As Paolo Bosoni tells it, he was born in a Vermentino vineyard overlooking northwest Italy’s Ligurian coast during the 1946 harvest.
“My mother was bringing lunch for the harvesters when her water broke,” he says. The birth was complicated: His umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck in the womb. “When the doctor arrived, I was blue, and he told my mother, ‘This baby will never be normal.’”
The infant Bosoni quickly recovered and grew into a strapping youth who took the location of his birth as a sign of his destiny—to work in the vineyards.
At 13 years old, Bosoni's plan for the future was given a boost by heartbreak, after he proposed marriage to his first love—a local schoolgirl.
“It was pure love,” he says, a boyish smile creasing his weathered face, accented by his white mustache. “We were engaged, but she broke up with me because I was a contadino [peasant]. Nobody wanted to marry a contadino. She wanted a future.”
Bosoni says that incident drove him “to do something with my life—to be someone.”
Today, at 70, Bosoni is very much somebody—regarded, among Italy’s star winemakers, as the maestro of Vermentino. In the 50 years since he took over his family farm, he has built Cantine Lunae Bosoni into the area’s leading quality producer, making close to 42,000 cases, including other whites, reds, rosé, sparklers and a sweet wine.
His flagship white, the Vermentino Colli di Luni-Liguria Black Label is lush, fresh and mineral-driven. In Wine Spectator tastings, the last two vintages, 2013 and 2014 (both $40), scored 92 points and 91 points, respectively—topping Vermentinos from Sardinia, the grape’s other historic home, as well as from new plantings in the coastal Bolgheri region.
“Now everybody is planting Vermentino—even the Tuscans,” says Bosoni. “But the elegance of Vermentino from Liguria is unique.”
From the eastern end of crescent-shaped Liguria, the Colli di Luni DOC extends into northwestern Tuscany, and in this border region's winemaking towns, and the marble quarries of Carrara, Bosoni is the local success story. He's also something of a celebrity—making wine for his friend, Italy’s blues-rock star Zucchero Fornaciari, on the singer’s Tuscan estate.
But Bosoni remains a tireless worker, running his cellars with a team of enologists. His wife of 40 years, Antonella, oversees the offices. Brother Lucio supervises the vineyards. His daughter, Debora, manages an impressive visitor center with tasting rooms and a wine museum—created in a restored old country house and farmyard. And his son, Diego, is an enologist and heir apparent.
In contrast to his father, Diego, 37, is more reserved. For a while after his studies, he played guitar in a band, before joining the family business. One year, for his birthday, his father handed him a guitar case; inside was a gold-painted spade shovel.
“My son wanted to be a musician; I made him become a contadino,” Paolo laughs, relating the message of the gift: “If you love your soil, it will pay you back.”
The success of Cantine Lunae has been built on the Bosonis' knowledge of Liguria's Mediterranean-facing vineyards—stretching from the lower alluvial plain, once covered by the sea, around the ancient Roman port of Luni to the patchwork of geologically complex slopes on the hillsides of the marbled Apuan Alps.
Bosoni took over the family farm at 20, making wine his focus. In the 1970s, he visited the cellars of successful Italian producers such as Antinori and Gaja and drove across southern France to Bordeaux—learning at every stop.
In the 1980s, he replaced old fermentation barrels kept under the family house with steel temperature-controlled tanks that he moved into sheds out back. He has honed his winemaking ever since, reducing sulfites to minimal levels without sacrificing the purity of his wines.
In the vineyard, the Bosonis have experimented with different clones of Vermentino and other local varieties, including the lean white Albarola, which he began bottling as a varietal in 2013.
The family owns 120 acres of vines scattered over 30 parcels and buys hand-harvested grapes—paying for quality—from 150 small growers who cultivate a total of 50 acres. “It’s important for us,” Diego says of this dispersed system. “It helps us discover different terroirs and different varietals.”
The Bosonis are in the midst of their biggest construction project to date—a new 32,000-square-foot, gravity-fed winery that, when completed as early as 2018, will more than double the winery space and give them more room for experimentation.
As for the girl who started it all by breaking Paolo’s heart?
“She married an electrician,” he says. “They divorced. It was her big disappointment.”