May 2024 – This mother’s day, we’re paying tribute to an exceptional woman in wine – Chantal Gonet. Her story, and that of her mother’s as well, is of women who led in family and in business, through good times and bad. 
We’ve also got an interview with Fabio Zenato – a wine-maker’s wine-maker who is driving the wines of Lugana into a new level of quality production, while promoting the appellation around the world.
This edition contains:
We’re Not Selling Socks – The story of an iconic family in Champagne, how they supported their wines and how their wines supported them.
Thank you Mr. President – An interview with the President of the Consortium of Lugana and owner/winemaker at Le Morette – Fabio Zenato.


There are few, if any, Champagne personalities as well known in the US as Chantal Gonet. She is a relentless advocate for her wines—one of the hardest working people in the business I know. If you are reading Raisins, I’d guess there’s at least a 50% chance you’ve met her personally. Her charm, class and dignified approach come through easily even in a chance encounter.

While it’s true that Gonet is a name in Champagne that everyone knows, which Gonet is another question. Their family history is long. One might describe their legacy of independent production as their defining characteristic. That puts a lot of branches on the family tree and almost as many brands in the market.

One might describe their legacy of independent production as their defining characteristic.

For the purpose of explaining who’s who, allow me to quickly condense 200 years of Gonet family history.

The estate was born in 1830 by Pierre-Charles Gonet. In Vertus, he farmed the vines of his wife’s family – Marie Thibault. This would be the first of many Gonet marriages in which the bride delivered the goods to take the business to the next level. His son (Charles Innocent) went independent and became an RM in the mid-1800’s, bottling his own wines (his father sold his wines to the co-op). His son, Charles (yes, the third Charles now) married Marie-Louise Gardien from Le Mesnil. This represented a giant leap forward in the prestige of the Gonet holdings. The domaine was relocated to Le Mesnil to the house and cave you can still visit today. It wasn’t until 1945, perhaps a fitting conclusion to WWII, that the estate started producing sparkling wines.

Charles’ son Jacques took over shortly after their debut in sparkling wine and dedicated himself to conquering the haute-cuisine scene of mid-century Paris. Among his friends of the era, he counted Lucas Carton, Les Freres Le Notre, and other who’s who of the Parisian gastronomy scene. The Gonet brand became synonymous with great dining. It was Jacques’ success and therefore Jacques’ children who became responsible for the proliferation of the Gonet name. Jacques had 5 children who bore 4 brands: Philippe (Philippe Gonet), Michele (Michele Gonet), Francoise (Gonet-Gimmonet), Vincent (Gonet-Sulcova), and Marie Laure who farmed grapes but did not produce independently.

In his early career, Philippe was a professor of viticulture at a regional college. At the time, the appellation of Champagne had enlarged itself, as it has done periodically, giving promising ‘new’ terroirs the chance to call their wines Champagne. Amongst this group of newly Champenoise, was the Cellier family. In order to capitalize on their good fortune, a 25-year-old Denise Cellier went back to school to study viticulture. Philippe was her teacher. They fell in love and married 5 months later. Their union added great plots in the Marne Valley to Philippe’s auspicious inheritance in the Cotes des Blancs. 12 Months after their marriage, their son Pierre was born, followed by a daughter Chantal, and followed again by their youngest Xavier. Philippe inherited his father’s house and cellar. He and his wife built an outstanding reputation for their wines. They bought 35 hectares in Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. They had big plans.

In 1990 Philippe’s life was cut tragically short in an accident at the winery. With Chantal in a Parisian engineering school and Pierre studying winemaking in Burgundy, Denise stepped up and managed the estate largely by herself. In France, a large inheritance meant an even larger tax. Denise decided to undertake an enormous loan from the bank in order to pay the taxes to keep the domaine. As they were ready, both Chantal and Pierre came home to work at the estate. In 1993 Chantal did her first harvest in earnest. She started traveling to wine fairs with her mother and did so every recollectable weekend for years. They sold their land in Burgundy—at the time not an easy or lucrative sale. Together, these two women, through grit and hard work kept their heads above water.

1997 was a sea change. Chantal and her husband moved to Singapore where she began making connections in the local wine industry. It turned out, the Asian markets were not so frequented by vignerons. Her impact was immediate. Over not so many years Chantal acquired distribution across Asia. The world outside of Europe was waking up to Champagne. After 15 years of paying off the loans to save the estate, in 2005 the Gonet’s were able to start reinvesting in their winery.
When Chantal and Pierre took over in earnest, they went headfirst into upgrading the quality of the wines. That meant better work in the vines. Manual plowing was initiated, no more herbicides. Pheromone treatments were used in lieu of pesticides. They quit Special Club and used their best fruit instead to create their Grand Cru Millesime wines including their tête de cuvée – Belemnita. Thanks to Pierre’s savoir-faire in Burgundy, they created Roy Soleil – using demi-muids for vinification. In 2005 they created 3210—making a zero-dosage wine from the ripe slopes of Montgueux and combining it with the grand cru zip of Le Mesnil.

In 2008 after a painful bout with a terminal disease, Chantal’s husband died. “I needed to work…. When you are facing such grief, you need to be occupied.” As Chantal threw herself into her work, she discovered another side to our business. “In the wine business, you have such conviviality, which is so nice…honestly. It’s {wine} not just a product. It’s a gift of nature. It’s a product that has a special force. We’re in a great business—we’re not selling socks.”

“It’s {wine} not just a product. It’s a gift of nature. It’s a product that has a special force. We’re in a great business—we’re not selling socks.”

Most importantly, Chantal has raised three bright, successful children. Meanwhile, she’s brought the domaine to new heights as well. Last year, Champagne Philippe Gonet was Guide Hachette’s Vigneron de l’Année. This year, they will produce their first bottles of certified organic Champagne. Chantal’s taken nearly half their holdings into biodynamic farming—an impressive feat in Champagne. I’m happy to report that their next generation is being groomed.

Your chances to meet Chantal and taste for yourself:
May 13th – Mosaic Wine Alliance, Trade Only | Los Angeles, CA
May 14th – Mosaic Wine Alliance, Trade Only | Orange County, CA
May 15th – Maverick Beverage, Trade Only | Phoenix, AZ
May 16th – Maverick Beverage, Trade Only | Sedona, AZ
May 17th – Vins de Vérité, Trade Only | Santa Fe, NM
May 18th – Susan’s Fine Wine, Public Tasting | Santa Fe, NM
May 18th – Bistro 315, Dinner & Tasting | Santa Fe, NM
May 19th – Palace Prime, Public Tasting | Santa Fe, NM
May 21st – Maverick Beverage, Trade Only | Austin, TX
May 21st – Daydreamer, Public Tasting | Austin, TX
May 22nd – Maverick Beverage, Trade Only | San Antonio, TX
May 23rd – Artisan Fine Wines, Trade Only | New Orleans, LA
May 24th – Artisan Fine Wines, Trade Only | New Orleans, LA
May 24th – Brennan’s, Public Tasting | New Orleans, LA
May 28th – Uva Imports, Trade Only | New York City, NY
May 29th – Uva Imports, Trade Only | New York City, NY


Fabio – as the President of the Consortium you are the face of Lugana! What do you want people who are unfamiliar to know about your appellation?

As president of the Lugana Consortium, I’d like to invite fine wine lovers to discover our territory, to catch the intensity of our fantastic white wine – it is produced in a unique territory. The main protagonist of our area today is Lake Garda, the largest of Italy. It has a huge influence on our micro-climate, which is paradoxically Mediterranean, considering we are located in Northern Italy between Veneto and Lombardy.

While the lake is today one of the most visited tourist destinations of Italy—I would ask them to go back in time, thousands of years with their minds, to imagine the lake in the glacial age. It has been so important for the origin of our lands in terms of structure. Thanks to these glaciers, clays dominate our soils and that is a direct contributor to the unique complexity of our wines.

In this territory our indigenous grape variety, Turbiana, shows its identity and character with delicate aromas, rich flavor and great texture. Lugana is a fantastic food pairing wine with a wide variety of cuisines.

Zenato is a big last name in the wine world. Can you explain your family tree a little bit and your family’s history in wine?

You’re right, me and my brother Paolo belong to a big family in our territory and in the wine world.

Our branch of this tree was founded by our grandfather Gino Zenato100 years ago. He was a member of a large family of 10 brothers and sisters! The family was involved in a lot of activities, from vine nursery, viticulture, wine production, olive growing, accommodations/lodging and typical trattorias!

In the early 60’s, my grandfather started his company as a specialized nursery for viticulture. From the beginning he started producing his own wine as a first-hand test of his nursery activity. Later, in 1981, my father Valerio Zenato, stepped into the company and enhanced the production with wines of strong character. Thanks to his efforts, he was recognized for his achievements and set the company apart in terms of our quality. His wines stood out for their marked minerality, structure and their transmission of Lugana terroir. Now me and my brother Paolo, the third generation of winegrowers, are proudly continuing the family tradition. We have the same passion and enthusiasm as our grandfather. We manage the business side by side with our father. We’ve made our mark having introduced our own brands, Le Morette and Corte Volponi. Today, we also remain very dedicated to the vine-nursery activity, where Paolo is mostly focused, and our winery is made of 56 hectares of vineyards that includes 5 plots of land, 1 in Peschiera del Garda 1 in Desenzano del Garda, both in the Lugana territory, 1 in Bardolino, where we produce Chiaretto di Bardolino and Bardolino Classico, 1 in Negrar and in 1 in Marcellise, both dedicated to the Valpolicella wines, under the brand Corte Volponi.

What is your specific wine passion? When and how did it develop?

I love elegance in wine, especially when it is white!

It’s a passion I grew up with. When I stepped in the winery as a young student, in trying to understand what’s happening during the fermentation of grape-juice, I always knew we must keep as much as possible of the quality potential of every single harvest. I wanted to preserve the nuances that created a fingerprint of that specific vintage, of terroir and of vineyard. I have always been obsessed with understanding identity in the glass. And all this is much more difficult to preserve and maintain when you deal with white grape varieties and delicate sensations.

I wanted to preserve the nuances that created a fingerprint of that specific vintage, of terroir and of vineyard. I have always been obsessed with understanding identity in the glass.

For our especially nerdy readers, give us some of the details of your thesis? What are these key differences between Turbiana and Trebbiano? How is it different from Verdicchio? Why did understanding this matter in the big picture for you and for the appellation?

Wow…..that’s a wide argument…. My PhD, back in 2001, was 3 years of research conducted in two different University faculties – viticulture within the School of Agricultural Sciences and plant genetics within the School of Molecular Biology. They were great times…. my goal was to compare and investigate the typical plant characteristics that we observe every day in the vineyards of Lugana (phenotype) in relation to the plant DNA. I spent so many hours in lab tests on proteins and specific gene expression of the DNA.

Please note that the grapevine genome wasn’t still fully described at that time, and the main Viticulture research centers of the world were working on this huge project.

The key point of my thesis goes back to the origin of grapevine plants…… back in ancient times, when there were a lot of wild varieties, uncultivated, that were constantly crossing their genetic information via seed reproduction or due to drastic environmental changes (like migrations, forest fires, or climactic events). When you think about this, you realize the majority of the vine plant DNA is almost the same, but that little portion of variation, less than 15% of the entire DNA, is responsible for so many grape varieties that we cultivate in the vineyards globally!

I discovered that Verdicchio and Trebbiano di Lugana, which in the past were considered the same thing, (based on the 1960 ampelography descriptions) showed a differentiation in 7 genes, or more, in their protein expression. In other words, they were genetically similar, but they are not the same variety. When you compare the plants themselves as well as their grapes, you would observe smaller and more compact clusters in Verdicchio, with green colored skin (instead of the gold yellow one find’s in Trebbiano di Lugana), thinner skin in Verdicchio versus Trebbiano di Lugana, smaller leaves in Verdicchio vs Trebbiano di Lugana. When considering the wine potential, Trebbiano di Lugana shows more sapidity and lower pH, therefore showcasing a higher acidity.

Now, considering the term Turbiana, it is the ancient dialect name of Trebbiano di Lugana, and it was officially added in the Disciplinare (the producers regulation) in 2011, after the publications of our studies on the variety. Technically its the same meaning, to identify our indigenous grape, but it’s much easier to associate the name Turbiana to Lugana. It is especially helpful for the world of consumers and wine lovers.

How is wine making around lake garda changing? In what ways is tradition still enduring?

Wine making is a process in continuous development!

In our territory in the last two decades there has been a big movement towards higher plant density per hectare. This allows a lower quantity of grape per plant, that guarantees better quality. There is also an increasing interest in very old vineyards, that are nowadays considered an important heritage by all the producers. Of course they are less productive, but they show a great stability in the final grape quality, as well as during unhappy or climatically complicated harvests. The consequences of these changes in approach allow us to improve a lot in single-parcels or individual vineyard vinification—which represents the best in terms of terroir and identity! Believe me…. it seems so logical and simple, but, in reality, it is so complicated to make it happen in the winery. Starting from equipment and all the attention that needs to be paid for every single tank or barrel, to get the final extra value of identity in our bottles.

Tradition is still important, especially in the vineyard. You need to be a great and attentive observer. Let me remind you, in our area of production, are indigenous grape varieties. I’d like to say they are the real ID of our territory. As I said, we can renew the plantation of the vineyard, but most of the genetic heritage hasn’t changed for thousands of years.

Your chances to meet Fabio to taste for yourself:
May 13th – Curated Wine Group, Trade Only | Charleston, SC
May 14th – Curated Wine Group, Trade Only | Columbia, SC
May 15th – Curated Wine Group, Trade Only | Greenville, SC
May 15th – Wine House, Public Tasting | Greenville, SC