Marica Bonomo wanted to be a lawyer, but I am not certain that she would have succeeded. For one thing she answers questions briefly, honestly and directly when we meet for coffee in Dublin’s Westbury Hotel.
‘Yes- I work in a man’s wine world’, she admits. ‘But it is a world that is changing. The older generation is passing on and a new generation of wine professionals is taking over- even in Italy. To us it is not a matter of gentleman or lady. It is a matter of professionalism.’
She studied law at University, but enjoyed working on the family vineyards with her parents. ‘One day my father-in-law looked into my eyes and told me that I would have to choose one thing. I chose a life in wine’, she says.
Brothers Eligio and Claudio Bonomo established Monte del Fra in 1958. They were fruit farmers who also grew some vines, but as their business developed they concentrated more on the vineyards, building their holding to 118 ha. ‘Monte del Fra was originally a Church vineyard before it was closed down by Napoleon’, says Marica. ‘It is steeped in history and in the tradition of wine-making.’ The family has developed the vineyards with a deep appreciation of the contribution of local ‘terroir’ to the wines. ‘Our wines are made in the vineyard’, says Marica. They take great care with training the vines in a system that produces a maximum of 2-3kg per plant and they have invested in a drop irrigation system which enables the vines to be constantly watered throughout the growing period. Similar care is taken in the winery with accurate temperature controls during pressing and fermentation and a classical ageing system.
When Marica joined the company, its wines were sold primarily on the Italian market, but over the past ten years she has successfully developed export markets in 36 countries, including Ireland. ‘Exports accounted for 35% of production last year and our target for 2009 is 40%. I would like to see us achieve 50% eventually’, she says. Her prime markets are in Scandinavia, The Netherlands and Switzerland and she says that sales to Germany are growing rapidly.’
‘Of course with the economic situation business is now more difficult than in the past, but we are still achieving growth in export sales’, she says. The most successful wines on export markets are the Valpolicellas- a Classico DOC, Superiore Classico and a Superiore Classico Ripasso. The Amarone della Valpolicella sells well in upscale restaurants and a Soave is also on the export list.
‘Our wines are made traditionally, according to DOC and DOCG rules’, says Marica. ‘These rules can constrain winemakers who want to experiment, but they also preserve the essence of the appellation and the use of Italian grapes’, she says. ‘In many markets we find competition from New World wines but we believe that our Italian wines are more complex and appeal to consumers who appreciate this complexity.’
Restaurants and specialist wine shops are the principal outlets for her wines, ‘You will not find them in supermarkets.’ The bottles are also sealed with Italian cork. ‘We are certainly looking at screwcap for our entry level wines, but we believe that our customers and the sommeliers still want the romance of uncorking a bottle in the restaurant.’
And working in a man’s world ?
‘It is changing’, says Marica, who is a member of Donne del Vino, a club of female Italian winemakers. ‘When I first worked in our winery a decade ago and asked a male employee who had been with us for some 30 years to undertake a task, he just looked at this young lady with astonishment. I had to use some plain language to make him understand that I was part of the winery team. That day is past and there will be many more professional women working in the industry in the future’, she says.
And with that she was off to conduct a tutored master class of her wine and possibly indulge in another great interest which she shares with the Irish- golf.