Tuscany and its 'natural' aptitude for organic viticulture
By By Francesco Saverio Russo - Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 26 July 2022
Italy, along with Spain and France, dominates the ranking of organic winegrowing countries. Yet not all Italian regions can boast a 'natural' aptitude for organic winegrowing that requires particular soil and weather conditions.
THE MAIN GRAPE VARIETY IN DOC MONTECUCCO IS OF COURSE SANGIOVESE
Tuscany is one of the regions with the highest number of organic vineyards with around 15% of its area under vine managed organically, and a continually increasing organic footprint. At provincial level, Pisa and Siena – with Chianti Classico and Brunello as high-profile examples of sustainability – show the greatest growth, with Siena boasting the highest organic acreage. The province of Grosseto is also growing strongly, spearheaded by Montecucco DOCG, which has organic vines over 85% of its acreage. There are also numerous bio-districts which produce only one designation such as Val d'Arno di Sopra DOC. The area has applied to become the first in Italy to be entirely organic, meaning that only organic wines could use the designation. This example lends credence to the 'Bio-Revolution' in Tuscany, a moniker coined by local wine producers.
Being attentive to sustainability, however, does not only imply subscribing to the requirements of organic certification in the vineyard and winery. It also requires a change in mindset to make choices which prioritise respect for the environment and a focus on health along the entire production chain. In regions such as Tuscany, such decisions are extremely important as a focus on sustainability also adds value to the region itself.
Among the most earth-friendly organic wineries, we have chosen a few that best represent organic viticulture in Tuscany.
ColleMassari – a bastion of eco-sustainability in Montecucco
The company is based in Colle Massari castle in Cinigiano, in the province of Grosseto. It ventured down the organic route in 1997 and is certified by the Institute for Ethical and Environmental Certification ICEA. Its commitment stems from the belief that this type of farming is more respectful for the environment and healthier for farmers, and also promotes production of more authentic wines with a greater regional and varietal identity.
CLAUDIO TIPA, THE OWNER OF COLLEMASSARI, WITH HIS WIFE AND HIS SISTER
You might think that very wet years are difficult to manage with this type of approach to farming, but experience gained over the years has allowed the winery to realise that the damage caused by mould and fungal attacks is similar or even less than that occurring in conventionally managed vineyards.
It is true that organic farming entails higher costs, as vineyard management operations are more numerous and therefore require more time and labour. The advantages, however, are wines with greater identity and working in a healthier environment. In turn, the consequential respect for nature and biodiversity instils a measure of resilience against biotic and abiotic stresses in the vineyard, due to greater integration within the ecosystem.
From a commercial perspective, Collemassari feels “it is clear that markets are becoming increasingly sensitive to products that have a sustainable agronomic approach, so organic certification stated on the label certainly promotes market appeal”. As regards the food industry, consumers are showing that they are increasingly paying attention to what they buy, and without doubt appreciate sustainably made and organic products.
Fattoria di Magliano ensconced amidst the unspoilt natural surroundings in Tuscan Maremma
At Fattoria di Magliano organic viticulture is viewed as a necessary step for present-day producers to fully understand their role in a socio-economic and cultural context. The company has been run organically since 2011 and its entire output has been certified by Valoritalia since the 2016 harvest.
AGOSTINO LENCI, THE FOUNDER AND OWNER OF FATTORIA DI MAGLIANO
The number of vineyards has increased throughout the country, and modernisation of technology has enabled even the smallest and most independent winegrowers to achieve ever higher quality. Wineries now need to go even further and move towards sustainability, allowing Italian wine to be a symbol of quality and sustainability. The high level of international competition means that Italian wines must stand out from the crowd and being a leader in good wine starts with vineyard management. In contemporary terms, this means management which focuses on respect for the environment and innovation, without forgetting tradition.
Wine tourism has brought the end user closer to the vineyard and winery and both customers and wine tourists have developed a greater interest and awareness of sustainability. Fattoria di Magliano believes it behoves of the wineries to implement good practice and help educate others. As more and more wineries venture into organic production, being an organic producer will soon become the norm, but quality must also remain the top priority. Wineries will need to be both excellent and sustainable, and able to work with the diversity and needs of each region.
Fattoria di Magliano is fortunate to be located 250 m above sea level on the lowest hills that descend from Scansano towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, Argentario and the island of Giglio. This particular location with the constant coastal breezes that sweep across the vineyards, the scarce autumn rainfall and the climatic influences of the nearby Mediterranean Sea create conditions which are naturally predisposed to organic farming, with beneficial insects fighting parasites. By working with green fertilisers, using solely organic manure and minimal levels of copper and sulphur, limited but high quality yields per hectare are secured, demonstrating the increasing movement towards quality over quantity.
FATTORIA DI MAGLIANO WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1997 AND BOASTS 97 HECTARES IN THE HEART OF MAREMMA
Organic farming today must be perceived as a production method that can and must combine technical knowledge and sustainability. The two concepts go hand in hand and are essential if you want to achieve excellence like Fattoria di Magliano. After 10 years of organic wine growing, the company has found that being certified organic fosters greater visibility in international markets, allowing it to attract the attention of those in search of quality and authenticity.
SINCE 2011, ALL THE VINEYARDS HAVE BEEN FARMED AND CERTIFIED ORGANIC
Podere Il Fitto and preserving biodiversity in the Cortona area
Il Fitto, in Cortona, has for many years now made a pledge to farm its vineyards and the entire property sustainably. In addition to vines, it is also home to olive crops and vegetables, wheat, meadows and oilseeds. The company has been converting to organic for two years through the 'Suolo e Salute' inspection body. The company also intends to certify with Equalitas to meet demands for environmental sustainability in terms of vineyard protocol, soil, fertility, plant, protection, harvest and biodiversity management.
As it works towards its goal of producing a sustainable, healthier and higher quality end product, the company focuses on good winery practices, a reduction in its carbon footprint, good socio-economic practices and a decrease in water usage.
In this environment, there are no particular challenges in heading towards organic management of the company, especially when smart choices have been made over the years to ensure production. Today, Il Fitto is in some respects self-sufficient – one example is the agreement it reached with some local companies to exchange hay for sheep manure. This is an important aspect of soil management as the constant loss of organic matter can be offset and any consequences that may arise avoided.
Through careful management of its farming activities, Fitto successfully produces high quality products without any major issues. The greatest difficulty currently encountered is an increase in management costs, which is also reflected in the end product. However, in the specific case of Podere il Fitto, consumers do not see this as a problem but, on the contrary, as offering added value. This translates into significant benefits in national and international markets in terms of appreciation, visibility and remuneration, particularly in sectors which have environmental awareness.
EDDA BILLI, THE OWNER OF PODERE IL FITTO WITH HER SON ALESSIO (AN AGRONOMIST) AND HER DAUGHTER RACHELE (MARKETING AND TRADE RELATIONS)
La Sala - Azienda Agricola il Torriano – the “green” face of Chianti Classico
At La Sala Winery, located in San Casciano Val di Pesa, the feeling is that organic viticulture is an important starting point and a now-necessary catalyst for ensuring continuity for Italian companies, which also factors in quality. The company considers it an act of awareness towards future generations who will live and work on the same land.
La Sala is certified organic and has introduced measures that focus on sustainability including weather stations aimed at reducing plant protection products – including copper – extensive photovoltaic panels on the company's roofs, the purchase of electric cars with two charging points, the removal of plastic ties from the vineyard and the reuse of pruning waste and grape pomace. In addition, the company uses suppliers who share the same vision, and this applies to the cork factory's plastic-free certification for natural corks, PEFC box cardboard from sustainably managed forests, as well as the glass factory's TUV environmental certification.
According to La Sala, Tuscany lends itself well to this type of viticulture due to the reduced presence of pathogens and harmful insects, making protection easier and more effective than in other areas of Italy. The greatest challenge is adapting production cycles and supporting staff throughout this change. From a professional point of view, though, it is in fact very stimulating, requiring greater attention to detail, more timely interventions, and the implementation of certain precautions that might have previously been overlooked.
In the first year of transition, the company admits that despite the favourable weather they lost a considerable chunk of the crop, but with experience everything became manageable and sustainable in terms of productivity and financial considerations.
The winery reports that since going organic it has noticed greater expression of the wines’ primary aromas than normally expected. In addition, it is beginning to meet buyers and importers who are attentive not only to the product itself but also to the production methods. This reinforces the rationale behind the decision and also opens up new markets.
La Sala is an advocate of organic farming, so much so that it advises those who farm vineyards conventionally to give it a go, perhaps starting with a small plot. Ultimately, this could lead to the creation of bio-districts among interested producers.
LA SALA OWNS 32 HECTARES OF VINES IN CHIANT I CLASSICO
Salcheto - Montepulciano, 360° sustainability
For Montepulciano-based Salcheto, which is a clear example of ethically-driven sustainability, it is simply unthinkable to do business without setting clear objectives to mitigate any negative impact on the environment and society in general. Salcheto has blazed the trail, securing the world's first certified carbon footprint for wine as early as 2009 and many subsequent initiatives in social arenas, such as labour management throughout the supply chain. Organic farming is undoubtedly one of the tools that the company uses to achieve its goals, through its ability to drastically reduce the use of chemicals and fertilisers that are harmful to the rural eco-system. However, organic farming must also be included in a broader framework and carefully balanced with the company’s environmental objectives such as the use of energy.
THE ‘TINAIA’ AT CANTINA SALCHETO
Salcheto boasts EU, US and Canadian organic certification and has also secured Equalitas certification, the standard created by the Italian wine industry which uses a third-party certified model for the integrated management of sustainability in the wine business. Further certifications are PEFC/FSC for the use of wood materials exclusively from sustainable sources and ISO 14067 certification regarding the carbon footprint of specific products.
According to Salcheto, as the weather creates increasingly adverse conditions for growing vines, organic farming poses complex management challenges. These sometimes generate significant impacts on other areas, such as energy and water consumption, soil compaction and economic pressures. Fortunately, as yet, no challenge has become insurmountable, and nothing can stop ethical companies such as this one from confidently continuing down the organic and sustainable route.
MICHELE MANELLI, THE OWNER OF SALCHETO
Confirming the growing sensitivity of buyers and consumers, the winery comments that marketing appeal is undoubtedly very strong. However, emotional and sensory aspects are at the root of the overall taste experience. In essence, Salcheto feels that organic/sustainable wine does not have its own particular taste but when high quality wine is organic and sustainable it is perceived as better and people are willing to pay more for it.
FOR ITS MANAGER, SALCHETO IS ALL ABOUT SANGIOVESE, QUALITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
FOUNDED IN 1984 AS A CLASSIC FARM WITH DIFFERENT CROPS, SALCHETO IS NOW A WINE-FOCUSED PROPERTY WITH 58 HECTARES OF ORGANICALLY-FARMED VINEYARDS
La Palazzetta Fanti chooses organic to further raise the perception of Brunello di Montalcino
Palazzetta Fanti, located in Montalcino, believes strongly in the principles of producing organic and vegan wines. All work in the vineyards shows respect for the environment and preserves the surrounding ecosystem – pruning and vegetable waste are used as compost for the following year, the vines are sprayed with resistance inducers such as seaweed and essential orange oils that prevent mildew, Cuban zeolite which absorbs moisture from leaves and bunches is used, and use of copper and sulphur is moderate. These principles also apply to the olive groves. In the cellar, the grapes are fermented using only wild ferments. The company's motto is “we respect and preserve what nature has given us”, adding very low amounts of SO2 and striving to preserve the integrity of the wines throughout the winemaking and ageing process with inert gases such as nitrogen instead of using higher doses of sulphur dioxide.
THE FANTI FAMILY, WHO ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO RUNNING THE LA PALAZZETTA COMPANY IN MONTALCINO
All the packaging is environmentally-friendly: the labels are made from cotton, the bottles use light glass, the boxes are made from recycled paper printed with natural ink, and wherever possible, the cork is made from a natural sugar cane polymer. The intention at La Palazzetta is to replace even the poly-laminate capsule with an eco-friendly one, but for now they are struggling to source ‘green capsules’. Crucially, the company’s energy usage comes from renewable sources. La Palazzetta is certified organic and vegan by the Suolo e Salute organisation, while the electricity distributor has issued a green company certification.
Organic farming involves minimal use of chemicals and eliminates synthetic chemicals altogether, with a focus on good farming practices that aim to restore balance in the plants to make them more resistant and resilient. It is a system of farming that emphasises the natural status of the crop and seeks to promote the benefits of better soil management, green manures and controlled grassing. Its strong points are the use of hardy plants adapted to the climate and rotations with other crops that naturally increase the organic substance of the soil – in this way, the soils are not depleted by constantly supporting the same crops.
LA PALAZZETTA FANTI BOASTS 20 HECTARES OF VINEYARDS AND 2,500 OLIVE TREES SOUTH-EAST OF MONTALCINO, AT 365 M ABOVE SEA LEVEL, WHICH HAVE BEEN FARMED ORGANICALLY SINCE 2018
Challenges include the higher costs of the products, as well as difficulties related to the weather. Therefore more attention is required, resulting in twice as much work compared to using systemic insecticides. The advantages are first and foremost for growers, who do not use chemicals and thus prioritise their own health. Then comes respect for the surrounding ecosystem, and the pride in producing a wine that is as natural as possible. The financial benefits of marketing wines with an organic endorsement also factor into the equation.
Added value comes from the perception of consumers, who buy and enjoy wines that show respect for their health and, secondly, protect the environment, preserving it for future generations. From a sales perspective, organic wines have carved out significant market shares and a higher perception of value.
Tuscany is the most highly renowned Italian region among wine tourists and wine enthusiasts. The earth-friendly techniques rolled out by the companies mentioned above, alongside the many others who share the same ethos, are set to preserve its reputation.
BRUNELLO WINES ARE STORED MAINLY IN LARGE FRENCH OAK CASKS
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