Biodynamic Wineries in Tuscany

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Nowadays, Tuscany has so many high-quality wine producers, it can be difficult to narrow down the options. On this visit to the region, I decided to limit my explorations to some of Tuscany’s best wineries with biodynamically farmed vineyards.

Increasingly popular, biodynamic agriculture can be partially understood as going a step beyond organic practices. This philosophy, developed by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, involves fostering a “farm organism” that is self-sustaining. Certain aspects of biodynamic practice are intuitive, such as using cow manure as fertilizer and animals like sheep, goats and chickens to control weeds and pests, rather than chemicals. Other aspects might strike some as superstition. Timing vineyard and cellar activities according to the location of the moon relative to certain constellations doesn’t seem like a process a scientist would endorse, for example.

The four wineries below follow biodynamic agriculture to varying degrees, and just as important, they produce thoroughly delicious wines.

And yet, somehow, it seems to work. “The Oxford Companion to Wine” cites a study that found “significant increases of microbial life on biodynamic vine roots at depths of several metres compared with conventionally and even organically farmed root vines, and that the roots were thickest, longest and most able to penetrate the soil, and assimilate trace elements, when grown biodynamically.” Deeper roots that better absorb minerals should lead to more-complex wines with a stronger sense of terroir.

I must admit that I don’t quite believe all the tenets of biodynamics, but numerous wineries use the philosophy to achieve unimpeachable results. And certainly, the biodiversity promoted by the practice is more beneficial to the environment than vast farms of grape monoculture.

The four wineries below follow biodynamic agriculture to varying degrees, and just as important, they produce thoroughly delicious wines. Make appointments in advance, and plan for the tours and tastings to run 30 to 60 minutes longer than the websites suggest.

Avignonesi


About 45 minutes west of Castello di Reschio and an hour south of Il Borro, Avignonesi’s historic winery has a privileged location in the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano appellation, not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The latter wine is made elsewhere with the Montepulciano grape. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, however, is composed of mostly or entirely Sangiovese grown near the town of Montepulciano itself. It tends to be full-bodied and well structured and ranks among my favorite Tuscan reds.

Our guide, Yelena, took six of us on a short walk to an experimental vineyard, La Tonda, a circle of vines planted at various distances from one another in order to determine the optimum vineyard density. We also visited the atmospheric 19th-century cellars, and we were lucky enough to time our visit to see a drying room full of picturesque racks of grapes destined to become Vin Santo.

The wines we tasted were paired with a gourmet lunch, served in a bright dining room overlooking an olive grove.

The wines we tasted were paired with a gourmet lunch, served in a bright dining room overlooking an olive grove. With bread (accompanied by Avignonesi olive oil) and an amuse-bouche of tomato flan topped with Parmesan foam, we sipped the well-polished 2019 Il Marzocco Chardonnay, a most encouraging start. A pretty plate of fagottino pasta arrived next, filled with chard and ricotta and served on a purée of yellow cherry tomatoes from the garden. The youthful and fruity 2017 La Tonda Sangiovese paired well, but I preferred the darker, more forceful and better-integrated 2015 Grandi Annate Sangiovese. The 2017 Grifi, a plummy and tannic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, practically demanded beef, and fortunately I received some: flavorful Chianina veal cheek stewed in red wine, accompanied by roasted potatoes. Finally, with a series of little sweet treats, we tried two kinds of Vin Santo, one made with the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano, with notes of nuts and oak, and the Occhio di Pernice made from Sangiovese, redolent of pastry crust, raspberry jam and vanilla. Both served as reminders of the joy of well-crafted dessert wines.

Avignonesi
Via Colonica 1, Valiano di Montepulciano. Tel. (39) 057-872-4304

Podere le Ripi


Hidden up a spectacularly scenic gravel road, Podere le Ripi produces Brunello di Montalcino, among other wines, from vineyards within sight of the Castello di Velona. The region around the town of Montalcino ranks among Tuscany’s driest, and Brunello, made from the Sangiovese Grosso clone, tends to be bold and tannic. It’s one of Italy’s most acclaimed reds. As we learned from Jana, our small group’s guide, Podere le Ripi follows biodynamic practices carefully. We toured both the vineyards and the striking swirl-shaped brick winery, centered on a Pantheon-like aging room lined with botti, large oval-shaped oak barrels.

Podere le Ripi has another more unusual attraction: its Bonsai Vineyard. Winery owner Francesco Illy, best known for his espresso, decided to try planting as many vines as possible in one hectare (2.47 acres). Grapevines, many vignerons will tell you, produce better wines when stressed a bit. Now about 15 years old, these vines have grown only about waist-high, but their roots penetrate more than 12 feet into the soil, much deeper than in a standard vineyard.

Podere le Ripi has another more unusual attraction: its Bonsai Vineyard.

We sat down at a picnic table on the tasting room’s covered patio, overlooking a valley just beyond. I enjoyed all the wines immensely. The unoaked 2019 Amore & Follia Toscana Rosso, a blend of half Syrah and half Sangiovese, had great zestiness married to ripe dark-red fruit. We tasted the 2017 Cielo d’Ulisse Brunello di Montalcino before its official January 2022 release, but already, it displayed well-integrated tannins and a throughline of spiciness and acidity piercing its dark cherry fruit. The sexier 2016 Amore & Magia, the current Brunello release, kept its cards closer to its chest. I loved its notes of chocolate-covered cherries and dark orange. The 2016 Lupi e Sirene Brunello Riserva had superb balance, with ample freshness and acidity, and it transitioned from flavor to flavor with an unhurried, confident gait.

And I couldn’t leave without trying a wine from the Bonsai Vineyard, which yields only 600 or 700 bottles a year. The huge and aromatic 2017 Bonsai Sangiovese bombarded with notes of brandied cherry, fresh leaves and cacao nibs, yet it managed to somehow be well integrated, too. Who would have guessed that a “bonsai” wine would be one of the stars of my trip to Tuscany? 

Podere le Ripi
Località le Ripi, Montalcino. Tel. (39) 057-783-5641

Querciabella


High in the hills outside Greve in Chianti, this critically acclaimed winery doesn’t “subscribe to the more spiritual elements of traditional biodynamics,” but it follows many of its practices. What this actually means is that since the owner is vegan and certifies his wines as vegan, he employs no animal products in the vineyards, precluding the manure-based fertilizer preparation used in traditional biodynamic farming. The winery also doesn’t pursue biodynamic certification, I learned, because it would incur an extra cost. However, Querciabella does “embrace its philosophy of looking at the interconnectedness of all things and share[s] the same priority of bringing life back to the vineyard.”

I made a special request to also taste Querciabella’s Batàr, intended to be an Italian rejoinder to Burgundy’s Bâtard-Montrachet, one of the world’s greatest Chardonnays.

COVID-19 precautions prevented us from touring the winery and the vineyards, but not, oddly enough, from sitting down in a tasting room, removing our masks and trying some wines. Fortunately, that’s the best part of a winery visit. The Querciabella Chianti Classico sources fruit from vineyards near Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Lamole (near Greve), four prime locations in the region. It felt perfumed, with an aroma of amarena cherry and cassis, and it took a long, lovely journey on the tongue, including notes of leather and spiciness to complement its fruit. We moved on to the 2017 Turpino, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot from Maremma. With plenty of dark berries, peppercorn and serious caroblike tannins, this was another wine I would have loved to sip with a steak. Even more impressive was the 2017 Camartina, one of the first Super Tuscans, a blend of 70 percent Cabernet and 30 percent Sangiovese from Greve. It had the trifecta of complexity, power and elegance — a compelling reminder that expensive wines can be worth every penny.

I made a special request to also taste Querciabella’s Batàr, intended to be an Italian rejoinder to Burgundy’s Bâtard-Montrachet, one of the world’s greatest Chardonnays. More than one wine critic has gushed about this wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, and as much as I like to be contrarian, you can add me to the list. The 2018 Batàr started with seductive lushness and creaminess, but a laser beam of focus kept it well in balance, as did its mineral finish. The finish, not incidentally, was a long time coming — the wine kept going, and going. Batàr leaves no question of Tuscany’s potential for great white wines.

Querciabella
Via di Barbiano 17, Greve in Chianti. Tel. (39) 055-8592-7777

Tenuta Canto alla Moraia

The label of the Gianetto Sangiovese is based on an old design at Tenuta Canto alla Moraia
The label of the Gianetto Sangiovese is based on an old design at Tenuta Canto alla Moraia - Photo by Andrew Harper editor

Perhaps my favorite winery experience took place at the least famous of the bunch. Like nearby Il Borro, Tenuta Canto alla Moraia lies in the well-regarded Valdarno di Sopra DOC, an appellation created just a decade ago within part of the Chianti region. I booked us a horse-drawn carriage ride through the vineyards along with a tasting. To be honest, I expected it to be a pleasant but touristy experience, an expectation that the engaging owners, Rodolfo and Silvia Banci, promptly dashed. A beautiful old carriage of polished wood pulled up to the winery entrance, and they hopped in with us. On the ride, they pointed out plots of vines named for various family members and explained the benefits of their biodynamic processes. But I also learned, for example, that Rodolfo’s father knew Frank Lloyd Wright, and that one of Wright’s key assistants once stayed at Tenuta Canto alla Moraia for three weeks (Rodolfo had also visited Taliesin, Wright’s home and studio in Wisconsin). I also learned a great deal about the history of the valley, which Dante described in the “Divine Comedy.” After visiting the winery’s guest villa, a sturdy former watchtower that now defends an inviting swimming pool, we circled back for the tasting.

A beautiful old carriage of polished wood pulled up to the winery entrance, and the engaging owners hopped in with us.

Things started off on the right foot with the classy 2016 San Sereno, a thoroughly Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Colorino del Val d’Arno, Foglia Tonda and Malvasia Nera. Its level of polish and finesse was almost startling. The 2016 Ser Alfiero, a mix of 80 percent Sangiovese with 20 percent Cabernet, also delighted with its enticing aroma of dark fruit and flowers and elegant, slow-moving flavor development. The 2015 Moraia was more brooding and more forceful, in keeping with its composition of Cabernet blended with Sangiovese and Merlot. Since the 2015 Giannetto Vineyard Sangiovese is named for Silvia’s father, I suspected it would also be quite special. This wood-free wine was so fragrant, it practically leapt from the glass. I loved its bright, fresh cherry fruit and zippy spiciness. Also made from Sangiovese, the 2014 Granwalter was nevertheless completely different, aged two years in barriques (small oak barrels). Named after Rodolfo’s father, this wine had gorgeous richness, depth and length, offering a full basket of berry flavors, a zing of pepperiness and cacao-nib tannins.

Tenuta Canto alla Moraia
Via Setteponti 53A, Castiglion Fibocchi. Tel. (39) 057-547-666

It may be tempting to dismiss certain aspects of biodynamics as vineyard astrology: amusing perhaps, but of no practical value. But after tasting such an array of beautiful wines, it’s much more difficult to regard the philosophy as mere superstition. The quality of the results is undeniable.

Read more about our editor’s trip to Tuscany and Umbria

By Andrew Harper Editor Andrew Harper editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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