In Franciacorta: visiting Ca’ del Bosco

There is Franciacorta, and then there is Ca’ del Bosco. It’s the most visible of Franciacorta’s producers, if not technically the largest. In part this is because of the quality of the wines, but it’s also because of the ambition of the owners, reflected in the ostentatious, no-expense spared winery with art works in the grounds, and the sort of technology found rarely, if at all, elsewhere. Yes, it’s ostentatious, but it’s also spectacular.

The story of Ca’ del Bosco begins in 1964 when Annamaria Clementi Zanella – the mother of Maurizio Zanella, the founder – bought a small 3 hectare estate in the middle of the current winery and vineyard. It was called Ca’ del bosc because it was surrounded by woods (this translates as house of the wood). This was just used as a holiday home because they lived in Milan. The family business of the Zanella’s was a transportation company, but Maurizio fell in love with the wine world after trip to Burgundy and Champagne in 1973. Also present on the trip was Ricci Cubastro, who also has a Franciacorta winery. Back then in 1970s Italy, wine was seen as merely an accompaniment to food: on the trip they saw that in France there was a focus on quality that they weren’t used to.

Zanella came back to Italy with a great sparkling wine, and to assist him he hired ex-Moët chef de caves André Dubois. The Marzotto family of Santa Margharita purchased a controlling stake in 1994, but Maurizio remains at the helm.

They now have 250 hectares of vines in 10 of the 19 Franciacorta villages, and these are all farmed organically. Chardonnay is 85% of plantings, with Pinot Blanc for acidity and Pinot Noir for structure.

Typical moraine soils
The berry spa

One of the remarkable features here is their ‘berry spa’, which they introduced in 2008. It’s a three-stage process that includes a drying stage. They have four different lines, so they can process four different types of grape at the same time. There are three vats that the grapes go through. The first is water at 12 C and has bubbles for gentle cleaning. The second has a bit of citric acid added to help clean a bit more. The third has only fresh water, to rinse the grapes. They are then dried carefully in an air jet system. Finally, the grapes go into one of the 11 presses, with the exception of red grapes for still wines which go through a Pellenc destemmer before fermentation on skins. Nitrogen is used in the presses to avoid oxygen exposure.

Here’s a film of the berry spa in action (go to 02:48 to see this bit):

It sounds like a great idea, but it involves a huge amount of space, and if washing grapes was a massive advantage, you’d ask why no one in Champagne uses it, where the amount of money in the region means that anyone would be able to justify a process like this if it were to give them a quality advantage.

The winery is impressive, and includes more art works. There’s a huge central blending tank. The other James-Bond-Villain-like feature is a massive tank elevator, which reduces the need to pump any wine. It lifts entire tanks up (there are two of them), in order to facilitate gravity flow. The tanks go down, are filled with gravity, and then raised up a storey in order to fill the large central blending tank with no pumping.

The elevator tanks

In the first years, Zanella tried to sell the wine, but no one knew about Franciacorta. So creating this artistic park around the winery helped attract people here. It was about connecting with the sort of people who might change the image of Franciacorta – success by association.

THE WINES

Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige 43 Edition NV Franciacorta, Italy
47 mg/litre of SO2. This is based on 2018 with some reserve wines in the blend. Extrabrut with 1.5 g/l dosage. 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Blanc. 1 million bottles a year made of this. Very pure and fresh with lovely precision, showing taut citrus and white peach fruit, with some nice fine spicy hints. This is really fine and fresh with lovely elegance and finesse. There’s a lovely delicacy to this wine: it’s so elegant and fruit-driven, and really approachable, but it also has a hint of seriousness. 92/100

Ca’ del Bosco Vintage Collection Satèn 2016 Franciacorta, Italy
This is Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. 0.5 g/l dosage. Disgorged autumn 2020. This is complex and taut, with a slight toastiness and nice delicate citrus, pear and white peach fruit. It’s quite layered and mineral with lovely fruit intensity but also a fine spiciness. This is really sophisticated, pure and quite elegant with a lovely acid line. There’s some complexity here from the barrel fermentation. Really impressive. 94/100

Ca’ del Bosco Dosage Zero 2016 Franciacorta, Italy
65% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Noir, 13% Pinot Blanc. Disgorged winter 2020. This is taut and complex with lovely structure to the bold pear and white peach fruit with some citrus detail. There’s a great precision and structure to this wine, but clean fruit is still to the fore. Delicacy and elegance here. It’s really impressive, and once again, shows elegance. 94/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

See also: An introduction to Franciacorta, with some top wine recommendations