Interactions and conversations with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini over the years have been some of the most pleasurable and heartwarming, but most importantly they have been so very real. Violante’s approach is somewhere between extremely charming and matter of fact, specifically as it pertains to family history, Montalcinese culture and wines being made from two Tuscan estates. Her manner is inclusive and honest, her inherited view of societal matriarchy readily apparent. After all she is the daughter of Donatella Cinelli Colombini, founding mother, goddess and pioneering vigneron of Montalcino.
Donatella is the sister of Stefano Cinelli Colombini, proprietor of Fattoria dei Barbi, one of Montalcino’s most important and longest tenured, ancient estates. In 1998 she cast out on her own in the northern sector of Montalcino at the estate of Casato Prime Donne, the first Italian winery staffed entirely by women. In the Orcia Valley sits the second estate called Fattoria del Colle Trequanda. Back in 1998 a cellar master was needed but none were available. That is to say no unemployed men were in search of such a job. This sparked Donatella’s quest. To hire only women, promote equal representation and give life to the Progetto Prime Donne that is made up of four components: Casato Prime Donne winery, Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne, Casato Prime Donne Award and Prime Donne Trail – Ilda Bartoloni Hall.
In 1998 Donatella Cinelli Colombini created a new estate giving it her name while incorporating two properties into one brand; Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino and Fattoria del Colle Trequanda. In 2001 and 2002 the two wineries were inaugurated and 34 hectares of vineyard were almost entirely replanted. Donatella’s husband Carlo Gardini was born in Siena and in 2010 concluded his banking career in Florence at the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro where he had been in charge of training personnel for the Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo branches. Which brings us to Violante, born in Montalcino in 1984 and graduated in Business and Economics at the University of Florence. After her Masters at OIV (International Organization of Vines and Wine) that took her all around the most famous viticulture areas of the world she now works in the marketing sector of her mother Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s wines. In 2008-2009 she was Tuscan president of the Leo (young Lions). From 2013 to 2019 she was President of the Movimento Turimso del Vino Italiano, from 2016 to 2019 she was Vice President AGIVI (Young Italian Vine and Wine entrepreneurs). In December 2019 she was elected President of AGIVI.
Sustainability and the Casato Prime Donne Awards
“Many wineries are committed to sustainability but few are capable of communicating it because they make ethical choices out of conviction and not out of marketing.” Donatella is a keen observer of women studying the work of other women, in this case a case project carried out by (Valpolicella’s) Marta Galli of Le Ragose at Milan’s University of the Sacred Heart, together with professors Roberta Sebastiani and Alessia Anzivino. The study in 2021 concluded that for many producers (in this case female producers) showed great respect for the environment and support for local communities, but as a way of living and working, not a marketing tool. Eco-sustainable choices are more widespread than they appear because they are not put in the spotlight. Donatella’s ultimate conclusion? “Choices regarding environmental, social and economic sustainability are part of us, of our way of being and are not dictated by marketing. I like to think that it is a widespread attitude, especially among women.”
After a two year Covid hiatus the 22nd annual Casato Prime Donne Awards were presented to three Italian journalists, given to those who have contributed to the affirmation of the new role and new contribution of women to society and the world of work. “The award has now the new “mission” of incubator of local talents. The goal is to stimulate young Tuscan people, strengthening their motivations, giving training and visibility opportunities so that their success becomes a positive example for their peers.” Chiara Beghelli was chosen for the podcast on “Il Sole 24 Ore” on 23.01.2022 in which she talks about Brunello di Montalcino following the Wine Intelligence investigation. The second recipient was Aldo Fiordelli for numerous articles including “Il Divin Brunello now also has its temple,” published in the newspaper “Corriere Fiorentino” on 10-07-2021. The third winner was Elena Testi, who covered the Covid front, then migrants and then Ukraine for Tagadà La7.
After a trip to Abruzzo this past June I made my way up to Montalcino for the Rosso Anteprima. Over the last several years I had tasted with Donatella and Violante, hosted Zoom seminars with them on as guests and corresponded with mom and daughter. But I had not visited Casato Prime Donne. Ahead of the opening Red Montalcino evening journalists’ dinner at Il Giglio I had time for one visit. There was zero doubt as to which Montalcino producer that needed to be. Violante obliged and on a breezy June 10th afternoon she fetched me on Via Soccorso Saloni for a few hours afternoon passeggiare at Casato Prime Donne, followed by a tasting of 10 wines.
One hundred per cent traminer planted in the early 1980s down by the chapel in Trequanda by Violante Gardini’s grandfather Fausto Cinelli who received the property of Fattoria del Colle from his mother Lelia Socini. Violante’s mother Donatella has talked about living at Colle, tough at first “but right from the beginning strange things began happening, practically saying welcome, we have been waiting for you for a long time.” After white grapes could no longer be used with sangiovese for Chianti Fausto didn’t like the way his trebbiano made a white table wine. He planted traminer instead, if only as a trial at the beginning. Sanchimento in dialect is a simpler medieval way of saying San Clemente. So very aromatic, even for traminer, a bowl of yellow fruit, notable grape hyperbole and so refreshing. Less metallic and juicier than northern counterparts. Grandfather made a good choice. Made by the same women who make the wines at Donatella Cinelli Colombini under the consultancy of Valeri la Vigna. Drink 2022-2024. Tasted June 2022
Donatella Cinelli Colombini Leone Rosso 2019, DOC Orcia
A wine dedicated to the Socini family in a blend of 60 per cent sangiovese and 40 merlot, fermented in stainless steel, aged just a few months in Slavonian oak. From the Fattoria Del Colle Estate at Trequanda in the Orcia Valley right in the middle between Montalcino and Montepulciano. Dark fruit, feels like raspberry, smooth and lightly peppery, juicy and easy. The kind of wine you choose “when you want to have fun,” simple stated and rendered with uncomplicated food, a slice of pizza or a piece of fish in tomato. Drink 2022-2025. Tasted June 2022
Dedicated to Violante Gardini’s father Carlo. A blend of 60 per cent sangiovese with (20 each) merlot and sagrantino, all grown at Fattoria del Colle in Treqaunda. The sagrantino are vines taken from Marco Caprai in Umbria. Brings the spiciness, adding to the verdancy and roundness of merlot, both to compliment the acidity and elegance of the sangiovese. A complete package, affectionately referred to as le ali della colomba, the wings of the dove and then, the teeth of the dragon. Perhaps papa was sometimes tough and sometimes gentle but truth is in a sea of women he’s the only man in the office and on the team. Always a solid and delicious red blend, satiating and satisfying. Drink 2022-2025. Tasted June 2022
Fattoria del Colle was where Sant’Egidio from Querciola made his hermitage, a saint from the XII century about whom very little is known. Livio Socini bought the estate in 1919 because “it was a real bargain.” As a wine from this Trequanda location Cenerentola (meaning Cinderella) was born in 2001, around the same time as the Orcia Consorzio. Her fairytale story is one of winning the prince, who chooses her over her two nasty sisters. The label shows a woman with no face, a pictorial allegory depicting an idea that if you put in all your efforts you can succeed and perhaps also win the prince. The blend is 65 per cent sangiovese and 35 fogliatonda, similar (in DNA only) but surely not the same. A richer, deeper and grippier red as compared with the Leone Rosso, acidity totally different and due to the fogliatonda acting out its passion play as a more beefy, pumped up and macho grape. Drink 2022-2024. Tasted June 2022
“We need to explain that this is a wine that is very different than the Brunello and during the harvest we decide which grapes will be for Rosso and for Brunello.” The words of Violante Gardini introduce a wine that respects nature in a very specific vintage, made for freshness, fun and not as a baby Brunello. “Otherwise it will be a disaster. It must have identity, to show this wine in a different way.” The vintage gains importance 2020 because 2020 holds both joy and also grip. It does not try too hard, nor is it asked to do too much. Extraction is low, oak usage big, in botti. Donatella would like the consumer to drink this young but this vintage will do well for a minimum three plus years. Drink 2022-2026. Tasted June 2022
This Brunello is 38,000 bottles while the Prime Donne is only 3,000 and the third Annata (Progetto) is 3,300 (in 2017) to a maximum of 10,000 bottles made from a blind tasting by four women (including two masters of wine, Madelaine Stenwreth and Rosemary George) sampling top quality sangiovese aged in different barrels. This largest quantity Brunello was picked at exact maturation time, requiring 18 pickers and no stopping until the harvest was done. Freshness, aromatic clarity from northern Montalcino and equilibrium are the result. Bigger than many vintages with acidity captured through that haste plus fine, if still somewhat austere tannins. As good as it gets for the vintage in this style. Drink 2022-2026. Tasted June 2022
Riserva means “the best of the best, thinking about the future and expressing sangiovese in a wine that will become one for celebration. It must tell the story of a long life, eventually with more things to say.” As if one needed a clarification about a Donatella Riserva and yet these words from daughter Violante place you in a frozen trance, if only until the next wine is poured. Tannins are still in charge but the wine is beginning a new chapter. Look ahead one year for new words in and out of the glass. Last tasted June 2022
The purest sangiovese of greatest clarity for the Donatella classics is this Riserva, not just because it comes from 2016 but for the very fact that time has had a great effect in resolving the special needs of such a wine. What’s so very special about a Casato Prime Donne Brunello di Montalcino is the complex weave of northerly fruit, swarthy sumptuousness and textural crema. Never more on display then in this Riserva and from this vintage, bright and you can almost sense the smile on the face of this expressive and inviting wine. Also structured with great sneak and sly movement, sure, unlike the others, so beautifully crafted, painted as opposed to sculpted. Timeless. Drink 2024-2033. Tasted November 2021
Riserva is a wine “to celebrate the best moments of your life” explains Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini and in this case of more structured vintages you would have to exercise more patience. Those rigid sangiovese will be even better in the future but if you want to taste a superstar Riserva right now you can choose 2015 for such an experience. Just now entering this stage though not without continuing grip and plenty of pop. Boundless energy, warming and with chewy fruit all the way through. Definitely evolving faster than 2016 yet still quite a ways away from 2013. Even so both are in “the zone.” Drink 2022-2026. Tasted June 2022
Riserva is about times that will come. “Maybe you tell a story today that you will describe differently at another time in your life, or something new or different will become evident in those times.” Now fully entrenched in the secondary tales of its life, still with great pulse and presence. Some dried fruit and baking spice, good tart edges and boundless character. Last tasted June 2022
Welcome to the Brunello Riserva you may just want to drink right now. From estate vineyards at Casato Prime Donne. The fruit is luscious and as full as ’13 can be, ripe to the max and this from the northern zone. Herbal in an Amaro way, some desiccation to create this red, black and blue sangiovese liqueur. Rich and chewy with a silky mouthfeel and even chewier tannins. Not particularly grippy or tannic by demand, it flows and apportions full circle, ode to the earth, all in and blood orange bright. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2019
The first vintage of Io Sono Donatella was 2010, as a response to journalist comments on wines that were “different.” And so Donatella decided to say this is what I am and who I am. It remembers studying gold and enamels from the Middle Ages. Also made in 2012, 2013 and 2016. This ’15 is the current vintage made from only barrel. This is Brunello and not a Riserva, aged no more than 26 months and finished in cement eggs. The best expression of what Donatella likes and wants, from the vineyard, but then the women place hearts on the barrels to signify which she is to choose from. The most concentration but even more important is this tightly wound spool of acid and tannin making for the most profound barrel expression of Donatella’s Brunelli. Certainly more power and longevity here as compared to the other ‘15s. Wait two years. Drink 2024-2033. Tasted June 2022
Good to go!