Pieropan – Nobody Does Soave Better
Sep 30, 2019
If you’re really lucky once, maybe twice in your life you’ll meet a truly “great person.” I’m not talking about someone you like so much they’re great to know, but rather a person of unique quality and achievement; an uncompromising person with both vision and hindsight, a real difference-maker. Let’s face it, we don’t find a lot of heroes like that up and down the street. But we do have a few. One of the finest I’ve been lucky enough to meet was the late Leonildo Pieropan from the picturesque little village of Soave in north-central Italy’s Veneto province.
Leonildo, who passed away in the spring of 2018, a month after being diagnosed, left a huge mark on the wine world following a lifetime of working “to make things better,” as he would say. Over his 71 years and 50 harvests, that’s exactly what Leonildo Pieropan did. Let me share his story with you.
The Rise of Soave
Before he was a winemaker, Leonildo Pieropan was a viticulturist on his family’s estate founded in 1890 by his grandfather and believed to be the first winery to use the word “Soave” on a bottle of wine. For years the Pieropans grew grapes and, like most other farmers in the area, sold them to local co-ops. But before Leonildo was a viticulturist, he was a student at the modern school in Conegliano. That was during the 1960s when things were starting to change in Italian winemaking circles (Angelo Gaja led the way first by bottling his groundbreaking single vineyard wine, Sori San Lorenzo, in 1967). Quality became winemaking’s main objective, while an accelerating pace of progress in both vineyards and wineries quickly was making the objective more and more obtainable.
Things began to snowball, and in 1968 Soave achieved DOC status, a reflection of the wine’s fast-growing popularity but also an official recognition of the zone’s historical standing. At first only a few noticed the newly defined Soave boundaries included, along with the preferred hillside sites, vast tracts of lower-lying areas considered inferior for quality grape growing. One thing led to another and soon both production and consumption of Soave started to soar beginning mid-‘60s, continuing through the ‘70s and into the late ‘80s. Growers were ecstatic as labels like Bolla became battleship brands with an unquenchable thirst for grapes. Leonildo Pieropan, however, saw a different path.
Leonildo’s ideas were counter-intuitive. He believed in lower yields, riper fruit, later harvests after longer growing seasons and making wine from only the best grapes like Garganega. In 1971—following the lead of pioneers like Renato Ratti in Barolo and Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco—Leonildo became the first producer in Soave to bottle a single vineyard Soave using grapes grown on the family’s Calvarino site, an older, elevated vineyard, (1,000 feet at the top) with rich volcanic soils. Before long other Soave producers followed in his steps.
The Modern Soave
Several years later in 1978, Leonildo had the opportunity to buy a completely different type of elevated small vineyard in the Soave hills. Called La Rocca, Leonildo saw in its chalky, clay-based terroir the opportunity to make an epic single-vineyard Soave using late harvested, fully ripe grapes that he could not just season in oak, but ferment there as well. Soave La Rocca was a game-changer for Pieropan and for the Soave region too.
Over time Leonildo fine-tuned his single-vineyard wine processing. Larger oak vessels joined smaller ones in the aging regime and both completely replaced cement vats. Release dates were readjusted for longer bottle aging and slower fruit development. Almost single-handedly, Leonildo Pieropan elevated a simple country jug wine into elegant and sophisticated table wine. Important wine critics took notice and high scores for both single vineyard wines started to pile up. As they did, Leonildo Pieropan emerged as the face of modern Soave.
Carrying On The Pieropan Legacy
In time Leonildo Pieropan’s sons, Dario and Andrea, joined him; Dario sharing winemaking responsibilities, while Andrea established himself in the vineyard, like all the other firstborn sons in the Pieropan lineage. When screw cap closures became an option for aromatic whites like Pieropan’s Soaves, Leonildo was among the first to see the benefit and transition. He did so at great risk, having to forfeit the winery’s DOC authorization, allowing Pieropan to label their Soave as “Classico.” The DOC was slow on the uptake here and took a while to authorize the use of screw cap closures on wines designated DOC Classico.
Today Pieropan stands above all other Soave producers. Dario and Andrea collaborate seamlessly, carrying on the family’s tradition for uncompromising quality based on true intuitive vision, a relentless innovative spirit and above all, a love for simply delicious wines. Leonildo would be proud to see this. Cheers to a great family!
4TH Generation Argonomist
Andrea Pieropan is th first born son of Leonildo Pieropan and Teresita Molinarolo. He is the family agronomist and looks after the vineyards. Like his father he is an avid enologist, a passion he developed after watching him year after year in the vineyards.
4TH Generation Winemaker
Dario Pieropan is the second son of Leonildo Pieropan and Teresita Molinarolo. As winemaker, Dario oversees production of the estate’s legendary Soave wines, including the single-vineyard offerings Calvarino and La Rocca from the family’s sustainably farmed estate vineyards.
“Fragrant and racy, this elegant, focused white opens with heady scents of yellow stone fruit, spring blossom and wild herb. The vibrant, savory palate delivers apricot, pineapple, Meyer lemon and white almond set against zesty acidity that leaves a dry, juicy finish. A saline note graces the close.” – 92pts Wine Enthusiast, Editors’ Choice
“Heady aromas of yellow stone fruit, spring flower and wild herb mingle with a whiff of toasted nut. The elegant, savory palate delivers ripe apricot, creamy yellow pear and tangerine zest before a mineral-laden, saline finish. Tangy acidity brightens the rich flavors. For juicy fruit enjoy now, or hold for even more complexity. Drink through 2027.” – 95pts Wine Enthusiast, Editors’ Choice
“Aromas tropical fruit, chamomile, toasted nut and acacia lift out of the glass. The full, rounded palate doles out ripe apricot, yellow peach, juicy pineapple and grilled herb, while a bitter almond note graces the lingering finish. Drink through 2023.” – 93pts Wine Enthusiast, Editor’s Choice