The Dal Forno family had long owned vines in Valpolicella, in Illasi – on the eastern side of the historical Classico zone. The fruit had, however, always been sold to the local co-op. In 1983, discouraged by the lowly prices his family received for their grapes, Romano Dal Forno decided to start making his own wine.
He went to visit the already famous winemaker Giuseppe Quintarelli, who offered the young upstart encouragement in his venture. Despite his father’s and the locals’ dismissal of his ambition, he – with the help of his wife Loretta – set about crafting the best wines possible.
With no prior experience, he learnt everything as he went along. In a constant pursuit of perfection, he built a state-of-the-art winery (completed in 2008), developing his own vacuum-pressured tanks, inventing new technology for extraction – all to better his wines. He replaced Molinara in blends with Croatina and Orseleta – the former for its complex sugars and intensity of flavor, the latter for colour, tannin and acidity. His reputation grew in an astonishingly short time.
The wines were – at first – made in imitation of Quintarelli, with even the Dal Forno labels bearing a a looping script not dissimilar to Quintarelli’s. Today, however, the wines stand on their own reputation, considered on a par with Quintarelli’s, rivalling them in both prestige and price. The wines are some of the deepest, densest, most concentrated and age-worthy expressions of the region, yet they bear a freshness and finesse that is remarkable for wines of this stature.
Today Michele, Luca and Marco – Romano’s sons – are all involved, gradually taking over in the vineyards and winery. The focus is constantly on striving for greatness, implementing exacting standards and pushing to see how they can make the wines even better.
Dal Forno is based in Illasi, to the east of the heart of the Classico zone – a reason that the locals thought Romano was foolish to attempt to make wine. The quality here has been proven. His vines are planted at particularly high densities – up to 12,800 plants per hectare. Everything is focused on pushing yields down and concentration up, with green harvesting an essential element. The family recently purchased more land to expand production.
The vineyards are made up of Corvina, with smaller percentages of Rondinella, Croatina and Oseleta. The family doesn’t have any plantings of Molinara, a grape which Romano – against convention – banned from their wines.
While not necessary according to the appellation rules, Dal Forno Romano works exclusively with grapes that are dried to varying degrees. For his Valpolicella, the fruit is dried for a month and a half; three months for the Amarone.
The “appassimento” – drying of the fruit – takes place in two huge drying rooms, with moveable fans that work 24/7 and windows – all of which are computer-controlled, although they’re programmed with a certain randomness to mimic nature. The grapes are sorted once prior to drying, and once again afterwards.
The fruit is pressed, fermented under temperature control and then punched down by pistons, specially designed by Romano Dal Forno for maximum extraction with maximum softness. While some of the region’s wines have residual sugar, his Valpolicella and Amarone are fermented to dryness.
The stainless steel tanks used at the winery are patented, with the wine kept under vacuum pressure between fermentation and barrel-ageing, and again between blending and bottling, all to avoid oxidation of the wines, and avoid any volatile acidity, something that is often a trait of Amarone. A bespoke – and also Romano-designed – automated cleaning system allows them to use nothing but hot air and steam to clean the tanks.
All the wines spend two years in new French oak, then four further years in bottle prior to release.