Located in the heart of Chianti, this business dates back to 1427. And after it was bought by the current owner, Maurizio Zamparini, it has become a centre of excellence for wine and olive oil production, and more besides. The young winemaker, Eduardo Colapinto, tasked with its management, talks about the company.
Poggio Torselli is in San Casciano, Val di Pesa near Florence, right at the heart of the Chianti classico region and its records go back to 1427. Over the centuries, the small farmhouse grew into a large country villa, eventually extending over some 400 hectares. Through this period there have been a succession of owners, including some ancient Florentine families, such as Antinori, Capponi, Corsini and Machiavelli. It was even run by the church for a period before being taken on by its current owner, Maurizio Zamparini, a businessman in the agricultural, energy and property markets as well as being well-known in the sports world.
“We have completely restructured everything,” explains Eduardo Colapinto, who manages the wine-making business with Maurizio Santoni. “All the vines have been replanted and the villa has been fully restored – it’s more a museum than a villa now. And you can now arrange a visit.”
Inside the villa, you can see the splendid ballroom and the ancient kitchen with a spit designed by Leonardo da Vinci. There’s also the 17th-century chapel built by the Machiavelli family as well as the “Pope’s Bedroom” where Pope Pio VII stayed while travelling to Paris to crown Napoleon. “The interior is covered in frescoes and the period furnishings make it even more elegant,” adds Colapinto.
Eduardo Colapinto, at only 33, already has years of experience in the sector. “I worked all the way through when I studied Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Udine. For my dissertation, I went to Mendoza University in Argentina and I worked on a farm there – that’s where I was introduced to biodynamic practices. After I graduated, I wanted to learn more about biodynamics, so I went to New Zealand initially and then to Australia. My aim was to meet Alex Podolinsky and I was lucky enough to be introduced to him, work with him and become a friend of his.”
This experience was pivotal in his training: “Alex was really determined – he was always focussed on his objectives. His determination and clear thinking were incredible considering his age.” Over the course of two years, Eduardo worked in Australia for four different businesses and then he finally returned to Italy. In 2016, he met Laura Giordani, Zamparini’s wife, through the Italian Biodynamic Agriculture Association. At the time, she was in the process of taking over the reins at Poggio Torselli and Eduardo offered to help her with its management.
“I arrived at Poggio Torselli in July 2017,” Eduardo goes on. “And we immediately registered for our organic certification. Over the three conversion years, we have implemented organic and biodynamic practices, and now we are ready for our final certification.” He tells us that the most difficult aspect of this kind of project is staff:
“Finding workers who are trained and enthusiastic, and who believe in agroecology is so difficult.”
And there’s been no shortage of work over the first three years at Poggio Torselli. Eduardo explained that to improve the soil’s fertility, they initially “had to detoxify the ground from the numerous conventional treatments that had been applied over the years. We began working the soil during key autumnal operations, using a rotary tiller with five tines at the front-most settings and at a depth-setting of 25 centimetres. Then we spent a great deal of time on the areas of stagnant water and adding in organic material along with biodynamic preparations.”
Today pesticide residue has been significantly reduced with the application of the experimental solutions used out in the field. “As well as manure and preparations, we use effective microorganisms. It’s a kind of fermented tea made in-house with sugar cane molasses and an activator of bacteria and specific yeasts that we bought in. Once fermented, we apply it to the ground to encourage activity in organic substances or we spray it onto plants where it has a nourishing effect and protects them from fungal and insect attacks. We’re doing lots of testing and, as well as looking at what others are doing and reading a few scientific research papers, we’re using nettle teas and our own wild herbs.” And even,
“One of the experiments we’ve tried is a treatment made with raw milk. I was really pleased with it because it meant I didn’t have to use a field treatment for downy mildew.”
Before he came to work at Poggio Torselli, Eduardo worked in a variety of places that has allowed him to compare conventional, organic and biodynamic methods.
“I tried to learn as much as possible. I found pros and cons in all of them, but I noticed that extremism is harmful. I value open mindedness, places where they know how to find a balance between economics and a respect for the ground.”
This is someone who can look after the soil but at the same time is a simple farmer: “I admire businesses that sell wine as a nutraceutical and not just a foodstuff that gives sensory pleasure. The winemakers I like most are the ones that pay the most attention to the soil. To give you an example, I had the pleasure of working with Josko Gravner, Saverio Petrilli from the Valgiano estate and with Gaspare Buscemi.”
With the detailed attention paid to improving the ground’s fertility, it means that sulphites are reduced to the minimum in Poggio Torselli wines
Poggio Torselli extends over 42 hectares, 24 of which are given over to vines and six to olive groves. Currently, they sell 50,000 bottles of wine but it has the potential for 100,000. “We produce wine that I like to describe as ‘honest’, which respects and reflects its origins. For me, this is the purpose of wine – to represent and sum up an area. When it’s modified, even with simple yeasts brought from another region – so, not from the terroir itself – the wine’s flavour and aromas are altered. The wine no longer reflects its terroir. So, my belief is that the best wine is made without yeasts and without additives. But sulphites are a different story. They’re also used in medical drugs because they act as antioxidants. Our bodies are full of them and the more our bodies have, the healthier they are. Obviously, the fewer sulphites used in wine, the better.” How should we do it then?
“The best way to avoid adding sulphites is to spend as much time as possible in the fields working on the ground’s fertility. Fertile, balanced soil will accumulate polyphenols and other oxidising substances that act as wine’s natural protectors.”
“The farm unfolds as one entity,” Eduardo continues, “from the top of the hill as far as the Greve River. The entire hillside faces east, and we have a few vines facing the south that we use for our fuller, more concentrated wines, with more austere aromas. Whereas the north-facing vines produce much fresher wines.” We are in the Chianti classico region, where the ground is very stony, slippery and difficult to work with machinery, particularly when wet. But, in dry conditions it becomes very hard.
“We have two types of soil: the first is alluvial which is oldest at the top of the hill and youngest near the river. The earth is very stable, heavy and really fertile. Then we have a scrape that’s of marine origin.”
This soil type also has an effect on the wine. “From a management perspective, soil type makes a difference particularly when we sew green manure. We have to be meticulous because marine soil has higher levels of calcium and mineral salts and they even come through in the wine.”
White grape vines grow in the marine soil, and the varieties cultivated are Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Traminer – a blend that’s almost impossible to find in Tuscany:
“We get a really zesty, fresh wine from these vines and I manage it with respect, without using yeasts or other additives, just a little sulphite. It makes a balanced, smooth wine with really complex aromas.”
Well-developed root systems in the centuries-old olive trees lend stability, and the ability to produce high quality oil
Poggio Torselli also produces 2,500 litres of oil from centuries-old olive trees. Varieties such as moraiolo, frantoio, pendolino and leccino are blended out in the field, following traditional farming methods. “January 85’s big freeze killed off the aerial sections, but the roots remained alive. The oil we get from them is so extraordinary because the plants are in harmony as their root systems are so well developed.” There’s a splendid Italian garden next to the Villa featuring a very old sandstone irrigation system which makes use of the natural slope to provide irrigation to the whole design. “Rainwater is collected in two large tanks and in the past, it was pumped by hand into the channels. A super simple but highly effective system.”
The Villa, surrounded by its beautiful Italian garden, complete with original irrigation system
Poggio Torselli also features a collection of 130 potted citrus plants and several of them are very old varieties that are quite rare. “Some of our wines are named after the Bizzarria variety. But this variety is very special not only because it’s rare, but it has the genetic characteristics of bitter orange. It’s special because it produces both orange fruits and cedrato lemon or even fruit that looks like a mixture of the two. We have noticed that the fruit changes as the season progresses and it’s just this characteristic that gives it its name.” Winter shelter is provided by the Villa’s ample lemon house. At the top there’s the vinsantaia, where the Malvasia bunches of grapes used for vin santo are barrel fermented between September and December. And beneath the lemon house is the barrel cellar:
“Except for our red Bizzarrie sangiovese wine and the white Bizzarrie wine, all our wines are aged in oak barrels.”
It’s grape-picking time and Eduardo tells us that this is a very special moment for him. “I remember the great times I’ve spent working on family-run farms where we used to happily harvest the grapes together. Every year at Poggio Torselli, we select about 20 people who are local. They make connections, friendships and then at the end of all the hard work, we have a big celebration together.” Eduardo then adds very clearly:
“Working like this is a different way of living. I believe that working enthusiastically and energetically always pays off.”