Imagine a postcard from Tuscany, and you’ll likely envision a medieval castle prominently perched high atop a a hill in the picturesque sun-drenched countryside that’s often referred to as the California of Italy.
Now imagine that one of Italy most iconic wine families has purchased such a castle, renovated it to its 11th century grandeur and intends to soon welcome the public for visits. That family is Biondi Santi, and the estate is Castello di Montepo, situated in the lesser-known Maremma region of southern Tuscany.
Why is that important? Because you get the iconic winemaking talents and rich heritage of Biondi Santi at a fraction of the cost of its more famous Montalcino counterpart – for now.
Jacopo Biondi Santi purchased the 500 hectare estate in 1996 when only 1.5 hectares were planted to vine, and the castle was in disrepair. Today there are 50 hectares planted, with 84% consisting of Sangiovese and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being cultivated in an incredibly bio-diverse selection of soils.
His first vintage produced entirely from the estate and labeled Castello di Montepo was a pure cabernet from the 1997 vintage known as Monteapone. Today he produces a 100% Sangiovese known as Sassaloro and a Super Tuscan known as Schidione, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
At Montepo, their goal is to produce an uncommon Sangiovese – one that is unique from what they produced in Montalcino and a style that would be more approachable in its youth, with lower acidity and riper fruit characteristics.
The 2015 Sassaloro we tasted demonstrated that they are delivering on that promise, its creamy supple texture revealing a spicy core of smoky black cherry underscored by hints of leather, rose petal and vanilla. It’s both fresh and generous, and yet still undeniably Tuscan Sangiovese.
On a tour of the estate with Jacobo’s son, Tancreddi, he described the appeal of Tuscany’s Maremma region as being like Montalcino 35-40 years ago, yet unlike Montalcino the area benefits from the marine influence just 50 KM away, along with the cooling scirocco winds from the Ligurian Sea which helps to keep grapes from developing mold and preserves key acidity in the fruit.
He and his father Jacobo are making an enormous investment at Castello di Montepo, not just in restoring this picturesque property to its original glory but also in working with the consorzio to promote and and help the Maremma achieve the recognition it deserves.
A few words with Tancredi…
What does a typical day look like for you?
Kind of difficult question! I am living 2 very different lifes, one is in the countryside of Castello di Montepo’ and the other one is when I am traveling.
When I am in Montepo’ I always wake up very early, I love being in the countryside checking on the winery works and being in the cellar following step by step the wines. It’s really special when I am there and to me it represent a neverending possibility to improve my knowledge.
When I travel though its very different, it’s kind of a different life. Big cities all around the world, hotels, restaurants and of course airplanes! That life is very beautiful too, it’s incredible how every nation and culture is different and it’s inexplicable how beautiful is to see that everywhere you go in the world there is someone interested on your family and that loves the wines that your family is doing.
What’s the most important thing lesson father has taught you?
The most important thing for my work is “never let someone do something you don’t know how to do”. It’s just a sentence that always remind me to be curious, always to improve my knowledge and to learn something new all the time.
Business wise is to always be on time and correct with everyone.
How does the Maremma region of Tuscany differ from Montalcino where Biondi Santi produces its iconic Brunello?
Speaking about the countryside Maremma is more rustic and real, Montalcino is very different, super well-kept and perfect anywhere. Speaking about terroir Maremma is closer to the seaside and gets big benefits from this point, especially not the flat Maremma next to the seaside but the one on the hills.
Do you think the region has the potential to achieve the level of prestige and success enjoyed by Montalcino?
Sure! Maremma has an incredible potential for wine production.
What makes the terroir of Castello di Montepo unique?
For sure the elevation, almost 500 meters asl, but even the main terroir (galestro) and the distance from the seaside. One of the most important things is the thermic excursion [diurnal shift] that we have from day and night in summertime.
You could have chosen anywhere for your next project. Why Castello di Montepo?
Because of the answer before, because of his unique terroir and because of the beauty of the place. When my father bought Montepo’ there was no vineyards at all, he has been pionieristic, he accepted a big challenge and a big risk but in the end he was right. Pionieristic vision is what have always distinguished our family, like Clemente Santi in Montalcino.
All of your Sangiovese planted on the property is produced from the BBS 11 clone. What is the significance of this specific clone?
This is the chain that is keeping the family tradition together. BBS11 means an incredible value for us and it is what will make the difference of our Sangiovese Grosso to any other Sangiovese Grosso in the world. It’s our family discovery and it will remain unique.
Biondi Santi is undeniably recognized as one Italy’s most important wine producing families. How do you plan to preserve your families legacy and which values are most important to preserve for the next generation?
For sure the clone of BBS11 will be one of this values, it’s unique and it has the surname of our family. I think that hard work, passion in what we do and a lot of attention on changement will be the secret to preserve the family legacy. The style of the wine, the terroir provenance, the severe rules of vinification will let the wines always speak for ourselves.
What’s next for Castello di Montepo?
This is actually the best question! It is the question that will challenge myself on the pionieristic way of the family and it my secret dream to create something new. Could be in Montepo’, could be somewhere else but it will happend, I just don’t know yet how and when.