May 19: Donatella Cinelli Colombini- owner of Montalcino based winery of the same name and the first woman to start a winery with a complete woman staff in 1998, has proven with her grit and determination in 20 years that women can also be great producers, writes Subhash Arora who visited her winery for a vertical tasting of wines from both her wineries during his visit to Montalcino to attend Benvenuto Brunello 2019 so well organised by the Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino
The soft spoken Donatella Cinelli Colombini has a seemingly easy demeanour but her soft smile conceals the tough time she has had during the last 20 years as a woman and the strong woman that she is and has overcome all the difficulties to proudly say no, ‘ IO sono Donatella’- I am Donatella! This is a statement she makes proudly through her top label launched from vintage 2010 and being sold for over €200 a bottle mostly from the winery and made only during the exceptional years.
She is also the President of the Consorzio of 75 producers of Orcia Valley, between Montepulciano and Montalcino and also currently also the national President of ‘Le Donne del Vino.’ (National Association for the Women in Wine). In short she seems to say that she has ‘arrived’ as she receives you with a gentle smile of confidence.
In fact, I was fortunate enough to have been picked up by her only from the pick-up point near the Fortezza after the day’s programme of Benvenuto Brunello 2019 was over. The good 15 minute drive by her husband who is the only exception in the list of women who work with her, was well utilized by her giving the background of the vineyards, winery and the story behind the farmhouse where it was built.
Her mother Francesca owned and ran the family winery Fattoria dei Barbi till she decided to retire in 1998. But the winery did not come to her but was gifted to her brother Stefano, according to the then prevalent social customs. She was given the 15th century dilapidated farmhouse now called Casato Prime Donne, in which she had once been married.
A wedding picture as you enter the winery is reminiscent of that joyous occasion. She was gifted a few barrels of Brunello di Montalcino from her winery, she says. She needed a cellar master to supervise the barrel-ageing and talked to the Enology School in Siena, asking for a good student to hire. They had none since cellar masters had to be booked years in advance. They mentioned, however, that many female cellar masters were available; apparently no important winery wanted to employ women then.
Thus began her journey as an entrepreneur when she started the women empowerment project and decided to work with women and women only, including the winemaker-truly a unique situation in Italy. She made her way to the top and today she is one of the top producers of Montalcino, with 40 hA of property that has 16 hA cultivated with Sangiovese for the production and ageing of the Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino wines.
In the barrel room are no barrique but 5000- litre French oak casks. After the ageing, wine is further decanted into 15-40 hL barrels and then for further ageing in the bottles to create aromatic fullness of the wine. Another detail which makes a visit to the Casato Prime Donne unique, are the frescoes of the history of Montalcino. A film was shown to us giving interesting history of the vineyards and winery. Vineyards around the winery have a hiking trail with contemporary works of art and sentences dictated by the winners of the Casato Prime Donne Award. One of the winery walls has the tiles that show the Stars given by the Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino as displayed outside the town hall since 1993.
Established in 1999, The Casato Prime Donne Award is an annual competition in Montalcino and rewards the best journalistic and photographic contribution about the Brunello territory and wine. Among the winners are the most important journalists and photographers published in the main national and international papers. The winning pictures hang in a very cosy and congenial Tasting hall which is the Tasting Room for the winery and where our group was treated to wines from her winery in Montalcino as well as her second winery Fattoria del Colle in Orcia Valley which has about 75 members and she is President of the Consorzio.
In this room we tasted several of her wines that included Progetto Donne Brunello di Montalcino, the first Italian red maturing wine, selected by a panel of 4 female tasters, and Fattoria del Colle where she makes Orcia DOC and Chianti DOCG wines. She is very proud of her achievement and has curated the special wine produced in excellent years, christened as IO Sono Donatella.
As if to announce her arrival and proclaim that she is a recognised great producer, the limited edition of Brunello christened as IO Sono Donatella was introduced in 2015. Priced at over €200, the beautifully packaged product available mainly at the Cellar Door was the highlight of the Tasting during our visit.
She is a sincere believer in wine tourism as a marketing tool and gives structured lectures in Tuscany and outside, about the subject. She conceptualized “Cantine Aperte,” a nationwide day for winemakers to welcome visitors on the last Sunday in May-it happens to be on 26 May this year from 11 am-5 pm. She is a pioneer in wine tourism and was the President of Movimento turismo Vino for 9 years. Thanks to her, today 21,000 wineries have online sales facility and wine tourism as an integral part of Italian winemakers.
In many parts of Italy, a Saturday has been also added and so 25 May will also be a ‘Cantine Aperte’ An advantage of Cantine Aperte is that many wine tourism companies can ferry you on a bus so you don’t have to worry about the breath analyzer tests that bog you down when you love to enjoy the fine wines as well, and make an experience out of them.
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After running Prime Donne for over 20 years Donatella Cinelli Colombini can look forward to women playing an increasingly active role in winemaking: “I hope women will have more of a voice, more possibility to give their ideas and take decisions.” And she believes they can make better wines too!
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