In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, we find one of the most sophisticated sparkling wines in Latin America. Garibaldi is a small town where the art of cooperage and glass-making is lovingly preserved, as is plenty of Italian-inspired slow food.
Dense woodland, mountainous terrain and life rebuilt on the other side of the Atlantic. When the first Italians landed in Serra Gaúcha, in southern Brazil, they couldn’t have imagined that, 150 years later, this would be one of the country’s most promising and well-organised tourist regions. The immigrants brought with them not only the dream of starting a new life, but also the ability to make wine. “That’s when Brazil’s great winegrowing journey began,” explains Maiquel Vignatti, marketing manager of Cooperativa Vinícola Garibaldi. 120 kilometres north of Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul, Garibaldi was the state’s first Italian colony and the first city to produce sparkling wine in Brazil, thanks to a terroir favouring white grapes. It’s also home to the Rota dos Espumantes (Sparkling Wine Route), which includes 20 wineries boasting varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Moscatel.
Garibaldi saw the first Brazilian sparkling wine produced in 1913 by an Italian from Trento, Manoel Peterlongo, who conducted various experiments in his cellar that would eventually lead him to receiving the Gold Medal for his “moscato typo Champagne” and Casa Peterlongo becoming the only Brazilian winery with the right to use the term “champagne”. If the Benedictine monk and winemaker Pierre Pérignon described imbibing sparkling wine as like “drinking the stars”, Garibaldi wine tourism surprises with unique experiences, such as blind tastings and a rather bold pairing with artisan chocolate. At the Cooperativa Vinícola Garibaldi, there’s Glass and Truffle, where visitors are welcomed with a flight of five table and sparkling wines, combined with different scales of sweetness, where passion fruit, orange and half bitter chocolate truffles are paired with Chardonnay, Prosecco, Pinot Noir and Moscatel. Desperte Seus Sentidos (Pique Your Senses) is a blind tasting inside a 100,000-litre barrel. Both experiences include seeing the winery’s historical barrels, made with American pine. For those visiting with children, there are pairings made with organic grape juices
And what were just “garage wines” a few decades ago are now internationally acclaimed, prize-winning wines. Founded in 1931 by a group of over 70 producers, the cooperative is known as the producer of Brazil’s first Prosecco rosé, a delicate sparkling wine made with a small percentage of Pinot Noir and winner of the gold medals at the Catad’Or Wine Awards in Chile and the Concurso Vinus in Argentina. The project brings together 400 associated families from 15 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, including over 900 hectares of vineyards. From the 18 million litres expected to be produced in 2019, highlights included organic and biodynamic wines, where the estate is approached holistically as an agricultural organism that values the whole. This means wines produced without the use of pesticides, in harmony between man and the environment, improved by the influence of astronomical cycles.
And then there was light
However, tourism in Garibaldi isn’t just about good wine and prize-winning espumante. With a population of just over 30,000, other attractions include an interesting glass factory and one of the last cooperages of the Serra Gaúcha.
Founded in 2008, Vidraria Madelustre opens its doors so people can see the production process on a guided tour that revisits the history of glass and ends with a demonstration of craftsmanship inspired by the techniques of Murano, in Italy. Accompanied by the searing temperatures of the kilns that heat the mixture of elements that produces glass, visitors are stunned by pieces created in a matter of minutes. “Our glass factory is a break from winery visits”, explains guide Jenifer dos Santos, before showcasing the world’s largest sparkling wine glass. Created by the company itself and certified by Guinness World Records in 2014, it measures 2.19 metres tall, weighs 33 kilos and boasts capacity for 186 bottles of sparkling wine, the equivalent of 140 litres.
In the Mesacaza cooper’s warehouse, in the centre of neighbouring Monte Belo do Sul, Eugénio Mesacaza’s routine differs little from when this experienced cooper learned how to assemble barrels from his father. At first, it appears to be a huge carpenter’s workshop, but the pieces start to fit, literally, when the patriarch and his son Mauro explain how they produce barrels using balsa, cabreuva, Brazilian ash, umburana and reconditioned oak. Every time a finished barrel emerges, Eugénio, now aged 62, still looks at it with the same fascination as when he learned the craft from his father, Miguel Arcângelo, aged 15. He and Mauro maintain the family tradition, despite a drop in orders, due to the increasing use of stainless-steel tanks in wine production. Exporting to the USA, France, Ireland and Scotland, they make about thirty 225-litre and another ten 700-litre barrels per week. They only accept visits from families and small groups, and the free tour is subject to advance booking. Those interested can also taste partner cachaças (Brazilian cane brandy), which are stored in barrels made on site.
During the day, tourists might race to as many wineries as possible, but, when it comes to meals, there’s no such rush. It’s slow food with a vineyard view. About 30 minutes from Garibaldi, Casa Olga, in Monte Belo do Sul, is Morgana Perin’s restaurant, which occupies her grandmother Olga’s old home, a large house built in 1958 where the family used to gather. “We want our guests to feel like we did during our Sunday lunches,” says Morgana, who reminds us that, even today, she still prepares the fresh pasta served at the restaurant.
Chef Rodrigo Bellora also takes this food appreciation movement very seriously. His Valle Rústico restaurant in Garibaldi is an ambling tour of the world’s gastronomy prepared with local ingredients. The two-and-a-half-hour tasting menu includes dishes such as kimchi cake, matambre (similar to flank steak), smoked carpaccio with watercress, pine nut cannoli, polenta brustolada with Creole corn and ox-cheek ragù, not to mention the olive oil ice-cream with fleur de sel and yogurt. The surprise menu is served in 12 stages and uses ingredients rarely found in Brazilian establishments, such as Creole corn, cará-moela potatoes and unconventional plant foods. “I’m passionate about ingredients, not the dish itself,” Bellora says.
At Osteria della Colombina, also in Garibaldi, diners eat at Dona Odete and her daughters’ home. Housed in the family basement, it’s decorated with objects that once belonged to Italian great-grandmothers, such as photographs, crockery and jewellery. “It’s a little bit of us. We’ve tried to maintain our history and our identity”, says daughter Raísa. Inspired by the dishes of Odete’s childhood, the fixed eight-course menu begins with polenta and colonial salami and continues with capeletti soup, organic salad with carne lessa, gnocchi with three cheeses and fortaia.
Whether in the vineyards or Mediterranean-style establishments, everything echoes the past and it’s hard to believe that 150 years has passed since the first Italians arrived in southern Brazil.
Casa Olga \\\ Rua João Salvador, 305, Monte Belo do Sul \\\ +55 54 981 32 65 19 \\\
Osteria Della Colombina \\\ Linha São Jorge, Garibaldi \\\ +55 54 346 477 55
text and photos Eduardo Vessoni
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