How the Ricci Curbastro Estate In Franciacorta Tackles the Sustainability Question

Ricci Curbastro sustainabilityDiscussions of climate change go back to the late 19th century and earlier. As they relate to growing grapes and making wine, the number and breadth of research projects on this topic is vast. A common thread is the complete loss of regions that previously produced outstanding wines and grape varieties not able to handle heat and water stress.

While research will help with multiple grape growing decisions, a pressing question of wineries and grape growers centers on what eco-friendly steps they’re taking in their vineyards and wineries. Yet that doesn’t encompass the entire picture. The realm of social and economical impacts of a winery is important too.

These discussions and questions aren’t new to me. Each time I visit a producer I ask them. Each time I purchase wine, I look at the sustainability of the winery operation. Do you ever think about the carbon footprint of shipping that super thick and heavy bottle the winery uses to make a marketing statement? Or what someone does in the vineyard to make the rows between vines immaculate without one weed or blade of grass?

This month gave me an excuse to dig deeper into this topic. Katarina from Grapevine Adventures challenged our group of wine writers and bloggers to look closer at aspects of sustainability in the Italian wine world. You can find us investigating different topics each month with our group hashtag #ItalianFWT .

Tackling the Bigger Sustainability Question

Photo Credit: www.vindulge.com

During lockdown Cindy from Grape Experiences introduced me to Franciacorta producer Ricci Curbastro via a live Zoom session. One thought crossed my mind during the call: Ricardo Ricci Carbastro, the 18th generation of the family to make wine, is one progressive and down-to-earth guy. Taken by their approach and the discussion of the estate sparkling wines, I followed the session with research, noting the enormity of their sustainability commitment.

 

Sustainability: The property of being sustainable; to last over time.

Additionally, I contacted the 19th generation of the family, Gualberto Ricci Curbasto, to converse about their program. Note their website is fantastic containing abundant and useful information. It lays out their sustainability program and provides sustainability reports.

I caught him during harvest in the vineyard earlier this week. Italian voices floated in the background along with his footsteps crunching under grasses between vine rows and an occasional truck taking grapes to the winery.

Franciacorta

Harvesters busy in the Ricci Curbastro Beloardo vineyard earlier this week! Photo credit: Ricci Curbastro

My first question was why they chose to seek a sustainability certification.

Gualberto explained they eschewed pesticides and herbicides for over 30 years. In the mid 1980s they build a cellar underground so it didn’t need heating or cooling. They used the same idea for a second cellar built in 2000 incorporating levels versus length.

Franciacorta vineyards

The Ricci Curbastro winery is built on various levels below and above the ground. The town of Capriolo lies just behind. Photo credit: Ricci Curbastro

Solar cells (can you see them in the photo above?!?) on three estate buildings supply more energy than they need and excess is sold back to the local energy company. The operation is almost 100% self-sustainable, requiring outside sources on rare peak occasions.

And when it comes to the nine employees- some third or fourth generation on the estate- their relationships are very much reciprocal. Time clocks and checking-in and out don’t exist. Employees have keys and respect the operation like it was their own. Their relationships are based on trust and self-management, a concept that has always been a part of the estate culture.

Franciacorta harvest 2020

Just beyond the Beloardo vineyard you can see the deep blue Lago d’Iseo. The lake provides a moderating effect to the vineyard throughout the year.

Finally, he shared they always look for ways to improve the operation. Given these points, the idea to pursue a sustainability certification made absolute sense.

The Equalitas pillars – Why work with them?

According to Gualberto, the Equalitas program is one of the most complete and advanced in terms of Italian winery sustainability. It was created with the support and political backing of Federdoc (National Confederation of Associations for the Protection of DOC Wines) and other partners aiming to create a unique standard and approach to sustainability. Researching Equalitas I found that in the background, a technical and scientific committee supports the standard and its practical development. And independent third party certification bodies work with the wineries at certification time and for assistance along the way.

Gualberto’s father, Riccardo Ricci Curbastro is the current president of Federdoc with past and present involvement in multiple agriculture and wine related organizations over the years.

Riccardo and Gualberto analyzing juice color which will become their Franciacorta Brut Rosé. Photo credit: Ricci Curbastro

The Equalitas objective is “…to spread in Italy a unique approach to sustainability in the wine industry, built on the social, environmental and economic pillars, and a collective brand offering the best guarantee for consumers.”

The purpose of the ‘standard’, based on three pillars- environmental, social and economic- is building environmental and social protections to increase economic viability of the winery.

It’s a long process with a path helping you increase sustainability each year. For Gualberto, it fits their ‘strive to be better’ motto.

“We look, review, establish benchmarks and strive to always be better. Some things can be healthy for the environment but if not sustainable, they shouldn’t be done.” Gualberto Ricci Curbastro

The Equalitas pillars:

  • Environmental (carbon and water footprints, biodiversity, and agricultural, winery and bottling practices)
  • Economical (business, supplier and employee practices)
  • Social (employees, training, community relations)

On Environmental Responsibility – This is the biggest pillar in terms of what needs to be checked and necessary data collection. You thoroughly review your entire estate’s process, analyze the results and establish benchmarks.

franciacorta sustainability climate change

Biodiversity analysis conducted at vineyard edge, one of the Equalitas environmental pillars. Photo credit: Ricci Curbastro

On Economical Responsibility – These activities describe the sustainability of the winery operation and include economic practices for employees and suppliers.

On Social / Ethical Responsibility – The most difficult area with a longer process because it’s more qualitative in terms of winery actions and harder to benchmark.

“Being ethical is a mindset, you have to have it inside of you. You cannot read in books. It might or might not come natural. It’s part of our estate culture.”      Gualberto Ricci Curbastro

PIWI Grapes

In 2012 Ricci Curbastro started working with fungi resistant grapes. They planted four PIWI varieties and as of 2016 are vinifying each. PIWI is an acronym for the German word Pilzwiderstandsfähige. They are a hybrid between the European vitis vinifera and various other vitis species mainly from North America. They don’t require treatments thus feed into the environmental and economical pillars.

Surrounding their PIWI vineyard are trees, flora and fauna. It’s really an agricultural laboratory, an outdoor classroom of sorts hosting local school outings to teach children about eco-farming. The type of classroom any parent would want their child to visit, don’t you think?!? This example is just a fraction of their current research.

In wrapping up our discussion I asked what items they feel are most important for combating climate change. Gualberto’s answer follows.

“We are a small drop in the ocean. It’s much bigger than what we as small farmers can do. But maybe we can make a lake. Sustainability is like one brick at a time. To build a wall you need all the bricks. For the biodiversity analysis in our vineyard we are working on a benchmark. It’s about incremental increases there and the other areas too. We need to continually look for new ways to be sustainable, things that are better for the environment.”

There’s a lot more I could write about from our fascinating conversation. However I’m ready for a glass of Franciacorta!

Franciacorta is a sparkling wine made the exact same way winemakers in France make Champagne. Allowed grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco.

Ricci Curbastro produces from 140 to 150,000 bottles of Franciacorta each year, of which I purchased a handful. Today I’m sharing two with you.

Franciacorta Italian sparkling wine

Satén Brut is velvety soft on the palate with five bars of pressure versus six.

Franciacorta Satèn Brut  – Vintage 2016

This is 100% Chardonnay. In fact Satèn (meaning silk in Italian) is a unique style always produced from Chardonnay and having less pressure in the bottle- five bars versus six that are found in Champagne.

Fermentation here is in oak barrels followed by 40 months of aging- “en tirage”- in the cellar. After disgorgement, a dry dosage (7g/l of sugar) is added to the wine followed by corking and aging another seven to eight years. That drier dosage is the reason for lower pressure in the bottle. As a comparison, typical dosage is from 12 to 32g/l for brut sparkling wine.

It pours a pale lemon with persistent and fine bubbles in my glass. Notes of mixed citrus, pear, acacia, freshly baked bread from the oven and a damp forest floor character are medium-intensity. The crisp attack is balanced by elegant structure and medium-intensity flavors- citrus, pear, light toast, fennel and almond. A lengthy, fizzy lemon finish reminds me of freshly picked and crushed almond. A beautifully structured, very good quality elegant wine.

This wine paired with white seafood- Halibut, Sole or Cod poached with butter or coconut oil, lemon, and chervil would be wow! But also with hard Italian cheese and nuts like we enjoyed it here, or solo all by itself.

It has an abv of 12.5% and retails for about $40 or 24€.

Franciacorta Dosaggio Zero “Gualberto” Vintage 2010 – 70% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay

Fermentation in stainless vats and oak barrels is followed by 60 months of lees aging before the addition of a zero sugar dosage.

Ricci Curbastro Equalitas sustainability certified

A similar color to the Satèn, here we have crispness, precision and focus. Fresh and expressive aromas remind me of a mixed citrus and nectarine fruit salad sprinkled with orange blossoms, almond slivers and toasted bread crumbs. The attack is a brisk and linear “Wow!” followed by Dreamsicle (vanilla ice cream coated with orange sherbet) drizzled with lemon.  An overall impeccably  balanced structure with lingering flavors.

We enjoyed this wine with grilled oysters, I couldn’t say no! It will pair nicely with grilled salmon and vegetables, seafood pasta or risotto.

This wine has an abv or 12.5% and retails for about $55 or 35€.

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12 thoughts on “How the Ricci Curbastro Estate In Franciacorta Tackles the Sustainability Question

  1. robincgc

    I love it when you find a winery that is working sustainably because it’s just what you do. It just seems like common sense to them. The programs and certifications are catching up with where they are. Yet, they continue to strive to be better.
    It is Gualberto’s comment “Being ethical is a mindset, you have to have it inside of you.” that really sums it up.

    In addition, those wines sound so good!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      As do I Robin. And always find it so refreshing to find ones like this- they’ve worked hard to do what they felt was right!

      Reply
  2. Allison Wallace

    We are definitely more aware and ask more questions so that support sustainable wineries/vineyards. Given that we focus a lot on the small, artisanal producers we’ve found it hasn’t been difficult (and in many cases they are doing more than we even knew). But we can always do better and I think it’s important to support with our $$. Great article Lynn!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Reading articles from the others this month I learned so much. You make an excellent point about power in numbers Linda. The many variations of the same practices can get a bit confusing.

      Reply
  3. Deanna

    It is so inspiring to read about a winery that is taking such definable measures to be at the forefront of sustainability. From the solar cells, lack of herbicides, and ethical responsibility measures, it seems like drinking the wine would be a sustainable practice too. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Katarina Andersson

    Very interesting article Lynn. I knew about Ricci Curbastro already though not all their work for sustainability. Nice to see they embrace the three aspects of environment, social, and economical. Cheers!

    Reply

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