Soave – A masterclass in pioneering classicism

It is a rather unique experience to climb up Monte Calvarina, Soave’s highest peak, and experience the gradual and minute changes in soil profile, temperature, humidity and vegetation. The smells of herbs and wildflowers change at each turn of the road, as do the fascinating views over different aspects of the hills and valleys of Soave. Each panorama is a precious snippet of viticultural knowledge – few wine regions provide such a rich geological and cultural journey within the perimeter of but a fraction of its full expanse.

Exploring the Soave DOC is indeed a living lesson through millennia of geological changes, and centuries of cultural and oenological history. It is also an exploration of how humanity can evolve as a true physical and spiritual part of nature, chiselling the landscape while adapting and paying tribute to it – something that the stone walls and ‘capitelli’ (small niches featuring religious figures, dotted around Soave’s roads and fields) are a beautiful reminder of.

View of castle in Soave region

Geological dance

Although hard to imagine, 40 million years ago the Soave region, as almost all of northern Italy, was covered by a tropical sea. Tectonic movements and, most importantly, volcanic activity, reshaped the topography and geology of the area to create a complex landscape of limestone-based terroirs (some of which can be traced back to the time of marine submersion) layered with strata of volcanic origin. Broadly speaking, the region is divided in two main geological areas, sectioned by the Castelvetro fault.

This fracture has led to the exposure of different layers on each side, resulting in a predominance of limestone soils to the east and volcanic rocks (basalts and tuffs) to the west. A true understanding of Soave’s geology requires, however, the consideration of other variables: altitude, waterways and erosion have caused the differential exposure of layers and sediment deposition on the valley floors. As such, the limestone and volcanic plains are significantly different from their hilly counterparts.

Ultimately, this creates an intricate and fascinating mosaic of geological profiles which shape a matrix of terroirs of unparalleled complexity, in turn delivering grapes and wines with very different character. Volcanic and east-facing terroirs generally produce steelier wines with a more vertical structure, while limestone and west-facing plots, exposed to the warmer afternoon sun, tend to yield richer, more forward wines. Even within each municipality, terroir diversity is gripping. Because of this granularity, 33 different UGAs (Unitá Geografiche Aggiuntive) were created – based on soil profile, microclimate, altitude and aspect – effectively naming the ‘crus’ of Soave. In official use since 2019, these cover 38% of the total area under vine and represent all of the region’s soil types.

Natural and human balance

If nature and time conspired to create a particularly interesting landscape, men would shape it, taming the challenging slopes (with gradients of up to 80%). Today, the dry stone walls and terraces are an equally important part of Soave’s natural identity; more than mere human constructions, they play a key role in the preservation of the region’s systemic balance and biodiversity by avoiding erosion, preserving soil structure, harbouring insects, and supporting the growth of diverse flora.

The latter is a particularly important factor in the balanced maturation of the grapes and in Soave’s vocation for sustainable practices; olive trees, cherry trees, indigenous herbs, shrubs and woodland grow alongside the vines, moderating temperatures, improving the microbiological health of the soils and sheltering beneficial wildlife that reduces disease pressure by warding off pests. The traditional vine training method, on the other hand, is not only an impactful feature of the scenery, but also has functional importance – especially in the face of climate change.

The pergola veronese,…

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