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Bernardo Barberani, 34, and his brother Niccolò, 27, work for their family’s 50-year-old winemaking business near Orvieto, central Italy, where Bernardo is the sales manager and Niccolò the winemaker. Bernardo divides his time between an apartment in Orvieto and their vineyard overlooking Lago di Corbara.
Where were you born?
On the square of Orvieto, where my mum has a wine shop in front of the famous “golden” cathedral. Until I went to school at six I was playing in the square with the other children. The shops around were like our kindergarten.
How was it when you left home?
It was very difficult at first. I went to study economics in Milan. I confess that at the beginning I was coming back to Orvieto almost every weekend – five hours by train. For two years I lived in a church-supervised dormitory in Milan. It was the contract I signed with my mother before I left. Later I rented an apartment in the old part of the city where all the artists and fashion designers lived. That was a very nice experience. From Milan I went to Los Angeles for six months, which was easier for me because of the weather and the sea. Every day I’d wake up very early and do a little surfing and then go to lessons. Also my family have been exporting our wines to California since the 1970s, so we have very good friends there.
Where is your favourite home?
My grandfather’s house in the country: this is the heart of the Barberani family. It is an 18th-century stone farmhouse, country-style, with wooden beams. The house is next door to our modern winery. It’s on our estate to the east of Orvieto, close to the village of Civitella del Lago, where my grandfather was born.
Do you live at the winery?
My brother lives there full-time and I divide my time between my apartment in Orvieto and the country house. When we were small we used to stay in the house all summer until the harvest in October. Now during the harvest the whole family comes to take part. We sleep here so that we can wake up in the morning, go to the fields and taste the grapes to see which is the right kind to harvest on that day.
Has the house changed much since your grandfather’s time?
It was always a farmhouse. The outer walls are exactly the same but we have made some changes inside. Next door there are another two houses made of stone. They were falling to pieces so we decided to refurbish them. In this area it is easy to find people who are very experienced in working with stone in the traditional way. We made 10 apartments very similar to my grandfather’s house. We rent them out and we use them for our guests, importers who come and visit us. When I left Milan my friends said: “How can you go back to the countryside? We’re going to live here and earn a fortune.” Now they come and visit me all the time – they want to escape Milan and they go crazy when they come here and see this.
Do you have a favourite room?
My grandfather converted the rooms on the ground floor, where the farmer used to keep his animals, into a wine cellar. We have taken out the walls and made it into our tasting room. There is a long table where we gather for family parties and when friends visit. My brother grills wild meats in the fireplace. There are big windows that open on to the terrace and look down to the Lago di Corbara.
Why do you love it?
The view is unbelievable. Every time of year has a different colour besides being very green because we are the green heart of Italy. From here you can see the place where we were born – Orvieto and the cathedral – even though it is 10km away. I think creating Lago di Corbara is one of the few changes man did to nature that has really improved the landscape and the quality of the life around here. Damming the Tiber River gives not only electricity but also a lot of water to the area – the perfect humidity for growing grapes.
What kind of grapes do you grow?
We have replanted almost all of my grandfather’s grapes so we can focus on quality. We kept the same traditional varieties of indigenous grapes because, although we think you can do a great Chardonnay in many places, you can only do Orvieto wine in Orvieto; and we are very proud to bring the Orvieto name around the world. We have a passion for our area. Wine in Orvieto has been famous since the Etruscan time. In the contracts of the architects and painters who worked to build the cathedral of Orvieto it was mandatory to receive not only money but also wine.
Are you Etruscan or Italian?
Our lives are a paradigm with the Etruscans. They selected this area for its clay and rocky soil and the climate, which is never too cold or too warm. We are proud to keep making the wine in the traditional and ecological way of the Etruscans.
What is your favourite wine?
Our Calcaia. It has always been our business card. It is a very special wine because of the noble rot. We are very lucky to be in a place where it grows spontaneously – there are only a few places in the world, such as Sauternes in France, where this happens. It is an Orvieto classic wine. The Calcaia is an expression of the great job my brother does as winemaker, it’s a fabulous wine. In medieval times they liked sweet wine but the Pope, who had a summer house in Orvieto, said that sweetness in wine was a sin. So the wine started to taste like the dry wine we drink with our meals today. But, as good sinners, my brother and I have started to produce sweet wine again.
MY FAVOURITE THINGS: Wine, cooking and song
What fascinates me is creativity and Leonardo da Vinci had one of the most interesting personalities in the world ever. In Milan I used to spend hours just looking at Leonardo’s “Last Supper” (pictured right).
I’m lucky because my job gives me the opportunity to meet people and see a lot of places. Travel gives you optimism and new ideas when you come back.
I love good design, such as Apple computers and German cars. We have a BMW and a Porsche – they have to be small because the roads in Orvieto are so narrow.
My brother and I both love to cook – I specialise in fish, such as pasta with shrimps. I don’t judge the quality of the food in my friends’ houses, I judge the passion they put into doing something special for you.
My brother plays the guitar and I play the piano – we love music. Music helps communication, like food and wine.
We have a collection of wine – old Barberani vintages – which is very important for the memories, and of other wines too. If you only drink your own wines you never learn anything and you lose a point of view.