WWC23 – Daniele Piccinin, by Mike Hopkins

Daniele Piccinin

This submission to our 2023 wine writing competition, by videographer Mike Hopkins, is about Italian natural winemaker Daniele Piccinin. See our WWC23 guide for more.

Mike Hopkins writes Mike is a freelance videographer and photographer based in London. He is happiest working in the vineyards and cellar with the people who make wine, and is fascinated by the unique stories that each producer has to tell.

It’s 6am, and I’m standing in the hills of San Giovanni Ilarione, about to launch my drone to capture dawn over the vineyards of Muni. I’m making a short film about the small wine estate, 500 metres above sea level and a 40 minute drive from Verona, Italy. There’s a slight chill in the air and mist that will soon be burned off by the intensity of the rising sun: “Gorgeous!” I remark. “Gergus!” (with a hard G), agrees my friend and client, Italian winemaker Daniele Piccinin, a ‘leading light’ in the natural wine movement in Italy.

Daniele is a gentle giant of a man who drives a tiny Fiat Panda 4x4 up the steep hillside tracks to work with his Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Durella (a local variety) vines. The Panda is the only vehicle tough enough to make it up the limestone slopes in rain, mud, snow and ice, while also small enough to fit through the gaps among the trees and forest on either side; Daniele loves his Panda. When he’s driving the car he looks like the main character from the Disney Pixar movie ‘The Incredibles’, shoehorning himself into his tiny wagon, that’s why I nicknamed Daniele ‘Mr Incredible’.

It’s not just his size and square jaw that earns him that moniker, but also the incredible life he leads. The demands on the life of a winemaker are many, and Daniele is doing it from scratch (after quitting his job as a chef to follow his dream) and while with his wife Camilla, raising their children, who are as wild and fun as you would expect of kids growing up on acres of land, surrounded by animals and nature, following their parents around the vines and in the cellar, helping in the vegetable garden and picking herbs to distil into essential oils.

Daniele is meticulous, obsessed with the quality of his wine production, and so eager to improve he regularly travels to other regions, especially Champagne, to learn from like-minded producers. Respect for nature is of the utmost importance to him. He is deeply concerned by the impact that agriculture has on the land and strives to minimise his own footprint; working tirelessly to increase biodiversity and taking measures to encourage other types of nature to flourish among the grape vines.

We first met back in 2015, I had arranged to shoot an interview for a documentary about ‘orange’ wines. When my partner and I arrived in October, Daniele and his whole family were speedily picking the late harvest Durella while the conditions were just right; so after filming the interview, we put down the camera and got to work collecting these ripe, juicy, golden coloured grapes.

After wolfing down bowls of nonna’s pasta at the family home, we established a bond and since then have become firm friends. I have visited San Giovani Ilarione numerous times since 2015, witnessing the business and family grow. Back then Daniele and Camilla had only one small daughter, but now there are three of them who happily (ab)use me as their plaything: drawing on my face, playing hide n’ seek and dancing past bedtime around the boombox in the kitchen.

Daniele and I were born in the same year, two weeks apart, and sometimes it feels like we could be brothers. Our shared passion for great food (outdoor BBQ in the summer or around the fireplace in the winter) and our fascination with the endless wonders and complexities of wine always means we are on common ground, despite the language barrier. His generosity is endless, and we share a belief that good people, and the time shared together, ideally with a glass of wine, is the most valuable thing in life. If I had to describe Daniele in one word? Gergus.

The photograph is the author's own.