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Leonildo Pieropan died on 13 April 2018, aged 71. Nino, as he was known by everyone, died at home in Soave, surrounded by his family. This is fitting, for the wine Soave and his family were his two great passions during his life.
The Pieropan estate was established in 1880 by his grandfather, Leonildo, who had two sons, Fausto (Nino’s father) and Gustavo. Fausto moved to Verona when he married late in life, so Nino was raised in the city but frequently visited his uncle in Soave, where he developed a passion for the vine and the wine. He studied at the oenological school in Conegliano, graduating in 1966, and took over the running of the family estate in 1967.
Despite the fact that the Pieropan estate was the first to bottle a wine with the name ‘Soave’ (in 1932), the DOC for Soave did not come into effect until 1 November 1968. Perhaps spurred on by a DOC law that put quantity over quality, Nino set out to prove to the world that his beloved Soave could produce wines of outstanding longevity.
A walk through the vineyards with Nino was always educational, as he would explain in detail why the vines were trained the way they were and why he picked when he did. The clarity of his thought was the result of years of observation, experimentation and reflection. His first bold experiment was to bottle the 1971 vintage from the Calvarino vineyard (purchased by his grandfather in 1901) as a single vineyard Soave Classico. This was at a time when most Soave was being sold was in 2 litre bottles, primarily to the North American market. Urged by the great Luigi Veronelli to take the high road of quality (Veronelli also persuaded Piero Antinori to make Tignanello as a vino da tavola), Nino started to prove, with that wine, that the best wines of Soave could age beautifully and could, in the right hands, be considered among Italy’s finest white wines.
Emboldened by his success with Calvarino, Nino bought the La Rocca vineyard, one of Soave’s few limestone outcrops, and made it as a single vineyard in 1978. It is made solely with Garganega and has come to be recognised as one of Italy’s outstanding white wine.
The estate has evolved significantly since I first tasted and started selling the wines in 1983. When Nino’s two sons, Andrea and Dario, joined him and his wife Teresita in the business, they finally had enough people to manage more land and make more wine. In 2002, they bought land in Tregnago in the neighbouring Val d’Illasi to plant red grapes and make Valpolicella. Once again, Nino followed his own path rather than be swayed by the then fashion for big and beefy wines. His characteristic style – fragrant and elegant – is now once again in vogue, but the Pieropan wines have been like that since the outset.
The biggest reason for the estate’s successful evolution was Nino as a father and a teacher. His son Andrea said today: “For me, as well as being a great father he was also an extraordinary man, an open book from which I learned everything, and which I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”
That is the greatest legacy a person can leave.
- By David Gleave MW