An appointment in vineyard: Torcilacqua

Chianti hills, half august 2015
The start wasn’t pleasant at all. The contexts sometimes becomes more important than text.
I was on holiday with my children, CosAmAle, who stayed in Andora at my sister’s. I won’t stay away for long, I’ll come back while the evening approaches.
I have to talk about vinedressers and wine.
Which means leaving.
“…Volver… con la frente marchita,
Las nieves del tiempo platearon mi sien… “

Andora-La Spezia is part of a trip which is also throughout time. I have been a sailor for 14 months during 1988-1989, I used to come back once in a while with my blue Cinquecento and then come back again. Those were the moments where I used to wonder what was my destiny. I do it nowadays too, actually. Some things never change.
“…Sentir… que es un soplo la vida,”
Even in early morning the summer heat has no reservations, it seeps into the folds of my skin without asking for it, even if the sun isn’t up already, even if the sun isn’t there.
“…Que veinte años no es nada,…”
Tunnels. Crossing Liguria is like driving in an only underground itinerary, with just a few splashes of sun, ground and sea.
Then comes Tuscany. And it seems to come back and see the stars (“E pare di tornare a riveder le stelle.”). [1] Tuscany has everyting: sea, lowlands, hills, highlands, mountains, small and big towns. This time i cross only a part of its territory, up to Florence Improneta, then towards Siena, San Casciano Val di Pesa and Badia a Passignano at last.
No, not through the vineyards which created Marchesi fame, but a few metres away, towards the highest part of the hill. Via Passignano follows the top of a crest with morenic origins, and next to the Abbey on the left you can find Tignanello wineyard, while i the lower part on the right you can find the vineyard where they cultivate grapes for Solaia.

Sangiovese vineyards; looking left from via Passignano, right up to the hill, you can see Solaia vineyard and Tignanello on the right
Sangiovese vineyards; looking left from via Passignano, right up to the hill, you can see Solaia vineyard and Tignanello on the right

“…Que febril la mirada, errante en las sombras,
Te busca y te nombra.” [2]

The street becomes a cross-road: to the left you go towards Marchesi squeezing center, to the right there’s a sign, “Greve”. I luckily don’t have to choose. If there’s an option, I always choose the wrong one.
School, women, work, investments. An only line which begins from my awareness and continues through infinity. A slow, long series of mistakes.
I come back.
There’s a vineyard.
It must be Kaizen merlot, The name of the Supertuscan of this company. The most famous one. I switch off my car and I bravely come out to challenge the hottest moment of the day.

“Ah l’uomo che se ne va sicuro,
agli altri ed a se stesso amico,
e l’ombra sua non cura che la canicola
stampa sopra uno scalcinato muro!” [3]
The colour and the shape of the grapes means that the harvest is approaching and that those are really Merlot plants.
“Merlot” said an old vinedresser “is the most ignorant among all the plants. Because if you grow it in a cellar, it grows it well, and it also gives us good grapes”. Folklore.
The heat doesn’t allow me to appreciate the landscape as I would like to, but it pushes me in my car again to drive for a few meters and park in front of the country house.

Podere Torcilacqua; Some documents establish its exsistence since 1200
Podere Torcilacqua; Some documents establish its exsistence since 1200

They’re waiting for me.
Mauro Bianchi, Fabio Ravasio and Hardi Wolf.
The company is all here. The first one from Como, the second one from Bergamo, the third one from Germany.
No Tuscans.
The italian ones are, in different percentages, the owners, the German is the farmer.
Some clouds hiding the sun suggest us to hurry up and go to the fields.
Northen from the country house, now a farmstay, there’s “Sangio”, split in four vineyards, a space of around 5 hectars.
“My father bought the company in 2006, from a Tuscan who had my same name, Mauro. My family works in the textile sector, I studied oenology in Milan. Well, as it is said, a reserved information and it immediately started.”
The morning came.
He fell in love.
He bought it in the afternoon.
Above Sangiovese, olive trees, and then again at the sides of the forest, there’s an old Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.
Half hectar.

Cabernet? In none of your wines you declare Cabernet? Do you produce I wine that I don’t know?
If we only could pick it up! It was the tribute we used to pay to Cerere [4] to have subtract ground to the woods. That’s the furthest vineyart from the country house, and there it begins the forest. The animals make us some surprises once in a while. In nine harvests we only picked up something in 2012. And obviously the current year.
The current year?
We put electric wires all trought the borderlines.
Mind is devilish. I think about my father, my uncle Ceno and my uncle Memo. I think about the way they would have resolved Cabernet situation at the first grape eaten.
Illegally modified to have 7 shots for the first, anarchic gun for the second one and a shotgun for the third one. Homemade shots, homemade bread, homemade anchovies, “Brussu” [5] made by the farmer and a bottle of wine, of course homemade. Biodynamic, no words needed. And a patient rest in the cabin.
Fabio’s voice brings me back to present time.
“Going down in the valley we can still find olive trees and a little more above and all around the cellar there’s Merlot.”
What kind of agriculture do you practice?

The only one reasonable. Biologic as a matter of fact, not from a certificate. Do you know how much does it cost to have a cerficate? And you know there are lots of companies which certificate, not only one? And why should we have someone who certificates us? We don’t do it for ourselves. We can say that we prefer making it and not saying it.
This zone was called “del 13” during the XX century, because the ground, sunlight exposure, ventilation and everything that needs to define Terroire, lead to a natural and perfect maturation of the fruit and 13 degrees were always reached. Do you actually know that biological disciplinary says that during production you must make several treatments with copper in vineyard? We use to make only one.
Because you don’t need it. If the plant is in health, it protects by itself! Do you know since when vine exist?
Since about threethousand years if we talk about mediterrean and the diffusion made first by Phoenicians, then by Greeks around three/four thousand years later. But it is actually in Tuscany where Etruscans used to cultivate, using trees as support, vines around VII century b.c.
Exactly. Do you believe that Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans used pesticides? Spiders, cicadas and parasites also existed at those times. So if the pland arrived to us is because it can protect by itself. You just need to put it in conditions to be in health.
We harvest and make wine separately not only vineyard by vineyard, but every single fee, we blend them only before putting them in bottles.
Other olive trees lead us downwards. They are different here. They keep them short. Those from my family in Liguria are ten meters high.
To the left, going down, there’s Kaizen vineyard.
Kaizen is a japanese word, its translation is “In continuous improvement”. [6]
At the bottom of the rows I see a long lightblue row.
Mauro is “in his own reign” and says: “Merlot, it’s true that it is a plant easy to cultivate, because it rarely has attacks from parasites, the grape has a pyramid shape, quite large and compact, it is alated, the acinus has a thick skin, the plant produces constantly and in a large quantity.
But you mustn’t forget that, if cultivated properly, it also gives Château Petrus.
Now I understand what was that long blue row: grapes.
So all these grapes on the ground…
Yes, they represent the path we want to follow. We use green lopping a lot to limit vigour and improve ventilation, while we leave a few grapes for each plant up to two/three weeks before the harvest. Then we cut 5 or 6 grapes and we leave them at the bottom of the vines. Because grapes must attract sap, the more they are, the more they attract it. Then, about a month away from the veraison (when grapes start changing color from green to blue) we cut them and we leave them on the ground. So the plant which was used to push that amount of sap, now distributes it to the remaining grapes, which bring water much more easily, concentrate sugar and extraction substances. Meanwhile, the sacrified grapes slowly give to the ground sugars and nutritional components again. The nourished plants stays in health.
Well, the classic “two birds, one stone” situation.
Always concerning streets, some use these grapes to produce rosé wine. The main problem is that when you cut them they are at 9 degrees, then going up to 11?
Yeah, roads.
Talking about the cellar, again. The first improvement was made in 2006 with the modernization of enological tools. Completely underground, in the natural height difference of the mountain, you can exclusively see the door, with the writing “If commercial is the brain of the business, the field and the cellar are the heart. But you can live crazy, without heart you die.”
I smile because I read the same writing at the entrance of an engine room of a warship from the italian Navy. They changed subjects, of course. Nothing commercial, field and cellar, but blanket and engine room.
Now it’s Fabio’s turn to return to our path, saying: “Mauro’s father, who passed away in 2011, leaving a huge blank space, when he bought the farm chose me to help Mauro. We met in Milan when we used to study oenology. During that period I traveled to Bordeaux to take lessons in several “Château”. Back to Italy I finally graduated and bought a wine shop near Bergamo and a wine distribution network. He kept studying, instead. Then we met again, now we are also partners.
While Fabio and Mauro alternated each other telling their story, Hardi is sanitizing the vats. I think he may be fifty years old, but it is certain that he actually has teutonic blood in his veins. Blond, 1,90 meters high and blue eyes.
Mauro explains: Hardi is our partner from the beginning. He was already here when my father bought the place, then he remained here. He was totally amazed when he came here on holiday during the Eighties. Not only Sorci castle in Anghiari is a magic place. The whole Tuscany is magic. So he decided to stay. He’s our precious fac totum, he watches over the cellar following Fabio’s instructions, he helps me in the fields, and he is also our guardian, when we are not here.
So “Wolf” is a perfect surname for him, isn’t it?
Silence and puzzeled glances.
Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction [7] solves problems
I never thought about it, Hardy solves other kinds of problems, of course.
I smile.
I had no doubts.
Hardi is an istitution. He knows everybody, also in Florence. He rides his Benelli on Chianti hills, whether it is a sunny, rainy or windy Sunday.
Harsh and quiet, all that much to seem wrapped in a bright coat, Hardy rarely speaks with a very low voice. He represents a beautiful example of antithesis. A giant who speaks softly.
Right after they bought the cellar, they made a complete makeover. Each fermentino made of steel. New barriques bought in Bordeaux at Silvain and Remond are used to produce Kai Zen and Chianti Classico Riserva, at the second step are filled with Sangiovese del Chianti Classico, at the third step with Prunello.
We also used to have tonneauc, but the best results were achieved with barriques, so we abandoned them.
We use screw-presses, not pneumatic presses, Because the extraction is so much gentle. Fermentation happens thanks to the grape’s yeasts. It happens for 25 days at a medium temperature of 27 degrees.
We do everything here, but Mauro mostly works in field, while I take care of the cellar.
Small, functional, you hug every corner with a single glance. On the other side, the one closer to the mountaint, the cellar hosts barrels where the wine “is going to be”. If you think about it, any wine in the world is a bit Kaizen.
You told me that 2012 was an amazing year, much more than 2009 e 2010. What about 2011?
A hail storm came, we didn’t pick up anyting.
So in Badia a Passignano hailed in 2011 and Torcilacqua didn’t pick up anything,
Questions crowd my mind like hooligans in a stadium. Giuseppe Garibaldi crosses my mind. Not him. My Giuseppe Garibaldi was my geography teacher at highscool.
“The hail storm hits the ground drawing a hypothetical S. So it may happen that the hail storm destroys your field, not you neighbour’s.”
Without Giuseppe Garibaldi I certainly would have misunderstood.
You managed to vintage Cabernet. What will you do with it?
A pure wine.
What about the name?
That’s not important now, we are still thinking about it, but I can assure you that it will be really good.
We still have to decide label, kind of bottle, packaging. We have plenty of time.
Shall we drink something?
With all these kilometers by car and on foot, you won’t give me water, right?
With a total amount of 22.000 bottles, will we find one for us?
It’s not time to degust, now. It’s time to eat and drink.
Some time ago, an old hotel keeper in Andora, mister Mastro, told me in Ligurian dialect: “Believe me, Fabrizio, you have plenty of beautiful moments in your life, but nothing is better than the moment when you put your legs under the table.”
On the wooden table there was different shades of Sangiovese and Merlot just taken from the cellar. A wondered glance on the slowness of time and the features that offers to wine. The speed of the world would expect ready-made wines. Even for those which need some year to rest.
“If you are not vegetarian”, says Mauro, “I’d rather grill four Florentine beefsteaks.”
I’m omnivore and polite. When you are a guest you don’t choose the menu. And I’m sure that it is high quality meat.
I have a friend of mine who is a butcher in Sambuca Val di Pesa. Wait for it.
While the enourmous steak was becominc pure pleasure, we tasted:
Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 Unforgettable
Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 Great
Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 Great
Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 Amazing
Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 A boy who just graduated, but with the highest grade.
Kaizen 2006 Obviously a great year for Torcilacqua: unforgettable
Kaizen 2007 Amazing
Kaizen 2008 Great
Kaizen 2009 Amazing
Kaizen 2010 Amazing
A little tasting notation.
Today we had a confirmation about one of many Nicola’s opinions, our greatest taster: the chimney effect. Not in the glass, but in the bottle instead. Nicola observed and analyzed the different impact on the user, related to the amount of wine in the bottle.
I will not explain this today. I already made too many parenthesis. Next time.
The afternoon is ending, I have to go back.
Rolling a wire lost during the years
From the land to the sea.
Before leaving I ask to see again Cabernet vineyard by myself.
This is the highest part of the hill, you can feel the slant.
I knew that I was going to find you here.
Au sammu che ti u saxevi, ti nai messu ti chi.”(We knew that you knew, you put us here.)
Yes, but we are in August, there’s no hunting in August!
“Ma mia che sta chi a nu l’è caccia” (But this is not hunting)
What? Not hunting? But you have a shotgun, bullets and supplies for a month.
“A caccia a l’è alantù che ti ti vai in tu zerbu a sercò e bestie. Aua i sun velli chi vegnen chi a mangiò a me l’uga. Nuiautri a difendemmu a noscia tera.”
(Hunting is where you walk in the woods to find beasts, not when they are in my field eating my greaps. We protect our land.)
“…Considerate la vostra semenza,
Fatti non fosti a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”
SSSTTT sta sittu. Cü ü riva(Shut up! It’s coming.)
What is coming?
Ma a to ditu de sta sittu che ghe sun i tedeschi (I told you to shut up, Germans are here!)
Germans? Ah ah my dear, war ended seventy years ago.
Ti u disci ti. A guera vea a l’è alantü ca l’è inisiò.(That’s what you think, real war started)
Paralyzed, I don’t know what to say. Then I smile…Hardi.
Ehm, there’s a German working here, actually.
Ti u vegghi chi ghe sun i tedeschi (I told you, there are Germans here!)
Yes, but he’s not one of those Germans.
Aua secundu vellu i ghe sun tedeschi che i nu sun tedeschi. E di ma quantu ti ghai dau pe fallu studià?(So he’s telling me that Germans are not Germans. How much did you pay to let him study?)
Lascighe zerbü says, my father. (That’s a typical phrase, impossible to properly translate it. The meaning is: don’t talk about those thorny topics.)
I nod. I reach the ground to hide better. I see them having some glances and some accordance gestures to split different attention zones and intervention time. I quit. You can’t tell beauty of diversity in the world to deafs.
Trying not to make a sound, I step back.
Some things never change.
Only that time.
When we will stop needing an enemy to exist. That’s the only moment when the human being will start evolving.
Fabrizio Buoli