Return to the Vineyard . . .
In this report you will find :
- Introduction to Tunia – location, grapes, history
- Defining “Vin Nature” at Tunia
- Update on vintage 2018 in the vineyard
- Tasting notes of wines available now
Val di Chiana, Arezzo
August 23, 2018
When Francesca picks me up at the Arezzo train station, she points across the skyline to the looming clouds in the distance. Fruit orchards are everywhere, and a mean rain storm is on the horizon, directly above the Tunia office a 15 minute drive away. In the vast valley of Civitella, one can pass their lunchtime watching storms roll through – just as we did! The rain is welcome and much needed to replenish the reserves affected by 2017’s drought.
This fertile little valley has long been the home of the famous Chianina cattle, which made for a delicious burger during lunch at Enoteca Ristorante Il Vicolo in the medieval town of Civitella. The region has largely been off the radar for Tuscan winemakers. But in 2008, when Chiara Innocenti & Francesca di Benedetto (Pisa University friends) found this abandoned property of 40 year old vines, they jumped at the chance to revive it! Francesca looks after the vineyards and winemaking, whereas Chiara, a former banker in Milan, is responsible for the business side.
The estate covers 25 hectares planted with old vines of Sangiovese and Trebbiano (in 1970) and newer vines planted in 2005: Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. Some of the vines in Trebbiano have recently been grafted with Vermentino. Of course one cannot forget the 600 olive trees, typical Tuscany!
Photo 1: Francesca offering a taste of the “tart” underripe Trebbiano – Thanks!
Photo 2: Sweet Vermentino showing hints of “rose hue”
Defining “Vin Nature” at Tunia
Francesca is one to admit that she doesn’t really like the term vin nature. Both the vineyards, and the cellar, are certified organic. She uses a non-invasive approach in her vineyard management. There is no ploughing, only a pass of the tractor to trim the grass and weeds between the rows.
Tunia’s commitment to organics has been in operation since taking over the vineyards from day one, using no herbicides, pesticides, or chemicals in the vines or wines, with only a little sulphites added in the cellar, and sulphur and copper treatments in the vines. Conversion to organics began in 2008, and full certification was achieved in 2013.
Indigenous yeast is the standard in the cellars and a mix of stainless, large French oak fermentation vessels, cement and basket presses are used depending on the grape and desired effect. A portion of the Trebbiano sees maceration, and doesn’t leave the tank until after 6-7 months skin contact.
Photo 1: Remains of a bare vine where “Bambi” had a snack in the Spring
Photo 2: Bare grape-bunches where jack rabbits had a bite
Vintage 2018: Wet and Windy
Thanks to the windy season, the 2018 vintage hasn’t really seen any mildew despite the wet conditions.
While browsing the vineyard, I observe that the feet of Cabernet Sauvignon are small and undeveloped and that the grape load is very low. Francesca explains to me that these vines planted in 2001 are of French origin; the clone is particular, and a virus was introduced to reduce the production. There is one cluster per shoot only and 500 g of fruit per vine on average. The grapes are very small. In return, the vines can hardly live beyond 80 years but this is not a concern for Francesca who appreciates the quality of these clusters.
Though the property is surrounded by a metre-high fence, Tunia has a lot of local fauna visitors. In the springtime, young fawns and their hungry mothers snack on the baby vine leaves and young grape buds. They also return when the grapes are ripe for harvest, with Francesca acknowledging every year she will be short two rows of vines in the perimeter of the property due to the hungry deer.
Large jack rabbits also have a taste for the sweet grape berries, as do the birds! When Francesca does her final pass in the vines, it is a race against them to the fruit!
Photo 1: Healthy Sangiovese
Photo 2: Sangiovese unable to finish veraison due to ESCA. The leaves disintegrated, and were unable to provide photosynthesis to the grapes, hence they couldn’t ripen.
Harvest Begins – August 24th, 2018
There is a very peaceful and warm feeling in the vines, where the sun gently sets behind the horizon, and sends its last rays to light up the translucent Trebbiano and Vermentino. The Vermentino is getting ever more ripe, and has begun to take on its hallmark “rose-hue” tint to the skins.
Harvest is scheduled for the following day, and will be nearly a two month process involving a team of 6, who will hand harvest all the grapes. The Trebbiano grapes are not “ripe” but are picked for their acid. They will be later blended with a 2nd and 3rd pick of Trebbiano (skin-contact vinification), and a small quantity of Vermentino. The “game” Francesca explains, is that all the Trebbiano plants are inter-planted in the 25HA, making for a “Trebbiano” scavenger hunt!
Unlike many other typical harvests in Europe (two weeks to one month), the last grapes of the Cabernet Sauvignon won’t be picked until late October. Chiara explains that the Cabernet Sauvignon is the “torture garden” – it takes 4 hours to clip the tiny bunches in only one row. She asks if I would like to volunteer, to which I politely decline.
Photo 1: Trebbiano Clone that has a unique light green leaf set
Photo 2 : Trebbiano pips. Francesca looks for phenolic ripeness when the seed are espresso coloured, crack in your teeth, and you can chew them 15 times in your mouth without having to spit them out right away
Tasting Notes of Wines Currently
Sotto Fondo 2016 – 100% Trebbiano
- Classic Method sparkling. Non-filtered. Dosage is juice left over from harvest for refermentation in bottle. Small quantity of wine has been aged under skin-contact.
- Fresh & Crisp with dried fruit, hazelnuts and honey, this wine is completely dry and zesty
Chiarofiore 2014 – Trebbiano (85%) & Vermentino 15% (Orange Wine)
- Made from Trebbiano picked at three different times, and Vermentino.
- The nose shows intense yellow apples, citrus, orange peel with a whiff of pine. The palate is textured with dried apricots and spicy cinnamon, slightly oxidative.
Chiaroscuro 2016 – Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé
- Direct press Cabernet Sauvignon at phenolic maturity. The nose is spiced with ground pink peppercorns and dried red roses. The palate is more fruit forward, yet tastes of juicy red strawberries and a punch pomegranate acidity. This wine is a spicy gastronomic rosé.
Chiassobuio 2009 – Sangiovese (90%), Colorino (5%) and Canaiolo (5%)
- The nose is perfumed with summer black cherries, dry red berries, currants. On the palate, rustic tannins and nice length with notes of iron and blood, very much like a Chianti.
Cantomoro 2010 – Cabernet Sauvignon
- Violets, licorice, cigar box are the classic Cabernet notes on the nose, with a touch of leafy moss, a dash of balsamic and black peppercorns on the palate. This powerful wine is an exercise in tannin control, with perfectly round luxurious tannins on the tongue.