It is not an accident that we find ourselves in a wine growing area. Grapes are particular. Like humans, they can survive under many conditions ranging from stupidly hot to moronically cold. When too hot the wine produced suffers because the grapes ripen too quickly and too much to produce a balanced wine. Growers compensate by picking the grapes early when not fully ripened, producing wines with higher acidity.
Funny enough growing wines where they are too cold also produces wines with higher acidity. This time due to the grapes not being able to fully ripen before picking. Acidity is essential in wine to complete the flavors of wine. There should be enough acid to balance the other flavors in the wine. Without acid the wine tastes flabby. With too much acid the wine tastes…acidic, sour. Fine for oysters but not fine for contemplating each sip of the wine on its own.
Chianti is one of those magic kingdoms for grapes. The weather is mild, even hot, in the summer but because of the moderately raised elevation and the hilly topography the nights are cooler. It is rare that it snows or that the ground freezes. Although it does occur and it typically results in disaster for the ever-present olives. So except for those occasional meteorological hiccups, Chianti is also the magic kingdom for the olive and its oil.
The sharp-eyed observer will have noticed that Olive trees in Chianti are small, generally under 6 inches in diameter while Olive trees in southern Italy, Puglia, Sicily, the trees could be massive and thousands of years old. The meteorological hiccups I mentioned above are responsible. Chianti olive trees will not survive a deep frost and will die. When that happens there is a mass die-off of trees and they need to be replaced. Thus the little trees. A hard freeze in the mid ’80’s resulted in a major loss of trees. The new, replacement trees needed ten years before they came into production. Ten years of no income from olives. Thats why Olive farmers are also grape farmers. That is why those crops seem to be always together. Also, grapes are harvested in September/October and olives are picked in November. It’s funny how that works out. Interesting fact: in a year like this year the harvest is expected to yield, on average, one or two liters of oil for each tree. Not a huge profit making activity.
My son Sergio and my daughter in-law Erica took the train from Florence to Como today, thus ending an all too short visit. They are spending a couple days in Como before flying back to the States. While here we were pretty active trying to squeeze as much as possible in the four days that they could be here. Here is a 500 year old Villa in Chianti. Not all of it but an apartment within it. The Villa is owned by a Countess and her British Husband. The Husband, Michael, knows the owner of the Castello di Poppiano, Count Guicciardini, and arranged a private tour of the castle and the wine and olive oil production facilities. The tour was not given by a twenty something that had memorized a script and the tour was not shared with a bunch of American or German or Chinese tourists. Ferdinando Guicciardini spent almost three hours with us. The five of us. Ringo took it too.
Count Guicciardini inherited the holdings in the early 1960’s, the most recent in a line the extends back to 1199. How far back can you trace your family? And where is the fucking castle that they left you? Sorry, just venting that I was born to two impoverished war refugees without a fucking castle. Or two lira. Anyway, at least I got to spend a Sunday afternoon with my family (mostly) talking to Ferdinando about his wines, castle, olive oil, his castle and the hundreds of beautiful acres of wines and olive trees.
The tour started at the receiving and fermentation facilities in the back, proceeded to the aging cellars followed by the bottling area and then the olive oil press and finally the Vin Santo. Vin Santo, Saintly Wine, a sweet wine made with grapes that have been dried on mats until most of the moisture is lost. Those mats are kept at the base of the castle’s tower. Once the grapes are pressed, traditionally around Easter time (Saintly) the resulting wine is aged in very small barrels that line the inside of the castle’s tower. All the way to the top where we spent about a half hour talking about wine and the lands surrounding the castle. Those barrels are subjected to heat and cold over the course of several years of aging. The castle’s tower is filled with these “barreletts”. So when you look at the picture try to imagine its contents.