As you read this sentence, imagine that you are in Valpolicella, exploring the wine region, and that you turn at a certain point into a tree-shaded road, following the directions of a sign that says “Villa Santa Sofia”.
At the end of the road there is a little clearing where you can park your car, some barrels and a small door under a large wrought-iron sign that reads “Cantine Santa Sofia”.
Go up to the door and ring the bell. Someone will come and open up and you will enter into a very particular tasting room: on the walls there are framed prize certificates and evocative photos of bunches of grapes being dried, large oak casks and barriques.
Stop and observe the fireplace, above which you will see ancient bottles displayed: they are from different vintages; some have slightly odd shapes, some have hand-written labels, all are covered in a thin layer of dust, giving you the impression that they have been there for a long time.
Move the curtain to one side and glance out of the window: you will make out the colonnade of a very fine and imposing Renaissance villa. In a small book by the window you can read:
A large bound volume open on the ancient wooden table in the centre of the room will attract your attention:
By now you will have realized that you have come to a special place. And undoubtedly you will also now want to know more about it.
Santa Sofia’s cellars are in the part of the estate underneath and to the side of Villa Santa Sofia, which was known in the past as Villa Serego. Building of the villa began in 1560, following the plans of Andrea Palladio: it was commissioned by Marcantonio Serego, a highly respected nobleman who was married to Ginevra Alighieri. In fact, only a very small part of the grandiose project was completed and what can be seen today represents about one third of Palladio’s original design.
The various spaces that make up the cellars date back to three different historical periods.
The oldest part was built in 1300 A.D. by the monks of San Bernardino, who lived in the church dedicated to Santa Sofia, which lies just outside the perimeter walls of the estate. This church was built in a period previous to the construction of the villa and later became its chapel. This section of the cellar was carved out of tufa, a type of stone extracted from the local quarries and also used for the majestic colonnade of Palladio’s aristocratic villa. It is here that one finds the large Slavonian oak casks, in which some of our most richly-structured wines mature: Amarone, Valpolicella Superiore Montegradella, Arlèo, Predaia and Valpolicella Ripasso.
Adjacent to the 14th century part is a more recently constructed cellar dating from the 18th century, with vaults made of brick. In this space are the stainless steel tanks, in which our younger, fresher wines mature: Bardolino, Bardolino Chiaretto, Soave, Lugana, Custoza, Pinot Grigio and Merlot Corvina.
Beneath the Palladian villa, on the other hand, are the 16th century cellars – built at the same time as the villa and used even then for storing wine – in which we have our barriques, barrels of Allier oak containing 225 litres, for the maturation of our special reserve of Amarone, Gioè, as well as the Arlèo, Predaia, Valpolicella Superiore Montegradella, Recioto della Valpolicella and Recioto di Soave.
Under the villa, too, there is a spacious bottle cellar, which also dates back to the 16th century and can contain up to 80,000 bottles. Here one finds the wines that call for longer bottle-ageing before being released onto the market: Amarone, Valpolicella Superiore Montegradella, Arlèo, Predaia, Recioto della Valpolicella and Recioto di Soave.
It was a spirit of restlessness that drove Andrea di Pietro della Gondola,
stone mason by profession and son of a miller, to become an architect.
Guided by sheer pleasure and a natural inclination, Andrea began
studying the most famous Roman architect of the Augustan Age, Vitruvius,
and indeed it was in Rome that he was able to broaden his mind, apply his technical
knowledge and attain the ambitious results that reveal themselves to our gaze even today.
The nobleman from Vicenza Giangiorgio Trissino described Andrea as a
“disciple of the Greek goddess, with great intelligence and human industriousness”
and he therefore bestowed him with the name Palladio, a character in one of his poems.
As a protagonist in a veritable frenzy of renewal of 15th century architecture,
Andrea Palladio began with his first commissions from the aristocracy of Vicenza,
developing his skills in the area around that city and finally towards Venice,
where he designed magnificent villas on the mainland at the centre of vast farms:
the splendid representation of flourishing Venetian entrepreneurship.
The sixteenth century in the Veneto witnessed, therefore, a silent but amazing revolution.
After a century of peace under the dominion of the Republic of Venice (the "Serenissima"),
the local nobility finally devoted its resources
to investing in landed property, thus abandoning the belligerent spirit
that had characterized it until then.
New crops were introduced and existing ones intensified,
making it ever more necessary to create large-scale rural estates.
The house was at the centre of these properties. The portico of the villa faced the countryside,
benefitting from its light and air, and so the villa became a farm,
with storage space for carts and equipment, lodgings for the farmers and warehousing for the products,
but it was also a symbol of the dignity of the owner,
a precious representation of abundant wealth and of a glorious civilisation.
Nature thus came face to face with art, and was indeed included in and given greater prominence thanks to that art, in terms of beauty and functionality,
poetry and technology, within an overall genuine respect for the countryside.
In this same spirit the connection between wine and art was created: it has its origins in the restlessness that
has always been the moving force behind the initiative of any entrepreneur.
Guided by this inspiration and by the age-old history of their area, the Begnoni family and the Santa Sofia Company
promote various initiatives, in the role of privileged “custodians ” of a place of undisputed beauty: Villa Serego a Santa Sofia.