The history of Villa, an ancient hamlet set in the heart of Franciacorta and the first settlement of Monticelli Brusati, is lost in the mists of time.
Accredited historical research has brought to light traces of noble families living here as early as the fifteenth century. These different families followed one upon another, and passed down the estate through the centuries until Alessandro Bianchi, founder and owner of the Franciacorta maison, fell in love with the ancient hamlet of Villa in 1960. At the time there was little market for land and landowners were happy to sell, as farming produced at most a very meagre living. Many people criticised Alessandro Bianchi for investing in land, and thereby risking continuing financial losses at a time when the economic boom made investment in finance, government or industry a healthy proposition. However, Bianchi found comfort in his father’s certainty that the land would never betray him, and he went ahead, driven by his passion and the strength of his convictions. His would prove to be an extremely far-sighted vision. At that time the winery looked very different from what we see today. The only wine production was that carried out in the fifteenth-century cellar and the bulk of the estate’s activities was focused on growing crops of corn and wheat, and milk production. Sharecropping was still prevalent and after a number of hail-storms the inhabitants of the village were reduced to poverty.
It might seem that this all happened centuries ago, but actually this was the situation you would have come across if you had ventured into the Villa hamlet a “mere” fifty years ago: broken roofs and farm-workers living in homes that lacked even the most basic necessities. The only part of the village that stood intact was the manor house, used as a summer residence by the rich owners who lived in the city. Spurred by his love for the land and passion for nature, Alessandro Bianchi managed to see beyond the immediate circumstances and catch a glimpse of the enormous potential this site offered in terms of wine. He decided to restore the village to its former glory and exploit the potential of the land he now owned. Villa’s history was at a watershed, and as the Villa revived, new life was given to the ancient hamlet and its inhabitants.
As early as the 1960s, Alessandro Bianchi began carrying out studies of the land that makes up the Villa property. Calling on expert consultants, he was the first in Franciacorta to commission pioneer geopedological studies of each plot of his land. This scientific approach, aimed at producing quality wines, won out over the prevailing peasant mentality of ensuring maximum yield. From the earliest years of business there were studies of zoning, and trials were conducted with different clones and wine-making methods; much attention was focused on greater diversification of rootstocks according to different types of soils. Progress was necessarily slow and many years passed before the first red and white labels were produced in 1974, followed in 1978 by the first sparkling wines. The seventies were to mark a turning point as the estate moved from mixed farming to winery; quality and excellence were soon to become the winery’s ultimate objective.
In 1991, work began on the recovery and restoration of the former homes of a number of farm workers. The first six apartments of the “Villa Gradoni” farmhouse accommodation had been created. Located at the foot of the hill from which it takes its name, Villa Gradoni is another concrete example of the foresight shown throughout the company’s history. At the beginning of the nineties this was, in fact, one of the first Italian farms to offer accommodation, thus anticipating a trend that would become widespread years later. Today the farm has 21 apartments, each decorated tastefully and each unique. A prestigious past has been gradually recovered, providing a tangible example of love and passion for this small and ancient village, and a dream that has been shared by an entire family. This is an authentic example of “Slow Tourism”. Villa Gradoni is an integral part of the medieval hamlet of Villa. The constructions have been renovated to respect the traditional architecture and blend in with the existing buildings, while boasting all the modern comforts. You will find here a peaceful oasis in which to unwind and enjoy fine wines accompanied by the traditional dishes featured in the “Il Borgo in Franciacorta” restaurant.
Today a total of 300,000 bottles are produced annually in the cellars of Villa. This figure is especially significant when you consider the quality assurance that the company provides. The decision to use exclusively grapes grown on the estate’s own 37 hectares of vineyards and the decision to produce only vintage Franciacorta, bear witness to the meticulous attention dedicated to quality. What can be achieved when you feel a genuine passion and love for a territory that is part of your DNA, passed on to you from your parents? The answer can be seen here, where a near-abandoned village has been brought back to life; where the previously unrecognised potential of the land has been exploited to produce great wines and an area of natural beauty has been preserved from unauthorised building.