Thursday, December 11, 2014

Touring (and Tasting the Wines of) Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA in Mendrisio, Ticino, with Guido Brivio, Switzerland

Picture: With Guido Brivio at Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA in Mendrisio, Ticino, Switzerland

As part of the 2014 Digitul Wine Communications Conference in Montreux, Switzerland, I explored the wines of Ticino during a post-conference press trip. This is the second of a series of postings emanating from my visit of Ticino (see below) .

Exploring the Wines of Ticino in Ticino, the Italian Speaking Part of Switzerland
Touring (and Tasting the Wines of) Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA in Mendrisio, Ticono, with Guido Brivio, Switzerland
Polenta at Grotto Bundi, Mendrisio, Switzerland
Touring and Tasting the Wines of Cantina Kopp von der Crone Visini, with Anna Barbara von der Crone and Paolo Visini, Switzerland
Visiting and Tasting the Wines of Tamborini Carlo SA and Lunch with Valentina Tamborini, Switzerland
Touring and Tasting the Wines of Vini e Distillati Angelo Delea SA, with David Delea, Switzerland
Touring an Tasting the Wines of Agriloro SA and Diner with Owner Meinrad Perler, Switzerland
Touring and Tasting the Wines of Vinattieri Ticinesi, Switzerland
Lunch at Ristorante Montalbano in Stabio, Switzerland

Wine Producer Switzerland

Switzerland is a small wine producer with about 15 000 hectares of vineyards only. This is about 15 percent of Germany’s total winegrowing area and a bit more than 1 percent of that of Spain. Only less than 2% of the wine is exported, mainly to Germany.

Switzerland's particular situation - in between four wine-producing nations (France, Italy, Germany and Austria) and itself divided into four different areas with different languages and traditions - has resulted in an extreme diversity of its wines.

Picture: Map of Switzerland

Switzerland has an extensive range of grape varieties. Among the white grapes, the Chasselas is the most widespread. Müller-Thurgau, cultivated above all in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and Sylvaner are also popular. The main red grape varieties are Pinot Noir, which can be found in all the wine-producing regions of Switzerland, and Gamay, which predominates in the Valais; Merlot has found a second home in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, the Ticino.


Ticino is a quite distinct winemaking zone in Switzerland, totaling 1000 hectares. The canton Ticino (and the wine region Tecino) is divided into two regions by the dividing line of the Monte Ceneri Pass: Sopraceneri in the north and Sottoceneri in the south. The Sopraceneri soils are rather stony with a full complement of silt and sand, while the Sottoceneri soils are limestone and deep, rich clays. Ticino's climate is Mediterranean.

Picture: Annette Schiller, ombiasy PR and WineTours, and Christian G.E. Schiller in Lugano

There are a total of about 3600 grape growers in Ticino and 200 or so winemakers, including a co-operative. The 200 or so winemakers range from pure negociant-type producer (who buy all the grapes the use for their wine) to winemakers that only use their own grapes for making wine. Vineyards are generally small, steep plots of between 3 ha and 6 ha and yields are at 70 hl/ha. 15 winemakers account for about 80% of the total production. The co-op produces 1 million bottles annually.

Merlot is the dominant grape variety. The Ticino Merlot ranges from easy drinking, including white, Merlots to ultra-premium Merlots that can compete with the best in the world (including Bordeaux) and cost US$50 to US$150 per bottle.

Guido Brivio, Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA

We were received by Guido Brivio, who showed us around and led a tasting of Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA wines. Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA are operating as a negociant-type winery under the same roof and management in Mendrisio. Together, they buy fruit from 400 farmers operating on 100 ha of land in the region (which is about 10% of the total) and produce 100.000 cases.

Pictures: Brivio Vini SA and Gialdi Vini SA in Mendrisio, Ticino

Interview with Guido Brivio

I found on the web site of Alpine Wines, an importer of Swiss wines based in London, an interesting interview with Guido Brivio, which I am copying here. Its content is not very different from what we heard from Guido Brivio during the couple of hours we spent with him at the winery.

What is your story? My family has a background in the spirits industry. We hold the license to produce Cynar throughout Switzerland, but my true passion has always been to produce wine from grapes grown in the region of Ticino.

Picture: Guido Brivio

My story began at the end of the 1980s when I acquired the winery “Fratelli Valli di Stabio” (Brothers Valli of Stabio) with the help of my mother and uncle after finishing my oenology studies in France. At that time, Valli wine was imported from abroad and produced around 5,000 bottles of wine Ticinese - too small a quantity to allow for new markets.

The acquisition spurred me to want to produce a high-quality local wine with a new and attractive image.

Right from the start, I teamed up with Gialdi Wines and, thanks to the grapes supplied by the winegrowers from Mendrisio, the first wines of the new Brivio brand came into being. All the bottles were destined for top-class restaurants and dedicated connoisseurs.

In 2001 Brivio Wines SA was integrated in the Gialdi Wines Group SA. Our slogan became ‘United we stand.’

What grape varieties do you specialise in? The Canton of Tinicio has been producing Merlot here for 100 years. Tinicio is the Italian part of Switzerland – only five miles from the Italian border.

About 90% of the grapes grown here are Merlot, grown with an Italian touch, and we want to concentrate on that are becoming a specialist on Merlot. The soil here is ideal for that type of grape. We are lucky because Merlot is recognised internationally and much easier to sell than a Fendant.

Do you grow any other varietals? We have white wines: some Sauvignon and Chardonnay but Merlot - red and white - is our main focus.

Why is Merlot the main grape variety in this region? In the canton of Ticino – from north to south there are fantastic soil conditions for Merlot.

Merlot is a great grape. You can make tons of different styles of wine - rosé, white, dry white, blend it with Cabernet, make it red and fruity and light, or make a big heavy red for aging. Our dry white Merlot is very popular.

In the south, where we are, the soil is mainly clay. This produces a tobacco smell, spicy, Cuban cigar and contributes to a nice elegant Merlot.

The alcohol content is usually 12.5%, but the wine we presented at the Circle of Wine Writers event in London recently, Platinum, is 100% Merlot with 14% alcohol. It is a late harvest and we increase the concentration further by drying the grapes. We then leave the grapes in small boxes in a room with special air circulation for three weeks. the wine is matured 20 months in new French oak barrels. This produces a very powerful and elegant wine.

We don’t produce the wine every year just in top vintages. It was interesting to try the latest vintage the 2011 and compare it to the 2005 - these wines ought to be cellared, and the 2005, while still young, shows why.

Pictures: In the Wine Cellar with Guido Brivio

Tell us about your ‘white Merlot? When I started, out, I received a lot of slammed doors in my face - especially for white Merlot. Once I even received a letter from a restaurant owner saying: ‘You are going to ruin red grapes to make wine. You’re going to ruin the image of Ticino. Please stop! It’s not going to be successful.’ Now he reserves maybe 60 bottles a year. Sometimes you have to go against the wave to try new things.

We use a lot of oak, all from the Massif Central of France. For red wine we go for medium toasting. For white we use a heavier toasting. The most important is the grain of the wood. Big grain gives less oxygen.

The important thing is oxygen going through the oak and breathing with the wood and wine.

And the climate in Ticino? We are blessed with a Mediterranean micro climate in the south of Ticino. It is the last corridor before the. We are blessed with hot summers and even havepalm trees here!

A lot of Swiss people have holiday houses here in Ticino because of the climate. It is also located in the middle of everything. If you drive towards Italy, in two hours you are by the sea. Drive half hour the other way you can ski.

Tell us more about the winery? The winery has been completely renovated with the adoption of the most advanced wine-making technology and we are gradually replacing all of the wine-making machinery. Currently, the winery can process up to 300,000 kilos of grapes, through the use of high-tech systems.

To obtain the best grapes in Ticino, closer personal contacts were established with the region's wine-growers and new vineyards were planted in accordance with the most recent wine-growing methods. They produce grapes of the highest quality, among the best that this territory can offer.

The aging of the wines is in French oak barrels in our centuries-old cellars dug deep into the rock at the base of Monte Generoso. They were built to season cheese, salami, and wine, and for those who built them, to party with their friends.

There is natural aeration through holes dug in the rock to channel a flow of cool air into the cellars. When it rains the water pushes out fresh air on this Swiss side. This produces the ideal atmospheric conditions for making wine. The perfect level of humidity is also maintained naturally that way.

What are you future plans for the winery? We are exploring export markets for Swiss wines. When people think of Switzerland, they don’t think about wine. They think about banking, watches, chocolate but wine is the last thing.

But when they try the wine they are amazed by the quality that is why it’s important to us to allow people access to the wines. We are part of ‘old Europe’ for making wine and want to keep that culture and to spread it.

What other interests do you have? I love art and in our tasting room, the bottles stand before paintings. Each image represents the taste of a particular wine to the artist.

Pictures: Tasting with Guido Brivio .... and Gregory Dal Piaz

Do you think your son will carry on the family tradition of winemaking? Our son has always been around the winery. He is 14 and showing signs of wanting to come into the business but I will never push him.

Winemaking is not like any other career. To make good wines you have to feel it inside. It really is a 60 degree job but exciting. I enjoy working with nature, the technical side of wine making and communicating the wines. For me, every harvest is like creating a new painting. You have to interpret what nature gives you and keep up with your style. It’s a challenge every year but exciting.

The Wines Guido Poured


Ticino DOC Bianco di Merlot
Zona di produzione: Sottoceneri
A white wine made of Merlot. Fermented in stainless steel. No malolactic fermentation.
Wine-searcher average price: US$18

Keith Edwards: The Ticino white wine environment is not as monoilithic as its red but the primary red variety -- Merlot - also plays an important role in white wines. For the production of white wines, the Merlot grape is crushed and then gently pressed with little or no contact between the skin and the juice. The 2013 Brivio Contrado is such a wine. It is barrel-fermented and aged for 10 months in oak. The wine was cold-filtered to remove any color and, according to the owner, fermentation flavors were also removed during this process. Aromas include chocolate, coffee, banana, and lychee. It had great weight on the palate. This was the standout white Merlot for me.


Ticino DOC Bianco di Merlot
Zona di produzione: Sottoceneri
Vinified and aged in oak barrels for 7-8 months.
Wine-searcher average price: US$33


Ticino DOC Merlot
Zona di produzione: Sottoceneri
Aged in French oak barrels for over 14 months. Frequent racking allows for bottling without fining, filtration or other physical stabilization. This can result in a slight sediment in the bottle.
Wine-searcher average price: US$39


Ticino DOC
Merlot 100%
Zona di produzione: Sopraceneri
Vinification: long maceration in stainless steel tanks. Aged in French oak barrels for over 15 months.
Wine-searcher average price: US$50


Ticino DOC Merlot
Zona di produzione: Sottoceneri
The grapes are dried in boxes for 2 weeks after harvesting before vinification. Aged for 20 months in new French oak barrels. No filtration.
Wine-searcher average price: US$78


Ticino DOC
Merlot 100%
zona di produzione: Tre Valli
The grapes are dried in boxes after harvesting before vinification for 2 weeks. Fermentation for 14 days in stainless steel tanks. Aging in French barriques for 36 months.
Produced vintages: 2003, 2005, 2009, 2010
Wine-searcher average price: US$88

Tasting Notes by Keith Edwards:

Brivio 2011 Refisi de Epoca -- Concentrated fruit, balsamic notes, coconut oil, tobacco, cuban cigars. Elegant, refined, integrated, balanced. Long refined finish with chocolate aftertaste.
Brivio 2011 Sassi Grossi -- Grapes from the north. Spice, toast, balsamic, tar, shoe polish. Good acidity. Rich, weighty, and smooth. Coffee. Long finish with a creamy aftertaste.
Brivio 2010 Trentasei -- Grapes from the north. Two 18-month new oak treatments. Straight oak notes with spice, smoke, sweet baking spices and milk chocolate. Elegant. Long finish with a creamy aftertaste.

schiller-wine: Related Posting

4 Wine Tours by ombiasy coming up in 2015: Germany-East, Germany-South. Germany-Nord and Bordeaux

Germany-South Wine Tour by ombiasy, 2014

Germany-North Wine Tour by ombiasy, 2014

Bordeaux Wine Tour 2013 by ombiasy

The 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Switzerland 

The Wines of Weingut Saxer, a Winemaker in the German-speaking part of Switzerland

The Wines of Switzerland – Grand Tasting with (and Introduction to Swiss Wines by) Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz 

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