Giuseppe Quintarelli, one of Valpolicella's most legendary winemakers, died Jan. 15 at age 84, according to his grandson Francesco. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for several years. "Quintarelli was the guru of Valpolicella," said Romano Dal Forno, who studied under Quintarelli while starting his own winery. "He was an example, especially in those years where quality was not the main concern of winemakers in general."
Working at his family's estate near Negrar in the heart of Valpolicella, Quinterelli produced long-lived Amarones, Valpolicellas and several other great wines with artisanal methods. A deeply religious man, he believed in patience, diligence and the pursuit of perfection in the vineyard and the cellars. "The secret of my wine? I follow my rules, I do not run behind the fashions," he once told an Italian journalist. "You must have rules, but also update without abandoning traditions." He was an innovator, planting the first Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the appellation, bottling them in a blend called Alzero. He also produced a white wine, a blend of Garganega and other grapes.
Quintarelli was born March 19, 1927. His father, Silvio, was a former mezzadro, a grape sharecropper, who had established his own winery in 1924 in the small hamlet of Cerè near the village of Negrar. "Bepi," as Giuseppe was known, began working in the vineyards as a young man and eventually took over the winery and its vineyards located on the hillsides of Monte Ca' Paletta.
In the cellars, he experimented with new techniques, aging more of the wine in large oak casks, or botti. He also instituted very strict selection for his Amarones. He only made Amarone in ideal vintages and only the best grapes went into the Amarone. He dried the grapes for weeks on straw mats, then fermented them and transferred the wine to botti, where they usually aged for five years or more. His Amarones had intense richness and complexity, which he credited to his strict grape selection.
The quality reputation of his wines, with their hand-drawn labels, spread, and Quintarelli began exporting to New York in the 1970s. In the early '80s he expanded his vineyard holdings and tried planting new grapes, including Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, which were added to his Valpolicella in small quantities. Alzero debuted in 1982.
Because of his small production and the high prices of his wines, Quintarelli developed an almost mythical reputation. But friends say he was humble, friendly and humorous, while also deeply spiritual. "I really loved his humility and simplicity," Dal Forno told Wine Spectator. "It was part of his character obviously, but I also think it came from the job itself. Wine is such a complex element that it teaches you to call into question whatever you do." Quintarelli is survived by his wife, Franca, four daughters and several grandchildren. As Quintarelli became sick in recent years, his daughter Fiorenza, with the help of her husband, Giampaolo Grigoli, and their children Francesco and Lorenzo, took over day-to-day operations of the winery.