Tuscan Terroir: Poetry, Sketches and Wine

A few weeks ago, I took a deep dive into Tuscan Terroir at a lovely event featuring White Roads, a newly published book of poetry (Alex Josephy) and sketches (Silvana Biasutti), which “paired” perfectly with the natural wines of Marino and Luisa Colleoni of Podere Sante Marie and Francesca and Margherita Padovani of Fonterenza.

credit: Silvana Biasutti

We gathered in the Libreria Becarelli , a fabulous independent bookshop and café, opened 13 years ago by Gabriella Guaiti. She is an avid reader, who moved from Milano, found there was no place to buy books outside the walls of Siena, and took it upon herself to create this oasis for book lovers. She is pictured here with the poet, Alex Josephy, who divides her time between Montalcino and London.

As Alex began reading her poems, we were soon transported out onto the strade bianche (white roads) that crisscross the fields, woodlands and vineyards of the Val D’Orcia, Montalcino and Montepulciano. The title poem, White Roads (p.15) begins:

They call them the white ways,
half-made roads ummarked on the map
or shown as hollow parallels that bound
across hills, falter to a trail of dots
beside a bare torrent-bed,
white-goods dump or ruined farm.

I thought of my many walks on the strade bianche and how choosing to live here in Italy has been for me a choice of going “off the map” onto “unmarked” ways”, what one of my favorite American poets, Robert Frost, called “the road less traveled by”.

I also identified with Alex’s poem “Sister” (p.51). It written from the point of view of an olive tree, who like me has turned and twisted through life. It ends with these lines:

I wear these “cicatrici,” scars
from cuts that shaped me,
as medals,
raise my cup of branches
to the sun, commend to her

new fruits, the size of peas.

The poem evokes olive groves I have walked through…

…as does this beautiful sketch by Silvana Biasutti. She finally moved from Milano to Montalcino after coming here for years and is the mother of the winemaking twins, Francesca and Margherita Padovani.

Alex’s poem, “Sangiovese Red”, recounts the destruction in 2012 of five years worth of Gianfranco Soldera’s iconic “natural” Brunello di Montalcino when a disgruntled employee literally drained the cellar. Gianfranco passed away less than a month ago, adding poignancy to the last stanza of the poem:

fumes filling the vault. Ten, yes, twenty, thirty
spoiled. Left the scene as the evidence
deepened, brick-red turning chestnut, widened
into shadow bodies, trunks, limbs, linked,
darkened across the floor.

I thought of my visit some years ago to Soldera’s Case Basse. After buying the estate in 1972, Gianfranco and his wife, Graziella, became standard bearers for expressing “terroir” and for making wine only with grapes (nothing chemical or industrial either in the vineyard or the cellar). He along with the other greats of his generation (eg. Giuseppe Rinaldi, Marco de Bartoli, Paolo Bea, Emidio Pepe, Salvatore Ferrandes and Elisabetta Fagiuoli) were truly “off the map” back in those days. Each in his/her own individual way laid the groundwork for what is now the “natural” wine movement.

(photo credit:Janice Cable)

At the event, Marino Colleoni (left) of Podere Sante Marie and Francesca Padovani (right) of Fonterenza shared some of their wines. They started into “natural” wines in 1995 and 1999 respectively. The camaraderie and support so often evident in the community of “natural” winegrowers was in full swing.

The wines (all fermented with indigenous yeasts and none filtered) were left to right:
Colleoni [glossary_exclude]Podere[/glossary_exclude] Sante Marie [glossary_exclude] Bianco [/glossary_exclude] Ansonica IGT 2017 (100% Ansonica–native variety also found in the south of Italy, known as Inzolia in Sicilia)
Fonterenza Rosa IGT 2016 (100% Sangiovese with only 10 hours of skin contact to make a rosato/rosé)
Colleoni [glossary_exclude] Podere [/glossary_exclude] Sante Marie [glossary_exclude] Rosso [/glossary_exclude] Sangiovese IGT 2017 (100% Sangiovese)
Fonterenza [glossary_exclude]Rosso[/glossary_exclude] di Montalcino [glossary_exclude]DOC[/glossary_exclude] 2016 (100% Brunello–Sangiovese)
Colleoni [glossary_exclude]Podere[/glossary_exclude]Sante Marie[glossary_exclude] Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2014 (100% Brunello–Sangiovese)

Tasted in order, the wines made a marvelous crescendo from the light, crisp white Ansonica, to the only slightly more structured rosato, the fresh acidity and light tannins of the Sangiovese, and finally, the more complex Rosso and Brunello. Each wine had its own distinctive characteristics but were all similar in their drinkability—the pleasure of one sip making me want another.

Also in attendance were oenologist, Maurizio De Simone and opera singer, Elisabeth Agnethe, a husband and wife team, who work together at Legendary Wines Siena. Twenty years ago, Maurizio took the risk of speaking out against the prevailing fashion of international varieties and standardization in Italian wine. In an interview with AIS Napoli in 2008, he noted, “…The best competitive weapon Italian wine has in the marketplace is to be unique, something that cannot be imitated or reproduced elsewhere.”

The evening was filled not only with good cheer, but a strong sense the uniqueness and strong character of the terroir in this corner of southern Tuscany. As we talked, we realized that we have all been inspired to respond creatively and express the terroir, whether through poetry, sketching, grape growing and winemaking, olive oil making, writing, or creating a community of book lovers.

Some of the people at the event were “homegrown” but many of us are “transplants”. We talked about that, too: the spell that the history, beauty, and pleasure associated with being here casts. As Alex wrote in her poem “Meta-Tyrrhenian”,

One place starts to leak
into another, London streets

to a “sentiero” through cloud pines
above a Tyrrhenian bay. 

There was so much to share that it was hard to leave this amazing group…

left to right: Gabriella Guaiti, Silvana Biasutti, Francesca Padovani, Alex Josephy, Marino Colleoni


Now that the light and warmth is beginning to return to the Val D’Orcia, I setting out for more walks on the strade bianche with Alex’s book tucked in my backpack, ready to fall in love with this place, its wines, its history, and its community all over again. 



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Tags: artisan, biodynamic, biodynamic wine, Brunello, Brunello di Montalcino, Italian biodynamic wine, Italian natural wine, Italian organic wine, Italian wine, Italy, natural Italian wine, natural wine, organic, Organic Italian WIne, organic wine, Red wine, Tuscany
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