A long time ago, in 1984, I fell in love with Montalcino. I am a nature photographer and these views, that – like our poet Ungaretti said – enlighten me of immense, simply stole my soul: I had to have a house here!
So in 1987 I begun searching for my Tuscan “mansion” without even thinking about producing wine: I was a wine lover but I thought I would be too old to enter this world made of incredibly long waiting periods.
Every proposal was too big, or too expensive or not suitable… so it took ten years before my friend Carlo Vittori called me and told me that he had found a place. And, recalling his words…how right he was!
I arrived from Switzerland (I used to live there) after a six hours drive to see this shepherd under a centenary Oak taking his afternoon nap with his sheep bleating and ruminating around him and the big white Maremmano Shepherd dogs running in circle to keep them still. (Two of them, mother and daughter, where so wild that they remained with me: he wasn’t able to load them on his truck when he left. And when I asked him a few months later what to do with those dogs, he candidly told me with his Sardinian accent to shoot them, which I obviously never did.)
So I immediately understood that this was my place. The place of my life. The beauty, the distance from what, living there, we call “civilization”, the absolute absence of the horrible architectural slaughter of the last century that has destroyed so many Italian landscapes, the perfumes that pervade all year long this hills, the deep view on the east to Monticchiello… and Montepulciano, the prehistoric volcano Monte Amiata on the south, the near amphitheatric hills protecting Le Ripi on the west and north… all this was so wonderful…
But also so uncontaminated. Thousands of years of almost no population, a poor and dry soil that gives very poor crops, over 40°C in the summer and frozen lakes in winter, three or four hundered years old olive trees, forests of incredibly many different trees and shrubs, and flowers, flowers, flowers everywhere, all year around. And the wild asparagus, the Porcini, the blackberry, the white and black truffles that only the dog of my friend Francesco's is able to unearth, the wonderful red “corbezzolo” (arbutus). And then the wildlife, with rabbits and deers, boars and porcupines, wolves and yews, badgers and foxes, eagles from the Amiata and herons, buzzards, hawks, and the storks that pass by at the Orcia river twice a year, or al kinds of ducks that come into my lakes.
I love quality, pardon, excellence:
I believe excellence gives emotions.
And emotions give joy.
But emotions also help our brain to remember.
And this produces culture.
And culture has always produced a better life.
Sometimes we forget it and we put at risk…
Which is based on the evolution of our culture.
Definition of excellence*:
From the Latin EX (out) and CÈLLERE (move, push).
Excellence defines the highest level of quality.
Excellence in food & wine: Who defines the highest level of quality? When as many producers as today “search for excellence” it is impossible to “become the best”. This competition ends in a variety of “excellence interpretations” that permits us to enjoy the many faces of perfection.
*We accept the notion that our excellence is the product of winemaking practices that we conceive as the best possible. Meaning that we accept the limits of our sensibility to define those practices, and we use experience and confrontation with all kind of critics in order to increase constantly this sensibility.
A dream that lasted for 15 years between dreaming and doing, doing and dreaming. As I always say: ‘The most beautiful adventure of my life.’ Which is still going on.
Because I’m still dreaming, still inventing what could give a better wine, still waiting to see how some dreams of many years will become true, like my non concrete and not armed cellar, like the Bonsai I planted last year. And I still have this fear that something could go wrong. I still have this tension of avoiding any possible error.
So, in 2003, in such a hot and dry year, I decided to do my first wine.
We begun by sorting grape per grape by hand: the year was so hot and the vines so young that every bunch of grapes was dry on the sunny side and mature on the inner part. Discarding all the overripe and dry berries gave us a rich and fully bodied Brunello, fermented by his own yeast. I had a new 20 hectolitres Vosges Oak conical vat to start with: fermentation in new Oak had to become one of the basic characteristics of my wines.
And don’t even think we made no wine with the discarded super dry gapes: they became an incredible sweet wine, with 260 grams residual sugar per litre, from the dry grapes. It is still in the cellar and once in a while we drink a bit of it: it knocks out even black chocolate!
Since then every year I try to repeat it: but I never reached such a sugar concentration again. Who knows? Maybe one day…
I will never forget 2009: this sweet wine was fermenting since a month or so. Then someone in the cellar decided that it was done and gave it a rubber plug. A few days later I tear this plug to taste the wine… and a geyser of wine starts to the roof! I could have tried to plug it again, but I was so shocked that I wasn’t able to do anything than watch my sweet wine leaving this barrique… to be lost.
I called this wine “fuori legge” (outlaw) because it seemed that our disciplinary in Montalcino would prohibit this kind of sweet wine. But I was wrong: we can make a sweet wine called “Occhio di Pernice” (partrige’s eye) and when it will be ready, maybe after seven to ten years of keg (small barrel of 30 to 70 litres), I will bottle it and propose it to the market.
This allowed us to keep the integrity of the flora: the fields keep the shape they had with curves and slopes that you do not see in other vineyards.
When we begun planting, we started with Sangiovese in 2000 with a density of 5.000 roots per hectare. But in 2002 I asked myself if a higher density would not make less bunches of grapes per plant and, therefore, more quality. So I reduced the distance between the rows from 2,5 to 2 meters and reached a density of 6.666 plants per hectare. But then, in 2003, I decided to go even denser: five rows at 1 meter and one at two meters to allow the tractor to go through: 11.111 p/H.
And in 2005 I decided to test the densest possible setting of the plants at 40 centimeters one from the other: 62.500 p/H. The densest vineyard in the world!
I chose to plant it in squares of 4 x 4 meter with 121 plants per square and let my agronomists and my oenologist yelling at me for how stupid I was.
It’s just a tenth of a hectare, I said, let me try if I am really so dumb.
My thought was: if in Burgundy they say that the good wines do not come before the vineyard is at least 35 years old and we know that the root there go very, very deep, this means that quality has a strong relationship with the way that roots go through different layers of geology, absorbing different kinds of minerals. If I oblige the plants to go deep with such a dense planting, maybe I will get a better wine...
I know I’ll never reach perfection…
..but this remains the perfect place to try.
Because this is my dream:
Since I was a child I thought beauty is the only answer.
Beauty is perceived by all our senses.
From music to images, from food to caresses.
Beauty produces harmony.
And harmony brings quality of life to everyone.
Here I can search beauty and harmony.
And those who work here can touch it.
Humility is the best way to understand:
Such a land produces wonders only by the mere existing.
We have to transform these wonders by
keeping their essence and their strength.
We can understand what keeps its character.
If we change it, we destroy it…
…and we will never understand it.
This is why we do not intervene.
Our belief about humility:
If we want to keep all learning processes alive, the main attitude is humility.
“You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.” (David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard)
I think that an open mind is able to increase sensitivity and that it is only possible if somebody is able of a very high level of self critics: sensitivity is “conditio sine qua non” in the production of excellence and the humble attitude of openness to critics and learning is the best way to increase it.
As we have been following how science once accepted or was unable to detect certain molecules that later were considered dangerous for our health. Therefore we decided to avoid any non-natural molecule: in this way we will not risk to discover later, that something we thought was harmless, in fact is proved to be harmful.
As everyone knows wine contains a big amount of antioxidants, such as resveratrol and many others, that are known for their positive effect on health, which means that for the moment, a good glass of wine is a joy that enhances our well-being. As far as we do not exaggerate.
For this reason the soil treated biodynamically is very similar to the soil of a woodland and very different from a conventional agricultural soil. It is less compact, contains a great amount of humus and shows an incredibly strong and complex inner life, from worms to bacteria as to any vegetal and animal biological activity.
The definition says that the farm becomes a living entity inscribed in the larger context of the whole universe: for this reason in Biodynamics the calendar of the planets is very important and the moon phases determine the particular days in which some activities, like bottling or planting, or like preparing and dispensing the 500 and 501 mixtures and the tisanes, have to be done.
At Podere Le Ripi we are new for Biodynamics: we just started in 2010.
For this reason we work with a consultant that is teaching the method: we think it will take at least ten years before we learn the whole method, because it is very complex and need a lot of sensitivity.
When I look to a wild forest I can feel an incredible healthiness, I can smell marvelous aromas, I can walk on a soft soil, I realize that the absence of human intervention is the best way for this plants to express their character. Biodynamics brings this kind of wild life to our vines, this kind of healthy strength.
What is wonderful in Biodynamics is that the studies made with this techniques have developed procedures, like the 500 or 501 compound or the use of certain insects or hormones, that permit us to control diseases and parasites on one side and to ameliorate the health of soil and plants in a very fast way.
Our wines, regardless of the grape variety, are
For instance, since the very beginning, I truly wanted to preserve the original flora: flowers, herbs, the micro-flora and the mycorrhiza developed in the centuries before. To maintain this biodiversity we did not
There are two different approaches into vinification:
Podere Le Ripi strongly believes and belongs to the second group: WE DO NOT INTERVENE. This does not mean we avoid doing everything we can to grow the best grapes possible. Of course, we do. We are biodynamic, we pull off the weeds either by machine or by hand with the hoe. In addition to that, we use the best Vosgi oak to ferment and refine our wines in. We DO NOT add anything to our soil, meaning no products of chemical industry origins. So that, in turn, we don't risk adding anything to our wines. Exceptions made for copper and sulfur, that have been used in viticulture for centuries.
Our soil is composed by:
Clay, which is very often mixed with sodium, so that this clay is often salty
Tuff and siliceous sand compressed by geological pressures.
Limestone boulders rounded down from centuries of sees and rivers waters.
Beige sandstone that sometimes is also bluish, when it’s younger
So we have all kinds of possible minerals contained in the soil, and if one thinks that the Monte Amiata, which is as near as 7 nautical miles, is an ancient volcano, sediments of volcanic debris must be in the soil too.
We are involved both economically and emotionally with our people: we are a team of friends. Most of them have been working here for years, and they are very proud of the wines they make with us. Particularly Sebastian (our oenologist) and Alessandro (our agronomist): we love to have lunches and dinners together discussing our wines and comparing them with others.
Sometimes the fog forces us to wait because of too much dew moist the grape's berries. We halt until it evaporates and then we harvest as fast as possible since we do not want our grapes to warm up in the sun. We try to gather in two different stages: first the ripe grapes and few days after the ones that required more ripening. Nevertheless, the yield is very poor, 3.000 kilograms per hectare, and the maturation is almost uniform.
If some grapes are slightly ahead in the maturation process, they will bring to the most sugars and tannins. Others slightly less ripe will balance out with a great acidity and big aromas. We pay attention in order to avoid the unripe grapes, giving to the wine bitter tannins, also called "green tannins". They release into the wines a rough and greenish sensation. For this reason, I always fight against the weather: we need to be brave and wait. In September and October, it is common to see the weather getting worse and be obliged to wait until the rain is reabsorbed by the plants. We know, if the grapes are not perfectly ripe we will make defective wines. And so we find courage!