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Making wine in the vineyard, not the winery

Danila Lento stands among the wines of the 70-hectare Amato estate, one of the Lento’s three estates, the others being the neighbouring Tenuta Romeo and Villa Caraciolo.

Estanislao Oziewicz/The Globe and Mail

The Lento Estate sits some 500 metres above sea level on a ridge of the Apennines in the middle of the narrowest part of the Italian peninsula.

It is so narrow that on a clear day looking south one can view the Ionian Sea on one side and the Tyrennian Sea on the other. At the top of the estate is a 19th century mansion dominating the winery and vineyard below.

It is here that the Lento family grows the wines that produce the Lamezia Riserva DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wine that is one of the few Calabrian wines that make it to Ontario.

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As far as Italian wines go, Calabria has received the short end of the stick partly because of the perception of backwardness and lack of sophistication, partly because of lack of investment in up-to-date production methods and marketing and partly because of international ignorance.

But the Lentos have overcome all that to become one of the most modern wine makers of not only Calabria but also all of southern Italy. They have invested what must be a sizeable amount in a state-of-the-art winery with its stainless steel fermenters, computer-run temperature controls and enormous cellar, with French oak barrels, cut into the mountainside.

Their wines are now sold not only in Canada but also in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium.

"We produce wine in the vineyard not in the winery," says Danila Lento, standing among the wines of the 70-hectare Amato estate, one of the Lento's three estates, the others being the neighbouring Tenuta Romeo and Villa Caraciolo.

Greco, magliocco and nerello wines are grown at the Amato estate as well as sauvignon, chardonnay and merlot. At Tenuta, the Lentos grow local vines, such as magliocco and greco, along side olive trees. These native vines, which stem from the ancient Greeks, are also grown on the nearby Caraciolo estate.

"The vineyard is more important than the winery. If we have a good production of a good grape, healthy with a good sugar, then we have a good wine," says Ms. Lento.

Having seas on both sides protects the vines somewhat from the excessive southern Italian heat but, says Ms. Lento, "We are completely at the mercy of the weather, the sun, the wind, the changing climate."

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The grapes are harvested manually, not only because mechanical harvesters would be tricky on the steep slopes.

"We're very selective about the grapes. We harvest only the best – and so it all must be done by hand," she says.

The Lentos have been at this for four generations.

Today, her father, Salvatore, and mother Giovanna, are the owners. Danila handles viticulture and production, sister Manuela sales and marketing. Their uncle, Antonio Zaffina is enologist and winemaker.

Here's how the Lentos describe the Lamezia Riserva: "Bright ruby red with an intense nose and light spicy notes. Palatable, balanced, with an excellent structure, very persistent notes of vanilla, roasted coffee and cocoa."

When the wine is two years old, it spends a year in French oak barrels and at least six months in bottles. The Lentos are careful not to over-oak.

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"The wine has to have a good body structure, but we don't want to taste the oak. We want to taste the wine, not oak," says Ms. Lento.

Besides the Lamezia Riserva, the Lentos produce a range of white, red and rose wines. The Federico II, named after the 13th century holy Roman emperor, for example, is a robust red with a 14 per cent alcohol content, a shade but significantly higher than the 12.5 per cent Lamezia.

Even though Federico is made entirely of cabernet sauvignon grapes, Ms. Lento claims there are similarities:

"They are brothers but have two different souls."

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