Sunday, October 01, 2017

The 2017 Harvest in Umbria and Tuscany - Fear and "Global Weirding" - Pt.II

Chianti Classico - O Brother, Where Art Thou?

We’re all struggling to seek, explain and unfold Chianti Classico in today’s world. Not a “cool” wine in the wine world, though a wine that millions of people know and love – hence the Catch-22 moment we find ourselves in.

And as well, our crew found ourselves within the Chianti Classico zone on a recent pass through Umbria and Tuscany. Here’s what we found at a few “classic” estates.

Brolio – It’s a bit of a mind-boggle trying to wrap one’s head around the reality of Brolio. The place is vast, with sprawling, never-ending vineyards, a huge castle, dripping with history, and a winery aspect that is a true fattoria. The place is a company town, complete with a local bar that opens to the local workers and neighbors one night a week with karaoke, food, drinks and dancing in the street.

Brolio’s master, Francesco Ricasoli, is searching for its place in the sun again. The light never went out, but it dimmed to an almost indiscernible whiff of a flame. The place runs like a Swiss watch, there’s a Teutonic order to Brolio, and is seems like this is part of the DNA of the place as initiated by Bettino Ricasoli, who is one of the reasons Chianti Classico exists today.

There’s plenty about Bettino and the spell his legacy has cast upon Sangiovese in Tuscany. But that was long ago and his descendant Francesco, along with the rest of the world, are no longer part of those glory days of the past. We’ve all arrived, and survived, to face our future along with the challenges that brings. In the end, this is easy stuff, for it is simply wine. We’re not trying to prevent a madman from lobbing a nuclear warhead halfway across the world. But in our little world of wine, Chianti Classico ain’t the “bomb” it used to be. So, we dig in, we fight, and we don’t always win. But we persist, because that’s what slaves to the wine god do. And that is what Francesco Ricasoli and his team are doing as well. Never, ever, giving up – this time.

Felsina – Without the burden of such lengthy history as Brolio, but one of the indomitable estates in the Classico zone, Felsina reminds me, in a way, of a winery in Napa Valley that has been run by a family for a very long time. Not that the wines have any resemblance to Napa. But they have this aura about them that I recognize from my youth in California’s wine country.

Maybe it’s the independent streak, along with an entrepreneurial confidence that what they do will make things better for the world of wine, and along with it, Chianti Classico.

Smaller than Brolio, and more tractable, Felsina manages to treat Chianti Classico less as a dystopian punishment and more like a utopian affirmation. They face the same tests as many of the producers in the zone. They make those challenges seem powerless and pointless, at least when you are on the property. And the wines, well, you didn’t come here for a review, did you, with the ghost of Joe Garagiola transmitting his color commentary? Pick up a bottle, do your own taste test. If that isn’t good enough for you, Galloni, Parker, Suckling, and all the folks who people follow for tasting notes, will offer you more than a modicum of adjectives, scores and praise.

Pietro and Riccardo Losi
Querciavalle – The epitome of the small-batch producer. The Losi family has been farming their land, and slowly expanding as their family grows, for several generations. They didn’t land here from an industrial northern city with a fortune, made from textiles, tech or centuries of being filthy rich and bored, looking for something to do. They are farmers, and they had to work the land to survive. Period. Along the way, they learned how to make wine, and, over time, the wine got better and better. Querciavalle has been, for as long as I have followed this property, a “Quiet Man” kind of wine. It doesn’t shout or yell. It compels one to think, even to wax philosophically, beyond the glass of wine one is holding.

There is no reason for Querciavalle to exist, save for the desire of the Losi family to practice their right livelihood, day after day. Today’s patriarch, Pietro Losi, whom I have known since we were both young men, is the contemplative friar of Querciavalle. His children, Riccardo and Valeria, have been infused with the spirit of the place, and they too have a life ahead in service of this land. Thank God.

Roberto and Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti

Badia a Coltibuono – And speaking of God, we arrive to the abbey of Coltibuono (good harvest) where our hosts, the siblings Roberto and Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, are waiting for us.

The place is dripping with history, on so many levels. Perhaps not with the patina (and the weight) of Brolio. But Jesus himself might have passed through here, in one form or another. And yes, it was a wealthy family (banking – Florence) who reclaimed Coltibuono from the encroaching wilderness that threatened to engulf the vines, the abbey and the history, back into obscurity. The last thing the bored gentry would sign up for. As it was, there was a strong entrepreneurial sense that accompanied the family that made life back in Florence seem, well, boring.

The Abbey is at the top of a hill. Imagine a time without power tools or engines to propel those tools up a hill. And then imagine, as in so many places in Europe before the industrial Revolution, just how long it took to build a place like this and to manage it. Roberto showed us antique, daily records of what transpired on the property, as it was a working farm that many families depended on for survival. Not a mono-culture, but a domain that was diversified and complex. All before computers. Everything written out by hand, and in the head of the headmaster, who had to make sure the place kept running. Something to think about when one rests one’s head on a pillow in one of the quiet rooms once reserved for the monks who lived there, before Napoleon arrived and changed the world forever.

And the wine? Yes, of course. Like Brolio, one can find ancient bottles of Badia a Coltibuono out among the world. For a time, in the early 1980’s, I had a contact in Florence who proffered re-corked bottles of the ’58,’62 and ’70, for tables in restaurants in Dallas. Imagine the glitzy 1980’s in Dallas – the Cowboys (America’s team), the TV show (JR and Sue Ellen), the town dripping with cocaine, money and conspicuous consumption. And on the table a bottle of 1962 Badia a Coltibuono, back where the records were still being kept by hand. Where the mezzadria was still in evidence, and when people still went to church in the abbey after a long weeks’ worth of work. Kind of blow’s one’s mind, doesn’t it?

Our short few days in Classico country only offered us a brief glimpse of life today, along with history lessons and real-time experiences. But the palimpsest of my mind was once again etched with the impression that Chianti Classico is nowhere near done with expressing itself to the outside world. And though the outside world has changed, and will always change, Chianti Classico isn’t looking in the rear-view mirror. They are, like the rest of us, just trying to work their way through this fog of a life on our funny little orb.

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Anonymous said...

great article as always

Rico said...

Brolio, I had forgotten all about Brolio. They were always my go to wine.

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