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Winery #65: Ca’ Rugate (Soave, Italy)

A truly unique and unforgettable experience. Those words are the most accurate description of our final winery visit in Soave, Italy: Ca’ Rugate. Our guide for the afternoon, Luca, began the wine experience with an overview of estate’s history as we stood in front of an artistic rendition of the Tessari family tree of winemakers going back over one hundred years. Luca also introduced me to the current leader of the entire operation, Michele, who is the fourth generation of winemakers in the family. Our host explained that the historic family home, a lone structure within the Soave Classico vineyard area called Rugate Hill, is featured on each wine label Ca’ Rugate produces. Ca’ Rugate is short for Casa de Rugate, which translates from Italian to House of Rugate.

Luca walked us through the winery’s facilities, explaining each part of the production process in detail from the harvesting of grapes, the fermentation process unique to the estate, the use of either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels for ageing the wine, and finally the bottling line. The winery has a very nice event space overlooking the production line, and Luca mentioned that Ca’ Rugate hosts small groups of students from the nearby school to learn about wine production. I imagine wine tasting is probably not on the agenda, but who knows!

Luca then opened a door, and we walked into what appeared to be the exterior of an old home reproduced within the winery. As if we were transported back in time, Luca told us that the exterior was the beginning of the Ca’ Rugate Wine Museum. Here we found grape presses, antique pumps, baskets, and other tools actually used by the Tessari family in the last century to cultivate grapes and produce wine. Seeing the machinery first-hand, including a large grape press built in 1855, we quickly realized the extent of the manual labor required to produce wine back in the early 20th century.

Luca then led us through another door giving way to the interior of the home. An antique radio automatically turned on and a broadcaster was speaking in Italian. Thanks to Luca’s translation, we learned that the broadcaster was announcing the end of World War I. I get goosebumps thinking about this part of the experience. According to Luca, the interior is an exact duplicate of the Casa de Rugate, complete with kitchen equipment and even stains on the walls. Our mouths were open with amazement during our tour of the wine museum, as we couldn’t fathom the amount of time and significant attention to detail required to create such a masterpiece. The family produced a 35-page book about the wine museum here. It is written in Italian, so for an Italian-American that never learned the mother tongue, I find the pictures extremely beautiful:-)

After the museum tour, we walked back down to the wine tasting area to sample the broad range of Ca’ Rugate wines. We had the opportunity to taste seven wines in the line-up. While about halfway through the tasting, I glanced to my right and saw a gentleman filling up a large glass bottle with a gasoline hose.

When we arrived in the tasting room, we paid little attention to this large antique gasoline pump, but now that it was in use, the entire room of visitors was watching. The gas pump actually pumps out table wine, not kidding, red wine from one nozzle and white wine from the other. The pump calculates the number of liters the customer pours, and they pay. Over the last 20 years, I visited countless wineries throughout the world, and never before have I seen such a cool contraption. The first thought that came to mind: Where can we put one in our apartment?!?!

Getting back to the tasting, our favorite wine actually came at the end of the line-up: The 2014 Corte Durlo Vin Santo Di Brognoligo. The wine is produced from 100% Garganega white grapes, the same grapes used in the dry white Soave wine. To produce Vin Santo, grapes are generally harvested at the end of September and immediately laid out on special racks called Picai to dry out for three to four months. These special racks allow air to flow all around the grapes to dry most efficiently. During the drying process, water leaves the grape and the sugar and flavors become extremely concentrated. These super-sweet grapes are then pressed, yielding a limited volume of juice. The juice undergoes fermentation then ages for six years in oak barrels. During this time, wine evaporates through the staves of the barrels becoming what is known as the Angels’ Share.

In the normal course of wine production, winery workers continually top-off the oak barrels with wine, effectively reducing oxygen exposure by limiting the barrel's head space with the goal to preserve some of the wine's fruity aromas and flavors by avoiding oxidization. In the case of the Vin Santo, the family installs a special ceramic cap on the barrel, preventing any refills. After six years, the Angels end up taking fifty percent of the wine from the barrel, and as a result, only 250 bottles of this sweet wine are produced each year.

As the story goes, the Tessari family once experienced a significantly difficult time, and financial support coming from the local church allowed the winery to remain in business. As a sign of gratitude for this act of generosity, Ca’ Rugate donates all profits from Vin Santo to the same church that helped the winery. What a fantastic story! We found the wine to have an extremely complex bouquet of walnuts, almonds, raisins, vanilla, and candied tropical fruit. The extremely luscious texture and significant sweetness level was well-balanced by the high acidity level thanks the Garganega grape. We also found the finish to be extremely long and pleasant.

500 Wineries sends an enormous THANK YOU to our host Luca as well as Michele for making our tour and tasting absolutely fantastic, ranking among the top 10% of all wine experiences to date. The exceptional wine experience at Ca’ Rugate is worth a special journey.

Experience Rating: 5 Stars

Brodi's Rating: 2 Paws Up

Pet-Friendly: Yes

Experience Vibe: Private Experience, Production Facilities Tour, Wine Museum Tour, Seated Wine Tasting

Reservations Needed: Yes

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