The big Rocca di Frassinello project came into being not from a great but from a small idea.
A small idea because connected to the develop of Castellare, but a big project when happened the arrival of Domain Baron De Rothschild-Lafite, making the first join venture between an italian and french producer.
Like other Chianti estates Castellare di Castellina, which has belonged to Paolo Panerai for almost 30 years, at the end of the 90’s had to take account of the fact that in the Chianti Classico zone it had become very hard, almost impossible, to expand: there was a lack of high quality land and there were planning complications which required building permission even to plant a vineyard.The traditional and natural outlet of Siena, and therefore Chianti Classico, has always been the Maremma. So for some years there had been a kind of pasture-change from the Chianti hills towards the sea, to that land which had once been malaria country before the reclamation begun by the Grand Duke Leopoldo of Tuscany. But the Maremma, as well as being bitter (in the past) is also great and has a long established winegrowing tradition in the north (Bolgheri and environs) and in the south, opposite the Argentario, with the narrow territory of Morellino di Scansano. Almost all the Chianti people had gone there, to the north and preferably to the south. Castellare’s choice was not to go for the obvious and already well known but to find out whether the rest of the Maremma had equally or more suitable soils than those of Bolgheri and Scansano. Yes, they existed and were discovered by Ezio Rivella, fresh from his extraordinary experiences at Villa Banfi in Montalcino, and Gianni Zonin who, with his new Gianni Zonin Vineyards, has brought together one of the finest collections of top level estates in Italy and the USA. Rivella and Zonin discovered that right in the centre of the Maremma, between Bolgheri and Scansano, there is a kind geological foot which has the same characteristics as the soils of Chianti and Montalcino, of which in fact this foot is a sort of continuation towards the sea. Meaning soils like those of Tuscany’s two most famous winegrowing zones, but with a substantial difference: an average temperature that is 4-5 and even 6 °C higher, so the grapes ripen even three-four weeks before those of Chianti and Montalcino. This land blessed by God lies in the municipalities of Gavorrano and Ribolla and is part of a young DOC area with a difficult and not well known name, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, which however has a far greater extension and to some degree includes all the metalliferous hills. Rather than the almost flatlands chosen by Rivella and Zonin, Paolo Panerai decisively went for the hills formed at the two sides of the old Aurelia.
Thanks to the first great Roman road a kind of canyon is formed which takes the sea breeze from the plain between Castiglion della Pescaia and Grosseto, a constant breeze which removes all humidity and further mitigates the climate in both winter and summer. The highest hill, right opposite Giuncarico, is on the right hand side of the Aurelia, heading north. From the top of this hill the Terminuzzo estate begins. You can see the sea beyond Marina di Grosseto to the Parco dell’Uccellina. Forty hectares with only half a hectare of vineyard for the needs of the owner, a grantee of the former Maremma Public Body, who had decided to sell in order to go and help his son in a butcher’s business in Follonica. The little idea, the little estate from which the great project grew.Going from S. Vincenzo to Giuncarico, Eric, who is an extraordinary gentleman although he likes to call himself a former country boy, was increasingly intrigued by the idea that in the Maremma there might be a zone better than Bolgheri where land prices weren’t so sky high. He also had a very clear concept about vineyards and wine, a concept that has been part of his family’s cultural heritage for more than 150 years: vineyards and wine are not only an extraordinary human adventure, one of the most stimulating challenges one can experience, but also, if not above all, landed property, which is to say an asset expressed by the land. So if you set out on a new winegrowing venture you should not buy just a few hectares at a very high price, with the risk that if the wine becomes great it will be mostly the neighbours who benefit from revaluation of the land. And in any case if you hope to make a great wine you need at least 200-250 hectares that might potentially be set to vineyards, not only to reach a minimal economical dimension for the enterprise but also to find, through experimentation, the zones most suitable for the various vine species. So when Eric saw the Terminuzzo estate he said yes, the position was great, the soil ideal, but with 40 hectares you couldn’t carry out a real project. It could only be, precisely, an appendage of Castellare. But from the top of the Terminuzzo hill you could see a magnificent amphitheatre with soil as ideal as its exposure and geological composition, protected upstream by fine cork oaks – always a sign of ideal vineyard areas – and Mediterranean maquis, ideal for wild boar. An estimated 500 hectares or so, of which at least 250 might be cultivated, subdivided into another four estates with the same number of owners. Eric wanted to taste the wine that the owner of Terminuzzo produced in that half hectare of vineyard where the strangest vine species cohabited. Good, Eric said, the former country boy entering immediately into relation with the Teminuzzo farm workers. And he added to Paolo Panerai: if you manage to put all the amphitheatre estates together the result could be a great estate, an ideal landed property for making a great wine. We’ll talk about it. It took two years to bring the five holdings together. The first vineyards, seven hectares near the lake, right in the centre of the amphitheatre, were planted in 2000. The agreement between Castellare and Domaines Barons de Rothschild envisaged right from the start a coupling of Castellare’s experience in the growing and vinification of the prince of Tuscan vine species, Sangioveto, and Lafite’s experience of the classic French species Cabernet (Franc and Sauvignon), Merlot, Petit Verdot, Shiraz etc. With view to creating the first wine that united the world’s two main wine producing countries, Italy and France, exploiting the savoir faire of the two estates, one which had always been at the peak in the world of wine, and the other which was much younger but could boast I Sodi di S.Niccolò, the Tuscan wine made only with Sangioveto and the other autochthonous species Malvasia Nera, which still has the highest score in the Wine Spectator classification where it has figured several times in the Top 100, also reaching fifth place. Today the vineyards amount to slightly under 80 hectares in terms of a medium-long range programme of 125. The first harvest, if we can call it that, was in 2002: 40 hectolitres, not bottled of course.
The first real harvest, again if we can call it that, was in 2003: 180 hectolitres which Christian Le Sommer, enologist for Domaines Barons de Rothschild who comes monthly to Rocca di Frassinello, and Alessandro Cellai, enologist and Director of Castellare di Rocca, judged to be worthy, in parte, of a special label, Primus di Frassinello. A more than pleasing wine with, right from the start, the fullness and elegance that Christian and Alessandro had aimed at, also encouraged by Domain Baron de Rothschild Managing Director Cristhophe Salin. Primus di Frassinello was wholly reserved to shareholders in Unicre dito-Rocca di Frassinello cum warrant, which is to say the right to buy six bottles at ex-cellar prices for each share. Primus was delivered in early September 2005. Surprisingly, the day when Castellare received top recognition from the Guida dell’Espresso for I Sodi di S. Niccolò 2001, at the subsequent Pandolfini auction, in the rooms of the Stazione Leopoldina in Florence, the first batch on sale was found to be the wooden case of six bottles of Primus. Evidently a subscriber wanted to test the market with six bottles purchased at ¬ 15,00 + VAT. The starting price of the lot was no less than ¬ 350-400, against a purchase price of ¬ 108. Amid general surprise the case of Primus went at ¬ 750. A sign that collectors had immediately been drawn to this wine borne of the first collaboration between a French and an Italian estate. But Primus was, precisely, the first harvest and in fact not put on the market.The first serious harvest was in 2004 with about 130 thousand bottles produced, and classified by Christian and Alessandro as worthy of representing the whole production spectrum of a great French château, which is to say the third label (Poggio alla Guardia), the start-off wine whose logo contains no reference to the estate’s name, the second label (Le Sughere di Frassinello) which bears a part of the estate’s name, let’s say the equivalent of Carruades de Lafite, and the first label (Rocca di Frassinello), le grand vin, the top of production. The owner wanted to be more prudent, postponing production of the first label to subsequent harvests with better established vineyards. But Christian Le Sommer and Alessandro Cellai insisted: “I’ve never achieved a wine of such quality and elegance so soon”; with Le Sommer’s lapidary statement: “Rocca di Frassinello 2004 is a very great wine, a highly competitive wine”. It would have been a crime not to offer the market such a high quality and rare wine right from the start. Faced with the judgement of such enologists, who moreover were putting their reputations on the line, the owner gave his consent. Thus Poggio alla Guardia will be put on the market in June 2006, Le Sughere di Frassinello will be delivered in September-October 2006, and Rocca di Frassinello just before the end of 2006. The owner knew that many critics and sector operators were awaiting the debut of Rocca di Frassinello with guns at the ready, but the unanimous judgement of the enologists in charge of the project, together with other reactions received, meant that the delivery calendar could be fixed without excessive preoccupations and with the faith that all three wines would have success with consumers and, even beforehand, with sector experts. So with feeling but also with pride, everybody involved in the Rocca di Frassinello project (starting with the architect Renzo Piano who designed an extraordinary cellar worthy of a true lover of wine) await the fundamental verdict on these three labels from consumers-lovers of great wines
HOW TO REACH ROCCA DI FRASSINELLO
VIEWS THE PHOTO OF ROCCA DI FRASSINELLO