Castello di Volpaia

Tuscany, Italy

Vineyard

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The nearly 46 hectares (114 acres) of vineyards owned by Castello di Volpaia are at 450 to 600 meters (1,300 to 2,130 feet) above sea level, making Volpaia one of the highest winery in the Chianti region. All the vineyards are on south-facing slopes, just down the hill from the village of Volpaia, and are fully exposed. Given its elevation, Volpaia’s vineyards are well above the spring and autumnal fogs and frosts. During summer, temperatures soar by day and plunge at night and are essential to the ripening process. The slopes are continually graced by gentle breezes, which inhibit the development of morning frosts. All these factors combine to give Volpaia one of Chianti’s most distinctive microclimates.

According to the Stianti Mascheroni family, the earth at Volpaia is comprised mainly of light soil consisting largely of sandstone, a sedimentary rock from the Pliocene epoch (the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 1.806 million years before present.) The porosity of the soil provides ample drainage, forcing roots to dig deep to find moisture and nutrients. This light, sandy soil, compared to clay soil, allows the vines to dig deeper given the relative lack of density compared to clay. Counter-intuitively, dry seasons do little harm to the vines due to their far-reaching root systems.

There are 16 different estate vineyards surrounding Volpaia. They are primarily planted to Sangiovese, although there is some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Trebbiano, Malvasia del Chianti, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc planted in specific sites suitable to each variety.

In the last 35 years, Volpaia has replanted about 80 percent of its vineyards on the slopes leading up to the village, increasing plant density, selecting different clones of Sangiovese suitable for the different soil, and implementing new training systems and pruning techniques to keenly focus on quality production, to lower the vines and to reduce the yield per hectare. Volpaia is also committed to organic farming practices in its vineyards and complies with all organic viticulture legislation (European Community Legislation, rg CE 834/2007 Organic Agricolture; EU Certification 203/3012 for Organic Wine; Controller Q Certificazioni srl) for the production of wine. Castello di Volpaia began practicing organic viticulture in the late 1990s and has been certified organic since the 2004 vintage.

Balifico (bawl-ee-FEE’-co)

The Balifico vineyard shares its name and location with a villa. The vineyard was grafted over from older Sangiovese clones in 1982 when the existing vineyard was 10 years old. The technical approach for grafting was the same, but Volpaia planted Balifico to 35 percent Cabernet Sauvignon (grafted over from Sangiovese). Balifico has been gradually replanted during the last 20 years to increase plant density. The vines are fully exposed to south on light, sub-alkaline (pH 7.8), sandstone soil — ideal conditions for the grapes. Grapes from Balifico vineyard are used exclusively for the Balifico I.G.T. bottling.
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese; Cabernet Sauvignon (in two separate parcels)
Vine Age: Ongoing plantings since 1970
Soil: Sandstone

Sangiovese: 
Size: 3.1 hectares (7.66 acres)
Elevation: 470 meters (1,542 feet)
Exposure: South-southwest
Density: 5,435 vines/hectare (2,200 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Cabernet Sauvignon:
Size: 1.92 hectares (4.74 acres)
Elevation: 450 meters (1,475 feet)
Exposure: Southwest
Density: 5,698 vines/hectare (2,306 vines/acre)
Training: Cordon spur

Coltassala (cole-tah-SAWL’-ah)

Located west of the Balifico vineyard, the Coltassala vineyard shares its name and location with the villa that houses Volpaia’s vinegar-making equipment. This vineyard faces both southwest and southeast, with two parcels spanning up two opposing hillsides that are separated by a seasonal creek. It was grafted over from various clones of Sangiovese to newer Sangiovese clones in 1977 when the vineyard was 10 years old. When grafting the Coltassala, the Stianti Mascheroni family selected the best Sangiovese clones available and increased the vineyard density to 5,698 vines per hectare (2,306 vines per acre). The first harvest was in 1980 when Volpaia made their first Super-Tuscan from 95 percent Sangiovese (and 5 percent Mammolo). Coltassala has been gradually replanted during the last 20 years to increase plant density. Grapes from Coltassala vineyard are used exclusively for the Coltassala bottling (since the 1998 vintage, a D.O.C.G. Chianti Classico Riserva).
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese (primarily) and  Mammolo
Size: 3.53 hectares (8.72 acres)
Vine Age: Ongoing plantings since 1970
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 520 meters (1,700 feet)
Exposure: Southwest and southeast
Density: 5,698 vines/hectare(2,306 vines/acre)
Training:  Guyot

Casanova

The pride of Volpaia is its library of old, local Sangiovese clones replanted in 2001 in Casanova vineyard, located south of Balifico near the Casanova villa. Here, Volpaia grows 25 different clones of Sangiovese that have been collected in the last 30 years during the process of replanting the winery’s vineyards. Volpaia chose to take on this important project in order to preserve the genetic differences of local vines, and to avoid the risk of extinction of ancient clones (The winery decided not to employ massal selection in this vineyard, which involves choosing a number of outstanding vines and propagating new vines from that budwood; the vines are from the same family, with the same genes, but the individual plants are not identical. Volpaia wanted to be able to identify the origin of each vine in the vineyard, so they chose to plant 25 different “mother” vines; the vines that come from the same mother vine are identical to each other and are identified as a clone.)
Variety Planted:
Sangiovese
Size: 0.56 hectare (1.38 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2001
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 480 meters (1,575 feet)
Exposure: South-southeast
Density: 5,435 vines/hectare (2,200 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Campo a Pitti

“Campo a Pitti” means “field of Pitti” in Italian.“Campo a Pitti” means “field of Pitti” in Italian.
Varieties Planted: Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 510 meters (1,675 feet)
Exposure: Southwest

Larger Parcel:
Size: 1.22 hectares (3 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 1972
Density: 2,564 vines/hectare (1,038 vines/acre)

Smaller Parcel:
Size: 0.64 hectare (1.58 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 1988
Density: 5,698 vines/hectare (2,306 vines/acre)

Campo a Prato

“Campo a Prato” means “field of Prato” in Italian. The vineyard is located near the Prato villa.
Soil: Sandstone
Density: 5,556 vines/hectare (2,248 vines/acre)

Larger Parcel:
Size: 3.35 hectares (8.28 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2005
Elevation: 550 meters (1,800 feet)
Exposure: South

Smaller Parcel:
Size: 2.4 hectares (5.93 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2003-2005
Elevation: 500 meters (1,640 feet)
Exposure: Southwest

Campo Berto

This “field” is Volpaia’s last piece of land that is still cultivated as “promiscuo” (vines cultivated together with olive trees). These vines’ were planted on pre-phylloxera rootstock, and were the mother vines of the clones in Volpaia’s Casanova vineyard.
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Malvasia del Chianti (plus olive trees)
Vine Age: Sangiovese planted 1944; Malvasia and Trebbiano planted 2010
Elevation: 542 meters (1,779 feet)
Soil: Sandstone
Training: Guyot

Casalino

Casalino vineyard is where Castello di Volpaia grows grapes for the production of its Vinsanto. The soil is mainly composed of a mixture of clay and sandstone with very tiny rocks. The high altitude and greater temperature change between night and day are the perfect conditions to extract a great variety of perfumes of the white grapes.
Varieties Planted: Trebbiano and Malvasia del Chianti
Size: 0.62 hectare (1.53 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 1992
Soil: Sandstone and clay
Elevation: 650 meters (2,130 feet)
Exposure: South
Density: 5,698 vines/hectare (2,306 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Casavecchia

Named after and located near the Casavecchia rental villa, an ancient house (“casa” means “house” in Italian; “vecchia” means “old” in Italian) with a tower tucked away in one of the quietest and most exclusive parts of the farm.
Variety Planted: Sangiovese
Size: 3.32 hectares (8.20 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2010
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 470 meters (1,542 feet)
Exposure: Southwest
Density: 2,564 vines/hectare (1,038 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Casetto

Casetto, named after and located near the Casetto rental villa, a charming stone house with one of the loveliest views on the entire estate, just east of Prato vineyard and villa.
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese and Merlot
Size: 1.26 hectares (3.11 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2002
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 500 meters (1,640 feet)
Exposure: Southeast
Density: 5,435 vines/hectare (2,200 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Castellino

This vineyard shares its name and location with the Castellino villa, located south of Casavecchia vineyard.
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese and Merlot
Size: 4.64 hectares (11.47 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2000, 2005
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 400 meters (1,312 feet)
Exposure: South
Density: 5,006 vines/hectare (2,026 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Docciola (doe-SHOW’-lah)

Varieties Planted: Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon
Size: 1.45 hectares (3.58 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2003
Soil: Sandstone and clay with little rocks
Elevation: 540 meters (1,770 feet)
Exposure: Southwest
Density: 5,698 vines/hectare (2,306 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Montanino

Located across a small valley at almost the same elevation as the village of Volpaia, Montanino shares its home and name with an estate property recently turned into a small hotel managed by a Napolitan gentleman who moved to Volpaia to help restore and run the property.
Variety Planted: Merlot
Size: 1.23 hectares (3.04 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 2004
Soil: Sandstone and clay (the only red grape vineyard with this soil composure)
Elevation: 550 meters (1,800 feet)
Exposure: East-southeast
Density: 5,435 vines/hectare (2,200 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Pratolino

The vineyard takes its name from the villa located near it.
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese and Merlot
Size: 3.71 hectares (9.17 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 1997
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 470 meters (1,542 feet)
Exposure: South
Density: 5,006 vines/hectare (2,026 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Santa Caterina

Named after the shrine of Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), located near the vineyard.
Varieties Planted: Sangiovese and Merlot
Vine Age: Planted 1998
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 570 meters (1,870 feet)
Training: Guyot

Sangiovese:
Size: 3.04 hectares (7.51 acres)
Exposure: South-southwest
Density: 5,006 vines/hectare (2,026 vines/acre)

Merlot:
Size: 1.67 hectares (4.13 acres)
Exposure: Southeast
Density: 5,435 vines/hectare (2,200 vines/acre)

Santa Maria Novella

Located next to the Santa Maria Novella church where Nicolò and Annalisa Mascheroni Stianti were married in 2004, Santa Maria Novella vineyard shares its home with some of Volpaia’s oldest olive trees. Volpaia and its higher-elevation vineyards are visible in the distance.
Variety Planted: Sangiovese
Size: 4.25 hectares (10.5 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 1994
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 470 meters (1,542 feet)
Exposure: East-southeast
Density: 5,682 vines/hectare (2,300 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Vignavecchia

Vignavecchia translates to old vineyard (“vigna” means “vineyard” in Italian; “vecchia” means “old).”
Variety Planted: Sangiovese
Size: 1.4 hectares (3.46 acres)
Vine Age: Planted 1998
Soil: Sandstone
Elevation: 570 meters (1,870 feet)
Exposure: South-southwest
Density: 5,006 vines/hectare (2,026 vines/acre)
Training: Guyot

Winemaking

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Winemaking at Volpaia has always been intent on preserving the region’s  traditions and respecting the terroir — long before such trends in returning to the past emerged. In 1980, Volpaia was one of the first wineries to produce what later became known as a Super-Tuscan (the Coltassala). By the late 1990s, when other producers were moving toward wines in the “international style” and Super-Tuscans were in great fashion, Volpaia returned to producing its flagship, Coltassala, as a Chianti Classico Riserva.

The Vendemmia

The “vendemmia,” or “harvest,” begins in late July to early August with a green harvest when pickers move through the vines to remove excess clusters. This ensures concentration and ripeness in the remaining clusters, which remain on the vine until they are fully matured.

The first varieties to ripen on the Volpaia estate are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, usually in early September. Later in September, pickers move onto Merlot and Syrah, then finish Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon by the first half of October.

Because Volpaia’s vineyards are planted between 450 and 600 meters (1,300 and 2,130 feet) — the highest in the region — the pickers are able to harvest later in the season, as well as later in the day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each vineyard is hand-picked twice to allow those clusters that had not yet achieved perfect ripeness more time to do so. In an effort to get the fruit to the cellars in optimum condition, the grapes are carried in boxes that never exceed 15 to 20 kilograms (33 to 44 pounds) each. Using the containers also makes it easier to select which grapes will go into the Riserva. The containers are loaded onto a specially designed, five-tire trailer and delivered to the cellars within 10 minutes.

Back at the Winery

As soon as the grapes arrive at the winery, they are sorted and destemmed. After destemming, the grapes are then delicately pressed, just to break the skins, and this must is immediately transferred to temperature-controlled, stainless-steel vats that hold  60 to 120 hectoliters (1,585 to 3,170) gallons. These specialized vats are divided into two separate tanks stacked on top of one another. The top tank is the first stop for the grapes — they are chilled down to eight degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) for a two-day cold soak, and natural fermentation begins gently, as the temperature rises after the cold soak. (The gradual increase in temperature results in more complex flavors in the finished wine.) The top tank is also equipped with pistons to gently punch down the cap from above. Once enough color and flavor have been extracted, the juice is separated from the must by gravity, and goes to the bottom tank to finish fermentation.

Moving and Aging

Once initial fermentation is complete, the wine is moved to the barrel cellars, all of which are located in historic buildings throughout the village and are diverse in shape and size. In keeping with its efforts to protect the original structures, Castello di Volpaia created an underground “wineduct” — a labyrinth of stainless-steel pipes hidden far beneath the streets of Volpaia — which transports wine delicately from tank to barrel. Depending on the wine, malolactic fermentation and aging occur in either 30-hectoliter (800-gallon) Slovenian or French oak casks or in 225-liter (60-gallon) French oak barrels. The percentage of new oak depends on the vintage and intensity of fruit at harvest. The French casks are produced by Filippo Gamba, the French barriques by Seguin Moreau; both are medium toasted. This process takes 12 to 24 months depending on the wine:
Chianti Classico: 12 to 16 months in Slovenian oak casks, plus three months in bottle.
Chianti Classico Riserva: 24 months in oaks casks (Slovenian, French) and French barriques (in a proportion that ranges from 80/20 to 50/50 depending on the vintage), plus six months in bottle.
Balifico and Coltassala: 24 months in French barriques, plus six months in bottle.

The wine is aged in cellars located beneath the village’s ancient buildings — in the Church of San Lorenzo, the Commenda and the Via Castellana. These cellars offer the perfect temperatures and humidity levels to allow the wine to evolve with great elegance and complexity. Once the wines have finished aging, they are lightly fined, filtered and bottled on Volpaia’s state-of-the-art bottling line that was completely renovated in 2005. The bottles are left to rest in the cellars below Palazzo Canigiani where, in the dark and at a controlled temperature, the wine blends and develops its distinct characteristics.

House Style

Many factors contribute to the Castello di Volpaia style — high altitude, sandy soil, mixed hardwood and riparian forests, climate, southerly exposure of the vineyards and more. Volpaia Sangioveses are soft, round and fresh — the winery strives to avoid overripe characteristics in all of its wines and doesn’t mask the quality of the fruit with too much new oak. The wines are meant to be enjoyed with food, and bright acidity wrapped in wild cherries is their hallmark. The wines possess a floral component and red fruits on the nose, bright acidity on the palate to preserve freshness as well as fine-grain tannins, and lively cherries and tannins on the finish. The winery aims to capture the true characteristics of Sangiovese using the latest, quality winemaking methods while paying hommage to this distinctive site where wines have been crafted since the 12th century. Winemaker Lorenzo Regoli seeks harmony and balance in healthy grapes to achieve graceful yet powerful wines. Consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella brings technical innovation and new ideas, as well as suggestions during the final blending process.

Organics

Volpaia is also committed to organic farming practices in all of its vineyards and complies with all the organic viticulture legislation (European community legislation, reg. CEE 2091/91; EU certification body, Q.C. & I. International Services) for the production of wine. Castello di Volpaia began practicing organic viticulture in the late 1990s, and the wines have been certified organic since the 2004 vintage.

Vinsanto

Since the Middle Ages, “Vin Santo,” or “holy wine,” has been an important part of Tuscan wine history, and it is still produced using the same labor-intensive process that was used hundreds of years ago. Toward the end of the growing season, before Volpaia harvests its white grapes, the winery picks the best bunches of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca del Chianti to go into the Vinsanto. The grapes are taken to the winery’s Vinsantaia, a special attic where the bunches are hung from chains tied to the rafters and dried. The grapes are never touched during the maturation process. In the February following harvest, once the grapes’ sugar levels are high enough, they are pressed and the juice is put through a natural process of clarification. The highly-concentrated must is then fermented in small caratelli oak barrels already containing “madre,”   or “mother” in Italian — a remnant of the thick residue left over from Vinsanto that has already been bottled — for at least five years.