Going into the 2022 harvest, I was hopeful: my faith in the capacity of the old vines in my own vineyard to produce flavorful, evenly ripened grapes in increasingly extreme weather was proving well-placed. Furthermore, I had contracted to buy grapes from a vineyard that stood on what I believed to be the best kind of vineyard terrain in Tuscany. Yet, once I started harvesting, I forgot all about my lofty aims for the years’ wines. I was so busy picking and de-stemming grapes, watching over the dozen small tanks of fermenting musts–checking their temperatures and densities daily, airing them if they needed oxygen, sending samples to the lab to monitor progress–that I forgot about their taste. I tasted the musts–sure–to understand how fermentation was proceeding but without thinking much about their character. By mid-October, I was so sick of harvest season—of the smell of fermentation, of my wine-stained clothes and sore muscles, of the long hours and the worrying about how the fermentations were faring, that I couldn’t wait to get the wines into their barrels and forget about them for a while.
Sooner or later, though, I knew I would have to assess the vintage–taste the wines and judge their quality, judge at the same time the year’s work and the choices I had made–and I would have to expose them to the judgement of others, too, in order to test my impressions. So, as we began the olive harvest, I sent samples of the new, 2022 wines to a friend and fellow winemaker I’ll call Françoise and in the mean time decided to taste through them myself, noting my impressions of the wine from each container, grouping my notes by the vineyard that the wines came from.
There was the wine made from the grapes of my own vineyard–supple even while still young, fruity–purer than the previous year’s version, thanks, I thought, to improved pruning and defter handling of the musts during fermentation. And then there were the wines from grapes I had bought, including two batches which came from vineyards that had supplied me with grapes in previous years, both of which I found as good as, if not better than their 2021 versions. Finally, I tasted the wines from the Quercio grapes–four small batches from four small vineyards. They had a depth and complexity of flavor that seemed to put them in a class by themselves, as if they were more than just wines, almost like worlds unto themselves. But later it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t tasting very objectively, that I was hoping too much that the Quercio wines would be great, because I liked the owner and the vineyard’s lovely view.
What is it that bodes well in a young wine? What was I hoping to find in the wines made from the Quercio grapes? For sure, I was curious how the Quercio vines had fared during the intensely hot summer. Would the wines taste too syrupy sweet? Or had the vineyards’ altitude preserved some freshness in the grapes and consequently in the wines? How smooth would the wines’ texture be? Was the soil at Quercio as good for ripening tannins as I suspected? More than anything though, I was hoping to be surprised, hoping to taste something different, something beyond what I knew.
“Françoise? ” I answered my phone one morning from a perch in the crook of an olive tree, a net spread under me, olives being combed down onto it by Lush and his wife. “What do you think of the wines?”
Françcoise went through the wine batches one by one, commenting on their pH and on how fine or rustic their tannins were. When she got to the Quercio wines, the line went dead. I got down from the tree and headed back to the cellar. When my phone came back on the grid, there was a voice message from her, lauding the Quercio wines, confessing that she tasted in them something special, inferring that it was something she had not yet tasted in my wines, another layer of complexity, something more worthy. Her tone was different, as if, now that she knew I could make such wines, that Italy, Tuscany, Sangiovese could produce such wines, she was ever-so-slightly more deferential. She sounded, in the message, less like an expert explaining something from on high, and more as if she were exchanging impressions with a colleague.
I felt like I had won a prize–the respect of a winemaker I admired–and I started thinking about how great it would be to witness these wines evolve in the cellar over the coming year, to bottle them and to share them with the world. And then I caught myself: now that I knew how good the Quercio vineyards were, my decision of whether to try and add the land to my farm had been rendered that much harder. I needed more land, I had found some that was unquestionably superior–could I take on more debt and more work?
That day, I postponed my decision, and I’ve kept postponing it as the year draws to a close. I’m thinking I’ll go down to the cellar in January and taste the Quercio wines again, alone, and see what they have to say.