Dec 30: Leonardo Frescobaldi, the President of Frescobaldi was in India recently to introduce wines form his Castiglioni Estate to India through its Indian distributor, Brindco. Subhash Arora had the opportunity to discover the passion he shares with many of his compatriots producing wine.
When you think of the old, family run wineries in Tuscany, the names of Frescobaldi and Antinori immediately come to mind. So when the President of Frescobaldi, Mr. Leonardo Frescobaldi was in town earlier this month, I could not resist the temptation to meet him at an exclusive lunch at the all-Italian restaurant San Gimignano at the majestic Hotel Imperial.
His passion for the oldest family and the flagship estate of Castello di Nipozzano and also Castello di Pomino was obvious when I complimented him on the Ornellaia and Masseto labels from their Ornellaia Estate. He was quick to point out that it was only one of the estates where the family had the holding: the estate had been brought up by Lodovico Antinori, partnered with Robert Mondavi and has been with the family since 2005.
‘Our top label in any of our 9 estates is absolutely the best quality we can make-and certainly no less than Ornellaia of which we are proud of too,’ he says, adding,’ The Mormoreto from our Nipozzano Estate is an exclusive, well balanced wine of excellent class. After all, we have been producing wines since the 14th century.’
‘We operate each company individually and let it compete with wines from the sister estate. For instance, Ornellaia remains independently responsible for its own production, administration, communications, and marketing, but enjoys the benefits of a joint distribution system. In 2006, it became part of the Tenute di Toscana sub-holding controlled by Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi.
The family (elder brother Vittorio has retired from day-to-day work which is now handled by Leonardo as the President- Vittorio’s daughter Diana is working actively), has inter-twined responsibilities and holdings within the various estates. For example, brother Ferdinando who came to India in 2007 is the President of Ornellaia Estate but is also heading the family holding company. Daughter Diletta who conducts wine education courses and whom I met later in Florence at the Chianti Collection also helps with the marketing of Frescobaldi wines in Italy and abroad.
Rather than sitting on their laurels, the family has been aspiring to improve the quality constantly. ‘We have been keeping up with the technological changes to up the quality. For instance, the older vineyards have the density of 2000-2500 vines per hectare, we are now re-planting with a higher density of 5000-6000 plants per hectare as we now know that more dense vines with less bunches per vine gives a much better fruit,’ says Leonardo.
‘The Pomino vineyards are at a higher altitude of 500-700 meters where the climate is cool. So we have gone for 85% Chardonnay as compared to 10% Pinot Grigio.’
Giramonte from the Castiglioni Estate has still not reached India but Leonardo would very like to see it in the premier wine lists. The 80% Merlot-20% Sangiovese blended wine that spends 15 months in oak ‘was magnificent in the 2000 vintage,’ he says with pride- ‘ though 2006 is still very young.’
‘But Frescobaldi is known for mass produced wines even though of decent quality, because of its size,’ I comment. ‘That is not true.’ The words come out like a bullet. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi currently encompasses some 1,100 hectares of land. But these are divided among its 9 estates, which include the historically prestigious
Castello di Nipozzano, Castello di Pomino, Castiglioni, Remole, and Corte.
‘These nine estates, each of about 100 hAs holding, have their distinctive characteristics and personality, but all of them located in truly exceptional growing areas,’ he says.
‘With so many estates, how come you never thought of buying an estate in Chianti Classico region?’ I ask. ‘You get me a vineyard in the region if it is for sale and I will buy it immediately,’ he says.’ But we did buy a good property in Montalcino- the Castel Giocondo.’ We also bought the excellent estate of Attems in Friuli although this was partly because of the owner Douglas Attems who is going old and does not want to burden his daughter to carry on after he retires.’
Wine Tasting and lunch
All this while, we had been savouring the excellent lunch that the San Gimignano is known for along with the floral and fruity Pomino Bianco and the elegant and spicy Chianti Rufina Riserva 2005 from Nipozzano. Next wine on the table to go was the IGT 2006 Tenuta di Castiglioni- a Super Tuscan based on Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and Sangiovese.
Mormoreto 2005 was truly a great Bordeaux-blend wine –rich and velvety with Cab Sauvignon showing its characteristics in plenty. Spicy on the nose, with cinnamon and clove identifiable- the toasty oak added to the vanilla spice flavour which was full of berry fruit that persisted on the back palate.
Giramonte 2005 was another Super Tuscan based on 80% Merlot. Intensely dark colour it had complex bouquet which reminded of fruit, coffee and spices in the back layer. Really rich and full on the palate, it had velvety tannins that would make it a delicious food wine – especially for non vegetarians.
The afternoon would have gone on and on but we suddenly realised that the waiting staff was preparing for the dinner service-it was past 5:30 pm. We had just about beaten the record of a nice and long Italian Christmas lunch. Mr. Frescobaldi does not look like the type who would go for siesta, more than a week later when I was in Tuscany; he was perhaps still eating sushi in Japan.
One can only speculate that he drinks Mormoreto and Giramonte when he is not drinking Ornellaia and keep sprity.
Leonardo retired a few years ago. But he still visits the wineries frequently, according to my sources. Arora
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