Sparkling wine from the Depths

Pierluigi Lugano approached wine growing and producing in 1978, after an experience in a completely different field. Until then he was a drawing and history of art teacher, when alongside with his wife decided to start a commercial activity and take over a wine shop at Chiavari. So, he began to buy small parcels of grapes from the farmers who worked in the surrounding area and make wine in his winery, with a special attention for restoring and developing some autochthonous vines which by that time were near to their extinction. Then, he decided to plant his own vines, in order to realize a full control of quality process for his wines. Today, Società Agricola Vini Bisson has at its disposal 10 hectares of vineyard in production, while 3 more hectares will be productive within next year. All of them face the sea, in the farms of Trigoso (Sestri Levante), Campegli (Castiglione Chiavarese), Riomaggiore. He produces a wide range of white, red, rosé wines. In managing his society, Pierluigi is supported by his daughter Marta, responsible of management, business relationships, and administration. Pierluigi tells: «I produced my first wine when I was 5 years old. Maybe this was a sign of destiny. I helped one of my classmates in gathering grapes and his family gave me a beautiful basket of grapes. I came back home, but my parents were not there. So, I began to imitate everything I had seen that was done after the gathering, using a capacious pot in glass for preserves in order to press the grapes. Then, day by day, I continued to copy the processes which I saw in my friend’s cellar, until my first wine was ready!».

Pierluigi Lugano with his daughter Marta

If wine was Pierluigi’s first love, his sparkling wine Abissi is his jewel. «I began to try to produce sparkling wine many years ago. I have always been charmed in observing how by means of the production process of sparkling wine, a wine becomes a product with a completely different identity. I was encouraged by the results I got and therefore decided to start a production, but I found a serious hindrance, because I had not any winery with the suitable conditions of both temperature and light for an ideal ageing of sparkling wine. So, I began to look for the right solution and finally found it in the world of sea, my other big passion. I thought to the ancient wrecks that often contained perfectly preserved alimentary products and wine, too, whose organoleptic characteristics were intact, and wondered: why could I not realize a submerged cellar? I was able to get the permission by the controlling bodies, respecting of course many precautionary measures, and so I realized the project ‘Abissi (in English, ‘Depths’)’, which became the symbol of our Company».

A special ageing

The wine which is used for this production is obtained by pressing grapes that are gathered in the ideal conditions for giving a base for sparkling wine. Therefore, it is an early gathering in comparison with the traditional grape harvest. After a first stage of alcoholic fermentation, we go ahead with the second stage, the so-called draught, when yeasts and sugar are added in order to realize a second fermentation of sparkling wine. After bottling, the wine is sealed with a typical crown closure, using a stainless steel cap.

When the second fermentation is finished, as soon as the meteorological situation allows it, the bottles are placed in big cages which contain about 500 elements that are then lowered at Cala degli Inglesi, in the heart of Parco Marino di Portofino, at a depth of 70 metres, where they find a steady temperature of 15°C, half-light, an ideal back pressure between interior and exterior of the bottle that fosters a very elegant foam. In addition, the bottles, as they are situated on the open sea during the big sea storms, are subjected to a light shaking, similar to the traditional ‘remuage’. The ageing lasts about 13-14 months. In 2007 the first production of sparkling wine ‘Abissi’ was of about 6,500 bottles, which this year became 15,000. In addition, in 2013 Bisson proposed also a ‘reserve 30 months’ sparkling wine as well as a rosé version. The operations of deposition and recovery of the chests are very delicate and involve some operational risks, too. They are carried out by professional frogmen who refer to a company of Genoa specialized in underwater works.

A packaging directly created by the sea

When the bottles resurface, they are enriched with incrustations, seaweeds, sometimes shellfishes, little fishes, and starfishes, too, are trapped. Just for this reason, every bottle is unique: no one is identical to another one. In order to preserve this originality, this unbelievable patrimony, Bisson designed a special system: when the bottles are recovered, they are dried and then covered with a transparent film for foods, which keeps the incrustations visible, but meets all the hygienic and sanitary requirements. This uniqueness, this mixture between man’s and nature’s work, in this situation carried out by the sea, are much appreciated by the consumers, who are emotionally involved in this process.

A sailing vineyard

The products of Società Agricola Vini Bisson are on sale by the homonymous wine shop at Chiavari and are distributed in the whole country. For the international market, the Company makes use of a network of importers for both wines and sparkling wine and is present with its products mainly in the USA, Dubai, Japan, and Russia. Behind the wine shop there is the winery, which is not able to meet any more the organizational requirements and spaces the Company needs. Pierluigi explains: «We are planning to realize a company centre, with a new winery, adjacent the vineyard at Sestri Levante. In addition, I am working to a new project, too, that at the same time allows meeting my passion for both country and sea: it consists in leading the vineyard to the sea. It is an ambitious idea, which requires an exceptional investment, too, but if I find a big aircraft carrier no more in use, I could create a sailing vineyard! This is a technically feasible project, which has already been verified by some agronomists who analysed what might be necessary in order to create this big land. Of course, the combination of soil, climate and location for wine-growing (the so called 'terroir') would be the one of Liguria».

The wines produced by Bisson

In the farms of Trigoso (Sestri Levante) and Campegli (Castiglione Chiavarese), Pierluigi Lugano grows the typical vines of Levante Ligure (Vermentino, Bianchetta, and Ciliegiolo), from which the grapes for producing the homonymous wines come to maturity. With the grapes Vermentino and Bianchetta, carefully selected and withered, he gets a limited number of bottles of sweet raisin wines. From the grapes Dolcetto and Barbera, which have been present in Liguria since 1700, he produces Musaico, a red wine with a marked personality. In the terracings overhanging the sea at Riomaggiore, he cultivates with ancient manual practices the vines Bosco, Vermentino, and Albarola, from which the typical wine of ‘5 Terre’, Marea, is born. With a careful selection and withering on trellis of the same grapes, a very limited number of bottles of the raisin wine Sciaccherà are obtained. The products offered by Bisson are: Acinari Passito, Bianchetta U Pastine, Ciliegiolo Rubino, Ciliegiolo, Cinque Terre, Granaccia, Granaccia Passito, Granaccia Barrique, Pigato, Musaico, Musaico Barrique, Caratello Passito, Moscato Passito, Sciacchetrà Passito, Bianco ‘Tre Vigne’, Cimixià ‘L’Antico’, Vermentino Intrigoso, Vermentino Vignerta, and Spirits.

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