Gianni Piccoli in 2018 (photo: Terry Moore)
We are sad to share with you the news of the passing of Gianni Piccoli, the founder of Corte Gardoni. Agronomist, viticulturist, winemaker, and passionate defender of authenticity, Gianni Piccoli’s beautiful wines have been prominently featured at Moore Brothers for more than two decades. You probably know them yourself.
More than that, he was our dear friend. And no one at Moore Brothers was closer to Gianni than my friend and colleague, Joe DiLuzio, who would receive a bi-weekly phone call at the shop from Gianni to chat about current events, gossip about his neighbors, and either celebrate or lament a recent performance by his beloved squadra di calcio, AC Milan. If one of us answered the New Jersey store phone to a poor connection and a raspy voice on the other end asking, “c‘é Giuseppe?” we knew who was calling.
“Ironically, my first encounter with Gianni was very inauspicious — twenty years ago at a gathering of French and Italian Moore Brothers suppliers in Burgundy. On the first night, a group of his fellow attending Venetian winegrowers and I were “partying” in the local square. When he and his son Mattia showed up later on, they steadfastly refused to join us in our reindeer games.”
“As standoffish as Gianni appeared that summer — don’t ever judge a book by its cover — he made up for it the next year when I was headed to the Veneto to interview a potential supplier in Valpolicella (Alessandro Castellani of Ca la Bionda). So I perfunctorily called him to say that it was unlikely that there would be time for us to meet, as my schedule was tight. And that’s where our friendship began, when he strongly replied, ‘ti obbligo!’ Well, it was an obligation that changed my life, as over the course of many trips to visit the Piccoli family at Corte Gardoni since then, he would become like an uncle to me.”
“In that spirit, through all his generous gestures (magnificent meals, boat rides on Lake Garda, little excursions to Borghetto or Bardolino or Sirmione, whenever thanked, he would always reply plainly in his Venetian accent, ‘sei un amico.’” -Joe DiLuzio
Those generous gestures and magnificent meals were standard for anyone who visited Corte Gardoni.
“After a morning tasting at Corte Gardoni, Gianni insisted that we join him for a ‘light lunch’ in Borghetto. Ha. That ‘pranzo leggero’ was at least eight courses, meandering through risotto, fish, meat, and back around again, ending with grappa. Back at the farm, following a blurry tour of the vines and a few fortifying shots of espresso, Gianni walked us to our car, and his son Andrea magically appeared from around the corner bearing a half dozen apples from the tree next to the barn. The last thing you want to do in Italy is to skip a meal…but at about 10:00 that night, I ate one of those apples. And that was my dinner.”
“On the way to that lunch, Andrea suggested that I ride in front next to Gianni so we’d get more time to talk. Except his English was as terrible as my Italian. We got by in Spanish so well, though, that over the next ten years, whenever he’d call the shop to speak to Joe, and I happened to answer, he’d immediately ask when I was coming back to visit. In Spanish.”—Susan Crawshaw
Gianni was passionate in his defense of the potential for quality in Bardolino and Custoza, the red and white denominations in which Corte Gardoni is located. And the expertly farmed, meticulously crafted wines of the estate are proof of that potential. At their core, they are no less endowed with a sense of a unique place than any other great wine from an outstanding winegrower in one of Italy’s more exalted winegrowing regions, yet on the surface, they are charming, elegant, easygoing, and just delightful wines.
But Gianni had zero interest in market share nor any concern for the way his wines might have been received by the Italian wine press, if it meant compromising his principles.
“Aside from all of the fabulous meals together, whether it was eating at the large family table at the estate, or at a restaurant halfway across northern Italy that happened to be one of his favorites, I’ll always remember Gianni’s singular independence and general disdain for the Italian wine establishment.”
“One of my visits to Corte Gardoni happened to coincide with a news conference organized by a group of prestigious Italian wine writers to recognize Gianni and his wines. When we arrived, Gianni took his seat on the dais, while I sat with his sons towards the back of the room. The press conference began, and after a few minutes of sitting in silence, as the journalists congratulated one-another for ‘discovering’ the wines of Corte Gardoni (at the time, Corte Gardoni had existed for over two decades), Gianni stood up, told everyone ‘thank you all for coming,’ walked over to us and said, ‘this is a waste of our time. Let’s go get some dinner.’” — Ecco Adler
Riposare in pace, nostro amico. — Terry Moore