Biodynamic Wine Unboxed at Cosimo Maria Masini in Tuscany

Francesco De Filippis, manager and part owner of the vineyards and cellar at Cosimo Maria Masini, explained the value of biodynamic farming with astounding clarity. He began with the simple distinction that, “ Biodynamic agriculture focuses on the soil. Conventional agriculture focuses on the vine.” There was no fantasy or hippie talk since Francesco has a Phd in Agricultural Science. He is currently doing one of the first scientific studies to measure how the vitality of soil affects the quality of grapes (and wine).

“It turns out,” he told me with a slight smile, “that the nutrients in healthy dirt are nothing more than the poop of hundreds of thousands of micro-organisms eating their way through the soil.” As these micro-organisms burrow around, they also keep the soil open and aerated. The vines naturally get stronger, and produce higher quality grapes.

Franceso went on to say that adding fertilizers to the soil (other than plants that grow, are cut, and decompose naturally among the vines–“green manure“) is like serving “platters of poop” to the micro-organisms. No living creature can survive in its own excrement. They die. The soil loses nutrients and vitality. It becomes dense and compact.”

Clay soil

When biodynamic farming began ten years ago in the Cosimo Maria Masini vineyards, the nearly 100% clay soil was hard as rock with deep cracks where the it had split apart. After changing from conventional to biodynamic practices, the soil has become looser, richer and revitalized with micro-organisms. The vines are healthier, and the wine is coming into its own.

vines

Francesco explained why adding fertilizers not only kills the soil (above) but weakens the vines. He told me that they work by making the plant crave water…but like a person who drinks salt water, they only gets thirstier and drink more. As the plant draws in more and more water filled with nutrients, it produces more fruit, but the fruit is large, flaccid, bloated and tasteless. This process unbalances the vines, and eventually they get sick. A sick plant attracts disease and insects, which then requires chemical treatments to resolve those problems. It’s a vicious cycle.

Even before Francesco managed a huge biodynamic farm (over 1200 acres) that produced grain, legumes, vegetables and fruit for Natura Sì (Italian version of Whole Foods), he was convinced of the power of biodynamic agriculture in general and viticulture in particular to produce higher quality products without depleting the plants or the soil. In this video, he explains how the positive effects of biodynamic agriculture are magnified in wine.

(Click on CC for English Subtitles)

The estate’s oldest vines are about 45 years old. Francesco noted that they need less tending because they have found their equilibrium. The roots go down about ten meters (almost 40 feet). He noted, “For good grapes, the vine needs to be a little stressed as the roots seek water and nutrients in the soil. The vine is always trying to protect its fruit, so it adds tannins and polyphenols to the grapes. Those are what give the wine its structure, character and color.” (NB: The opposite of the process described above when fertilizers are added.)

old vines + olive trees

Francesco is concerned about the regulation of biodynamic agriculture. He finds that in Europe, attention is too closely focused on the biodynamic “process” instead of “product”. In Australia, where three million acres are farmed biodynamically, the results are clear, and farmers can see them. (Alex Podolinksy went there after fleeing Nazi Germany. He was influenced by the writings of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, a Rudolf Steiner disciple in America, even though they never met. “The contadino has to see things with his own eyes,” Francesco noted. “He doesn’t believe in theory.” In Australia, farmers conduct peer reviews that are more based on results than a checklist of methods.

Francesco said that he purposely avoids what he calls “spiritual” terminology but noted that when he began seeing plants in the macrocosm of the cosmos instead of the microcosm of agriculture,…”it lead to a personal change that cannot be communicated with words. Everything is so clearly connected.”

After the vineyards, Francesco led the way to the cellar (19th century) under the villa (built by the Medeci family at the end of the 15th century). Later, the villa passed to a branch of the Bonaparte family. (Napoleon once visited.) Then, it was sold to Cosimo Ridolfi, an agronomist and President of the Academy of Georgofili in Florence, who sponsored research to improve agricultural and winemaking practices.

villa

Franceso ferments the grapes either in cement tanks or “Tini di Legno”, large wooden vats (nothing in steel)…
cement in cellar

Or for his “Cosimo”, the Sangiovese wine from grapes of the oldest vineyard, mastelle, small plastic containers, open at the top so that the capello can be easily punched down by hand during fermentation.
mistelle

For red wines, the grapes are de-stemmed and then put in the containers without being pressed. The weight of the grapes presses them naturally and indigenous yeasts begin the fermentation naturally.

Above the cellar, there is a traditional Vin Santaio, place for making Vin Santo. Windows open on three sides to dry the grapes that are hung from hooks in the ceiling. After for months, the partially dried grapes and pressed and the must put into wooden barrels to ferment and age for five years.
vin santaio

Some of the wines I tasted…
(Details and Online Orders)
All are fermented with indigenous yeasts.

annick:mathilde
“Annick” IGT Bianco Toscana 2014
Fermentation in concrete. Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc
A citrusy, crisp, clean summer white. Light and fresh. (11%)

“Mathilde” IGT Rosato Toscana 2014
Very fresh rosé made with 100% Sangiovese. Reminiscent of French rosé. Light and easy. (11%)

nicole

“Nicole” IGT Rosso Toscana 2013
A true terroir Sangiovese with personality. Has become one of my favorites.
Fresh, clean, balanced. 100% Sangiovese.
Fermentation in large wooden vats. Aging in large wooden barrels. No filtration.

vin santo
“Cosimo” IGT Rosso Toscana 2013
A true, elegant, rich version of Sangiovese with other varieties including: Canaiolo, Malvasia Nera, Buonamico. Complex and full with characteristic freshness and acidity.
Best selected grapes from the oldest vineyard. Fermentation in mastelle in the fresh air, outside. Aging in large and small wooden barrels.

IMG_1374
“Fedardo” DOC Vinsanto del Chianti
Rich, complex tasting of dried figs, apricots, and almonds.
Classic Vin Santo for dipping cantucci hard, Tuscan, almond biscuits.

All wines are a major value in the $15-30 range. They are still relatively undiscovered and Francesco has only had three years to change over to biodynamic agriculture. It will be exciting to see what happens here over the next ten years. On Wine Searcher or contact the vineyard for distribution information.

Cosimo Maria Massini
(Tenuta di Poggio)
Via Poggio al Pino, 16
San Miniato (PI)

Member of FIVI
FIVI copy

Member of Renaissance Du Terroir-Italia

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