In his youth, Oscar’s grandfather did something radically different. While all around him growers went over to varieties that produced the greatest yield per square metre, Mario stuck with tradition. Two generations later, nothing has changed. The family growing ethos is still driven by a desire to produce nothing less than absolute perfection - and it pays off from the very first pick.
It’s that total lack of complacency, the determination to push to new peaks of flavor with every harvest, that defines their work.
The Zerbinati farm lies on the old riverbed of the River Po: thick, mineral-rich soil that provides the perfect base for growing truly exceptional melons. Melon plants will absorb any available water, meaning the key to flavor is an ability to limit their intake while still providing the necessary minerals plants need to thrive. Oscar’s soil - combined with his carefully created growing mounds - does just that.
In these naturally ideal conditions, most growers would select any variety and let the soil do the work. Oscar takes it a step further, developing varieties from specialist seed companies that thrive in his particular patch of melon country: Honeymoon, Sunsweet and the fifty year-old, largely abandoned Sentinel Watermelon.
Three plantings of each variety are carefully choreographed to ensure the same standard of harvest throughout the season. The first in February for the early season, indoor-grown May harvests; followed by an outdoor sowing in March for early June, finally the last tunnel planting for fruit to be harvested in September. Diligent thinning of the plants ensures that each fruit - matured for a minimum of 38 days - absorbs the nutrients, sugars and minerals it needs to develop that unbeatable flavor. To protect his outdoor fruit from too much sun exposure, Oscar applies a natural sunscreen of ground stone anytime the UV readings surpass a reading of 4. Dedication most growers would consider insanity.
Oscar is aware of his greatest gift: the soil. Combining age-old techniques with modern regenerative practice, he invests care year-round to ensure the soil is protected for future generations. Fields are solarised after the last harvest to cleanse the soil, then covered with a layer of manure for restoration over winter. Crops are rotated and in recent years, the family have trialled the planting of legumes to regenerate and reinvigorate the land.