If the biggest cliché in sportswriting is the up-from- nowhere football, baseball or basketball star, the most predictable tale among wine writers is a trip with an Italian winemaker in a too-fast automobile. I feel like I've read at least a dozen such storiesof journalists panicking in the passenger seat as some speed-mad producer takes them for a spin on the autostrada. Maurizio Zanella had apparently read a few of these too. "Don't worry, I'll drive slowly," were his first words to me as he opened the passenger door of his Alfa Romeo. Zanella, the owner of the winery Ca' del Bosco in the Franciacorta region of Lombardy, and I were on our way to dinner at Da Vittorio in Bergamo, a city that is some 30 miles north of Milan. Via the autostrada, of course. As we pulled onto the ramp, Zanella offered me this observation: "I pay more attention when I drive fast; if I go under 220 kilometers an hour, my mind tends to wander."
I'd traveled to Italy to meet with Zanella soon after Ca' del Bosco had been named the 2002 Winery of the Year by Italy's leading wine magazine, Gambero Rosso. Although I'd tasted Zanella's sparkling wines before and had been impressed, I was less familiar with Ca' del Bosco's still wines, which had received several awards from Gambero Rosso, too. "Has anything changed since you were named Winery of the Year?" I asked Zanella as we headed toward Bergamo. (True to his word, Zanella zigzagged repeatedly, unable to find a lane that could hold his interest for long.) Zanella turned to face me, taking both hands off the wheel to illustrate his response: "My friends make fun of me. They say 'You're everywhere! On the cover of magazines, on television. Yesterday there was an hour of Ca' del Bosco on the Gambero Rosso television show. It's too much!'" Zanella gestured again even more fervently. I decided to save the rest of my questions until we were seated at the restaurant.
"Too much" seems like a pretty fair characterization of the Maurizio Zanella style. There is Zanella himself, a generously proportioned, good-humored man in his mid-forties; then there are his wines, some of the most lavishly packaged and highest priced bottles in Italy, and his extravagant plans for the future, which call for a new winery building that will cover five acres of land and feature a five-story tower. The winery is currently under construction, as are parts of Zanella's two homes, in Italy and France. ("The contractor told me it would be best to do everything at once," Zanella explained.) He also plans to open a restaurant, one he expects will be a one- or two-Michelin-star establishment; he has already had discussions with a few famous chefs. But it wouldn't be a three-star place, because, Zanella says: "It is too much. You can enjoy the food, but you can't enjoy yourself."