My first harvest with Passopisciaro was for the whites on Mt. Etna in 2014, so I love revisiting this wine. We grow Chardonnay on volcanic soil between 820-1,000 meters (that’s 3,300 feet, folks) and go through the vineyards up to 20 times over the 2-3 week harvest period, through densely planted vines. It’s a fussy, even neurotic, approach to getting every bunch at its optimal moment of ripeness (read more here), but it makes for damn good wine. Texturally complex with its creaminess and minerality interacting, bright acidity, and at the moment singing with its rich fruit. It was perfect on yesterday’s first real spring day in New York.
Winemaking as an art is something people, myself included, often talk about, but it’s a concept that’s just as hard to wrap your mind around as terroir, until you’ve experienced it yourself. Just what makes every bottle of wine unique is a whole slew of consecutive moments, some things that just happen (heat, rain, the vintage as a whole), others where more active decisions take place (how you prune and train the vines, destemming, oak regime). I’ve seen and participated in many of these moments, but never that important process where a wine is actually made — that is, where the blend is determined, where grapes from one vineyard site are singled out as a stellar parcel, the rolling around of vat samples across your tongue to sense quality / taste / structure / longevity as components of a potential whole, to perceive how those parts might come together. That changed for me today when I tasted through the entirety of barrel samples of Tenuta di Trinoro’s 2015 vintage with Andrea Franchetti and his assistant winemaker Teresa Gaspar.
Arriving at Trinoro was like driving across a moonscape, with the rich, clay-filled earth cracked and churned from the recent wheat harvest. Only after cresting the hill from Sarteano into the Val d’Orcia and winding our way down the gravel road did we begin to pass by plots of land filled with vines. Andrea Franchetti, owner of Tenuta di Trinoro, explained to me that, of his 200 hectares, only a small portion is under vine – he’d planted what land he could to which the grapes would take, the rest dominated by the thick clay or hidden under the growth of the thick forests that surround the property.
I spent my first few days in Italy down on Mt. Etna, observing the harvest at Passopisciaro. Andrea Franchetti, its owner, showed me how the color of the leaves and slope of the hills could allow him to predict what would be ready first – the vines with yellowed leaves were already bare, the sugars directed to the grapes on the areas where the soil wasn’t as rich (the deeper the green, the later the ripening goes his approach); and where there were depressions in the vineyard, however slight, those grapes too were still left to ripen, while the edges of the rows on higher ground were already plucked. We tasted from plant after plant, and for the first time I could really understand how much a single vine could vary from its neighbor. Some were just on the cusp of ripeness, with sweet juices bursting in my mouth and the seeds easily falling apart, where as others still maintained a tart, green edge.