A story-studded year to celebrate eighty years of an Italian legend.
1935 was a landmark year in world affairs. Scientific innovations came thick and fast and the globe shrank with the increasing availability of transport. More ominously, the race to rearm was under way, a warning of conflict to come that would change the course of history over the next few years.
It was in this historical context that Conte Gaetano Marzotto Jr (1894-1972) purchased the Stucky family’s neglected 1,000-hectare estate at Villanova near Portogruaro in the province of Venice. The flatland property stretching down to the Adriatic coast was once used by the ancient Romans and Venetians as a granary and vineyard, for there were 140 hectares under vine.
The extensive estate was sorely in need of restructuring. It was here that Gaetano Marzotto Jr decided to make his entrepreneurial vision a reality. Modern, professionally managed farming methods would rise to the challenge of growing demand for food products by implementing technology-driven change. Farming would be given a sound basis with the completion of drainage work, the introduction of new crops and, crucially, a radical transformation of social relationships. Casual labour was discontinued to provide workers with stable employment and income. More stable relationships were also accorded to outside growers and suppliers. Even today, social sustainability is one of the keystones of the Santa Margherita wine model.
Our founder’s vision was shaped by intimate knowledge of economics in his original manufacturing sector - textiles - and also by the impact of international experiences matured in preceding decades, experiences that were consolidated by study and visits to the world’s major farming areas. Out of these insights came Santa Margherita, named for Gaetano Marzotto Jr’s beloved wife Margherita Lampertico Marzotto, who passed away in 1939, and innovation was to set the tone for the first eighty years of the Group’s operations.
Right from the start, Santa Margherita’s very distinctive characteristics have made it emblematic of Italy’s post-war recovery. Politicians and economists have studied its approach and in 1963, Time magazine identified the Group as one of the protagonists of the Italian miracle.
Gaetano Marzotto Jr invested much intense personal commitment, as well as resources, in Santa Margherita and perhaps the most obvious example is Villanova, built on the model of the new town at Valdagno. Villanova was little more than a farming village in the middle of the original estate with a few stone buildings, including the late 17th-century “Casa Rossa” that houses the Group’s headquarters, and a large expanse of marshland.
Transformation was radical. The marshes were drained and a manufacturing complex built, as well as housing for the workers, a nursery, vocational schools, a rest home, healthcare centres, social meeting places and a bathing resort at Jesolo, all in the same architectural style.
Premium-quality wine production was an early goal, definitively achieved in 1961 with Pinot Grigio. For the first time, the variety was vinified off the skins and success was swift in coming. The United States market opened its doors and even today Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is America’s iconic Italian white wine. A new generation of wine was about to set out from Italy to conquer the world.
Since then, expansion has been unstoppable and over the years new wineries have joined the original establishment at Fossalta di Portogruaro: Kettmeir in Alto Adige, Ca’ del Bosco in Lombardy, Tenimenti Lamole and Vistarenni in Chianti Classico, Terrelìade in Sicily, Sassoregale in Maremma, Torresella in Eastern Veneto and Refrontolo in the heart of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene designation, where in 1952 Santa Margherita became one of the first producers of a Charmat-method Prosecco Spumante.
But innovation has not stopped there. Santa Margherita took its cue from the Marzotto competence in energy production from renewable sources - hydroelectric plants have been powering the Vicenza textile mills since the 19th century - and achieved self-sufficiency in energy with two projects, a biomass plant and a photovoltaic array. Together, these bring a saving of 240 tonnes of carbon dioxide that is not released into the atmosphere. All this, together with full sustainability in the vineyards and the launch of a carbon-neutrality strategy, is symbolised in the specially designed logo that since 1 January has headed all communications from Santa Margherita Gruppo Vinicolo. The message is plain and simple. A green leaf represents our farming heritage and the green future of what today is one of Italy’s leading wine operations. Santa Margherita, a long-established icon of Italian enterprise around the world, remains firmly in the hands of the Founder’s family, now in its seventh generation of activity with the Group.
Our calendar of monthly stories will re-examine some of the salient moments in the Santa Margherita saga, rediscovering estates in superb premium wine territories to offer a taste “between the lines”, as it were, of bottles that are enjoying increasing favour in the market.