The stories of a sparkling wine and the motorboats symbolizing Made in Italy luxury
Franciacorta. At first glance, the Italian name would appear to suggest a small French wine-making area. However, the name has different origins – it refers to the area’s “Corti Franche”, ancient monastic settlements that were exempt from taxes. When you leave behind the motorways and busy roads and venture down often poorly signposted secondary roads, you are greeted by rolling hills, cultivated fields, vineyards, farms, beautiful castles and aristocratic buildings (many of which have been converted into prestigious wineries).
And then, there is Lake Iseo, the subject of Christo’s 2016 magnificent land art: an incredible system of floating piers, with a walkway covered by 100,000 square meters of ochre-colored fabric, which attracted droves of tourists and increased the fame of these locations. Quite rightly. Because Lake Iseo is beautiful – really beautiful – with its delightful villages, its island (Monte Isola, one of the largest in Europe), peat bogs and fishing tradition.
This area is home to outstanding wine, which can be discovered in the rooms of the Ricci Curbastro Agricultural and Wine Museum, and to the world-class shipbuilding industry that produces Riva yachts.
Franciacorta and the Ricci Curbastro Agricultural and Wine Museum
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Franciacorta is extraordinary. Its landscape is shaped by undulating rows of vines and partitioned by low walls surrounding the allotments and orchards of ancient dwellings. Its reputation is also due to the entrepreneurs who turned have their attention to wine since the 1960s and transformed it into part of the cultural heritage.
Still wine has been produced on this “wine-making island” since the 16th century. In 1570, Doctor Girolamo Conforti, from Brescia, was one step ahead of Dom Pérignon, the inventor of Champagne, when he published the Libellus de vino mordaci, one of the world’s first written documents about wine-making. This manual on the method of producing bubbles in wine soon spread among the producers in Franciacorta.
In 1967, Franciacorta was awarded DOC status. This led a small group of intrepid winemakers to undertake the significant challenge of producing an Italian sparkling wine using only the traditional method of bottle refermentation. Among the 11 advocates of this “wine renaissance” was Gualberto Ricci Curbastro whose family had been producing wine for centuries. In 1990, the Consorzio Franciacorta was established with the purpose of overseeing the implementation of the traditional production method of Franciacorta wine and, in 1995, Franciacorta was the first Italian brut wine to be awarded the DOCG label.
In 1986, Gualberto Ricci Curbastro – a history buff as well as a visionary farmer – inaugurated the Agricultural and Wine Museum. Set up in the winery’s outbuildings, it shows us what rural life looked like in the past through the ingenious tools, utensils and artifacts of great value that were used in the countryside and in the cellars. Alongside the museum, there is also a library with more than 4,000 volumes on agriculture and local history, plus a document archive that traces the history of the Ricci Curbastro family from the 17th century to the present day. The visit continues in the cellar where hundreds of thousands of bottles of Franciacorta are aged and where tasting sessions are offered. The museum is also a hub for cultural initiatives aimed at promoting the local area, with a focus on wine-making and rural culture.
Sarnico and the Riva Shipyard
Sarnico and Riva can be considered one and the same because the town of Sarnico, a picturesque village on the Bergamo side of Lake Iseo, is inextricably linked to the Riva brand that has transformed it into a center of recreational boating. Founded in 1842, Riva has produced world-renowned wooden hulls for motorboats such as the Aquarama, and continues to produce legendary yachts. Its story began with high-quality craftsmanship and unique skills for the perfect combination of visual impact with innovation and technology. At the Riva shipyard, nothing is left to chance: everything is meticulously designed and chosen, from materials – such as mahogany or ribbon stripe wood – to the colors that are created exclusively for Riva. In addition to this, the furnishings and fittings feature elegant designs. This all makes Riva an instantly recognizable luxury brand.
Visiting the Riva Shipyard means immersing yourself in the company’s history. You can watch screenings of films featuring Riva boats, from Mambo (1954) and Il Sorpasso (1962) to The Great Beauty (2013) and Tenet (2020). The historical gallery, which features a display of racing motorboats from the first half of the 20th century and mahogany pleasure boats produced in the latter half, is certainly worth a visit. The expertise of Riva craftsmen can be admired in the production area and, last but not least, the office of the engineer, Carlo Riva, can also be visited. He personally designed it to be the perfect blend of design and style. The office, which juts out over the lake, is located in the middle of the immense vault of the central structure, featuring a series of arches spanning 40 meters and supported by two pillars on either side that also support two bridge cranes. Its futuristic architecture recalls the prow of a ship, earning it the nickname of “la Plancia” (the bridge). Visible from the opposite side of the lake, it is protected (as is the entire shipbuilding site) by the Superintendence for Environmental Heritage. But that is not all. The visit to the shipyard ends on a high note with a stop at the Riva Lounge, a place where the brand’s style and design are revived and which evokes Riva’s timeless style. The collection of Riva Boutique products is also on display which includes home decor, clothing and high-tech. The visit requires a reservation which can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours take place in groups of between 20 and 40 visitors.
Sarnico, however, is not just about boats. It is one of the gems of Lake Iseo, certified with the Touring Club Italy Orange Flag. Away from the main tourist routes, the village has preserved its local spirit and ties with tradition. The church of San Paolo and the 15th century buildings of the old town center with its cobbled streets, narrow alleys and small squares lined with stores and restaurants reveal its medieval origins. Sarnico is also the city of Liberty style. It preserves some outstanding architectural examples of the “floral” style of the architect, Giuseppe Sommaruga. Among these is the villa of Giuseppe Faccanoni, a converted spinning mill situated in a splendid park, and the villas of Pietro and Luigi Faccanoni (respectively known today as Villa Passeri and Villa Surre).