The Val di Non is a generous land whose products tastefully enrich domestic kitchens as well as restaurant tables. These include Groppello wine, made from a native grape varietal that is still hand grown by four families driven by great passion and dedication. Its history is intertwined with hidden corners of the Val di Non and with the lives of its inhabitants.
There’s a place in the Val di Non where the rocks are sharp and the land descends steeply down to the shores of Lake Santa Giustina. This place is warmed by the sun but the wind blows right on time every day to remind everyone they are in the mountains. It is located in the municipality of Novella, an area on the outskirts of the Val di Non which includes the villages of Cagnò, Revò, Romallo, Cloz and Brez.
It is on these treacherous ridges that Groppello, the red wine from the Val di Non, is made. Only 12,000 bottles are produced each year, which is why it is so precious!
The story of the Groppello grape varietal
The name of this grape variety derives from the word “grop”, which in dialect means knot: the shape of bunches of Groppello grapes resembles a knot because the bunch looks as if it has tied itself into a genuine knot.
It is an ancient indigenous grape varietal and above all it is a special wine because it tells the story of the valley in which it grows. These tiny vineyards have been cultivated by hand for five centuries and their bond with the inhabitants of the Val di Non has always been a strong one. Groppello was the wine people drank at village festivals, with grapes that farmers turned into wine at home challenging their neighbours to make the best wine, and whose precious pomace was distilled in Revo to make precious grappa.
How Groppello is grown
The structure of these vineyards is somewhat similar to the character of the inhabitants of the Val di Non: they succeed in finding a way to overcome difficult situations. Groppello vines in fact grow on steep, inconvenient and almost unreachable ridges, but this is the only way they can receive all the light required to mature to perfection and generate excellent quality wines.
It is no coincidence that Groppello is defined as a heroic grape varietal and it is truly incredible to be told by the now handful of winemakers who produce Groppello how they manage to grow these grapes with the power of their hands and feet alone! The cultivation method involves narrow and sloping rows where it is virtually impossible to pass with a tractor. So not only the tying, pruning and mowing of the grass are done by hand, but so is the grape picking!
At the end of October the small and precious bunches are cut one by one and placed in a basket. As the baskets fill up, they are emptied into a large wicker basket. When the latter is full, it is loaded onto the picker’s shoulders: you have to be quite strong and have good balance to climb the steep ridges and reach the tractor at the top of the vineyard where you can finally empty your load!
The wineries that make Groppello wine
Today there are only four wineries that make Groppello wine. These are four families of winemakers backed by a lengthy tradition who share the same passion and a great mission: to save this native Trentino grape varietal from the risk of extinction. Today, only five hectares of vineyards have survived the course of time and the major changes of the last 60 years, which have meant grapes have been replaced by apples across the valley.
Production per hectare is about 6500-7000 kg in good vintage years, for a total production of approximately 12,000 bottles per year. A good vintage depends on the weather, the type of cultivation of the vineyard, rainfall, spring frosts and production.
The characteristics of Groppello wine
Groppello is a wine that needs to be left to age before being drunk. It has a notable acidity and needs some time best to express itself, which is why it is matured in small wooden barrels before being marketed. The main and distinctive aromatic characteristic of this wine is the spice blend, which delivers a characteristic taste of pepper grain. The molecule that generates this aroma is called rotundone.
It is no coincidence that Groppello is paired with a great classic from the Val di Non’s traditional recipes, namely potato patties. Its acidity in fact has a great ability to clean the palate. Other pairings with local delicacies include barley soup, with Malga farmhouse cheeses, meat and game, potatoes and polenta.
Groppello grape pomace is also used to make an excellent grappa with an intense aroma and flavour, and in recent years Groppello grapes have also been used to produce sparkling wines using the classic method.
Groppello is certainly one of the most characteristic features of the Val di Non and it deserves to be protected and safeguarded so as not to lose this great custodian of history and traditions. In recent years, a “love movement to save Groppello” was even launched. Going by the name of “You are Groppello”, it consists of a large project that aims to involve as many people as possible in raising awareness, protecting and enhancing the value of this grape varietal. Anyone can participate, it’s very simple: every time you post a photo, a story or a recipe about Groppello remember to use the hashtag #youaregroppello!