Spending quality time at Buondonno, Villa Pomona and Villa di Geggiano
Back in September 2018 I spent a pitch perfect day in Chianti Classico. A 15-hour stretch drawn across a triangle connecting three estates, an ideal number for one day’s work split between focus and play. The starting and ending point was Tavarnelle Val di Pesa though in between the lines were drawn transverse, moving in circularly polarized waves, to Castellina in Chianti, through Panzano, back into Castellina, down to Castelnuovo Berardenga and finally, back to Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.
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The day was one of the more important ones on the Chianti Classico calendar. The annual riding of the Granfondo del Chianti Classico takes place during the final stretches of the harvest. While it may be a roadblock and a hinderance to some it is a showcase for the territory in many positive and also exciting ways. Driving around is tricky on this day what with a few thousand eager cyclists climbing and descending the switchbacks of the many long and winding roads. Gabriele Buondonno crossed through the bike traffic to pick me up and as we arrived he showed me the lay of his hilltop Casavecchia alla Piazza in Castellina land. Some of the oldest vineyards live here and their terraces rise above the western edge of the Conca d’Oro, with the town of Panzano in the distance off to the east. We tasted through Gabriele’s wines and then set off for Villa Pomona.
The afternoon was spent with Monica Raspi, her mother Inge and husband Enrico. A lunch for the ages, all composed in the home, traditional and familial, unparalleled, comforting and memorable. A tasting of Raspi’s deeply personal Pomona wines. A walk through the heritage Fattoria, reeking of history and change. A stroll through the vineyards, rows lined with wild herbs and perhaps a whisper in the ear from Papa Enzo. All in the glow of an afternoon, of a paradisiacal September in Chianti Classico sunlight.
One of life’s great pleasures was walking the Pomona vineyards with its passionate custodian meets Veterinarian turned winemaker. Truly. Raspi showed me the site where her “Number One” vineyard will be coming soon while we tasted soon to be picked sangiovese, assessed aspect and slope, thinking about porcini and juniper.
Monica drove me in to the outskirts of Siena where I transferred to take the next leg shotgun to Alessandro Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, destination Geggiano. Home away from home for Godello, al poggio with the towers of Siena so visible southwest in the distance, where some of the area’s finest Galestro and most specific micro-climate intertwine. Soulful retreat and Castelnuovo Berardenga BBQ with Alessandro, Mama and Andrea Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, who I have known for 23 years.
Between these three exceptional estates I tasted 14 wines. My notes are here, exactly four months to the day. A perfect day in Chianti Classico.
Buondonno is a member of the Italian “Triple A” family of producers – Agricoltori-Artigiani-Artisti. “I grandi vini, i vini emozionanti, sono frutto di un lavoro agricolo ormai quasi scomparso e di una vinificazione la meno interventista possibile. Il vigneto coltivato come un orto. Il manifesto dei produttori Triple A indica i criteri di selezione fondamentali che accomunano gli ultimi superstiti che producono vini degni di essere un mito come è sempre stato nella storia dell’uomo.”
In other words, these are producers making wines through the practice of lost agricultural work and least possible interventionist winemaking. “The vineyard cultivated as a vegetable garden.” Gabriele Buondonno is one such winemaker and his vineyards stand as exemplar temples where both myth and history are kept alive. Gabriele’s daughter Marta is making her own history as a caseificio from goat’s milk, crafting capra as yet another example of the Buondonno soul.
Early picked, high acidity and surprisingly good phenolic Rosato with the highest level of tang albeit within balance. Full of red citrus, lime and grapefruit. Crazy good to drink. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018 #buondonno
From an old bush vine vineyard planted in 1936 to many varieties; sangiovese, canaiolo, colorino, malvasia, trebbiano and many others forgotten, misplaced and unknown. Even the older folks are not entirely sure, if they ever were, and who today still refer to them as uva di rignano. Approximately 1000 bottles are made from this place in a wine that is tart, tight, tannic and high in ancient wisdom. A true blue field blend of acidity that wraps up exceptionally wise and naturally resonant black fruit and olive tapenade. It’s the Tuscan equivalent of old field blends, especially Californians like Ridge Vineyards but like an Etruscan version of such an idea. Goes into a ceramic tank, with porosity like oak but to preserve the fruit and not hinder it with spice. Just the grapes and nothing but the grapes. Piano, piano, lèmme, lèmme. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2018
Virtually sangiovese, perhaps a few points of canaiolo, maybe not. From what Gabriele considers a strange vintage because it’s 6.7 per cent acidity is something that hasn’t been seen in 25 years. But it’s also 15 per cent alcohol and so for this day and climate warming age, it emerges beautifully balanced. You’d never know it, the fruit standing firm upright and supremely confident. Sees time in a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques, none of the vessels new. Brightest of cherries, linear direction, dry but sweet tannins. Purity of fruit is in the elite company of the territory, within the style. This will age for 20 years and become something calm, demurred and extraordinary. Drink 2020-2032. Last tasted September 2018
Gabriele Buondonno and Valeria Sodano bought the Castellina in Chianti farm known as Casavecchia alla Piazza in 1988, a plot that clearly appeared on the maps of the “Capitani di Parte Guelfa” in 1549 and is marked as the “place of Lionardo Buonarroti,” nephew to Michelangelo. Their Chianti Classico is 90 per cent sangiovese, plus merlot and syrah from a place Michelangelo once wrote to his uncle “I would rather have two barrels of Trebbiano than eight shirts.” Clearly pulled of of a special terroir, Buondonno’s organic Annata is pretty and purposed, with fresh tart strawberry and an intensity of acidity. It’s very long, unrelenting, showing some focus above and beyond. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted February 2018 #buondonno #buondonno
Planted in 1999 in the Vigna di Sotto, the lower vineyard, from Guillaume, because merlot was ordered and they also sent 400 plants of cabernet franc. First vintage was 2015, here now in number two it’s beginning to express itself, however small the batch. It really is cabernet franc, a bit verdant, spicy, more spiced really, completely unlike sangiovese but clearly from this property, in Castellina but on the far western side of the Panzano Conca d’Oro. It’s chewy, chalky (in liquid form) and tannic. Needs a few years to come together. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted September 2018
Sangiovese with a small amount of canaiolo, 25 days outdoors fermentation and then into a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques, 10 per cent new. From the estate vineyards of Casavecchia, Sicelle and Sicellino. The latter planted in the 1970s with exposure to the North-East. This fruit from a cooler site will be essential to the assemblage going forward. Such an accomplished Riserva out of 2015, clearly designed to tell the Castellina-Panzano straddling story, with rich, structured fruit and a intention to travel far. Full, wise, stratified, variegated and weighty, in at 15.5 per cent. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018
Marta is Gabriele’s daughter and hers is essentially a skin-contact white, orange or amber wine if you prefer the nomenclature. The concept stems from Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza’s goat cheese and the Buondonno goat cheese making master. Hers is clean as a whistle, with more trebbiano than malvasia, 10 days on the skins, qualifying as skin-contact so let’s keep it there and resist the temptation to call it orange. It’s beautifully and mildly tannic, full of acidity and dry as the desert. Light on the oxidation and volatile acidity. From vines planted in 1974, then 42 and now almost 45 years old. So proper and just right, really, truly, honestly, humbly and born of a person’s tremendous work ethic. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted September 2018
The farm was originally named “Fattoria Ricceri” and dates back to the second half of the XVIII century. It was was purchased in 1899 by ancestor Bandino Bandini, producer of olive oil and wine, sold to the restaurateurs of Siena. The new name Pomona stressed newfound prosperity and the success of its kiln, expanding the number of farm buildings and an oil mill was used for pressing the olives grown at Pomona, as well as on the other neighbouring farms. After the mezzadria period came to an end there was a long period of decline and abandonment, until Bandino’s grandson, Enzo Raspi, began the road top modernization, carried on by Monica and family today.
The work of Monica Raspi, veterinarian transformed into winemaker, her mother Inga, on a property housing an abandoned brick factory deserted after the owner lost money to horses. The founder was Bandini, great grandfather who purchased the estate after it sat empty between the 50s and 80s. The work is rounded out by Monica’s husband Enrico, Rheumatologist and cook, he of a palate extraordinaire. Here in Castellina in Chianti where fruit from the lowest part and youngest section of the vineyard offers its pure, raspy, bright red cherry sangiovese, richer than you might expect and of “hair combed just right.” It’s IGT that “came out with its soul untouched.” One day it will finish growin’ up and become Chianti Classico. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018 fattoria_pomona
Essentially 100 per cent sangiovese, from the better and higher part of the vineyards planted in 2004 and 1998. From hot days, cold nights and eight months in barrel. Beautiful. Fruit, fruit and more fruit. Calcareous marl and Alberese stone interchangeable for the make up the vineyard and the house, with pietraforte, quartz, everything all in, together in conglomerate. In the end, combined with organic farming and low pH, there is a salty vein running through the deeply rendered red fruit. Sapidity unique to this vineyard. Perfect with caponata, carpione and pecorino. This Annata needs to be drawn from every part of the estate because it’s terroir is one of the most variegated in all of the territory. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018
From the last of the vineyard planted in 1987, now ripped out in 2018 mainly because of it having grown older and tired and having come into a time of lowest of the low production. ’Twas the Vignavecchia. This takes the conglomerate of soil and intensifies the sangiovese, by way of 15 months in grandi botti, then transferred to concrete for nine months before bottling. “Needs to be more elegant, not heavier,” insists Monica Raspi. That it is, in balance, far from dense and weighty, pretty, in pulchritude, with not a whisper noted by the wood. Wonderfully, respectively and gently rendered Riserva. In 2016 it becomes just Pomona. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018
This is delicious cabernet sauvignon. It should not be called light or delicate but it is what you might call ethereal for the grape variety. Profumo, delicasse, richesse and uniquely, unusually lovely, still with varietal strength but supple. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018
Villa di Geggiano
Villa di Geggiano has been the family home and winery of the Bianchi Bandinelli family since 1527. Just six kilometres north-east of Siena, Geggiano’s Castelnuovo Berardenga Chianti Classico vineyards are located just up the hill from Ponte e Bozzone, on a terroir composed of clay, river silt and Galestro. Originally built in the 14th century, the Villa di Geggiano, its gardens and 18th-century decorations have been carefully renovated and restored. Bernardo Bertolucci filmed Stealing Beauty (1996) at Geggiano in 1995 (I can attest to this – I was there) and in the historical restored wing there is the room that was once home to Pope Alexander III. Pope from 1159-81, Rolando Bandinelli’s papacy covered the murder of Thomas Becket (for which he humbled Henry II), and he held the Third Council of the Lateran, an important Catholic Synod. More recently then ancestry includes Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, descended from ancient aristocracy in Siena. Ranuccio became a world renowned and well respected art historian and archaeologist. His early research focused on the Etruscan centres close to his family lands, Clusium (1925) and Suana (1929).
A 60/20/20 sangiovese/syrah/ciliegiolo mix, two weeks in stainless and a few months in old wood. The concept of design is to create fruity and ask to be consumed when young. Beautiful acidity from a southern, warmer clime possessive of necessary ventilation and a micro-climate where frosts and hail seem to pass on by. A tiny micro conca d’oro climate within a larger area typified by a great variegation in the soil; Alberese, schisty Galestro, limestone and clay with some sand. An extra level of interest is piqued by a rhubarb and black cherry meeting. Only 15,000 bottles were produced in 2017. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted September 2018 villadigeggiano andreaboscu barrelselect @VilladiGeggiano @BarrelSelect @villadigeggianowinery @barrelselect
It is noted that Geggiano’s terroir delivers a dark hue and deep profile but not the weight and thick constitution that might be thought to accompany or expect. It’s 100 per cent sangiovese and it does clock in at 15 per cent, though not surprising considering the vintage and the southerly location. A bit of new French tonneaux but mostly older, for 12-14 months. High acidity and elasticity takes this into balance. Delicious sangiovese comes from place and respect and Geggiano’s carries forth with tonality and depth. First wholly varietal wine in this vintage. Last tasted September 2018
Geggiano’s particular corner of Castelnuovo Berardenga delivers the gift of calm and collected, deeply fruity and sneaky, streaky, stony sangiovese. It gets neither more subtle nor more appreciable than these wines and in 2015 there is warmth indeed but also a cool sliver of mineral truth. This Chianti Classico does not guess at its ways and intentions, it commits to them with implicit and intuitive, life affirming strength. Great length, really great length. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018
The 2012 is the current release because they (Geggiano and sangiovese) need time in the bottle. They simply keep a firm grip on their youth for quite an extended period of time. Riserva for the Bianchi-Bandinelli brothers is a matter of the best vines and the better barrel samples. Creosote and graphite really come from this nose, with tapenade, blood orange and violets. It’s almost more red fruit than the Annata “but that’s alchemy,” says Alessandro BB. This is a great example of work done alongside sangiovese oenologist Paolo Vagaggini, to transfer the variegate of the vineyard, through the conduit of time, into the glass. Still so young with great chains of stretched tannins, to be better in three more years. Drink 2020-2031. Tasted September 2018
Tasted alongside the 2012 there is a marked humidity and warmth of vintage and now three years on the balsamico and chocolate are really beginning to emerge. Certainly more strength and depth, the chains of tannin and command are breaking down and the wine is entering its next stage of life. Warm, silky smooth and soothing. Drink 2020-2027. Tasted September 2018
Good to go!