Tuscany was hot. Unusually hot for that time of year. May is usually wet, but they were languishing in the midst of a high 30’s heatwave and the vines surrounding our villa near San Gimignano were looking as hot and wilted as we were feeling. Despite being on holiday the sirens call of Querciabella a mere 45 minutes away, a winery tucked up in the hills of Chianti Classico that I had long been wanting to visit was too strong to ignore.
The first thing that struck me on arriving at Querciabella was how extraordinarily lush and healthy the vines were looking. Any doubters that organic and biodynamic producers have healthier vines would have been hard put to deny the empirical evidence. It was particularly stark as, the day before I noticed a tractor in the vineyard next to the villa spraying Bordeaux mixture (a combination of copper sulphate and slaked lime used to prevent downy and powdery mildew). This was obviously done religiously according to their spray calendar rather than limiting it to when it was actually needed ie in wet and humid conditions. The over enthusiastic use of fungicides meant the soil resembled concrete, the vines, despite their relative youth, like old men beaten into submission.
At Querciabella the health of the soil is absolutely fundamental to the health of the vine and thus the quality of the grapes. A healthy soil alive with microorganisms and encouraging biodiversity in the vineyards provides balance and enables the vines to sustain themselves with deep root systems in tougher vintages, fending off drought or disease with far more success than the over medication of many conventional viticulturists. Querciabella converted to organic practices in 1988, and biodynamics in 2000 and the last 30 years has seen the slow, steady return to a healthy ecosystem. The vineyard was alive with buzzing insects, flowers, grasses and legumes; all contributing to the health and vitality of the vineyard.
Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, the owner of Querciabella is also one of Italy’s leading animal rights activists and firmly believes in ‘cruelty-free biodynamics’, for instance manure can only come from organic, free range animals. Not as easy to source as it sounds. As such they use ‘green manure’, made from plants instead. And this is just the level of detail found in the vineyards, it is no surprise that Manfred Ing the winemaker is no less fastidious in the cellar.
He recognises that each micro plot of land where the soil, aspect or exposure varies results in a wine with its own unique expression of place and as such, has insisted the winery invest in small tanks to allow him the flexibility of micro-vinification, as well as the concrete tanks, tonneau and two 30 hectolitre barrels that give finesse, perfume and silkiness to the final blend. It is a complex business to listen to the wines and blend a perfectly balanced, wonderfully harmonious wine that sings of place, not of the heavy hand of the winemaker’s ego. This unwavering attention to detail in both vineyard and cellar has resulted in considerable extra work for the team, but the results have been so unequivocal that there is no question of taking the easy road.
Finally dragging me out of the cellar with the promise of the tasting, the passion with which Manfred had guided us through the estate was so clearly visible in his wines. The Chianti’s are sensuous; heady in their perfume, seductive in their silken grip and mesmeric in the depth of flavour that draws you into the heart of the wine. The super Tuscans, with fruit largely drawn from their vineyards in the wild coastal region of Maremma were rich, polished and suave. The Batar 2014, the iconic white blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay was absolutely astounding in its textural richness, mineral freshness and complex length, and when they pulled out a bottle of 2006 for us to try, I was in seventh heaven for it was a wealth of caramelised pear, citrus and pine nuts underpinned by a stunning silken mineral grip.
The wines, like the people are vibrant, intense, passionate, intellectual and an absolute joy to be in the company of. We are delighted that they will be joining us for our Annual Tasting on the 5th September.