Published in Dream of Italy May 2013
Maybe it was the smell of the fresh countryside air of Montefiore deli’Aso combined with the breathtaking view of the Adriatic Sea and the Sibillini mountains that first enraptured Dr. Francesco Bellini and his wife Marisa, convincing them that leaving without a planned return to the region of Le Marche, Italy was out of the question. On a fateful day in 2003, while taking a pleasure trip through Le Marche 35 miles outside of Bellini’s hometown, the couple was introduced to the estate that was to become their new home and the site of there natural winery, Domodimonte. What was once at the time a disparaged sprawl of land is today one of the most revered wineries in Italy, lauded internationally for its high quality natural wines. The couple bought the forty plus hectares of vineyards and eight hectares of olive groves and transformed it into a top destination for traveling wine enthusiasts and casual tourists alike.
Before making his mark in viticulture as renown owner of the Domodimonte winery and neighboring Magnolia Hotel, Bellini worked most of his life in the biotech field. He had emigrated from Italy to Montreal in his early twenties to pursue his doctorate degree in chemistry at the prestigious University of New Brunswick. No stranger to scientific advancement, he was one of the researchers responsible for developing a successful treatment for AIDS. Dr. Bellini had always been passionate about wine collecting, but his job as a research scientist and co-founder of the pharmaceutical company BioChem Pharma allowed only for enough time to make his passion for wine a pleasurable past-time. When the opportunity to invest in the vineyard in Le Marche presented itself, the idea of merging the scientist with the inner vitner to make his own wine was too sweet to resist.
Bellini’s approach to the winemaking process is thus a combination of science and passion. His approach is fresh and unique: he utilizes the most current technology to keep his wine all-natural – additive and chemical free while incorporating old world wine production techniques, such as hand-picking and sorting the grapes, into his methodology.
Bellini had a personal agenda for owning his own winery, as his wine experience was often soured by the allergies brought on by high levels of sulfites. Luckily, having your own winery means having control over what goes in and what stays out of the wine. Sulfites have been considered a crucial element in the wine production process for fermentation and preservation, yet many people are allergic to sulfites, and like Bellini, experience unpleasant reactions to food and wine that contain high amounts of the sodium sulfide chemical.
What does a scientist with a love for wine but a constant headache do? Find an alternative means of fermentation and preservation. Bellini developed a means of carefully controlling the fermentation process by manipulating the temperature of individual vats of wine as well as introducing nitrogen gas to protect the wine from oxidation, thus reducing the necessity of sulfites. The grapes themselves are de-stemmed and gravity-fed into the large stainless steel vats that are then brought to a very low temperature and nitrogen is introduced to the process, protecting against oxidation. This cryomacreation process is a fastidious one and calls for more attention and time must be dedicated to the production, but the result is wine that is low in sulfites and other potential allergens. In other words, headache free wine.
The beginning process of the wine production itself is something to marvel at. The “natural” status of the winery is due largely to the dedication of the producing the least amount of ecological and visual impact. There is an emphasis on attention and detail – the grapes are still hand-picked from the vines and sorted for quality. The dedicated team of agronomists, enologists, vine growers, vineyard workers, and winery staff maintain the natural quality through laborious love and steadfast devotion to the vineyard.
Domodimonte prides itself on its sustainable farming practices, giving back to the land as much as they take. Bellini has succeeded in his vision of continually producing natural wine, connected to its source and lacking synthetic additives. The agronomists and wine growers use only organic matter to fertilize their crop and keep quality in mind rather than quantity. About 67% of the grapes are pruned away during the growing season, insuring that the remaining plants are nutrient dense. There are no chemicals or additives introduced at any point to the wine. From vine to bottle the color and taste are the result of careful cultivation and artful patience.
Domodimonte produces seven different wines, stemming from six grape varietals: Principe Piccolo, Deja V, LiCoste, Monte Fiore, Picens, Il Messia, and Solo Per Te. Each wine is distinct in flavor though each bottle promises unwavering quality. Bottles can be bought on location and also shipped internationally to restaurants and bars as well as available for personal purchase. For those who can afford to take a trip to Le Marche, it will surely be a worthwhile investment, and tasting wine will never be the same.
While connoisseurs make a point to visit Domodimonte, even those less interested in vinification will find that it is worth it to make the trip just to stay at the Magnolia Hotel. Not only is the view breathtaking, but Bellini has done well to provide a luxurious experience for his guests. The farmhouse turned boutique hotel features seven suites that are each inspired by a different type of wine that Domodimonte produces. Feeling light and a bit on the fruity side, ask to stay in the room that pays tribute to the highly rated LiCoste wine and enjoy a glass after dinner paired with fresh Italian cheeses. If your palette matches your aesthetic and is longing for something more earthy and romantic, ask for the Solo Per Te room, where the dark wood and velvet colors will be the perfect compliment to a glass of this wine and a piece of dark chocolate.
Just like the neighboring winery, the Magnolia fuses its modern accommodations with old world aesthetics and the natural beauty of Le Marche. Visitors are encouraged to relax and sip to their bliss, and perhaps like Francesco and Marisa Bellini decide not to leave.