Growing up among the vines of Italy’s Veneto region, Ermenegildo Giusti always knew Canada would be his destiny. “From the time I was 8 or 9, I knew where Canada was. My parents told me it was at the end of the vineyard and a bit further, ” he said. Just shy of 18, Ermenegildo explored “a bit further”. He landed in Canada where he took his dream and turned it into a multi-million dollar business.
But he never forgot the vines.
When he left home, his family stopped producing wine. In 1998, Ermenegildo took the family’s two hectares and began rebuilding, “I grew up in the vineyard. My memories growing up are surrounded by grapes and the harvest.”
Today the Giusti vineyard is 100 hectares in the heart of Prosecco country. The sparkling wine is part of Ermenegildo’s history. “It was like having water growing up. My brother and I would drink it after school.” To him, Prosecco also meant celebration. “It was celebrating friendship, life, birth, people coming together.”
It’s that history he honours. ”Once a farmer always a farmer,” he explains. The fields are impeccably tended because that’s what he remembers. “My vineyards are like a garden because I remember how my father kept them. Everything was so tidy. They were so proud. There was so much love. It was like giving something of themselves,” he explains.
The Giusti produces 320,000 bottles a year, including a range of Prosecco, whites and reds. The wine he is most proud of? Umberto Primo – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot he named after his grandfather.
This fall Giusti launched a sparkling Rosé. Ermenegildo laughs when I ask him about it. “I never wanted to do a rosé because in summer when my mother would give me wine with water, that was not wine. So I refused to make rosé because every time I looked at it, I thought it was a wine I didn’t want to drink.” When he finally conceded, he took grapes from his best vineyards using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little Recantina – a heritage grape that’s regaining popularity. The results are remarkable. Even my non-sparkling-wine-loving family wanted more.
Giusti’s Prosecco is by far its biggest seller with sales of 200,000 bottles a year. It was their award-winning Rosalia that won my affection at a wine tasting at Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory. It was fresh, fruity and not overly sweet. The second time was in a small wine store in Canmore, AB where I found the Giusti Merlot.
Today, Emenegildo divides his time between his vineyards in Italy and his Calgary where his three sons and seven grandchildren live. At the heart of the vineyard is a tribute to the sense of belonging in both lands. A tower overlooking the fields is surrounded by water. “It is a symbol of somebody going away and leaving their home.” he says. And though his history called him back to Italy, Canada is his future. “I am more Canadian than Italian. I spent 45 years in Canada. Canada is definitely home.”