The Allegrini family — of Italy's Allegrini Estates winery — has played a leading role in Italy's Valpolicella region since the 16th century.
With some 100 hectares of wine vineyards in the Classico area in the municipalities of Fumane, Sant'Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano, the family has passed down the culture of the vine and winemaking for generations.
Marilisa Allegrini — a sixth-generation family member now CEO and global representative — was in Vancouver in February for the Vancouver International Wine Festival.
The Bearfoot Bistro hosted Allegrini for a special dinner in Whistler on Feb. 28.
Pique sat down with Ms. Allegrini ahead of the dinner to talk wine, culture and family. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pique: What is it that drew you to wine? Was it a passion for the craft or a duty to family?
Marilisa Allegrini: No, it was the family initially, because when I was a teenager I didn't want to follow my father's footsteps, so I studied as a physical therapist. I worked for five years, and then I went back to the family business, because I think that when you have this history, at one point you want to be part of the family, and you want to take over what your parents and your grandfather and ancestors built, so it was not a love at first sight, but the fact that after 33 years in the wine business I am still very excited means that the family commitment was important, but also what I put in in terms of energy and in terms of dedication was important.
Pique: What is it that makes you so committed? What makes you want to put that energy into wine and the family business?
MA: I think that the wine industry is something that combines different factors, so you can take over part of your family, (that's an) important thing, but also you can be creative. You can do new things, you can explore the world in terms of innovation that you can do in the vineyard and in the cellar. And then it is a kind of lifestyle, and this is for everybody in the wine industry, it's not as the producer point of view. It's for everybody.
Pique: In terms of innovation, how have things changed in your time?
MA: For Italian wine production, it has changed dramatically, because 33 years ago, Italy was not as important (in viticulture) as it is today around the world. The production and the consumption of wine was really, really local... it was by travelling that we opened up our mind as a wine producer, and this happened not only for Allegrini, but it happened for everybody. And then we all started making better wine, and making wine that reflected the terroir and the region, and so the production of Italian wines changed completely. It changed from average wine to very good quality, and then the next step was that it changed from international approach to native indigenous grape varieties... (In Italy) we have a country that is 1,000 kilometres long, but we have sea on two sides, we have mountains in the middle, so we have this difference in terms of microclimate, and this is what developed in Italy. The indigenous grape with different climate means diversity, and this is the important factor that differs Italian wine production from any other country.
Pique: What kind of stories do you tell when presenting the wines? Does every wine have its own backstory?
MA: When you have professional people, they want to learn the technical part, so I try to give the idea of not only what is the philosophy of Allegrini, but also what happens inside Appellation (a wine marketing firm, with which Allegrini is a partner)... when I deal with the consumer I like to bring them into the area where it comes from, so I like to tell them why Verona is important, and why Valpolicella is important, and to give the feedback of the history and to make the wine interesting, also to link the wine with the history and the culture of the area. Which is something that is the characteristic of the Italian wine production, because our country has produced wine since 2,000 years back, and so wine production is linked with our culture and our history.
Pique: What does it mean to you and the family to be a part of that rich cultural history going back thousands of years?
MA: It is something very exciting, because when you talk about a product like wine, if it is collected with a region where the culture dates back 50 years is one thing. But if it dates back 2,000 years, it's part of your DNA. So when I talk about my wines I don't like only to talk about Valpolicella or Allegrini wines. I like to talk about Italian wines. It is something that is the expression of our country, and this is what makes me very proud of my country.
Pique: What advice would you give to someone when choosing the right wine? Does it all come down to the pairing?
MA: To choose the right wine is a kind of learning experience. So you have to start from the basics, and I think that at the beginning you have to decide if you prefer white or red, and then the next step is which country you prefer, and then the next step is which grape variety. So it doesn't come immediately. This is my experience, but if you have a good taste, this is something interesting, because if you have a good palate, you are able immediately to understand good quality and average quality.
Pique: Looking ahead to the next 10 years or the future of the industry, what trends do you see emerging?
MA: In viticulture, what I see is that we are going toward the sustainable agriculture and organic process... Of course we are dealing with a big climactic change, so what we have to learn is how to adapt our knowledge to this climactic change. If we look at the last 10 vintages, we have one vintage, 2014, that was very cold. 2015, it was great. 2013 was a mix of the two. So we had to adapt our knowledge and be smart. And to be smart and to look at the experience that we have to adjust to what is changing throughout the growing season.
Allegrini Estates wines can be found in many Whistler restaurants and liquor stores — ask your server.