Smelling the Roses

Vigneto Grande 2020

Whether for reasons of upbringing, experience or temperament, I am always striving—to think up and take on projects, formulate plans, aim for change; grow and achieve. As a little girl, I convinced my parents to redecorate my room, having it painted pale blue to match the canopy bed I cajoled them into ordering—the first transformation I oversaw. I started a playgroup the summer I turned 11, a friend and I babysitting half-a-dozen toddlers for a dollar a morning. I built a sailboat in our driveway with my dad, after which he taught me to sail it. One could see in these experiences the usual endeavors of childhood, but I recognized in them a drive that has defined my life, an energy that led to au pairing in France at age 15 and an MBA there ten years later, five years in Germany selling biotech software in Africa and Eastern Europe, a move to Italy and the creation of first one winery, and, more recently, another. Along the way, I learned French, German and Italian, to ski, to race sailboats, to ride horses, to farm and to make wine.

Much less familiar to me is a sense of achievement–the satisfaction of success. Which is why, I suppose, the other night, sitting alone in my kitchen, lasagne in the oven, Giorgia still upstairs doing homework, Niccolò not yet home from work, opening for the first time a bottle of the 2020 Vigneto Grande and pouring myself a glass, tasting the wine left me at a loss. I must have taken three sips before I could even allow myself to register an opinion.

Good wines are delicate—the impressions they leave don’t knock you over; you have to re-calibrate sometimes, listen in, still yourself to the nuances of aroma and flavor. The wine was delicious, in a way that I hadn’t tasted in ages, in a way no wine I had ever made had tasted, in a way that I had only very rarely found any Italian wine to be. It had that Burgundian tangy-ness—the teasing, light complexity and mouthwatering umami that has always marked my favorite wines, that marked so many of the wines from the cellar of Burgundy I inherited in 2015.

I couldn’t quite believe it, and kept re-tasting, to suss out a bitter finish, a lack of freshness, waning appeal—but the wine stayed good, met—for the first time ever—all my expectations. It tasted, I realized after a while, like the Côte d’Or Pinot Noirs I had long admired and which had deeply influenced my approach to viticulture and winemaking. The wine had, nevertheless, something markedly Italian—a warmth, not in its alcohol, which was a modest 12,5%, but in its fundamental ripeness that swathed the tangy-ness in luscious depth of flavor.

Forward motion is so familiar to me that sitting there delighted with my creation felt precarious, unsound, as if stopping carried with it some inherent risk. And, in fact, the thoughts that are always at the margin of my consciousness quickly took over the moment: “It’s only one vintage—you got lucky!” and “800 bottles—anyone can do that!” and “Nobody cares!” All of these worries have an element of truth of course. As I write, a new grape harvest is forming on the vines, one that will require constant, just management during fermentation and cellar aging, processes full of potential pitfalls. Luck plays a part in any successful agricultural enterprise. And, it’s true that most of the wine world couldn’t care less about my earnest little project to improve Tuscan wine by learning from the greats in Burgundy. In fact, my success would only expose the shortcuts sometimes taken by the famous Tuscan wineries.

Yet, the quality of the wine was undeniable, and a faint link emerged in my mind between its taste and the decisions I had been making in the vineyard and the cellar—to seek out limestone vineyards decades old, to prune late and radically, to de-stem by hand and ferment without commercial yeast, to move the wine as little as possible during fermentation and barrel-aging. The wine I had set out to make was indeed emerging.

I sound like a mother, waxing lyrical about her child, utterly subjective. Maybe I’m going easy on my wines. But as in the case of my children, I feel sure that despite their enigmatic nature and their youth, their characters are true, and the right people will recognize this.

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