Weekly Interview: Giovanni Ponchia

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-02-2011

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Giovanni Ponchia, lead enologist for the Soave Consortium.

The Soave Consortium promotes the wines of Soave throughout the world, and also oversees and administrates production for 90 percent of the region’s wines to ensure quality. Giovanni has been with the Consortium since 2005.

Giovanni first fell for wine in 1997, while stationed in Friuli with the Italian military. He soon started taking classes at the Università di Enologia di Conegliano, where he completed his degree in 2001. After graduating, Giovanni landed a position with San Filippo Fanti di Montalcino, where he managed the wine cellar. From there, he went off to the Veneto, where he worked at three different wineries, and then returned to Friuli to work for a winery in the Colli Orientali.

Since joining the Consortium, Giovanni has focused mainly on designating the cru zones of Soave and handling many of the Consortium’s public relations efforts. Check out our interview with Giovanni below the fold.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Four bottles — Gini Soave DOC Classico “Contrada Salvarenza” 2008, Vicentini AgostinoSoave Superiore DOCG “Il Casale” 2007, Fongaro Lessini Durello sparkling champenoise 2007, and Concha y Toro Chardonnay 2009 Casillero del Diablo. I like to enjoy many wines at home during the evening, with my friends. I am a great white wine lover but with so many whites, such as with Soave, we need to wait before opening the bottles because they reach maturity only after 2-3 years.

How did you decide to pursue a career in wine?

I started to work in the wine world 10 years ago, but everything started in 1997 when I was a soldier in the Alps, in Friuli. During the nights we used to taste a lot of different wines, from indigenous varieties, produced exclusively there and with strange names. Here began my curiosity, and I abandoned my law studies to try a new experience in the wine world. One month before the end of my year as soldier I passed the admission test for the University of Viticulture and Enology in Conegliano (the oldest in Italy).

How did you learn to make wine?

Attending the University of Enology and Viticulture in Conegliano, I learned many theoretical notions and concepts. But winemaking can be understood only by working: I experienced different wineries in Tuscany, Veneto and Friuli. I started in Montalcino because at that time I preferred red wines, and 10 years ago Brunello was absolutely the most appealing and successful Italian red wine.

How do you spend your days off?

During the summer, at the seaside. During the winter, watching movies, listening to music and playing bass guitar. I also like to study geography and geology, my other great passions, as well as history.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history?

Rudi Kofler represents the proof that a new generation in the wine world can improve the already very high quality of a first class winery, such as the one he directs. In Italy it is very hard for the young guys to find some space to express ourselves. Maurizio Polo taught me many of the things that I know about wine. He has a deep understanding of chemistry and enology and has a great international following.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

Valentina Tessari (Suavia) is a very young and prepared winemaker who is doing incredible things in Soave, showing to the world the great potential of the Garganega and Trebbiano grapes.

Cristian Ridolfi (Bertani) for his style, which is clean and respectful of the character of the grapes with which we work, both whites and reds. He has a great sensibility both in the Amarone and in the Soave regions.

What mailing lists, if any, do you purchase from?

I do not subscribe to any mailing lists. With many friends in my region and others with whom I can share wines, there is no need to.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 1988 from Valentini and Amarone Classico della Valpolicella 1995 from Quintarelli are the best. The most interesting was a Pinot Blanc 2004 Rangen de Thann from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.

These are wines outside the concept of “time.”

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

I really don’t remember the oldest, but I have several Nebbiolos and Cabernets from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Also, some Soave Bertani and Verdicchio di Jesi from 1988, which is still good to drink.

The most expensive currently should be a Giulio Ferrari Riserva 1997 from Ferrari, a Barolo Brunate-Coste from Beppe Rinaldi, and an Oracolo IGT Veneto Rosso from Inama. I prefer to drink great wines than leave them to age too long!

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Depends. With local foods, I prefer a Soave Classico 2008 or 2009, if we’re talking about white wines. I also prefer a fresh and crisp Bardolino Chiaretto (rosé) or some rosé from the Cotes du Rhone.

With other foods, I would pick a Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige (2009 or 2010) and a Chateauneuf du Pape 2006.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

To read the vintage and understand the time for the harvest.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?

Alsace!

Is beer ever better than wine?

With pizza, beer is perfect.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I was a musician until five years ago, playing bass guitar in a punk-hardcore band. I even recorded an album.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I really don’t know — I’d probably be a lawyer or a bartender.

How do you define success?

To wake up every morning happy to go to work. To never be tired of learning and trying, both in my personal life and in my career.

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