Who: Andrea Pendin

Where: Montecchio Maggiore, Vicenza

What grapes: Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Durella, Carmenere

How many bottles: 9,000

Key facts: Andrea Pendin is a trained chef with a passion for natural wine who is three years down the path to making great wine in the hills of Vicenza.

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l’Armonia Rosso 

We seem to bond with former chefs. Andrea Pendin’s culinary training applies in many ways to his current career as a winemaker in the hills above Vicenza. He applies it directly to the production of olive oil and excellent chocolate bars (that contain olive oil) and indirectly to keeping wine importers happy: visits can be brightened by impromptu wood-fired pizzas appearing at the tasting table. This is Pendin’s “Super-Veneto” a blend of ripe Bordeaux grapes that have been grown in this region since the Napoleonic Era and a little bit of Barbera. Andrea is a goofball, but his wines are seriously tasty.

Organic: Practicing organic with biodynamic methods
Soil type: Calcareous clay
Elevation: 350+ meters above sea level
Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot
Method of fermentation: spontaneous yeast, no additives
Bottles made: 5,000

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l’Armonia Brio Pop

Organic: Practicing organic with biodynamic methods
Soil type: Calcareous clay
Elevation: 330m
Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot
Method of fermentation: spontaneous yeast, no additives
Bottles made: 3,000


I’ve been warned that the last little bit of the drive towards Tenuta l’Armonia is tricky so I decide to call. Andrea offers to drive down to come escort me to the farm. A few minutes later he and his wife’s sister show up. I follow them into the hills and realize this was a good move. I wouldn’t have found this place with my directions. As soon as we get there I get a quick tour of the property. Vegetable gardens, olive trees, nice wild ground covers and 60 year old vines. All “draped” over a hilltop so that each part has unique exposure and grade. We go into the only structure on the property. Through part of the wine making facility we get to a nice tasting room. There’s a bar and a kitchen with a brick oven. A fire is going inside it and the man later introduced as Andrea’s dad just happens to be sliding in a fresh pie. “Andrea make for you” he says. These folks know how to treat the visitor that’s been going on two espressos on a piece of bread for too long. The wines are quite amazing. Andrea tells me about going to “Culinary School” to become a chef and realizing that he had been dreaming about wine making and farming long enough that he got to a point that he thought, if I don’t do it now, it may never happen. For only three years now, Andrea, with the help of oenologist Davide Xodo, has been working hard on making this his living without compromising his strong beliefs in natural, sustainable (and biodynamic) methods. He owns 2 hectares of land now and rents four more. Bit by bit he’d like to keep acquiring more. In the cellar everything is done by hand. Manual selection, manual rasping on handmade mats. Only indigenous yeasts are used and sulfites, if needed at all, are added in the smallest possible quantities, at bottling only.

My mission for this trip was to find nice white wines. Andrea makes only one white, which he has easily sold out of every year. He’s planning to add a sparkling wine but may start with a 100 bottle batch. He focuses on reds, makes three kinds and I can taste why. They are very nice, honest and well made wines.

I feel like I’m rushing through this visit but it’s only because I want to squeeze in one more…. They understand and are nice enough to give me an escort down the hill back towards the main road.

Tenuta l’Armonia is tucked at the back of a web of tiny roads and private driveways, a situation that explains the pile of boulders between the winery and Andrea Pendin’s olive trees. “We are building a road.” He explains. It speaks to the man’s character that he takes on this large task without a hint of defeatism or ire. If anything, he has an air of amusement about the endeavor. It’s a smart move: connecting to Armonia is currently a challenge. I faced down the blank stares of locals sweeping driveways while agitated pets bounced against fences, eager to fend off irritating lost foreigners. A portal to the main road will bring more of the natural wine community to Pendin’s doorstep, safely.

It takes a while to take in the scope of what’s happening in Pendin’s world. The farm is new, their first vintage 2009. Alongside Andrea works his girlfriend and occasionally her sister, and Pendin’a parents. Recently they partnered with another local guy to run a pop-up bar for a few months. Now that the project is finished, piles of brightly-colored chairs idly fill the entrance to the cellar. There’s also a by-appointment restaurant occasionally operated by Pendin at the winery. The way his girlfriend’s sister explains it, this is basically a social club. Buddies call Andrea, he fires up the pizza oven, and the evening begins. Which brings us to their new space: an impressive wood-fired pizza oven fills the center of Tenuta l’Armonia, adjacent to a large stone fireplace. We are underground, and the large tasting/dining room would be less inviting absent the heat and aromas radiating from these features.

Outside in the cold, indigenous Italian chickens strut around rows of long-leaf broccoli. “You can eat every part of it,” Andrea says. The birds and the mostly-fallow garden on which they poop are fundamental parts of Andrea’s universe and vision as well. He employs biodynamic principles to create wine and olive oil, which means botannicals proscribed in the tenets of this philosophy are grown at l’Armonia. Even in winter, the place is green.

After a brisk vineyard tour and olive grove inspection, getting closer to that oven seems wise. While it’s warming we taste wine, starting with the “Pop” line that Andrea created recently. The idea is to have high-quality natural wine available at a very popular price-point, hence “Pop.” Pendin sees this as a short-term way to widen the audience for his wines, maybe a five-year endeavor. The irreverent labels, designed by Pendin’s better half, they do not betray the serious craft underpinning the project.

The 2013 Frizzante Pop col fondo sur lie will make my “best of” list for 2015. An unfiltered blend of Pinot Noir and Durella, the wine is bright, flavorful and low alcohol (11.5%.) Andrea follows it with a “turbido” Pinot Noir that is seriously tasty. The wine at present has a milky pink color that will put off prudish imbibers, but really who needs them? There’s not much of this wine to go around as it is.

Then something even better appears, the 2014 Brio. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc, Barbera and Merlot made via carbonic maceration that drinks (unsurprisingly) like very good Beaujolais. Andrea will bottle this wine in February. The 2013 Brio Pop is also nice with a plate of Coppa do Piacenza and some really good sourdough bread that Andrea produces. Did you know that the man is also a small-scale miller? Pizza is made from the ground up at Tenuta l’Armonia.

I’m of course drawn to the shiny and new, and can’t wait to get my hands on Il Mio Vino, a 70’s-style Barbera/Grignolino blend that Andrea will only bottle in magnums. The wine will be ready in a year, until then memories will have to last me. I love the concept, an ageworthy-but-affordable red released after one year in barrel and one in bottle. Like many wine folk, Andrea likes the magnum format for its improved cellar capacity and because opening a mag is festive: they give spark to gatherings.

The 2012 l’Armonia Rosso includes some Carmenere. Pendin deems it the best red yet from the property, but I’m glad we own a bunch of the 2011 in North Carolina, which is considerably more open and accessible. In spite of a dismal season, Andrea has managed to salvage a small quantity of bright green, tasty olive oil. I like it, but sadly scant bottles may have to stay for the locals.

“The egg is coming!” For some reason this statement carried into the cellar by a relative strikes everyone as hilarious: we fall apart. It’s getting punchy in here! We have the giggles, pizzas are appearing, the evening has become very easy and convivial. It’s all food talk and jokes. I try to explain how to make preserved lemons, Andrea explains proper frying technique for eggplant parmesan. I regret having to depart. A gorgonzola pizza is still cooking, the night air is cold, black. The family at Tenuta l’Armonia are easy to like, returning to spend more hours with these three (and their parents) will be on my agenda for years to come.