Winemaking is an art born of centuries of tradition. In Italy it even stretches back millennia—to the times of Roman antiquity. Riccardo Pasqua is certainly no stranger to traditionalism. As the CEO of Pasqua Winery in the Veneto region of Northern Italy, he is the third generation steward of the family business. And that business is booming. But to bring on that level of success he also had to challenge a few norms along the way.
With the release of 11 Minutes rosé he dared to give Italian grapes a treatment typically reserved for pink wines of southern France. In 2020 he oversaw the release of a norm-shattering multi-vintage white wine from the Soave DOC. This time he very explicitly baited francophiles by titling the liquid, “Hey French, You Could Have Made This But You Didn’t!” And as for the Amarone for which his region is best known, Pasqua has increasingly pursued a dry, tannic expression in a time when fruitier alternatives are the standard.
He’s finding quite the audience for his so-called “House of the Unconventional” in the United States. Case sales here eclipsed 350,000 in 2020. Next, Pasqua and his family brand are making similar inroads in Asian markets and look to expand distribution within the 65 different global markets in which they’re already sold.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Pasqua shares his unique blend of tradition and innovation and talks about what’s next for the vaunted vineyards of Valpolicella.
What does your day-to-day entail, running a wine business?
Riccardo Pasqua: “My duties include nurturing the Pasqua culture and to coordinate a team of 100 talents over three different continents. My other duty is to produce wines with a very distinctive DNA – our ranges are utterly unique.”
Talk about the wine making traditions of the Veneto region, and how you’re doing things different.
RP: “In our region, Valpolicella, the traditional method used for red wines is the appassimento technique – we still use it nowadays and are very fond of it. It is so interesting to see how different timing and varieties answer to this method of production. More recently the climate is challenging the ancient method of production in favor of freshly harvested grapes or just reduced drying time. We have also introduced a multi-vintage white wine in the last few years, which is something new in our region. It is what is renowned as a ‘Cuvee’ wine, made from a blend of four vintage and three grape varieties; pure liberty of expression.”
How are you challenging conventions of the region?
RP: “The aim always is to create something distinctive and unique in the best ways possible, from the best vineyard possible. Rather than ‘challenging’, I would say ‘anticipating’ or ‘pioneering’ some paths that in our vision will become the way to go in the most important markets of the world. For example, take a look at what we did with our 11 Minutes – the first Italian Rosé made in that way. Taking its name from the process it undergoes to obtain its soft pink hue as it interacts with the skin of our grapes – four different varieties. Or look at [our] Amarone Mai dire Mai – a dry and austere Amarone launched in an era of large opulent horizontal Amarones. Now many notables winemakers are following our lead.”
Can you talk about where and when that approach was conceived?
RP: “During my New York period, from 2009 to 2016 I appreciated how important it was to take risks. You have to be courageous in order to be distinctive, to strive for perfection. If you keep doing the same thing over and over, you’ll obtain the same result over and over. And we were ambitious to do better, to start with our family traditions and expertise passed down over three generations, our wonderful vineyards and then experiment, innovate.”
What did the older generation (your dad and grandad) say when you wanted to start making rose in a style that challenges the French?
RP: “My father was initially nervous, but he totally got it. He actually loved it. A few of my senior generals asked me if I was crazy and whether I needed a good sleep. But then it worked!”
What are some of the benefits of being a family owned operation as opposed to being run by a larger corporate entity?
RP: “Definitely the long-term thinking. The capacity, patience and the luxury of addressing every strategic decision for the next 20-30 years.”
Talk about the design elements of the bottles and labels and how they came together.
RP: “It’s all about us: the first projects were intuitions generated from an in-depth knowledge of the markets and the vision of making something unique. Over the years the secret has been ‘organized creativity’. This involves a harmonious process between the vision of the entrepreneur, a super solid cutting-edge team of amazing marketing and communication talents, and over 20 collaborations with artists from Verona to Lebanon to New York.”
You call your brand the “ambassador of Italian cool.” What does that mean exactly?
RP: “We believe that Italian cool is a magical blend of effortless elegance with a little pinch of smartly provocative boldness. All fused together, thanks to generations of craftsmanship.”
What are the biggest markets for your wine and what are the emerging ones that you’re most eager to grow?
RP: “The biggest markets for us are Anglo-Saxon markets followed by European markets. Exports represent 90% of our total business. Asia is the next chapter. We have been growing solidly here over the past few years and we have opened two commercial subsidiaries in China. It will take 10 more years but we are bullish because ‘made in Italy’ is strong there and welcomed by the upper-middle classes. Time will tell.”
What are some of your favorite pairings between specific bottlings and specific food dishes?
RP: “11 Minutes paired with black ink tagliolini, burrata and pachino tomato. Hey French paired with baccalà mantecato — a creamy version of cod fish. Mai dire Mai Amarone paired with ragù lasagne.”
You have a certain musicality to your winemaking ethos. What style of music or specific band would you say best describes the winery today?
RP: “Pasqua is definitely a blend between Post Malone, Travis Scott and the Manesquine. Only powerful tracks and powerful lyrics; no album fillers.”
What’s new and next for Pasqua that you’re most excited for looking into the immediate future?
RP: “Cascina San Vincenzo is our new single cru from the Famiglia Pasqua line. The vineyard has been organically grown since its inception, 12 years ago and was first launched to the trade at the European fairs this year. What is exciting is that we already have two new wines ready to be brought out to the world. The first one is going to be released next spring and it is going to be insane. Fully Pasqua mode in terms of how it is made and how it will be launched.”