That oft-cited idiom, attributed to English author Mary Ann Evans — who wrote under the manly pen name George Eliot — in her 1860 novel The Mill on the Floss, cautions us to avoid forming an opinion of someone or something based solely upon what we see at first glance.
Sage advice, right? Or, is it?
Here in fashion-conscious Italy — where everyone, it seems, dresses to the nines to parade their bella figura (pride in one’s appearance) around their weekly, local open-air market — Evans and/or Eliot’s proverbial book cover is repeatedly turned on its spine in the form of l’etichetta: the stylish labeling and packaging of an individual product fighting for a prominent spot on store shelves around the Bel Paese and beyond.
It really is l’etichetta that catches the eye of the consumer and draws him/her into the tent for further inspection and, hopefully, a purchase.
Sitting in my car, strumming my fingers on the steering wheel as I wait for the automatic barrier to rise and let me drive through, I’m pondering Georgy Girl’s seven-word warning. Can I truly judge a book based solely on its cover? Maybe not, but I’m here at the latest stop in the Traveling the Wine Roads of Italy series to find out.
Welcome to Bottega S.p.A., an award-winning estate built inside a renovated and expanded 19th century manor house (Villa Rosina) and surrounded by ten hectares of vineyards. It’s located in tiny Bibano di Godega di Sant’Urbano, 45 km north of Venice and smack dab in the middle of Italy’s Prosecco and grappa-producing Veneto region.
Like three-quarters of the cast from The Wizard of Oz, we stroll down the sidewalk that links the corporate offices with the production-fermentation-distillery plant chatting it up as we go.
“Simple,” she replies, “Bottega’s colorful, creative, hand-blown bottles that envelop superlative grape, grappa and liqueurs.” Claudia adds, “Bottega places as much emphasis on the look of the bottles and packaging as it does the liquid inside that bears our mark.”
Not your run-of-the mill winery, Bottega has its own off-site glass-blowing factory, where artisan craftsmen create eye-catching, award-winning bottles across eight trademarked lines in the same tradition as those exiting furnaces on the Venetian island of Murano.
“We’re an event-oriented estate,” explains the PR-savy Irene, “specializing in customized orders for individual clients and large global corporations, including in-flight sales and duty-free air terminal shops.”
The estate’s latest initiative was the launching earlier this year of the Bottega Prosecco Bar aboard select vessels of the Viking Cruise Line.
They’re upscale lounges that closely resemble the old Venetian bácaro (tavern), where passengers can sample Bottega’s fine wines and spirits paired with tasty stuzzachini (appetizers), or enjoy full course Italian lunches and dinners, or just pop in for an aperitivo as the sun sets across the horizon.
We did say Prosecco, didn’t we? Cin cin!
Bottega, ever expanding, ever evolving, has an annual output of 10-million bottles, and climbing, of wines, grappas and liqueurs, with 70% of its productivity devoted to Prosecco.
Along with its backyard vineyards in Bibano di Godega, where it produces its signature Prosecco, other sparkling wines, grappa and sweet liqueurs, Bottega also has terroirs in Valpolicella to harvest its premium Amarone, Recioto and Ripasso blends, and in Montalcino where it produces the princely Brunello under the Tuscan sun.
Not limiting itself to just the grape in all its variations, Bottega thought outside the bottle to bring a handful of high-quality food products to the international marketplace, too: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, arabica coffee and packaged cakes.
Okay, the “book cover,” in all of its different shades, looks attractive, but I came here to sample the grape as well as see it produced and described. I’d really like to experience firsthand the WOW! factor as one of Bottega’s art museum-worthy bottles is uncorked.
As if on cue, Claudia and Irene whisk me off to Mela Cotogna (the Cotogna Apple), a nearby restaurant that Bottega uses for its degustazione (wine tasting) accompanied by some exceptional antipasti (appetizers) prepared in the kitchen.
I swirl, smell and sip my way through four different wines, four creamy killer liqueurs and one incredible grappa while Claudia explains in great detail each label’s characteristics. In between the changeovers, I savor a host of delectable regional dishes plated before me.
Not a bad drop in the entire lot, but the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and take notice when I taste the Cantine dei Poeti (Cellar of the Poets) Pinot Grigio IGT delle Venezie, a surprising dry white with incredible citrus fruit scents that’s a fun, anytime wine. It actually winks at me.
I slowly sip my way through short glasses of Crema di Limoncino, Fior di Latte, Nero and Latte Macchiato — four of Bottega’s 20 creamy liqueurs that are each accented with 10% grappa content.
And, I end this liquid tour de force with a shot of the velvety smooth Grappa Alexander Moscato.
Before calling it a day, Claudia and Irene gift me a case of six different wines, spirits and liqueurs so that I can continue my “research” at home. With kiss-kiss, hug-hugs all around — I think we’re BFFs now — I thank the ladies profusely for their unbelievable hospitality and the ton of information they provided me along the very detailed tour and delightful tasting.
As I motor away, here are a few more footnotes on Bottega.
Today, the company is managed by the brother-sister-brother act of Sandro, Barbara and Stefano Bottega, and boasts 12 distinct lines with annual sales topping the €37 million mark.
Seventy percent of its full-time workforce are women, with many serving in top-level positions.
Lastly, Bottega gives as good as it gets as it devotes time, energy and money to great local, regional and international causes, like the Breast Health Institute; the “Drink Well” educational program; the Italian Association for the Blind; and, distance adoption of African children via the Millennium for Peace initiative.
Everytime Bottega products are sold, the company donates a portion of the proceeds to these causes.
To plan your own customized tour and wine tasting at Bottega, just click HERE for complete details.
And, if Italy’s just too far away for you to sample the grape, don’t fret. Palm Bay International (PBI), Bottega’s importer into the United States, can put you in contact with retailers located in your state. Just click HERE, then go to PBI’s handy PRODUCT LOCATOR tool.
A special word of thanks goes out to Neil Cassidy, Managing Director of Cassidy Wines in Dublin, Bottega’s exclusive supplier in Ireland, who made this blog entry possible by paving the way and arranging for my VIP visit to the estate. Thanks Neil. I owe you.
©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images