Stefano Inama laughs out loud at the idea of “natural yeast.”
“I don’t believe in so-called natural yeast,” Inama says. “I’m a biotechnologist and I can tell you people don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The results are distinctive. “Inama makes some of the richest whites in Veneto readers are likely to come across,” Antonio Galloni wrote for the Wine Advocate in 2009.Inama is a man of strong opinions, and that has helped him become one of the leading vintners in Italy’s Soave Classico region. He sounds like a California vintner in many ways: he believes in getting grapes very ripe and using cultured yeast but, at the same time, he says: “We try to preserve the character of the fruit by minimizing intervention.”
California thinking did affect Inama’s wines. Stefano attended enology classes at UC Davis on the side, while still in the biotech business in the early 1990s. But Inama wines wouldn’t be what they are without the vineyards he inherited from his father Giuseppe, an enologist in the bulk wine industry, who opportunistically bought some great vineyards in the center of the Soave Classico region.
“In the ’60s, Soave had three years of hail in a row. It destroyed everything,” says Stefano’s son Matteo Inama, who now oversees those vineyards. “People were escaping. My granddad bought then.”
But Giuseppe Inama didn’t make the vineyards, or his own name, famous. He fermented the grapes from them and sold the wine in bulk to wineries that would blend it with flavorless, watery wines from overcropped vineyards in the flatlands. His biggest client was Anselmi, at the time a bulk Soave producer, where he was the enologist. Maybe Giuseppe Inama was making great single-vineyard wines, but nobody really knows.
It took a violent incident at Anselmi, where Roberto Anselmi smashed up some desks at the office, to get Giuseppe Inama to leave that 15-million-bottle-a-year business and strike out on his own. But Giuseppe still didn’t have the vision of Soave Classico that his son Stefano now realizes.
© Inama; Greg Gorman |
Stefano Inama’s wines are unmistakable; they are often the fleshiest in a region known for stark acidity.
“Inama’s regular (Soave Classico) bottling is a very simple wine that I would drain as an aperitif,” says Umberto Gibin, proprietor of Perbacco restaurant in San Francisco. “When you go into the single vineyard wines, it’s a little more serious. I think the Foscarino is really a fantastic wine. It has more depth. They’re aged in old barriques that give it a nice rounded mouthfeel, and you don’t taste the oak.”
Ripeness is the key. Inama lets his Garganega grapes hang on the vine sometimes for weeks longer than others. The result is a richer, fruitier Soave Classico that is gentler on the palate.
“There is a big mistake people make in talking about freshness,” says Matteo Inama. “They say: ‘I want a fresh wine.’ We want a complete wine. Garganega is not a very high-acid grape. If you want a Soave with high acidity, you have to pick too early and the wine is not complete. It’s as if you wasted the work you did all year. Our wines are round and expressive.”
Inama is best known for its white wines, but it also makes even more unique reds. Most vintners in Soave who make a red wine make Amarone; the regions of Soave and Valpolicella have a small intersection, and the ancient city of Verona is a good place to try both.
“I’ve never been an Amarone fan,” Stefano Inama says.
He discovered an anomaly in grape identification. Most of the vines called Cabernet Franc in the Venetoregion, indeed in much of Northern Italy, are actually Carmenere. Inama tried some Carmenere and liked its lighter-tannin, herbaceous, fruity profile. He also liked the fact that almost nobody in Italy calls their grapes Carmenere because they’re not required to do so if their vines were originally legally registered as Cabernet Franc.
“I’m the only one making premium Carmenere,” he says.
He also started a joint project, Binomio, to make Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with Fattoria La Valentina. These wines are also noticeably riper and fleshier than most wines from that region.
“It’s an experiment. It’s like art,” Matteo Inama says. “If you do things just for business, the richness of your life goes down. We decided not to do Pinot Grigio, not to do Prosecco. We had some pressure from the market to do these, but instead we do Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.”
© Inama |
It’s almost a five-hour drive from Inama’s winery in Soave to Abruzzo, but Matteo Inama says: “It’s a pleasure because you leave this Italy and visit an Italy that doesn’t exist here anymore. It’s where southern Italy starts. Everything is slower. For good and bad, nothing is changing. The food is better. The food is just mindblowing. You can try to go there for three days and ask people to get a few things done, and you come back three months later and they’re still working on it. So it’s good and bad. But my father and I love going there.”
The Abruzzo project fits in with Stefano Inama’s original reason for getting into the wine business. He was successful in biotech, and one of the products he helped market was enzymes for wine.
“I started to make the first bottle of wine for fun,” he says.
By the mid-’90s he was hooked, and he took over for his father to finally give a wine family a name on the label. It’s one of the most distinctive names in Soave: a wine you can pick out from a blind tasting. Stefano Inama started with family vineyards, and has created a family legacy.