Realizing Visions with Marco Ricasoli of Rocca di Montegrossi
“When you grow up in a family producing wine for so long, you feel you have to,” said Marco Ricasoli, a 36th generation vintner and proprietor of Rocca di Montegrossi, “it’s your destiny.” And though he comes from a family that’s been producing wine since the 12th century, he left the family estate 20 years ago to craft his own wines. “In 1995, I had a different opinion from my brother, so I left. It was not a reason of quality,” he carefully emphasized, “it was difficult to work together. It wasn’t equal. I wasn’t able to have my vision realized.” And so, in 1995, inspired by the passion that kept his mother committed to the vineyards when her husband passed away in 1972, Marco received a parcel from the family along with a defunct label, and set forward to make his own vineyard.
Desiring to use solely indigenous grapes to supplement the Sangiovese in his Chianti, Marco left his brother to his international varietals, so that he might farm his own 6.5ha in San Marcellino. “In Chianti it’s really fantastic land, but very stoney, so it’s expensive to make a vineyard in that area,” he said. “It’s land where you can grow only two things, olive trees and vines. You have to do it step-by-step.”
Beginning with the breaking down of large boulders that dominated the soil, Marco and his team dug 4m trenches every 3m, so that they could deposit the stone in layers. “You change the soil,” he said. “It’s cheaper than bringing the stones away and it’s good for the drainage. It’s one of the most expensive areas in Tuscany, where it cost 40,000 – 60,000 euros per hectare to prepare the land. In San Casciano, where there are fewer stones, it costs 10,000 euros to prepare. And that doesn’t include the planting.” With machines that broke down easily due to the stone extraction, Marco also had to manually remove the grass, to keep with his then sustainable practices. “There’s a machine that cuts beneath the grass and extracts it,” he added. And now, “The stones are the secret to the winery. The minerality balances the power of the wine.”
Located in the Commune of Gaiole, home to “some of the best land in Chianti”, Gaiole, along with Cantelina and Rada are the three areas that were a part of the original Chianti Classico. “Half of the best producers in Chianti Classico are in this region,” he said. “It’s not a coincidence. In Gaiole, you have to put a lot of energy into making a bad wine.” Residing at an altitude of 350-500m, which is important for good ventilation to keep the fruit dry, the estate experiences cool summer nights, reducing the stress of the vines. With still stoney soils of marl and calcareous origin, the oxygen is kept in the soil, enabling the roots to dig deep.
Farming sustainably since the start, Marco switched to organic practices in 2006 “because all of my life I’ve focused on nature, to not waste energy, to be mindful of pollution.” However, he said, “In the beginning I felt ignorant, so to jump into organics without knowledge would have been dangerous. I wanted to learn more before converting, and in 2006 it was time.” Claiming that it wasn’t a big leap to go from sustainable to organic, Marco added, “When you go to the vineyard to taste the grapes, they’re clean. It makes me happy to know there’s nothing bad on the grapes. [And though] Organic makes the wine more genuine, there’s still good and bad wine. Organic doesn’t affect that. I wouldn’t drink bad organic wine,” he added and laughed.
With holdings that now total 20ha under vine, 20ha of olive groves and 60ha of forest, Marco implemented solar panels for the winery’s hot water and heat. “The water is also recycled,” he added. “We don’t use tap water for the organic treatment. Not because it’s cool or fashionable, but because we must each do something for the environment. It’s easy. It doesn’t cost a lot and it makes you happy.” Soon he’ll be adding photo voltage panels to produce the estate’s electricity.
In regard to his work in the cellar, Marco said, “We never use selected yeast, because the yeasts are strong. My idea is, the less you use the better. If you respect the nature (and organics) [then] nature is stronger. It’s more alive.” And this is indeed a life force that present in the Rocca de Montegrossi wines.
To read more about the wines, click here.