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Donna Priscilla Incisa Della Rocchetta

Posted: Friday, 18 November 2016 15:41


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Donna Priscilla Incisa Della Rocchetta

Nov 18: Donna Priscilla Incisa Della Rocchetta, granddaughter of late Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, creator of the iconic Italian Super Tuscan Sassicaia at his Tenuta San Guido Estate, was in India on a short visit when she met and impressed a group of journalists, sommeliers and hospitality personnel, writes Subhash Arora who was invited to a lunch hosted on Tuesday by Madhulika Bhattacharyya of Le Cave, at Le Cirque for a select group to taste Sassicaia 2011 and Guidalberto 2012 paired with food

Click For Large ViewI had a phone call several years ago from the PA to some minister in Punjab, who wanted to know if I could help him procure a couple of cases of a wine called...Sasi..saso...Sass(he could not pronounce the name). When I said-Sassicaia, I could almost hear him jump off the chair with excitement as he said, ‘yes, yes! That’s the one!’ When I told him I did not sell wine and didn’t know the importer who could sell him a few cases but could perhaps give him an equally iconic wine-Gaja or Ornellaia, he said with a tone of disappointment, ‘no, no-the minister wants only this label as someone has told him this is the best Italian wine!’

The granddaughter of the man who created the cult Super Tuscan wine named Sassicaia in the 1960s, Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta was in India last week. Not many visiting wine producers leave so much of an impression in different cities, in a short span of 4 days as Priscilla Incisa, the family Brand Ambassador of Tenuta San Guido known for the iconic wine Sassicaia, did during her whirlwind visit of India with three consecutive dinners in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi besides several meetings and interviews including a Lunch at the specialty restaurant Le Cirque at the Leela Palace Hotel, Chanakyapuri.

First Visit to India

I met Donna Priscilla for the first time at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai in December, 2006 when she visited India for less than 2 days as a part of Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) Tasting that was co-ordinated by Sanjay Menon of Sonarys- preceded by a dinner the previous night. (For details of the event please visit, PFV wines uncorked in Mumbai). I was impressed not only by the iconic wine but by her friendly, down-to-earth demeanour, especially as she belongs to one of the most revered families of the Italian wine industry.

A bit about the Family

Since then I have been meeting her occasionally in Italy and several PFV- organised Tastings where it is mandatory for one family member to accompany the group of 12 (currently 11 members) prestigious global families-currently all from Europe, when they travel to pre-decided countries to promote PFV and the members’ wines. My first question as we sat down at the lunch table next to each other was why they could not decide on the 12th member for over 12 years since Robert Mondavi left when it was sold to Constellation Brands. A much more confident Priscilla said they were still looking for the satisfactory member, adding in a lighter vein that it was at least a good topic of discussion at the annual meet which is hosted by a member by rotation and where the next President is chosen. She was the President in 2010 and would be so again in 2018 or 2019, she says.

Click For Large ViewMarchese Nicolò has been working in the family business since 1960 and has been the President for over 40 years, since his father Mario passed away. The family was helped by the Antinori cousins who even let them use their winery initially. Priscilla is the youngest of 6 cousins in the Incisa family although none of the others is involved with San Guido. The history of Tenuta San Guido full-time takes you to the 1940s during the second world -war. Her grandfather, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta was in love with Bordeaux wines. But since he could not travel to Bordeaux, he decided to plant Bordeaux varieties at the family estate in Bolgheri.

Princess, Heiress or Donna

The 2500 hA Bolgheri estate where the 90 hA vineyards and winery of Tenuta San Guido are located, is a centuries-old estate that came to her grandfather Marchese Mario as dowry through his wife. So what did Priscilla receive as dowry when she married in 2003 a German who was introduced to her by an acquaintance in Bolgheri, I ask! ‘Well, one third of the estate as heritage-which is my father’s share,’ comes the pat reply. She is shocked when I tell her about the negative connotation of the dowry system in India and how it is a social menace thrust upon the bride’s family. ‘My share comes naturally from my father as I am the only child. My father had two siblings - one of them had 3 children and the other 2. They divide the total of one third each among themselves.’

When she sees me mentioning her as the Heiress of San Guido in my notes, she says it’s incorrect-even though she agrees that she would be part of the team running the estate if her 80-year old father Marchese Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta retires or after. She does not mind being referred to as the Princess because in fact her German husband Heinrich Prince zu Sayn Wittgenstein Sayn is a Prince from Palatinate.

‘Well, your grandfather was a Marchese- your father is a Marchese (Title of Italian nobility)- they are Marchesi (plural)- why aren’t you a Marchesa (feminine of Marchese),’ I ask jokingly. ‘In our family a woman does not get the title, only a male is entitled to the privilege. If I would have been a son, I would have been a Marchese.’ So much for gender equality! But she has earned the right to be addressed as Donna Priscilla which is more apt.

Evolution of Sassicaia

‘My grandfather loved wines from Bordeaux but was stuck in Bolgheri because of the ongoing world war in the 1940’s. He believed that the soil at the Bolgheri Estate was better suited for Cabernet Sauvignon than the traditional Sangiovese and planted vines, the cuttings of which were taken from a place near Pisa. He wanted to make wines in a style for his own use and that of his family and friends and not commercially. People laughed at my grandfather then for growing Cabernet,’ she says.

It was only when some of his friends tasted the wine in the early 1960’s that they exhorted Mario to commercialise it; the first vintage was released in 1968 with only 7300 bottles. Currently, around 200,000 bottles are being produced and sold under allocation as the demand is much more than supply which cannot be increased much, she says.

Click For Large View‘It was initially fermented in oak vats . The wine was too tannic and austere. Later on, the style was changed and now it is fermented in stainless steel vats and aged in oak with only a third being new barrels, another third being once used and the last third being aged in the wood that has been used twice already, to give better balance,’ says Priscilla.

VdT to DOC

Since it did not follow the appellation rules prevailing at that time, Sassicaia had to be labelled as Vino de Tavola (VdT)- normally a cheap table wine,  since the IGT appellation (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was not applicable then. Due to the gaining popularity of the wine, the government decided to make the area around Tenuta San Guido as DOC Bolgheri with effect from 1994, allowing the major use of Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Since the rise of popularity had been due to our wine estate, they decided to make a singular exception and give us Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC.’ Today, Tenuta San Guido is the only Italian wine estate that has its own appellation. According to the appellation rules, 5 years after a wine has been elevated to the DOC rank, the producers can request to get it upgraded to DOCG which is considered the highest quality and consequently higher priced wines within the classification hierarchy. The connoisseurs and Italian wine cognoscenti know that it is not necessarily true, with wines like Chianti docg selling for as low as $3-4 in the supermarkets. ‘We are not keen to get the higher appellation as we are unique in terms of our product and we sell based on our Brand name and quality,’ she says, though pleased with the privilege of special appellation.

It is a testimony to their quality and branding that 40% of their sales are in Italy. Although The US and Canada are the biggest market, they are very popular in China as well and have a good market in Japan, Switzerland, UK and several other European countries.

Hands on training    

Growing up in Rome, now living in Milan, Priscilla attended the University of London, studying and graduating in Art courses. ‘After joining the business and knowing that you will carry the family mantle, have you taken specialized educational courses? ‘My father has always believed that the real education and training is on the job. He has taken no courses and is obviously doing very well. Similarly, I have not studied about wine but only taken some WSET wine courses - I am busy learning everyday on the job,’ she asserts.

Guidalberto-Other not the Second Wine

Click For Large ViewGuidalberto 2012-the other wine from San Guido, was served with the chicken liver pâté with black truffle rosemary crostini-a real SWAAD dish that was a delightful match with condiments in the form of different jams and compotes. It is often classified erroneously as the Second Wine of Tenuta San Guido and I have often tried to remove that misconception.

The concept of second wines began in Bordeaux in the 18th century as a means for producers to use the leftover wine or grapes that were not found fit for the Chateau’s first label. Rather than declassify, waste or sell in bulk, a second label is created for distribution at lower prices. Second wines are generally made using grapes from younger vines, using less oak for ageing and they drink younger, not costing an arm and a leg. However their style is consistent with the first label though not as structured or elegant. So what is her viewpoint on Guidalberto?

‘You are absolutely right. Many people make this mistake and I am glad you are trying to remove the misconception. We have a different grape blend in the two to start with. Sassicaia is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance is Cabernet Franc, whereas Guidalberto is generally 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot. It is softer, less structured but comes at a fifth of the price!’

When I tell her I feel it is a better value-for-money proposition than Sassicaia, she readily agrees and confirms that even she does not drink the more serious and fuller-bodied wine Sassicaia everyday but imbibes Guidalberto more often. ‘It is more approachable and drinks younger.’ Of course, cost would not be the selection criterion. She agrees with me that the 2011 Sassicaia that was the vintage opened and decanted for lunch (incidentally, it was a heavenly match with the fettuccine pasta with morel mushrooms and black truffle shavings and black truffle sauce), was a bit too young to drink and would bloom in another 5 years. There was no way of comparison with older vintages since the more aged and drinkable versions like 2004 and 2006 served at other venues were not available here ostensibly due to logistics problem and also since the lunch had been organised more for people to meet and interact with her than for a tasting- vertical or varied vintages.

Wine for pregnant women

Click For Large ViewSince I have met Priscilla on occasions when she had been pregnant or shortly after her pregnancy, I have generally used her as a benchmark for this sensitive and much debated subject even among doctors. Her reply was consistent with the earlier occasions, ‘a couple of half glasses in a week- they cannot be harmful as you can see from my happy and healthy children aged 10 and 8. All my friends agree with me and follow this practice,’ she says.

When I ask her the next question, I am stumped. ‘I didn’t ask you before but what do you think about wine for lactating mothers?’ ‘You asked me the same question, last time we chatted,’ she shoots back but adds, ‘I don’t really know the answer though I believe beer helps in making more milk. I think it should be all right provided it's in small quantities but the wine should not be consumed just before feeding the child to avoid alcohol getting into child’s system. But half a glass here and there should be quite all right.’

Future Vision

Click For Large View‘Your father was known to have taken Sassicaia to unparalleled heights and the iconic level where it is today. He introduced another excellent wine Guidalberto in 2000 and Le Difese in 2002. What is your vision for the future?' Being the only family member working full time in the wine business of Tenuta San Guido she is the natural choice to take over the reins on behalf of all the cousins.

‘Our focus is on keeping the quality of Sassicaia as good as possible- this already is hard work, she shoots off instantly. ‘But we are not going to expand the winery operation much. We produce about 200,000 bottles of Sassicaia, 350,000 bottles of Guidalberto and around 300,000 bottles of Le Difese. I think we are not going to change the numbers much. We are not just a wine estate. We have other businesses like raising race horses and cattle on the farm and cultivating olives for olive oil.

We have a lot of area available besides the forest land that could be used to make it a resort for rental and wine tourism etc. I would like to expand in that direction.’ She does agree that Le Difese would be a good wine to promote in India because of the price factor. Produced in another unit, she foresees this wine finding more space on retail shelves. Madhulika Bhattacharyya, who retails very good numbers of Guidalberto at Rs.7300, would agree.

With a warm invitation to visit the Estate next time I am in Italy and after thanking her for the wonderful company next to me at the lunch table, I depart satiated and satisfied by the gourmet experience with gyan, though with a slight disappointment in not having been able to taste wines from older vintages as well.

For some of the earlier related Articles, visit

Wine & Health: Wine and Pregnant Woman  

PFV wines uncorked in Mumbai

Subhash Arora

Tags: Donna Priscilla Incisa Della Rocchetta, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido Estate, Gaja, Ornellaia, Leela Palace Hotel, Primum Familiae Vini, Robert Mondavi, Marchese Nicolò, Antinori, Bolgheri, Heinrich Prince zu Sayn Wittgenstein Sayn, Vino de Tavola, DOC Bolgheri, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, Le Difese

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