Red Wine – Italian bluegrass 40 years on

For Italian bluegrass music ensemble Red Wine, the analogy with culinary excellence is too good to ignore, and to learn how the ensemble determined their name shows that it isn’t fanciful. 

Mandolin player Martino Coppo, who started by playing the guitar at the age of 13, shares this account, revealing the derivation of the band name … 

“One night they all gathered at Silvio’s house with some friends to brainstorm about the band’s name, and after few useless hours of drinking every bottle of wine available (emptying Silvio’s cellar), one of their friends said, “why don’t you just call it red wine?” 

Less parochial than using the name of Liguria’s finest (it being the region of which Genoa – where the band is based – is the capital). 

Red Wine, active since 1978 is one of Europe’s first professional bluegrass bands and, with a style that encompasses traditional and contemporary bluegrass, country, Gospel, and swing music, the quartet remains one of the most high-profile European bands.  

The band was started by Silvio Ferretti and Beppe Gambetta, two like-minded musicians who shared a passion for the guitar, Simon & Garfunkel, Jethro Tull, and other acoustic artists of that era. 

Senior band member and banjo player Ferretti remembers how they got to know each other …. 

“I met Beppe at a friend’s house in the hills north of Genova, on New Year’s Eve 1974. I knew from our host that Beppe was a good guitar player, so I brought my guitar, and we jammed the whole evening and a good part of the night. At that time Beppe didn’t know what bluegrass was, and I only knew what precious little I could gather from a 4-LP box set on Vanguard/The Book Of The Month Club, titled American Folk Music and Balladeers, I believe, which I had literally stolen from an uncle. I only played guitar at the time, and not half as good as Beppe, but we found some common ground in Paul Simon, John Fahey, and other guitar players of that time. Including Ian Anderson!”

Gambetta adds a bit of detail …. 

“I met Silvio at New Year’s Eve in 1974. It was a party of a school mate of mine, at his country house in the Ligurian mountains. We met and spent many hours playing together, he already knew about the ‘dancing thumb’ in the finger-picking style, I didn’t have a clue.

Silvio got the LP of the Newport Folk Festival from his traveling uncle. It was through that album that I could hear the flatpicking sound of the guitar of Doc Watson for my first time and it changed my music perspective…

The ‘Beppe e Silvio’ duo was joined by Raimondo Oggiano (guitar) and, soon after, by Enzo Porella (violin) and Ferruccio Rocca (bass). The newly-formed (and still unnamed) band played a blend of all the different genres brought together by its individual members. With the name Red Wine String Band, they began to play in the Genoa area, firstly, and then throughout northern Italy, showcasing an extremely diverse musical repertoire. 

In 1981 Martino Coppo, born in 1958 and drawn to American folk music at a very early age, (mandolin and vocals) joined and Oggiano and Porella – both of whom had very little inclination towards playing bluegrass music – left the band.  

Silvio Ferretti explains how natural this addition was  …. 

“Martino helped the change with his mandolin and his love for Newgrass: we met in the middle. … Martino joined in 1981 but we had been playing together in another band for a year or so, and it was a piece of cake to keep our feet in both pairs of shoes without hurting anybody. Then the other band disbanded owing to the bass player’s health problems, at the same time when Red Wine was starting playing more intensively, so again everything worked out right.”

Coppo explains a bit about how that happened and how the band evolved in the following few years ….

“I joined in 1981 after few years of playing guitar and mandolin in a local folk/sort-of-bluegrass band called Green Cellar Society, where we were playing lots of different material, from Neil Young to Bob Dylan, Steve Young, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and even some poor attempt to play some New Grass Revival stuff…  

Marco Curreri, who later became Red Wine bass player in 1983 (he passed away in 1993), was also playing in that band and, since we had three guitars and a bass in the beginning, one night  he picked up an old-electric-unplayable Eko mandolin hangin’ on the wall in the rehearsal room and handed it to me saying: ‘we got too many guitars, you should try to play this…’

I had never played a mandolin before, so I started listening to Sam Bush, John Duffey, David Grisman, Bill Monroe, Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, trying to figure out chords, scales, patterns and licks by listening to records and tapes…in those days, without Internet, teachers, books, video, or CD to learn from, it was a challenge to make progress.

When Silvio asked me to join Red Wine because their guitar/mandolin player was leaving for the army service, I was super honored and excited, and I immediately said yes, but I didn’t want to create conflicts with the other band so I asked Silvio to join Green Cellar Society on banjo and make it a more progressive bluegrass band, as opposite to Red Wine’s more traditional sound of the early days. 

When Marco Curreri joined Red Wine, Green Cellar Society came to a natural end, but a lot of the more progressive attitude was transferred from there to Red Wine, changing the sound of the band forever.”

Influenced by an ever-increasing knowledge of other bluegrass groups, both old and new, Red Wine’s sound solidified and when in 1982 the band took part in the first Italian Bluegrass Festival, at the Ponderosa Ranch in Tradate, near Varese, the basis of the band’s sound, as we now know it, had formed; with key components being Martino Coppo’s and Silvio Ferretti’s voices, Beppe Gambetta’s virtuoso guitar, Coppo’s mandolin – playing in the styles of Bill Monroe and Sam Bush, and everything in between – and Ferretti’s Scruggs-style banjo. 

At the end of 1983 the band was joined by Marco “Baby” Curreri, who, with his rocky bass playing, powerful voice and impressive vocal range, was able to give the Red Wine sound a rock music edge.  

Ferretti reflects on the little in the way of  his previous music experiences prior to Red Wine …… 

“I had close to none, having only played in a guitar duo first with a friend and then with Beppe, who had played with a few rock bands for a few years. Martino had played in several high school bands (rock and such). Our first bass player had played electric bass in a prog rock band, and Marco Curreri had played with the best rock musicians of Genova. So, I was the only rookie in music, albeit with six years of classical piano under my belt… and I was in awe of the other guys, their technique and power. Marco Curreri was especially impressive…”

Starting in 1984 Red Wine began performing at major international festivals and making concert appearances all over Europe, gaining a strong following everywhere that they played. In the summer the band took part in its first international festival, in Toulouse, in neighbouring France. They were very well received not only by the audience but also by the other European and American bands that performed at the festival. 

After playing a couple of Italian festivals and again at the Toulouse festival, Ferretti and Coppo were recruited for a few months in 1986 by the band Freewheelin’ – Jean-Marie Peschiutta, guitar and vocals, Natalie Shelar, bass and vocals, whom they had met at the Toulouse festival in 1984. They were based in Marburg, Germany, at the time, and had just lost their banjo player and mandolin player, Lody and Paul VanVlodrop. With Freewheelin’ they toured France, Germany, and the USA, and later played on DOC, a then famous TV show on Italy’s national TV channel. In the long-term, the contacts that they made during this brief interlude would prove to be very useful to Red Wine. 

In 1986 they issued an eponymous cassette tape and three years later Red Wine released its first and only LP, Full Taste (Ladyslipper RW 002). 

Ferretti remembers Red Wine’s “first official date” like this … 

 “….. the first date I remember ….. happened in June 1978, in our hometown of Genova, in an outdoors event (with several other bands) in front of one of the town’s historical doorways (Porta Siberia), with the port behind and a lot of young folks dancing. At the time we only/mostly played folk and old-time music, with maybe one or two quasi-bluegrass numbers in [our] repertoire. I remember Raimondo Oggiano singing The Wreck of Old No. 9 from the Doc & Merle repertoire (same arrangement), I sang Way Downtown and played mandolin on it (holy cow!), and that was pretty much all the ‘bluegrass’ that we played 40 years ago.”

1990 was a very significant year with major events affecting the band; Marco Curreri became ill and Beppe Gambetta decided to concentrate on his solo career, actually launched a few years beforehand, which led to the Red Wine becoming inactive for a brief period. 

During the three years in which Curreri fought against cancer, Ferretti and Coppo reformed the band, recruiting Maria Grazia Branca (bass) and Luca Bartolini (guitar) and started touring Italy and Europe once again. 

Marco Curreri died in September 1993 and, in his honor, Red Wine began a series of concerts called “On a night like this.” With the participation of other Genoese artists and bands, the concerts have been held in Genoa every year before Christmas until this day, a tradition that is going to last.  

Also, in 1993 Red Wine was voted best Italian acoustic band by a readers’ poll for Chitarre magazine. 

Guitarist Dino Di Giacomo joined the band at the end of that year, and with him onboard Red Wine started to extend its activity and, in 1995, the band made its first tour of the USA. From then onwards, they performed at festivals and other venues across the USA, doing so almost every year, with appearances in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, and California and many points in between. 

This began an excellent working relationship with booking agents Mike and Susan Drudge, who quickly became part of the Red Wine family and, through Class Act Entertainment, the couple has continued to book the band.

In 1998 Red Wine released a CD, Times & ChangesOriginal Red Wine Since 1978 (RW 004), neatly recognising their 20th anniversary with 15 recordings from their early days. 

When family and work commitments forced Di Giacomo, who lived in Milan, to leave the band, Luca Bartolini returned to the line-up for a few years. Then upright bass player Lorenzo Sandi was a member of the band for a few months, replacing Maria Grazia Branca, who had left for good. 

At the turn of the century the band released Italian Cats, which features two songs, Across the Great Divide and Till the Best Comes Along, sung by internationally renowned Kathy Chiavola, herself of Italian (Sicilian) ancestry. 

A further change took place in 2005 when Stefano Cavallo, an old friend of Ferretti’s and Coppo’s – the threesome, together with Marco Curreri, were members of the Green Cellar Society during the early 1980s – joined Red Wine, playing bass. 

After a six-year gap in recording, Red Wine released Winter’s Come and Gone (RW-006), which among its 13 tracks is the song Il Cielo d’Irlanda (The Irish Sky), written by singer-songwriter Massimo Bubola, and four tracks with guest Tim O’Brien playing fiddle. 

2008 was a very significant year in the group’s progression as Red Wine, aided by Dino Di Giacomo, took part in the IBMA World of Bluegrass activities, in Nashville, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco (where they had already played in 2007 and were to play again in 2009; an impressive three years in a row), reminding the bluegrass community that, despite their various misadventures and line-up changes – typical of long-lived bands – their style of bluegrass music had much to offer. However, this was not before yet another change to its membership as Marco Ferretti (Silvio’s son) brought a youthful element in the role of guitar player.  

Marco Ferretti, at 28, the baby of the group, became an official member of Red Wine in the summer of 2008 ….. 

“Being Silvio’s son, Red Wine and bluegrass music in general have always been part of my life. The first time I played on stage with the band (on banjo) was probably in 2005, when I was invited to play My Walkin’ Shoes as an encore. After that, every time I had the chance to attend their show, I would take my banjo with me and play the last couple numbers with them. In 2008, after guitar player Luca Bartolini parted ways with the band, I was asked to pick up the guitar and officially become part of Red Wine. Since I was a newbie on the instrument, we had another guitar player on our first shows together playing lead guitar.

That’s all, I guess. It’s been just over ten years now and playing music with this fantastic group of people never ceases to thrill and amaze me.”

Also in 2008, Red Wine received the Liguria Region Music Award from the Cristoforo Colombo Foundation. 

Following the huge success of the 30th anniversary celebration concert in Genoa, in 2008, Red Wine has started a new yearly adventure in 2009, the Red Wine Bluegrass Party, actually a concert, with international guests like Tim O’Brien, Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Peter Rowan and The Kruger Brothers. In the past two years the party has featured alternative musical genres (Celtic, Dixieland, Old Time Music), with the valuable help of some incredible musicians from Italy and Europe. 

Here is a glimpse of the 2017 Red Wine Bluegrass Party with Kathy Kallick and Annie Staninec …..

At the beginning of 2011 Stefano Cavallo left the band and recommended Lucas Bellotti as the new bass player. 

Bellotti already had extensive musical experience, including five-year conservatory studies on double-bass, and a career both in the recording studio and on stage in the jazz and fusion genres.

Argentinian-born Lucas Bellotti (electric bass and vocals), 37 years old last month, is the latest recruit to the band …. 

“I jumped on the Red Wine train in 2011 thanks to Stefano Cavallo. Stefano is a long-time friend and I’m so thankful he called me to replace him in the band. 

Honestly, I had no idea what bluegrass was until I met Martino and Silvio in a bar in Genoa. They gave me something like 15 CDs to listen to and learn from, and I immediately felt nice connections with them. They were nice people and motivated band mates. 

I met Marco at our first rehearsal. 

So, the very same night I started learning tunes, and actually took me a bit to understand the drive. 

Before that I’ve always played with drummers or percussionists, so it was quite new for me re-assign the snare function to a mandolin or guitar chop and keep it rolling. 

Our first gig was a couple of weeks later in restaurant in Genoa, let’s say a warm-up gig. My first impression was: They sound like a record!! Then we left for a three-day festival in Ireland, and there is nothing better than a Guinness to make things happen.

Since then Red Wine is a huge part of my life. No matter what happens they are good friends first of all and ready to help.

I can feel it when we play, and it’s the best part of our trip.

We tour at least once a year in the US, and regularly in EU. 

We played IBMA, Greyfox, Mountain Song, Wintergrass, Old Settlers, Hardly Strictly, Joe Val and many others and all the major European festivals.

I’m just a small part of Red Wine lifetime. Scoring 40 years is a great achievement and please consider that you need to be very motivated to keep people together for so long, but it takes even more if you are an Italian bluegrass band! Tim O’Brien said, ‘Like an ice cube in the desert.’

I like to believe that I did what I could to make Red Wine a better band.”

Between December 2011 and January 2012, Red Wine recorded a new album, simply named RED, which the band released in February 2012, promoting the CD with a short US tour, including, among other dates, an appearance at the Wintergrass festival in Bellevue, Washington, and a performance at the Freight & Salvage, in Berkeley, California. 

During 2014 the band released Pickin’ Friends (their only joint project for Analogy Records to date). Three of the friends featured are Tim O’Brien, Annie Staninec, and Josh Swift. 

Like all good bands Red Wine is aware of the advantages of writing their own songs. Silvio Ferretti identifies what each member has the contributed in this context ….. 

“Martino is mostly an instrumentalist when it comes to writing stuff, and he’s provided a few numbers through the years some of which we recorded: Grace’s Reel (on Times & Changes, we don’t play that anymore), and Stealin’ Peaches (on Pickin’ Friends, with that crazy and incredible Rushad Eggleston, we get quite a few requests for it at shows). He also wrote the music for the verse on Hometown Boy, on Carolina Red. 

I’m not much of a writer, but I’ve written too many songs and tunes through the years, only a precious few of which we recorded: Street Lights (on the LP Full Taste, and on Times & Changes), and The Dancin’ Blues (also on Times & Changes, it used to be fairly popular with audiences back 20 years ago…); the instrumentals Tennessee May (on Winter’s Come And Gone), Grannie’s Blues (on RED, with Tony Trischka on second banjo), and Beaver Valley (on Pickin’ Friends); more recently Cold Big City (on Pickin’ Friends) and – on Carolina RedNancy Ann (co-written with Gary Ferguson) and the instrumental McCaleb. As of now Gary and I are working on a new song and reworking old songs, some of which I wrote a gazillion years ago. 

Lucas and Marco are fairly new at writing, but both are great musicians, so: Lucas all but wrote the first part (slow) of Beaver Valley, making it a lot more interesting, and Marco wrote the music for the chorus of Hometown Boy, and all the music for a song of mine which is unrecorded yet.”

Great friend Kathy Chiavola, herself of Italian heritage, first “met [Red Wine] at IBMA in the first year or so when it was held in Owensboro, Kentucky. I heard people speaking Italian over my shoulder in a crowd and we found each other.” 

“I have had the great pleasure of recording and playing shows with Red Wine, in their various configurations, over the past twenty years. They are dedicated, accomplished, and talented musicians who deserve a place amongst the best American bluegrass bands.

They are courageous musicians who have nearly single-handedly created the bluegrass scene in Italy, converting bewildered audiences into rabid fans while inspiring subsequent generations of musicians. Their warmth, self-effacing charm and sense of humor have made them irresistible entertainers. They are virtuosic instrumentalists as well as team players who understand great songs and possess the vocals and Italian heart to carry them off.  

They have not accomplished all this in a vacuum, but rather, with great perseverance and effort, traversing the Atlantic Ocean countless times for decades. Congratulations on your 40th anniversary, miei cari amici!! Here’s to the next 40!”

Red Wine’s latest CD is Carolina RedVintage 1978 (RW-009), which was recorded and produced by Jens Kruger at Double Time Studio, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in February 2018. It features another American chanteuse, Kathy Kallick, singing La Canzone Dell’amore Perduto (The Song of the Lost Love), an old gem penned by the late Genoese song-writer Fabrizio De Andrè that Kallick fell in love with when she first heard it in 2017. Kuger plays banjo on one track, Nancy Ann. 

Since 1984 Red Wine has played all over Europe, performing at major international festivals and playing concerts in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Holland, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Austria, sharing the stage with the most important bands and acts from the USA and Europe, and gaining a strong following everywhere. Time and again, Red Wine has been the European tour band for US artists like Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum, and Kathy Chiavola.

Among their many adventures in the States, Red Wine has shared the stage with some of the major artists of the genre such as New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and Nickel Creek.

Also, they have been guests on several television and radio programs, including Michael Johnathan’s Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour in Lexington, Kentucky (in 2001 and 2007), and Into the Blue on Bluegrass Radio Network, Terry Herd’s show, in Nashville, Tennessee.

The band celebrated 40 years since its formation on November 17, 2018, with their 10th Bluegrass Party at the Teatro Della Tosse in Genoa, where they officially released Carolina Red.  

More recently Red Wine has some renewed impetuous with the return to Genoa of Lucas Bellotti, who, for three-plus years, had been living with his companion and working in Romans-sur-Isere, south-west France, making rehearsals problematic to organize. Silvio Ferretti is particularly thrilled with this turn of events, “Lucas and Marco have been fundamental in raising the musical level in our band, so having them here is nothing short of great”.

In this brief clip Hot Rize, who, in 2018, also celebrated 40 years since its formation, share a little ditty to mark the occasion …… 


  • Self-titled cassette (RW-001, 1986) 
  • Full Taste (RW-002, LP, 1989, out of print)
  • Red Wine (RW-003, cassette, 1995, out of print)
  • Times & ChangesOriginal Red Wine since 1978 (RW-004, CD, 1998, a 22-song collection containing material from the above-mentioned cassettes and LP, plus seven newly recorded numbers)
  • Italian Cats (RW-005, CD, 2001)
  • Winter’s Come and Gone (RW-006, CD, 2007) 
  • RED (RW-007, CD, 2012)
  • Pickin’ Friends (RW-008, CD and Hi-Fi tape reel, 2014)
  • Carolina RedVintage 1978 (RW-009, CD, 2018)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.