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Castello dei Rampolla, Panzano, Tuscany, Italy :
 Luca di Napoli Rampolla,  Rebel with a Good Cause
 
By Simone Zarmati Diament
 
     

When agronomist Maurizio Conti recommended that I visit Castello dei Rampolla, he only said that winemakers Luca di Napoli Rampolla and his sister Maurizia were doing amazing things with the land and that the wines were outstanding.

So I hopped in my car and headed to Greve where I stopped for coffee and a delicious panforte of figs and walnuts, at a café across from the famous Macelleria Falorni – a butcher shop well known for its sausages and meats since the 13th century.  I was ready to continue  to nearby Panzano -  the “Conca d’Oro” in the heart of the Chianti Classico - where the di Napoli family has owned and managed the 13th-century estate of Castello dei Rampolla since 1739. 

At the end of a dirt road - where it looks like no GPS had treaded before - in Santa Lucia in Faulle I arrived at Rampolla, a biodynamic winery and farm since 1994.    Luca and his family have created an energetic field in and around the 120 hectares of land, forests and brooks, only 30 hectares of which are vineyards: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and the white varieties Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Malvasia.  

Between the rows of vines, there’s an entire microorganism of weeds, flowers, stones.  Luca lifts a stone and shows me the worms and ants burrowing the rich top soil of clay, lime and sand.  “They’re doing all the work,” he jokes. “The water seeps down without our interference.  No one fertilizes the Amazon forest,” he laughs. “We don’t either… we let nature work its magic.”

At Castello dei Rampolla the air is humming with birds, insects and frogs - “bees, frogs and cows are essential in biodynamic agriculture: the bees pollinate, the frogs eat the bugs and the cows..,” Luca explains – “they walk slowly and  heavily, they give a sense of quiet rhythm and reassurance to the earth and attract energy through their horns and hooves.”  Even the water used for the esoteric solutions to fertilize the earth is energized in flow form basins.   

It’s been 16 years since the estate’s conversion into a wholly biodynamic farm. According to Luca, it has now reached its balance: “it took five years for the stony soil that was turned upside down by heavy machinery to settle down; five more years for the top soil to settle and create its own hummus and microorganism; and five more years for the biodynamic treatment to work,” he reflects. Castello dei Rampolla  is now known and well-respected for its rigorous, uncompromising viticultural practices in the vineyards and in all phases of the production of wines.

The harvest is done manually by selecting only the best grapes at the peak of their maturity,  following the lunar phases, and the biodynamic calendar.  

In the cellar, there’s Luca and there’s Cellar Master Marcus.  The winemaking is done in vats: enameled iron and concrete vats instead of stainless steel – “stainless steel is nervous, especially for red wines,” explains Luca – and now with terra cotta vats. “We want to have a wine that tastes of grapes, not wood. We’re going back to the old practices…”  The fermentation proceeds with natural yeasts and no sulphur and the aging is done in oak barrels and French barriques.

 

The result are superb wines which Luca set out for a tasting outdoors:   Vigna d’Alceo,  Sammarco, Chianti Classico, “no riserva,” he said, and a white dessert wine: Trebianco Vendemmia Tardiva.

 

Listen to an interview with Luca di Napoli Rampolla on FOOD & WINE TALK    

   

 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico DOCG 2008, ($20) is made according to the strict rules of Chianti from 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot, remains in woods barrels for 12 months and in bottle for 6 months before its release. Medium bodied, bright ruby-purple  with an earthy nose ripe with black cherry and fruit. Iit is well balanced with the feisty Sangiovese tannins tamed by a good acidity and a full range of flavors in the mouth: from tobacco, licorice and chocolate  to herbs and fruit. Long finish.   A realy bargain for the price.

2004 Castello dei Rampolla "Sammarco" IGT Tuscany Italy . ($130-$140) This red Super Tuscan – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot, planted on slopes with southeastern exposure and calcareaous, marly rocky soils, at an altitude of 1140 ft.  It created a sensation when it was first produced in 1980. Each wine is vinified separately and is aged 18 -24 months (Sangiovese in Slavonian oak, Cabernet Sauvignon in barriques, of which 30% new) and remains from 6 to 8 months in bottle.  2004 was an excellent vintage in Tuscany and the resulting wine is quite impressive. The nose is ripe and rich with cigar box spices and tobacco notes intermingled with dark wild berries, smoke, minerals, black currants, and toasted oak hints. Medium to full-bodied, with good intensity, the palate is dense, rich, with a very good sense of purity and harmony. The finish is long and structured with bright acidity and supporting tannins that enhance the quality of the fruit. Pair it with game, red meats and aged cheese.

1996 Castello dei Rampolla Vigna d'Alceo Toscana IGT.  According to The Wine Spectator  this wine is “potentially the Château Mouton-Rothschild of Tuscany. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot it is aged in a 500-year-old vault, “the oldes room in the house,” says Luca, “where everything is round: the ceiling, the barrels, the wines…”  It is a fabulous, superbly structured red, overflowing with deep aromas of cassis and black raspberry, licorice, minerality and mint aromas. Full-bodied, with harmonious  layers of velvety tannins and firm acidity and an endless aftertaste of ripe fruit and spearmint. Gorgeous.    .

2005 Castello dei Rampolla Trebianco Vendemmia Tardiva (late harvest) Toscana.  25% Chardonnay, 15 % Traminer, 60% Sauvignon Blanc from vines planted in  calcareaous and rocky soil.  “This is a very rare wine and 2005 was the last time we made this wine. We aren’t making this anymore,” explained Luca.  The reason: the harvest is done on several phases from the end of October to the end of December. The grapes are left on the plants to dry up and if they are not eaten by wandering deers or if they don’t rot from Fall rains.” ot This is not Vin Santo – a specialty of the region – but a dessert wine that is both unctuous and with a lively acidity, aromas of almonds and nuts and, like all the Castello dei Rampolla wines, a long, endless aftertaste.  Would pair perfectly with foie gras, crostini di fegato, appetizers of all types and desserts.

by Simone Zarmati Diament

It is at the onset of the wine revolution in Italy at the end of the 1960’s and at the end of the mezadria practices in Italy – a social system of metayage with roots in the Middle Ages in which landowners would lend parcels of land to peasants against a 50% of their work – that the legend that Wine Spectator would call in 1998 “ potentially the Château Mouton-Rothschild of Tuscany” began.  

 From 1964 Alceo Di Napoli devoted himself to grape growing, using modern methods. The first vinifications were in 1970’s; the first bottling of wine was done from the grape harvest of 1975.

Alceo  was selling most of the grapes he grew to the Antinori family until, spurred by the success of the first Super Tuscan Sassicaia, he started planting Cabernet Sauvignon with the help of the Antinori then oenologist Giacomo Tachis.  In 1980, the  vintage debut of Sammarco—a predominantly Cabernet-based blend (featuring a small percentage of Sangiovese, and, in more recent vintages, Merlot)- positioned him at the top of the Super Tuscan movement.

But viticulture was aggressive, chemicals were used, heavy machinery upturned the soil which has been leveled from the soil-holding terraces used until the 60’s.  This is when Luca envisioned a new way of doing things. And, after his father Alceo passed away, the winery became completely biodynamic and started producing Vigna d’Alceo in homage to his father. The blend of Alceo’s signature Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot has become a cult.

"Castello di Rampolla, "  Via Case Sparse 22, Panzano (Greve in Chianti)