Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lunch in the Hilltop Town of Montepulciano and Visiting Poliziano Winery

Jan. 8, 2013 – It only took about 10 minutes to drive from Bindella Winery to the outskirts of the beautiful stone wall surrounding the old section of Montepulciano. We wandered through the narrow streets, tempted by the many shops with cheese, wine, other food, and Italian leather purses and housewares.

We stopped to have lunch at the famous Café Poliziano where I had a steaming bowl of the winter Italian soup made with kale, bread, and other vegetables. It was delectable with a warming glass of Vino Nobile. The view from the café is also stunning, with a panoramic scene of the surrounding countryside. Even though it was still foggy, the view was mesmerizing (see photo above).

After lunch I hiked the rest of the way up the narrow roads to arrive at the main plaza. I took photos of the ancient well and church, and remembered when I visited in September two years ago and it was hot, sunny, and packed with tourists. Now I had the place to myself, and even though it was cold and foggy, it was still very beautiful.

Visiting Poliziano Winery

After lunch, we drove a short distance to Poliziano Winery, named after the famous Italian poet. Founded in 1961 by Dino Carletti, it is still managed today by his family, and we were charmed and honored to meet Federico Carletti, the owner, when we were tasting wine later in the afternoon.

Margaurita, the Director of Hospitality, took us on an excellent tour of the vineyards, cellars, and then explained the export/marketing process during the wine-tasting portion of the tour.

Vineyards of Poliziano

The estate is 120 hectares, making it the 2nd largest winery in Montepulciano. (All together there are around 70 wineries in the region.) The spacing in the newer sangiovese vineyards is 6 x 3 feet, but the older vineyards, such as the famous 50 year old “Asinone Vineyard” named for a donkey, is on wider spacing and filled with stones.

They use sustainable winegrowing practices, but try to limit applications to organic substances such as sulfur and copper. They have 50 full-time employees but swell to 100 during harvest. Interestingly they mainly hire harvest employees from near-by farms, using local Italian workers rather than bringing in workers from other countries.

Winemaking at Poliziano

Production averages 700,000 bottles per year. They have a state-of-the art gravity flow winery which was impressive to walk through, including truncated cone stainless steel fermenters (see photo). Margaurita said they prefer this shape of fermenter because it is easier to punch down the cap, and therefore is more gentle with sangiovese which needs to be treated more like pinot noir.

The berries are sorted in two stages (by bunch first, then by berry). Next they ferment the Vino Nobile for 20 to 25 days at 30 to 32C using selected yeast. Both pump overs and punch downs are used. The wine is pressed and then moved to French oak for aging, with 1/3 going to cask, 1/3 to 500 liter, and 1/3 to 225 liter barrels with a blend of 50% new oak. The wine is racked every 6 months (3 times total), and is topped once a month. They have two cellars, one for the first year and the second for the second year aged wines – very much like Bordeaux practices. For the Rosso they are using some American oak.

Tasting the Wines of Poliziano

We tasted the 2010 Rosso which had a nose of black cherry and anise, but was rather thin on the palate. The 2009 Vino Nobile was classic with violets and earth on both nose and palate, but with a higher alcohol than I was expecting. My favorite was the 2009 Asinone Single Vineyard, which was 100% sangiovese in 50% new oak. It had an amazing nose of violets and spice, and on the palate had exquisite inky concentraction with a long finish. Yes!

Poliziano Expanding into Direct to Consumer Channels

One aspect of Poliziano in which we were all very impressed was the fact that they are aggressively pursing the Direct to Consumer channel in Italy. With the expection of Castello di Verranzzanno, no other wineries we visited considered this to be a viable channel. However, under the guidance of Margaurita, they have completed a brand new visitor center which last year attracted more than 8,000 visitors with 5 – 7% in direct sales.

As we were a California delegation and used to large direct to consumer channels with very healthy wine tourism campaigns in Napa and Sonoma, many were surprised that Tuscan wineries did not seem to be using this channel. However, Margaurita told us that thousands of tourists pass by their winery every year on the way to Montepulciano and Cortona, so they decided to expand into this channel. It only makes sense, and we were very impressed they are doing this. In fact, several people in our group said they would like to hire Margaurita to come to California because of her excellent knowledge of winemaking and enthusiastic and professional manner of communicating.

In terms of exports, Poliziano sends 60% of their wine abroad to 45 different countries, with Germany being their number one market. In California, they use Dalla Terra, based in Napa, as their importer/distributor.

No comments: