Excerpts from a recent interview with Jem Macy, Founder of and Winemaker at Fanciulle Vini
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I grew up in Groton, Massachusetts, a New England, apple-farming town northwest of Boston. I attended an all-girls day school, Nashoba Brooks, which, along with my parents’ innate feminism, provided the seeds of my entrepreneurial spirit.
I founded my first business at age 11, a summer camp for local pre-schoolers. I studied Art History in college and did an MBA in France. I was always fascinated by Europe: my mom says that when I left in 1994 for INSEAD, she knew I was moving to Europe for good! After the MBA and 5 years living in Germany, I moved to Tuscany and founded a 9-hectare boutique organic winery, Castello Poggiarello.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU INTO THE WINE BUSINESS?
Farming is ubiquitous in and around Siena — I was bound to wind up in agriculture. I moved to Siena when I fell in love. For a few years, I stayed home with my daughter, but I missed working. We had been thinking about planting more vineyards and making more wine than just what we made for the extended family. The rest is history!
While managing the winemaking and sales for the Poggiarello, I worked as Italian portfolio manager for US wine importer North Berkeley, tasting thousands of samples a year, working in top cellars throughout Italy and France and traveling regularly in the U.S. to promote wine.
HOW DID YOU LEARN THE WINEMAKING BUSINESS?
By hanging around cellars in Burgundy and talking incessantly to winemakers, by tasting thousands of wines a year for many years, and mostly by what I like to call “test and learn.” The approach in Burgundy is to interfere with the wines as little as possible, which can be risky, but the wines are fabulous. At Fanciulle Vini, I implemented a lot of what I learned from the Burgundians, with the result being that we do almost everything differently than other Tuscan estates do.
WHEN DID YOU ESTABLISH FANCIULLE VINI?
We began making wine in the fall of 2019. My sister, Caitlin helped me found the winery, and we both have two daughters, therefore the name! Fanciulle means girls in Italian. We work with old- vine Sangiovese vineyards, including some planted in 1946.
In addition to the winery, we have a grove of Leccino olive trees, from which we make a small quantity of delicately spiced Extra Virgin olive oil with fresh, grassy aromas. An early-ripening varietal, Leccino is also known for its forbearance in cold winters, which is why the Fanciulle olive orchard survived the infamous 1985 frost in Tuscany.
WHY DID YOU SELECT TUSCANY?
I lived here! In fact, though, I was lucky. First, Tuscany has world class wine terroir (second only to France) and three world class varietals (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Nerello Mascalese). Second, there was (and still is) a gap between this potential and the winemaking techniques being used. I’m just arbitraging that gap—something I wouldn’t have been able to do in a wine region with less potential or in an area where the winemaking is already at a really superior level
HOW DO YOU SEE FANCIULLE VINI STANDING OUT FROM OTHER TUSCAN WINERIES?
In pretty much every aspect of winemaking, we do things differently than what’s typically done in Tuscany. For example, no machinery is used in the vineyards (to avoid compacting the soil). To me, there would be no point in being organic if I were driving a few tons of metal over the worms and bugs 20 times a year, crushing that soft, airy soil I work so hard to nourish.
In the cellar, I think we are working with more precision than many wineries, in terms of fermentation temperatures, timing and our approach to aging the wines, which is what lets us preserve all those delicate flavors and aromas. Maybe, too, my whole vision is different. I am aiming to make lacy, ethereal wines—wines that ask us to re-calibrate our palates in order to be able to fully take them in—they’re that subtle and ephemeral.
Funny enough, all those qualities add up to our wines being extremely drinkable—mouthwatering –umami-ish.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Raising two wonderful girls!
In terms of the wine world, I’m proud of having “saved” the 1946 vineyard (the one whose grapes make our Toscano wine) and brought it back to vibrancy. The best wine I’ve ever bottled (so far) is the Vigneto Primo 2020. I should have charged more! It’s sold out, unfortunately. But the 2022 wines (still in barrel) will surpass that for sure—the terroir they’re made from is simply unparalleled.
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL FOR FANCIULLE VINI?
To give wine lovers Sangiovese wines at a higher level—more supple, more delicate and, most of all, recognizably distinctive from other Sangiovese wines.