Azienda Agricola Divella
Almost every corner of Italy produces sparkling wine of some sort, but unfortunately much of it is of mixed quality and often suffers from industrial production. But in a small village in Northeastern Franciacorta, a young pioneering winemaker is making outstanding hand-crafted traditional method sparkling wines. Just don’t call them Franciacorta...
In 2012 Alessandra Divella started the only female-led estate in Franciacortia, Azienda Agricola Divella, and has become a true force to be reckoned with in the world of quality Italian sparkling wines. She creates elegant, terroir-driven wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the small village of Gussago. But she refuses to label her wines Franciacorta, choosing instead to use the name Gussago. She declares, “Franciacorta is something entirely different.”
Gussago is one of a few areas of Franciacorta blessed with the only limestone and chalk soils in the region. Long ago, lakes in the foothills of the Alps fed underground springs here, creating these limestone soils through hundreds of years of erosion. These minerals in the soils are evident in the wines made in the area, and the wines are distinct from those made elsewhere in the region.
Alessandra refuses to be confined by the traditions of the region, and instead employs the practices she learned while working with growers in Champagne.
The entire process is manual and artisanal – delicate handpicking to keep the grapes intact, destemming, and manual pressing by Alessandra herself, using a small old-fashioned basket press. The spontaneous ferments use only the ambient yeasts plentiful in her 19th century cellar and a raw cane sugar, and take place exclusively in oak barrels. There are no stainless steel tanks – a true rarity for this region.
Then there’s the ageing – only in oak, followed by up to 5 years of bottle ageing sur lie. She also shuns the typical regional addition of sugar – all her wines are zero dosage. She says “I use no dosage to keep the soil identity… which is very strong here.” Her restraint aims to keep the expression pure, and she also does not fine or filter the wines for the same reason.
Alessandra believes that the influence of the limestone soils, as well as her passionate winemaking practices, create wines that surely deserve their own name. Thus, she has never put Franciacorta on her labels. While Gussago is unknown to most, one sip of her wines will make you remember the name, as well as agree the wines truly are something entirely different.View Wines
Alessandra started Divella in 2012, at the age of 28, as both a pioneer in organic winemaking in the area and the first female to run an estate. One can imagine how a young, female winemaker who was not from a winemaking family and had a preference for doing thing differently might encounter a little skepticism. But Alessandra Divella had a vision – to upend the industrial farming practices common in the region and create organic, hand-made wines that put the unique terroir of the area first.
She fell into wine – first through doing the harvest locally, then working with a few wineries in the area. Then she moved on to Champagne, where she was introduced to organic farming and handcrafted sparkling wines. It opened her eyes to the possibilities and lit her fire. Alessandra has a passion created, not from a family legacy, but from countless moments sharing wines with – and learning from – other wine lovers and winemakers. “You discover yourself while drinking great wines,” she says.Follow Azienda Agricola Divella
“I was confused, I didn’t have roots. When I discovered wine, I discovered the cycle of life…. I found my roots, my home.”
She set up her operation herself, first buying a small press and some old barrels. She found some ideal parcels to lease and released her first wines in 2012. She is mostly self-taught, and has a relentless curiosity that leads her to challenge every presumption and find her own solutions. After a decade of experience, she has found her footing but still experiments and challenges herself constantly. She also admits winemaking is sometimes difficult to align with her perfectionist streak, “You have to learn you can’t control everything,” she says.
The harvest period is one of the few times she invites outside help – using a team of 5-8 people, mainly her nephews and a few friends. She is very close to her family, and has named most of her cuvées after family members.
“Each wine is a tribute… and the wines share the characteristics of these people, the things that I take from them.”
“What I love in a wine is a sensation of missing something. Like in life… you always want more.”
Gussago, Lombardy, Italy
Gussago is in Eastern Franciacorta, nestled among medieval villages on the rim of a grand amphitheatre, with elevations that range from 400-800 meters. This is part of the windy highlands, and these winds both help avoid problems with humidity and create more acidity in the grapes. Some of the earliest plantings in the entire region were here, proving that generations long ago saw the potential greatness of this terroir. When Alessandra first discovered the chalk and stratified limestone soils, found only in this part of northeast Franciacorta, the terroir spoke to her and she set off on her mission.
Alessandra considers 2017 a turning point, as it was when she found the two hundred year-old stone building and estate that she is painstakingly turning into her winery. The transformation of the space is already stunning, but she insists it is still a work in progress. “It is like us - we are never finished,” she says. Dozens of wood barrels fill a series of naturally cool, humid rooms. The stone walls are lined with iron racks holding thousands of wines slumbering sur lattes. The space has history and elegance and spirit – as does Alessandra.
The domaine now includes 2.5 hectares, which is mostly Chardonnay, plus a half hectare or so of Pinot Noir. Initially she was leasing all her vines, but slowly has begun to purchase some as well, but insists she will stop at 4 hectares. She wants to control every step of the process and shares the opinion of many of our producers that more than four hectares is a tipping point for autonomous winemaking.
She farms organically and uses copper and sulphur only when strictly needed in the vineyard. She has a keen interest in permaculture and aims to preserve and protect the biodiversity of the area. She tries to touch the soils as little as possible, making just 2-3 passages a year and leaves grasses to prevent erosion. She wants to, “Let nature do what it wants to do.”
Her wines are bone-dry, yet refreshing and bursting with energy. During our recent tasting with her we revisited each wine an hour after opening, and were amazed at the evolution. She says time is essential to truly appreciate the wines – each new sip taking you somewhere new.Location
“What fascinates me is time… to leave the wine and see what happens. Wines that are free…they change a lot.”
She is proud to now be among a half dozen winemakers who are “working in a natural way” in the region. She says the younger generation now is very interested in organic farming and is optimistic they will help to create change and improve practices in the area, albeit slowly.
“This is a young region… so much to discover. Champagne has centuries of experience– here we speak in decades.”
Divella now produces around 12,000 bottles a year, and sales are split equally between domestic and international. She wants to spread her message widely, so only gives small allocations. We are truly fortunate to offer her full range of wines.
With only a decade of winemaking experience, Alessandra is already seen as a leader and innovator in the region – for being one of the first estates to farm organically and for making truly exceptional sparkling wines. Alessandra seems uncomfortable with the label, but she is indeed the Italian answer to grower Champagne, creating true wines of place. Just remember the place is Gussago, not Franciacorta!
Words by Allison Burton-Parker
Photography by Matt Hickman