While parts of the “Bel paese”—or “beautiful country” of Italy—have been holiday hotspots for decades, the lush hills of the northern countryside have recently garnered heightened appreciation and attention following the success of Luca Guadagnino’s renowned Call Me By Your Name. Hidden in this northern greenery is a family-run wine-making company—Campione dei Colli Briantei—which I had the privilege of visiting. Speaking with the owners and oenologist, I came to better understand and admire this project full of personality and character.
These conversations primarily focused on why and how the company started, and what a wine-making company looks like from the inside out. Speaking with the owner, Barbara Biraghi, I learned that Campione dei Colli Briantei (Campione for short) was born with the goal of rediscovering and utilizing a territory that had been dedicated to vine cultivation long before the 21st century. 600 meters high and situated between Milan and Lake Como, the company enjoys a particularly apt climate for vine cultivation. Furthermore, the terracing is entirely south-facing, benefits from a constant northern breeze, and the soil has never been intensively farmed—consequently brimming with essential minerals and biodiversity.
Barbara’s role as manager of this little Eden is to take care of the overall development of Campione. She explained to me how it all started as a “beautiful dream,” and mentioned how “every day, looking at the soil terracing made with incredible effort by Cistercian monks in the past,” she simply “couldn’t throw away all their labor.” Consistently “hearing talk about climate change, decimated bee populations, aggressive agriculture, and polluting pesticides,” she subsequently felt that if she “had the privilege to live in this small paradise,” she “had the duty to properly preserve it and make it thrive.” Barbara explained to me “that with the subsequent industrializing phase that the Po valley went through, most farmers had left the countryside to work in factories.” Although these farmers included those in Campione, Barbara explained that thankfully, “the last years have seen a widespread rediscovery of agriculture, especially by people like me, who intend to carry out a responsible form of farming, with special attention to the environment.” Campione's attention to sustainability is evidenced by the company’s goal of being certified as organic and Barbara's side project of introducing hives on the property to increase biodiversity. She excitedly remarked that “today, we also produce amazing honey, without the use of any chemicals!” Having tried this honey, I too proclaim its undisputed greatness.
This is not to say, however, that it has been smooth sailing. Barbara explained to me that the most difficult hurdle she faced was having to “recover the terracing, which was completely covered in brambles and low-value woodland.” This was a particularly labor-intensive step due to Italian bureaucracy, which Barbara described as “tricky” due to the abundant “bodies constantly investigating, verifying, and inspecting.” Thankfully, she persevered, and during mandated historic research, Barbara found “a 19th-century land registry showing the territory had been cultivated as a vineyard for a long time.” Despite this, I learned that unlike the Tuscan countryside, the Brianza hills are not known for wine. However, Barbara explained to me how since these hills had been dedicated to winemaking in the past, she considered bringing vineyards back to the territory a “natural choice”. She went on to further discuss how “the easier choice would have been to make white wine,” as the high altitude made red wine production risky. Despite this, because she and her family enjoy red wine, the family decided to take the risk since “there are already some companies in Italy that produce excellent red wines at even higher altitudes.”
Campione dei Colli Briantei before renovations started (image courtesy of the owners of Campione dei Colli Briantei)
Campione dei Colli Briantei now (image courtesy of the owners of Campione dei Colli Briantei)
When discussing the next steps for the company, Barbara explained to me that the first four harvests have demonstrated “the potential of this wine.” The Merlot proved to be of great promise from the start, but the first bottle has yet to be finalized as Barbara wants it “to be a truly great wine, not a trial.”
The family during a harvest (image courtesy of the owners of Campione dei Colli Briantei)
The company is a tight knit one, and Barbara explained that “when I organize tastings in the cellar, I involve the whole family with the experts.” She discussed how the wine unites the entire family, and she hopes that it will continue to do so for future generations. Although she states that she “still can’t spoil” or reveal the label, she did say that it will include numerous familial elements and that “an animal I particularly love will become the symbol of the company.”
The oenologist echoed Barbara by reiterating that an agricultural company is typically family-run, and he went on to explain that an oenologist’s role includes advising the family on how to farm the vines. Put more eloquently, the oenologist described himself as “the first interpreter of the vision of the family, which needs to be shared for the project to be carried out in the best way.” Regarding Campione, he “immediately fell in love with the land” and “with the people, who exuded their passion for those territories.” He went on to explain his goal of creating “a wine that is an expression of the land of which it is born” that will ultimately “bring to the glass the passion and enthusiasm of the people.”
Immersing myself in this little piece of heaven, the passion and dedication with which it is cared for was tangible. Hidden in fairytale greenery, Campione will surely be a project to keep an eye on. The special attention given to environmental sustainability, mixed with the intimacy that only a family-run endeavor can have, will undoubtedly produce a unique and delicious wine.
Edited by Trisha D. Gupta, Co-Food and Drink Editor