Welcome to the Contratto Wine Cellar
It’s true, most wine travelers flock to Piedmont for Nebbiolo and Barbera. A surprise to many visitors is the area’s emerging sparkling wine scene. The other surprise? It isn’t so new. Not far from the main tourist stops of Barolo and Barbaresco is Contratto, the maker of Italy’s first sparkling wine.
Beyond their palate pleasing bubbles and vermouth, the history makes it a must visit on any Piedmont wine travel itinerary. The Contratto wine cellar sits on 5,000 square meters of UNESCO protected Underground Cathedral Cellars. The space can house up to 3 million bottles of Contratto’s metodo classico (traditional or Champagne method) sparkling wine.
Contratto Wine Cellar: The History
Giuseppe Contratto opened the wine house in 1867 with dreams of making high quality sparkling wine. At the time many producers were using the more economical Charmat method for sparkling production.
Sparkling Wine Production:
Charmant Method: Secondary fermentation happens in bulk tanks and bottling is done under pressure. Wine goes to market sooner and helps producers realize sales more immediately.
Metodo Classico (Champagne Method): Secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. Producers need more storage space and time before they can sell their wines.
To realize his dreams Contratto set to work on storage space in 1872. It took more than five years and some 200 people to fully excavate the cathedral cellars from the tuff, limestone hills of Canelli.
In the early days Contratto’s wine production came from the naturally sweet Moscato grape. Back then the winelover palate tended toward sweet, so it gave them an edge as they did not need to add sugar to their wines as many Champagne houses did. By 1910 Contratto was known the world over as the producer of choice for royal houses and the Vatican. At this time they were producing a million bottles annually.
In 1919 Contratto created Italy’s very first vintage sparkling, Extra Brut 1919. It was about this time that they started to see a shift in consumer demand led by taste changes in the British palate. Contratto responded by developing a dry brut that is still made today called “For England” (available in both Blanc de Noir Pas Dosé and Rosé Brut).
In the 1920s Contratto contracted the famous French-Italian poster artist, Leonatto Cappiello, to create two now famous lithographs as part of their marketing campaign; One to advertise their sparkling wine, and the other their vermouth.
Today the Contratto wine cellar produces only vintage sparkling wine with production of about 250,000 bottles a year. The wines can be found in Italy as well as around the world.
The winery has changed hands several times over the years. Today it’s stronger than ever under the leadership of the Rivetti family, owner of La Spinetta in Barbaresco. In addition to a complete renovation and restoration of the facility they also re-launched the vermouth products with the original Contratto family recipes.
Visit the Contratto Wine Cellar
Tours: Available daily, by appointment only. The 90-minute guided excursion includes a visit to the underground cellars, a tasting of the wines and vermouth. The facility also features a small museum of old winemaking tools including pumps, filters, a first model de-stemming machine, and more.
Where: Via G.B. Giuliani, 56 14053 Canelli (AT) Italy
Canelli is about 88 kilometers / 54 miles from Turin and 43 kilometers / 27 miles from Alba.
Cost: 25 euros per person, waived with the purchase of six bottles of wine. Children visit free.
Reservations: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +39 0141 823 349.
Contratto is also a Wine Check Reseller. If you pick up some bottles and / or a wine check there, please let us know on Instagram with the hashtag #CheckThatWine and tag us, @Lazenne. We love to see the wines our friends pick up – and take home!
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