If you have followed my blog you would know that I have been coming to Vinitaly in Verona for 4 years. In that time I have formed a great relationship with the bartenders at Osteria del Bugiardo (Tavern of the Liar). This bar has it all. Fantastic exposed brick and timber beams, great staff, simple but awesome food. And limited selection of wine…just 9. All from the winery that owns the Osteria, Buglioni.
After 4 years my favourite bartender, Paolo, enquired as to what I did for a living. When he found out that I was an importer he promised to introduce me to his capo (boss). Now I was thinking he was going to introduce me to the bar manager …,.but no, he meant the big guy, MD Mariano Buglioni.
The initial meeting was a tad awkward. Mariano was sitting at the corner table with an acquaintance and Paolo interrupted to introduce me. Mariano is mid 40’s and has classic Italian style. He sported a well cropped beard to complement his aquiline features and was wearing a high quality sports jacket over a casual skivvy. I thought he looked a tad disdainfully at the middle aged Aussie that he was introduced to…but that was probably me being a little tentative. In any event he gave me his card and told me to come visit his stand at the convention the next day.
So quite early in the morning I arrived at Pad 5 stand E5. Mariano greeted me warmly and introduced me to a young man in his mid 30’s who was going to take me through the wines. It was long term winemaker Diego Bertoni. I tried all of their wines (away from the context of busy bar) and merely confirmed my view that they were very, very good good.
I mentioned to Mariano that I would like to visit their winery and he a was very accommodating and offered to pick me up from my apartment. Pretty nice.
So the next day at 11am Mariano arrived at Porta Borsari in a 30 year old Mercedes coupe, looking realaxed in jeans and a long sleeved casual skivvy and we set of for Cantina Buglioni.
I learnt on the 20 minute drive that his family had a long history in the fashion industry. Over 20 years previously the family made a decision to move to the country and found a fantastic villa in the hills surrounding Verona. The house happened to come with several acres of vineyards, but with the wine industry somewhat depressed and the price of grapes extremely low, the family decided to give them away to whoever was prepared to pick them. Some years later they decided to have a go at the winemaking caper and Mariano in particular fell in love with the industry. In the meantime the fashion industry had become uber competitive and so the family faced a decision. Stay in fashion or move into wine. They decided to go "all in" with wine.
One of the first decisions they made was to hire the dux of the Oenology Institute of San Michele all’Adige, in Trento as winemaker, so at the ripe old age of 22 Diego Bertoni joined the company. And he is remain winemaker today. The business has gone from strength to strength and has introduced some vertical integration to the business by investing in a hotel and 3 bars/restaurants. This has been a genius move in terms of building the brand but also in selling a significant level of their production through their own facilities, cutting out the significant costs of the middlemen. I am not sure why more winemakers do not follow this lead.
I had a great afternoon with Mariano. I viewed the gorgeous boutique hotel, the winery and the (under construction) new drying shed for the Amarone grapes.
Of course lunch at one of their restaurants was involved. On a beautiful spring day we sat outside under a 700 year old olive tree and had the casual 4 courses. Some delicate mussels from Puglia (amazing) local pasta, paccheri, with prawns and baby broad beans, a slice of dry aged beef (ironically from SE Qld) and dessert (or 3 local cheeses). Accompanied by vini della casa. Memorable.
After lunch Mariano dropped me back at Porta Borsari in Verona and we promised to start a business relationship. It was a delightful day with a generous and warm host, one I won't forget.
When I started in the importing business I promised myself that I only wanted to work with family businesses where I could visit their estates and create a genuine relationship with people that I liked. Mariano Buglioni is the epitome of the type of relationships I want to build. It will be a privilege bringing his finely crafted wines to Australia.
(As I write, the first shipment of Buglioni wines are being loaded onto a ship in Genoa ready for their epic journey to Australia. Can't wait!)