides a spicy component.
The Crescendo is a pure Merlot and reliably achieves high ratings in international competitions. In 2020 it was a silver medal from the Mondial du Merlot. The Tenuta team sends its own wine to international competitions, even though most of its production is sold in Switzerland.“Crecendo regularly gets high ratings with over 90 Parker points, so we know we can compete internationally. Even if not much goes abroad,” says Kerstin Bernardi.
So in the end, the recommendation remains to enjoy Ticino wines extensively in Ticino and to get an impression on site. In any case, Tenuta San Giorgio successfully brings together the atmosphere and flavors of the region. Every Thursday, the team of the Tenuta invites to an aperitivo with tasting and sale in the courtyard. Picnic in Vineyard is to be held again from spring 2021. In addition, tastings, degustation courses and small events for up to 25 people are possible in the Cascina in the middle of the vines and with a view of the lake.
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The research trip was partly supported by Switzerland Tourism