Photo: Opening day at the Domodimonti Vineyard was a happy culmination of a lifelong dream of the Bellini Family. From left, Roberto, Carlo, Marisa and Francesco Bellini moments after the handcrafted gates were open for the first time.
On the journey from Rome to Ascoli, Italy, the majestic Sibillini Mountains unfold before your eyes. Rolling hills are filled with every sort of pattern of vegetation imaginable, town after town with pass before your eyes filled with tantalizing sidewalk cafes and ancient church spires. It is here in Le Marche, in Ascoli, where Fellini made movies, where the townspeople gather in the Piazza del Populara and where you get a delightful sense of history blended with modernity.
Families spend time here – young mothers pushing strollers or putting their babies at their feet to play on the smooth marble, old men gather in a circle to argue the politics of the day, a bride and groom walk from the church to a nearby restaurant for a wedding reception. Young lovers are forehead to forehead at the cafe tables, teenagers lean against the rimmed marble fountain, dogs sip from the fountains and shopkeepers look expectantly from their door ways. All day the pace ebbs and flows but until the wee hours of the morning, there is talking, walking, laughing, eating.
And it was here in Ascoli, in the late 1940's, that Francesco Bellini was born. He left for college in Montreal, where he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and met and married his wife Marisa. Bellini created a health care business that eventually made him a billionaire. Last August, Dr. Bellini delightedly opened the gates to his newest venture – the Domodimonti Winery. It is a short drive into the countryside from Ascoli and as you pass fields of sunflowers, patchwork fields of grapevines, you cannot help but think of the years of history and the return of the son to his homeland.
Down the small winding road, a turn and then you have arrived. The fields of grapes are flat to the road but gradually ascend steeply. Midway up the hill is the winery – a testament to modern technology, snuggly built into the proud and wise ground. Another few hundred feet above is the seven-room inn with a view of the Adriatic. It is heaven on Earth. “I was born in Ascoli,” Bellini told me over dinner. “I looked for land here. My grandparents produced wine for themselves – my grandfather would drink three bottles of wine a day. And now, my father drinks my wine but claims it is too expensive,” he said. Both of Bellini's parents live here as do the Bellinis, part of the year. The winery is on old land – land which holds deep meaning for Bellini and his family. “Making wine is a lot of love, “ he said. “I am not doing this to make money. If I can break even, I will be happy.”
Bellini made a fortune in pharmaceuticals. His companies have been involved in discovering, producing and selling drugs used to fight diabetes, AIDS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease, the illness that claimed the life of his father in law. His passion for health played a role in his choice to open a winery. “I am allergic to sulfites and when I would drink wine, it caused all sorts of problems. I looked for a way to produce 'natural' wine – wine with as few additives as possible,” he said. All wine contains sulfites, which occur naturally. Many producers add more as a stimulant to fermentation and also as a means of preservation. “I always wanted to own a winery because I have a very sensitive stomach,” he said. “There will be no headaches, even if you drink a lot,” he said.
In 2000, Bellini began to look seriously at the wine business. He started from scratch, finding in 2003, an old, unused vineyard of approximately 100 acres in Montefiore dell'Aso and, in 2004, slowly created a $22.5 million, state-of-the-art facility. The property had about 20 acres of olive trees so he also makes olive oil. “You need a good, good facility to make good wine,” he said. “And it is very affordable here. We have high mountains and a beautiful seashore. There is none of that in Tuscany.”
The Domodimonti Winery opened in late August with a lavish party. Iron gates were unveiled as trumpets sounded. The Bellini family, Dr. and Mrs. Bellini, sons Roberto and Carlo, were smiles from ear to ear as an international gathering applauded. Buses transported the guests first to tour the winery and then to celebrate until dawn with food, music and laughter. Although the vineyards have been producing for more than 50 years, 2004 was Bellini's first vintage. The winery produces 300,000 bottles each year. The grape varieties grown include: Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Pecorino, Passerina, Merlot and Cabernet Savignon. “We have seven kinds of wine and our main goal is quality. Our wines are very expensive b
ut our production is very expensive. The local press heaps praise upon the Bellinis for investing in the region and for returning to Ascoli to make wine. “This is the story of a family who have succeeded at everything they have touched,” said Achille Castelli, the mayor of Ascoli.
Later, at Cafe Meletti in the piazza, over cappuccino and bumbaloni, the bells ring in the tower. The sun sets and the images of the Italian countryside come to mind. Everything seems so be drawn with a dark blue line, as if it has been outlined with a crayon. There are lighted towers upon each hilltop. Lively, irreverent Italy is a quilt of sunflowers, green grass and rows of grapes in perfect alignment. The land is memorably and superbly organized. Among the ancient churches surrounded by the hills of Le Marche, the vineyard prospers.
For more information on Domodimonti, visit www.domodimonti.com
The wines of Domodimonti are: Deja V – a perfumed suave wine and elegant white wine Li Coste – a fragrant white wine with elegant notes of flowers and hazelnuts Il Piccolo Principe – an aromatic dry rose wine with delicate scents of red berries and hawthorn Picens – a perfumed, elegant and complex red wine with scents of blackberries and leather Montefiore – has notes of ripe red berries, cloves and violets, strawberries and plums Il Messia – an aromatic fine and complex red wine with note of blackberries and anise Solo Per Te – a romantic wine with a subtle bouquet that recalls red berry jam, wood, leather and dark chocolate.