Volpaia: it takes a village, no seriously. The Castello di Volpaia estate is one of the most remarkable wineries I have ever visited. Now, granted I was there in the off-season, but driving up the rather winding road to the hilltop enclave, it’s really not much more than a ring of buildings protecting the inner Castello, can leave you a little perplexed. At the end of the road you arrive in a small Piazza with a bar on one side, and a rather imposing tower on the other.
Fortunately the Piazza is small, so it doesn’t take much wandering to figure out that tower is the retail sales room for Volpaia, the sign on the transom window being a dead give away, if remarkably subtle indication. Once you’ve discovered the sales office, which was closed at the time of my visit, you might be left wondering where the winery actually is. Chances are your standing on it, next to it or in it!
What to expect: ChiantiChianti is a large region that produces a wide range of wine styles. From basic Chianti, to the finest Riservas, some elements of the wines remain consistent. Chianti is based on the Sangiovese grape, which typically yields a medium bodied wine with strawberry and cherry fruits that are accented by delicate notes of green herbs, dusty soil, leather, and spice. While Chianti can be produced exclusively from Sangiovese, the vast majority of Chianti includes a small percentage of other grapes. Traditional varieties like Mammolo, Colorino, and Canaiolo were used to add some flesh and aromatic complexity to Chianti, though many producers now include some Merlot, adding fruit and richness, or Cabernet Sauvignon, which contributes power and dark fruit flavors, to their wines.
Volpaia is a fantastically preserved and renovated Italian village of medieval origins. The Stianti family, owners of Castello di Volpaia, have painstakingly restored much of the village and converted it to their winery while preserving all the architectural details and appearances that takes one back to a simpler way of life.
It’s really amazing how one finds the offices of the winery tucked into an alleyway that runs through the heart of the old Castello, or the ageing cellars, spread out as they are, in the basements of the crypt of an ancient chapel. In fact virtually every element of the operations here has been seamlessly integrated into the existing structures, though when additional space was needed for a more modern bottling line the family did spring for a new addition to the village. Thing is, it’s tough to tell where that could possibly be. Ok, it’s the building in the center of the photo below.
The passion of the Stinati family shows in their dedication to this small village. It’s almost impossibly difficult to work with in the rules and regulations imposed by the Italian government, especially when it comes to the repurposing of historic structures, but the Stianti do what they must to maintain the character and charm of Volpaia the village, just as they do what they must to maintain the character and style of Volpaia’s wines.
Volpaia focuses on a rather traditional line-up of wines that includes their Bianco, the straight Chianti Borgianni, as well as a Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva. In addition there are two Super Tuscan styled wines; Coltassala, which is based on Sangiovese with a touch of Mammolo added and the more internationally styled Balifico which adds Cabernet Sauvignon to the Sangiovese. And of course there is a Vin Santo, that iconic Tuscan dessert wine produced from air-dried grapes, in this case Trebbiano and Malvasia.
Volpaia’s style is dictated as much by the cool climate the vineyards enjoy at the relatively high elevations the slopes leading up to the village (some 250 to 450 meters above sea level) as it is by the winemaking style of the house. The fruit these cool, rocky vineyards yield is never among the richest or densest in Chianti, though they are among the most perfumed. The terroir here favors warmer vintages and the galestro-laden soil is able to drain away water fairly quickly so damp is not usually an issue. In cooler vintages ripening can be a challenge though.
Ultimately the winemaking style is rather middle of the road here as the owners try and preserve the freshness of the wines without imposing too much of a stylistic imprint. They truly do want the wines to speak of Volpaia, and considering the obvious financial and emotional investment the family has made here, that is not at all surprising.