Anselmi, a Soave pioneer and iconoclast.

Grape grower, winemaker, and organic pioneer Roberto Anselmi made waves in the Italian wine industry when he famously declared that he was leaving the Soave consortium in 2000. As he said at the time, “the Soave DOC is mainly sustained by small producers, many of whom think as I do, but none of them have the courage to voice their opinions.” Some thought he was crazy. But the test of time has proven him right.

He realized early on that the Soave appellation could find its place among the great white wines of the world. It would just take some “out of the box” thinking to get there. And that’s exactly what Anselmi did. Today, even though he chooses not to label his wines as “Soave,” he and his wines have become icons of the Soave DOCG. (It’s interesting to note, btw, that the Soave designation was upgraded from DOC or designation of controlled origin to DOCG or designation of controlled and guaranteed origin in 2001, the year after he left the Soave growers association.)

Like its sister appellation Valpolicella, Soave, which is located in Italy’s northeastern region of Veneto, is one of Italy’s most ancient areas for the production of fine wines. The Romans wrote frequently about wines from this area and most scholars believe today that Soave represented a benchmark of fine wine in their time.

The main grape variety used in the appellation is Garganega. By the 16th century, a humanist writer praised Garganega, quoting a 14th-century agriculturist who also cites the variety as one of Italy’s best at the time. And the humanist even adds a note saying that Garganega makes for wines so good that they are the “favorites of the worst kind of thieves.” It’s an indication that Garganega was already prized at a top variety during the time of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Roberto Anselmi and his family own some of the top vineyards in the appellation. Here, the soils are primarily volcanic in nature and they make for wines with great freshness and minerality.

Trebbiano is the other main grape variety used in Soave. But Roberto also began using other white grapes that help him give the wines more nuance and complexity. Today, with the growing impact of climate change on viticulture, he is considered a visionary: His plantings of non-traditional varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have allowed him to make top-scoring and highly collectible wines by giving him a broader palette of aromas and flavors to work with.

More than 20 years after he left the appellation, he continues to give back to his fellow grape growers as a trailblazing innovator and icon. Soave owes so much to his courageous vision of what Soave could ultimately be.