The Cobellis, Champagne people.

Initially, not many people replied to our first pilot e-mails with which we aimed to spread the word on the existence of Imperial Wines. It wasn’t a surprise, for we were the first not to expect particular enthusiasm. After all, what people on our contact list had found inside their mail-box was the message from two unknown strangers, advertising an experimental project on oenological culture to be carried out on a Mittel-European dimension.

Who would make such a thing his priority?

Anyway, precisely because of our low expectations, a sentiment of deep, uncompromised gratitude welcomed the replies of the daring few who, in total autonomy, decided to answer our call, and in doing so acknowledged de facto our existence.

Among these few, there were the Cobelli brothers.

“Good project”, they wrote to us, before adding wisely “now, please.. explain us who exactly you people are..”.

As it often happens with Imperial Wines, the occasion to make the Cobelli’s acquaintance took a while to materialize. Eventually, when it occurred, it was fruitful.

The opportunity to meet them was brought to us by Trento’s winemakers exposition. Among many notorious faces and labels, we suddenly noticed a small table reserved to the Eredi di Cobelli Aldo (‘Heirs of Cobelli Aldo’). As we moved closer, Tiziano received us with an affable and yet serious smile, so typical of people from our countryside. Their very being at the expo was all about two wines – the Gess (Gewürztraminer) and the Grill (Teroldego) -, plenty of competence, and an abundance of courage. We chatted briefly, and it was clear that the conversation called for a follow-up..

One month later. We are standing in front of the Cobelli winery’s entrance door, on the northern hills overlooking Lavis, between the villages of Pressano and Sorni. A hidden spot, famous for breeding first-class wines and winemakers, as we have reported on many occasions.

Devis – whom we had contacted previously – is waiting for us on the cellar’s entrance: Tiziano has got married not a week before our visit, which kind of justifies him for not being with us on this day.

Devis, on his part, immediately tries to structure our visit:

Campi, cantina di vinificazione, caneva fonda. Va bene?” (“Fields, vinification cellar, underground wine cave. Alright?) A schedule built according to logic. We warmly accept.

Cobelli’s vines are just like the slogan from that famous telephone company: ‘Everywhere around you’, and the vineyard’s overlooking spot (the ‘belvedere’, as Devis has proudly renamed it), has been carved out of nothing less than the ‘busa de la grasa’ (local dialect for ‘manure pile’).

“Our goal is to recover everything connected to our family and the Maso (high-altitude Alpine cottage used by farmers during the summer pasture).

The recent history of the Cobelli family has been marked by a tragedy. The death of their father in 2005, represented a turning point in the lives of the two older sons, Devis (an agronomist, the eldest) and Tiziano (still studying to become an oenologist at the San Michele Agronomy Institute). After the event, Devis and Tiziano quietly decided to take charge of the family winery. And things changed.

There was too much talent and too much courage running in the family to dedicate the entire 7 hectares of their property to the mere production of uve da conferimento (grapes grown to be sold to other wine-producer). Firstly, they hired two employees on a full-time, non-temporary basis. So it was that the Cobelli brothers hired two employees on a full-time, non-temporary basis, and went all in for a new adventure: producing their own wine, and selling it with their own label.

“Heirs of Cobelli Aldo.. because from now on, our property shall not be divided.”

The rule was sealed in the winery’s statute. As precautions go, considering the passion we witnessed, this does not seem all too necessary,

Devis, on top of the belvedere-manure pile, looks like a captain on a ship’s deck. The vines stretch out on the fields below us. Devis points at them, waving a hand in the air.

“Right here underneath are the Traminer vines, more than 40 years old. Over there you see the Teroldego. I don’t mean no offence, but this area right here, this is where the original Teroldego cultures were, before it started to be grown all over the valley. Not that it matters too much, but think that nowadays we’re out of the D.O.C. (‘Controlled Designation of Origin’, the Italian scheme of geographical indication ensuring that only products genuinely originating in a certain region are allowed to be identified as such in commerce).”

Teroldego and Traminer, these are the two wines that the brothers have begun to produce: 4.000 bottles in total. Sold out every time, ever since their first vintage in 2008.

“At this stage, we mean to start focusing on the Nosiola: we have two vineyards with plants that are about 15 to 20 years old, and we are thinking of grafting Nosiola onto these rootstocks. Yet, can you imagine we’re having troubles even finding the barbatelle (the young vine-tree that is grafted onto the older rootstock)?”

We skip to action. The vintage 2011’s  Prova da botte (tasting barrel) appears in the middle of the belvedere. Moments later, it’s the turn of Chardonnay.

“We believe in Chardonnay, you know… although it also scares my tail off”, he jokes.

The reason for that is sson explained. The valley stretching all around the Maso Panizza locality is characterized by a peculiar type of chalky soil, unique in Trentino:

“400 metres of chalk, a white vein right in the middle of these hills’ red soils.”

The presence of this sedimentary rock has never been a secret in Trentino. A few hundred metres below Maso Panizza, a chalk cave was active for decades. And yet, nobody quite like the Cobellis had ever connected the dots before: Chalky soil + Chardonnay… what if something decent could come out of a combination like that?

Since 2009, Devis and Tiziano have started sparkling 2.000 bottles of Chardonnay per year, a varietal representing about 40% of their winery’s annual output. The brothers are perfectly aware of the immense potential of what they’ve started.

“Why sparkling wine? Obviously not because it’s fashionable.. A great deal of responsability we actually place it on our moustache-wearing mentor” one of them people, of course.. those that hardly ever get it wrong..

“When it comes to this spumante, Tiziano is so focused on reaching his goal: 48 months, zero dosage, one-hundred-per-cent terroir, climate/soil/man/vines, one-hundred-per-cent Cobelli’s”

Certain concepts sound trivial, when expressed in a written form. Yet, they aren’t, especially in our Trentino, so severely damaged by rush, carelessness, and the absence of entrepreneurial courage.

The family house hosts the production cellar, a small barricaia (barrique store), and the tasting room. Intelligent and careful works of renovation have inflated new like into these old spaces.

On seeing all this, the question comes to our mind: who did the Cobelli’s father make wine for?

“For the souls”, Devis smiles.

“He’d set shop on the rock right outside the house, on the margin of the street. I swear to you, not many people would drive by without stopping..”

There’s no rhetoric in Devis’ words: just deep awareness of how important knowing what you hold inside actually is.

“Dwarves on the shoulders of giants”, in the words of Bernardo of Chartres.

Well perched they are for sure, the Heirs of Cobelli Aldo. From their position, one can certainly see more, and farther, than most.

As it often happens, I find it hard to summarize the last stage of our visit: the caneva fonda (‘underground wine cave’). The pages in my notebook become whiter and whiter. Below numerous scribbles and meaningless words, I can discern a sentence I must have noted down: ‘i Cobelli, gente di Sciampagn’ (‘the Cobellis: Champagne people’).

Well after midnight, we issued out, from there, to see, again, the stars.


Maso Panizza di Sopra, Strada del Vino 22, loc. Sorni di Lavis (TN).

Tel. +39 0461 870289.