Winemaking is an art born of centuries of tradition. In Italy, it even dates back millennia, to Roman antiquity. Riccardo Pasqua is certainly no stranger to traditionalism. As CEO of Pasqua Winery in the Veneto region of northern Italy, he is the third generation manager of the family business. And this business is booming. But to achieve this level of success, he also had to challenge a few standards along the way.
With the release of 11 Minutes rosé he dared to give Italian grapes a treatment typically reserved for rosé wines from the south of France. In 2020, he oversaw the release of a groundbreaking multi-vintage white wine from DOC Soave. This time he very explicitly lured the Francophiles by titrating the liquid, “Hey French, you could have done that but you didn’t!” And as for the Amarone for which his region is best known, Pasqua has increasingly sought a dry, tannic expression in an age when fruitier alternatives are the norm.
He finds quite an audience for his so-called “House of the unconventionalin the United States. Case sales here topped 350,000 in 2020. Next, Pasqua and its family brand are making similar inroads into Asian markets and looking to expand distribution in the 65 different global markets they serve. already sold.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Pasqua shares his unique blend of tradition and innovation and talks about the future of Valpolicella’s much-vaunted vineyards.
What does your daily life consist of at the head of a wine company?
Ricardo Pasqua: “My tasks consist of nurturing the Pasqua culture and coordinating a team of 100 talents on three different continents. My other duty is to produce wines with a very distinctive DNA – our ranges are quite unique.
Talk about the wine traditions of the Veneto region and how you do things differently.
PR: “In our region, Valpolicella, the traditional method used for red wines is the appassimento technique – we still use it today and we like it a lot. It is so interesting to see how different periods and varieties respond to this method of production. More recently, the climate is challenging the old method of production in favor of freshly harvested grapes or simply reduced drying time. We have also introduced a multi-vintage white wine in recent years, which is new to our region. This is called a ‘Cuvée’ wine, made from a blend of four vintages and three grape varieties; pure freedom of expression.
How do you challenge the conventions of the region?
PR: “The goal is always to create something distinctive and unique in the best possible way, from the best possible vineyard. Rather than “challenge”, I would say “anticipate” or “pave the way” for certain paths that we believe will become the way forward in the world’s most important markets. For example, look at what we did with our 11 Minutes – the first Italian Rosé made this way. Taking its name from the process it undergoes to achieve its soft pink hue when it interacts with the skin of our grapes – four different varieties. Or look [our] Amarone Mai dire Mai – a dry and austere Amarone launched in the era of the large, opulent horizontal Amarones. Today, many notable winemakers follow our example.
Can you tell us where and when this approach was designed?
PR: “During my time in New York, from 2009 to 2016, I appreciated how important it was to take risks. You have to be brave to stand out, aim for perfection. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will always get the same result. And we had the ambition to do better, to start from our family traditions and know-how transmitted for three generations, from our marvelous vineyards in order to then experiment and innovate.
What did the older generation (your father and your grandfather) say when you wanted to start making roses in a style that defied the French?
PR: “My dad was nervous at first, but he got it all. He really loved it. A few of my senior generals asked me if I was crazy and needed a good night’s sleep. But then it worked. !”
What are some of the benefits of being a family business versus being run by a large corporation?
PR: “Definitely long-term thinking. The ability, patience and luxury to approach every strategic decision for the next 20-30 years.
Talk about the bottle and label design elements and how they came together.
PR: “Everything revolves around us: the first projects were intuitions born from a deep knowledge of the markets and the vision to do something unique. Over the years, the secret has been “organized creativity”. It involves a seamless process between the entrepreneur’s vision, a super-strong cutting-edge team of incredible marketing and communications talents, and more than 20 collaborations with artists from Verona to Lebanon to New York.
You call your brand “the ambassador of Italian cool”. What exactly does this mean?
PR: “We believe Italian cool is a magical blend of effortless elegance with a hint of smartly provocative daring. All fused together, thanks to generations of craftsmanship.
What are the most important markets for your wine and what emerging markets do you most want to develop?
PR: “The most important markets for us are the Anglo-Saxon markets followed by the European markets. Exports represent 90% of our total activity. Asia is the next chapter. We have experienced solid growth here over the past few years and have opened two sales subsidiaries in China. It will take another 10 years but we are optimistic because the “made in Italy” is strong there and well received by the upper middle classes. Time will tell us.”
What are some of your favorite pairings between specific bottlings and specific food dishes?
PR: “11 Minutes accompanied by black ink tagliolini, burrata and pachino tomato. Hey French paired with baccalà mantecato – a creamy version of cod. Mai dire Mai Amarone with ragù lasagna.
You have a certain musicality in your winemaking philosophy. What style of music or specific group do you think best describes the winery today?
PR: “Pasqua is definitely a mix between Post Malone, Travis Scott and the Manesquine. Only powerful songs and powerful lyrics; no album fillers.
What new and upcoming releases for Pasqua are you most looking forward to in the immediate future?
PR: “Cascina San Vincenzo is our new single cru from the Famiglia Pasqua line. The vineyard has been grown organically since its inception 12 years ago and was first launched commercially at European fairs this year. What’s exciting is that we already have two new wines ready to be presented to the world. The first one is going to come out next spring and it’s going to be crazy. Completely in Pasqua mode in terms of manufacturing and launching.