Monday, January 14, 2013

Badia a Coltibuono – An Organic Winery in an 11th Century Abbey

(Jan. 5, 2013) - Before arriving at our 2:30pm appointment at Badia a Coltibuono, we stopped in the small town of Radda where Janeen had made a reservation to eat lunch at La Botte di Bacco Restaurant. This turned out to be one of the best meals of my trip.

Lunch at La Botte di Bacco in Radda

We started with a glass of local vermintino and a fresh salad mista. They served this with a big basket of mixed breads, including a very delectable mini-fried bread, which were addictive and hard to stop eating. In general, I usually do not care for Italian bread because it is often hard and has no salt, but La Botte breaks the mold with their bread. The main course was pork loin served on a bed of spinach with a honey and balsamic vinegar sauce. This was so large I could not finish it, but enjoyed the pairing of a nice glass of Chianti Classico sangiovese.

Vineyards of Coltibuono – Organic and Progressive

After lunch we drove through the winding hills of Tuscany and many people on the bus became car sick due to the switchback turns on the way to Badia a Coltibuono Winery. However, once there, we were met by the very eloquent general manager, Robert, and he walked us into a nearby sangiovese vineyard.

The clouds cleared and the sun came out, shining with bright clarity on the dormant winter vines and very green grass. Robert informed us that the vineyard was organic and described with much passion their farming processes. They have 60 hectares of which 90% is sangiovese. Replanted in 1988, the density is 5500 vines per hectare with 7 x ¾ feet spacing. Trellising is VSP with cane pruning. The soil is a mix of clay and rock. Production is 3 tons per acre. Rootstock includes 420a and 1103 with a masale selection of clones.

Interestingly, Robert said they have stopped doing green harvest (dropping of fruit clusters) and instead do an early harvest and then a regular harvest again later. In this way, they pick younger clusters to ferment separately to provide higher acidity and freshness for the blend. The second harvest is the riper, more mature clusters with bigger tannins, but less acid. Later in the trip, we found this same practice being used at other estates, and many said it was in response to global warming.

We learned much from Robert about sangiovese, which he says “is an amplifier that over-responds to changes in the environment,… and is over-emotional.” During the course of the trip, we came to recognize that sangiovese in Tuscany is treated more like pinot noir in Burgundy. It is a more delicate grape that requires a cooler climate, and needs gentle handling in the cellar with less extraction, lower temperature fermentation, and less racking than cabernet sauvignon or merlot.

The Benefits of Organic Farming

Robert also strongly advocated the benefits of organic farming, though Coltibuono was the only one of the eight estates we visited that was using organic methods. They were certified organic in 2005, but Robert said it took about 20 years to see clear benefits. He reported that now organic farming provided “higher quality and lower costs” for Coltibuono. Because the immune system is now built into the soil, the vines continue to flourish even in hot summers with little rain, and are more disease resistant.

Interestingly, while we were standing in the vineyard we could hear gunshots in the nearby hills. I asked Robert the source, and he said it was people hunting wild boar. He then gestured to the fence around the vineyard, and told us it was electric to keep the boar out of the vines.

Winemaking at Coltibuono

The winery of Coltibuono, which is located about 20 minutes from the Abbey which houses the tasting room and a bed & breakfast, is very impressive. Built in 1996, it is designed to be a gravity flow winery. We started at the top where the grapes are sorted manually on sorting tables before de-stemming. Robert said they have a specially designed de-stemming machine, which is very gentle, because sangiovese stems are very brittle and can add too much astringency and tannin to the wine. He said the machine has made a big difference in reducing these negative influences. After destemming the grapes are very lightly broken in preparation for fermentation.

Indigenous yeast is generally used with the sangiovese, with a madre batch created in the vineyard reserved as back up if needed for a stuck fermentation. Stainless steel is used with a 30 C temperature and lasting 7 to 9 days, with two gentle punch downs per day using gentle mechanical pressure. Vineyard blocks and different types of grapes are fermented separately.

The resulting wine is 12.5 to 14% alcohol, depending on the vintage. The wine is pressed off the skins using two bladder presses, and then goes back into stainless steel tank for ML. (We discovered that the majority of Tuscan wineries we visited completed ML in tank, rather than barrel.) Very little SO2 is used, as the new European requirements for organic wine were implemented at the end of 2012 and limit it to 100 ppm for red wine, verses non-organic wine that is 150 ppm.

Aging takes place in both barrel and large cask depending on the level of wine (see wine tasting notes below). Production is around 30,000 cases annually, but they also produce a second negotiant label from purchased wine that increases total production to around 50,000 cases.

Tasting of Coltibuono Wines at the Abbey

After touring the winery, we boarded the bus and drove about 20 minutes to the 11th century Abbey of Coltibuono. It is a beautiful old stucco building, and as we arrived the sun was setting and the stars came out to fill up the night sky. Robert gave us a tour of the beautiful building showing us the ancient frescos of the monks on the walls and a statue of the founding monk who was a leader in local agriculture.

As we entered a lovely room set with four round tables for the tasting, the winery dog – a large white sheep dog – followed us and wandered throughout the tables during the tasting, delighting all.

We tasted 3 wines of the estate, beginning with the 2009 Chianti Classico, which was lighter in style with fresh fruity sangiovese and canaiolo, aged 12 months in oak casks. We then moved onto the 2008 Badia Coltibueno Chianti Classico Riserva, which was my favorite. It was very traditional in style with strong sour cherry and leather notes, and a high cleansing acidity. It was also a blend of sangiovese and canaiolo, but with 24 months in oak casks. We ended with a 2008 Sangioveto di Toscana, that was 100% sangiovese, and which Robert called a “Super Tuscan.” The aromatics on this wine were stunning with lifted violet, cherry, and spices, and many declared it their favorite. It was aged 12 months in newer French oak barrels.

All in all, I found the wines of Coltibuono to be beautifully crafted in a traditional style with clear terroir notes that reflected the land and environment.

That evening we returned to the hotel in Florence where we had another professor briefing and tasted some Rossi di Montalcino in preparation for the next day’s tour. That evening, I was not hungry so I went to bed early, while many of the others went out for a night on the town again.

No comments: