About: Contratto was founded in 1867 by Giuseppe Contratto and the winery is known as the oldest producer of sparkling wine in Italy. In fact, the “Metodo Classico” 1919 Contratto Extra Brut was the first vintage sparkling wine ever made in the country.
The winery has a long, distinguished history. At the turn of the 20th century, its wines were leaving Canelli for destinations all over the world (predominantly to royal houses), and Contratto was the personal supplier to the Vatican as well as to the Italian Royal Family. Awards and medals from international exhibitions and contests of the time emphasize why the name of Contratto has long been synonymous with prestige and quality in the world of sparkling wine.
In 150 years of winemaking, Contratto went from producing Moscato and red wine to Spumante Metodo Classico, still white wines, as well as Vermouth, Tonic and Syrups. The historic cathedral cellars at Contratto, now designated a UNESCO Heritage Site, are a real treasure, and among the finest of their kind. These huge underground cellars, covering more than 5,000 square meters, were built into the heart of the hill that protects the small town of Canelli, excavated from tuff limestone to a depth of 32 meters. The project took three years of manual work to finish. The cellars maintain a constant annual temperature of 12 to 13 C degrees and sufficient natural humidity, an ideal environment for bottle fermentation and the slow and steady bottle maturation of “metodo clasico” sparkling-wines. For many generations the winery remained in the hands of the Contratto family.
In 1993, after 126 years and somewhat in decline, it was sold to Carlo Bocchino, owner of Canelli’s grappa distillery of the same name, who undertook the restoration of these historic cellars and the impressive building and tasting rooms with great effort and investment.
Bocchino will return to concentrate his efforts and resources on the family distillery. “I am glad to have been able to leave Contratto to the Rivettis, who are people from the same land” states Bocchino. “I would not have wanted to see the cellars end up in the back of a large group or multinational’s catalogue.”
For the Rivetti family on the other hand, the acquisition of Contratto in 2011 represented the entry into one of the top Italian sparkling wine houses, by way of a prestigious brand whose production from Asti DOCG to Brut have greatly influenced the history of Italian Spumante, and whose potential is yet to be fully expressed. “We are very excited to have acquired this important facility,” said Giorgio Rivetti. “It was a dream for us to enter into this market, and to do so with a historic brand. From now on, we can play an active role in making Contratto known throughout the world, thanks to our own high profile abroad. Italian sparkling wine does not yet enjoy the recognition it deserves on the international scene. Now, we will be able to bring the wine into all the international markets, along with our Barbaresco, Barolo and Moscato. We have ambitious goals. I want Contratto to be the best sparkling wine producer from Italy and I will do every necessary investment to achieve this.”
About the Sparkling Wines
Contratto is returning to its roots and producing sparkling wines, “metodo classico” only. Six different sparkling wines have been released in 2011, wines that are undoubtably higher in quality than previous years and come with a fresh new look and packaging.
The entry-level Extra Brut is the Millesimato. The wine is named for the fact that it is a vintage wine and produced every year, not a combination of vintages as you find in “basic” champagne. All the wines, with the exception of the Millesimato and Bacco d’Oro that are blends of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, are exclusive from one varietal. The high percentage of Pinot Noir is typical for sparkling wines from Piedmont and distinguishes the wines from their “sparkling colleagues” in Franciacorta.
The wine For England was named as such in 1930, when Contratto began producing a low-dosage wine for the English market. At that time, all Champagne and sparkling wines were extremely sweet and the Royal Court of England was the first in Europe to develop a drier palate for wine. Today For England is a zero dosage (no added liquor d’expedition) as well as the For England Rosé (100% Pinot Noir) and the Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay). The fact that all wines are vintage and three of those made without a dosage, reflects the philosophy of Contratto wine making. The idea is to make great wine first and then just add bubbles with a second fermentation. Bacco d’Oro is again a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. It has always been a less dry sparkling wine and remains so, however with 10gr/lt of sugar it is still considered a Brut. This wine is a local favorite and is therefore only sold in Italy.
The vinification is done according to classic method standards. After the initial alcoholic fermentation the base wines are vinified separately, then are aged for 8 months in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. A second fermentation takes place in bottle for a good six weeks and is further enhanced with bottle aging on the lees for a minimum of 3 years in Contratto’s underground cellars at a constant temperature of 13° C. The wine is riddled by hand to collect the sediments, then disgorged by machine and closed by its final cork. Another aging process of one year in the cellar refines the wine until it is finally released for sale.