What happens when an estate in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany is of a mind to expand, but runs into a lack of suitable land and restrictive planning rules? Instead of giving up, the owner of Domini Castellare di Castellina, Paolo Panerai, set off on a quest to ﬁnd new territory towards the coast in Maremma.
There is nothing particularly unusual about vineyards in Maremma, given there are established growing areas in the northern Bolgheri area, in the south, opposite the Argentario and a small corridor of Morellino di Scansano. And, other Tuscan vineyards had expanded there for the same reasons to create an emerging new wine region. However, Paolo avoided the obvious and went in search of totally new territory. He engaged Ezio Rivella and Gianni Zonin, who have been instrumental in bringing together top level estates in both Italy and the United States.
They discovered a geological area in the centre of Maremma with the same soil characteristics as Chianti and Montalcino. But, there was one very substantial difference. The average temperatures in the Maremma location were between four and six degrees celcius higher. This meant grapes would ripen three to four weeks before Chianti and Montalcino. Then there was the choice between the ﬂatlands or the hills in the area known as Monteregio di Massa Marittima. Paolo insisted on the hills because of a constant sea breeze that removes humidity year round.
Having established his perfect location, the next issue was to acquire enough land to plant a viable vineyard. The owner of a 40 hectare property with half a hectare of vines planted for his own needs agreed to sell. It was a start. To realise his plans, Paolo needed up to 250 hectares. From the top of one of
the main hills was a view of a massive amphitheatre of land with ideal soil, cork oaks and the type of terrain that is ideal for wild boar. Within two years, 500 hectares of it had been acquired.
What happened next would go on to become one of the most watched and intriguing wineries to emerge in recent years. Castellare had struck an agreement with Domaines Barons de Rothschild – the ﬁrst ever collaboration between Italian and French wineries. Castellare brought to the table its experience in the growing and viniﬁcation of Sangioveto and Laﬁte added its experience in the classic French cabernets (franc and sauvignon), Merlot, Petit verdot and Syrah. Rocca di Frassinello was born.
It was a vastly different concept to Castellare which concentrates on total respect for tradition, using only 100% indigenous sangioveto vines and an organic approach. For the past 25 years, Castellare’s Riserva Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna il Poggiale and the Super Tuscan I Sodi di San Niccolò have gained the highest scores in the wine guides and been repeatedly awarded the “three glasses” award by Gambero Rosso magazine. Alessandro Cellai, Castellare’s Director and Oenologist (pictured), during a recent visit to Australia, said he was not ﬁnding it difﬁcult to switch between the pure, traditional Chianti Classico of Castellare and the exciting challenges posed by Rocca di Frassinello. In fact, he also handles his own personal project, Podere Monastero, a small holding planted with Pinot Nero and Cabernets. But, he says, the signature wines from Rocca di Frassinello are particularly exciting because of their potential to age. “The life of them is huge, but they are very enjoyable to drink now.”
The ﬁrst Maremma vineyards were planted in 2000. They are currently at 80 hectares with a medium to long-term plan to reach 125 hectares. The 80 hectares is planted with half under Sangiovese and half Cabernet Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah to produce three labels. The next question was who should the chief winemaker be? Another collaboration ensued between Alexander Cellai and Christian Le Sommer, Oenologist for Domaines Barons de Rothschild. Their ﬁrst serious harvest was in 2004. The wine collectors had been waiting for it and the limited run ﬁrst batch was auctioned in Florence for well above expectations. The ﬁrst wine produced was Poggio alla Guardia and the subsequent two were Le Sughere di Frassinello and Rocca di Frassinello.
While the vineyards were underway and the winemakers already receiving critical acclaim, another stunning aspect of Rocca di Frassinello was emerging and it would draw international attention. The cellar was designed by Pritzler Prize winning Italian architect, Renzo Piano. This internationally renowned designer of high tech buildings is the man behind the Paris Beaubourg, the New York Times building, the Nicholas Bridgeway in Chicago, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
On the highest hill of that ancient original amphitheatre Renzo Piano has designed a modern cellar that takes your breath away with its simplicity, but brilliant use of space and a system whereby the harvested grapes are dropped from above with great care.
But, Paolo Panerai hasn’t stopped there. From the ultra-modern he has taken on a third project – Feudi del Pisciotto – between Caltagirone and Piazza Almerina in Sicily. This 18th century landed estate still uses original Greek and Roman cellars for ageing.
To celebrate the Sicilian wines, Paolo invited Italy’s top fashion designers to work on the labels. Part of the estate’s annual proceeds are donated to the restoration of a work of art selected from among Sicily’s great treasures. The Castellare wine labels feature endangered bird species as Castellare promotes its organic approach with a view to helping preserve native ﬂora and fauna.
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Castellare’s signature wine, I Sodi di San Niccolo with its beautiful bird label is a super Tuscan based on traditional Tuscan grape varieties, sangioveto and Malvasia Nera. It has been named twice in The Wine Spectator top 100 list and was placed ﬁfth in the world.
Rocca di Frassinello’s Baffonero 2007, with its distinctive black moustache on the label, has just become available in Australia. This 100% Merlot is the product of hand-picked perfect berries, aged in French oak and in bottle for 26 months, with an annual production of only 3000 bottles.