Visiting Fattoria Selvapiana : 2019, Chianti Rufina, Tuscany

Selvapiana vineyards with Appenines mountains in the distance

19 August, 2019

Rufina, Tuscany

It’s a beautiful time to visit Fattoria Selvapiana in August.  Vintage will be starting in a few weeks, the hot days are cooled by the evening’s fresh temperatures, and it is the middle of tomato-season.  Yum!

I’m greeted by two energetic Maremma Shepherds – Arno & Yumi – residents of the Selvapiana household and the unofficial welcoming committee.  The Fattoria has started to develop their wine-tourism program and hosts visitors every day of the week that are passing through Florence, or staying at local Agri-turismos.  

Everyone is more than welcome to visit and taste the wines, meet the family, and enjoy the famous Selvapiana Olive Oil.  Just be aware that the winery is rather discreetly located and the tastings are hosted by the family, so a few more knocks at the door and rings of the bell might required should they be deep in the medieval cellar! 

Photo 1 : February 1st – a Maremma Shepherd puppy’s first snow at Selvapiana
Photo 2 : Same view in mid-August, the dogs are tired from the Summer heat

Vintage 2019 : Snow & Frost

December and January were rather cold and dry this year.  As winters have been increasingly warmer over the past few years, Selvapiana hasn’t had that much snow.  But much to the delight of Yumi, starting February 1st this year, the Estate had a real snowfall and a “normal” winter.

Mid-April was bud-break, however things got complicated in early May with very unseasonal snowfall and temperatures hovered at 0°C on the thermometer.  Over two nights – May 6th and May 7th – they were out in the vines lighting fires to keep the buds warm.  

After first altering the local forest rangers to keep the public informed, piles of dried leaves were lit.  Fortunately the temperature did not dip much below zero, and there was nearly no damage or loss.  But a stressful wake-up call! 

Photo 1 : May 5th – photo from the highway to Bologna
Photo 2 : Hay fires lit May 6 & May 7th

Vintage 2019 : Rain & Heat

The rest of May was very rainy, and the team had to do lots of treatments to protect the vines.  Due to new EU regulations reducing copper applications this year, other substitute products were tested.  If the mildew was already set, orange peel oil was applied after to dry it out.  Algae treatments helped to strengthen the vine. Propolis from bees was the most effective substitute.  However this was MUCH more expensive.  Copper is a very budget-friendly treatment that Federico assures doesn’t harm his soils – he has paid for the tests and soil analysis to prove it!

In contrast to May, June was very warm – one of the warmest June’s since records were taken in Tuscany.  July had normal, stable temperatures and not much rain in Rufina.  Elsewhere in Italy, the months of June through August had many episodes of hail.  The last weekend of July Selvapiana was worried – big storms were predicted, and huge storms passed over Arezzo.  In Rufina, luckily it was just rain, but a lot! In just a few hours 32mm of rain poured down that just rolled off the soils.  Now, when it rains, it doesn’t just pour, it floods.

At a hilly 300m, is there a fear of soil erosion?  According to Federico not really because most vineyards have cover crops that strengthen them.  They are ploughed after harvest to aerate the clay soil, then every other row is seeded in winter with a cereal mix that depends on what nutrients the soils need.  Fava beans, etc. These crops grow until March/April.

The start of August has been dry and nights have been cold with some humidity in the morning.

When is vintage?  Still too soon to say for Federico – it may be a few weeks from now, maybe more, but definitely not in August, and if we are lucky, second week of September for the Sangiovese.

Photo 1 : Crop covers planted every other row
Photo 2 : All looks great right now, but Federico is cautious of the weather forecast

Fighting Pests & Disease : ESCA & Tignola

Federico’s vines have been cultivated organically since the early 1990’s, and he is no stranger to invasions of different diseases and pests in the vines.

Fences have been built to prevent cinghiale from eating the crop cover seeds in the fall and winter, and the grapes during Harvest.

Organic Sprays have been applied to prevent the larvae from harvest moths – tignola – from making homes on the grape berries.

New pruning techniques have to be adopted in an effort to prevent the spread of ESCA in the vines.  This grapevine trunk disease is still prevalent in the vines, and spreads at random.  One of the strategies is to use different snips to prune the ESCA-affected branches, from the snips used to prune the healthy branches.

Federico has also begun replanting some of the plots where the old-vines are no longer as healthy.  Last year, 2 HA of Bucerchiale were replanted and have since been thriving.

Photo 1 : Damage from Esca
Photo 2 : Beautiful Sangiovese bunches not yet ripe

Giving Back – Investing in the Rufina community

Since 1827, the Giuntini family have been making their home in Rufina, which now extends to the 6th generation with Federico’s four children.  In the little country village of Pontassieve, the primary school – Scuola Giuntini – bears the Giuntini name, as the family funded the construction over 125 years ago in 1885.

On the drive to dinner, my eye spots the former Selvapiana shop on the main road.  Currently closed for business, I inquired with Federico about its potential for the future.  Very humbly, he explains the project.  One of his sons currently studies social work in university, and has proposed converting the building into a boutique and restaurant, but staffed by local employees that suffer from mental health issues, such as autism.

Photo 1 : Selvapiana Cellar Door
Photo 2 : Future Project – Renovating the ancient Selvapiana boutique

Vintage Selvapiana

One of the treasures at Selvapiana is their deep cave of back-vintages.  Depending on your birth year, Federico usually has a bottle that he will generously open for tasting!  Currently available for sale are vintages of Chianti Rufina Riserva: 1969, 1970, 1973, 1977, 1980

And for the Bucerchiale fan, in smaller quantities vintages:

  • 2006
  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2011

Photo 1 : Tasting 1980 Chianti Rufina
Photo 2 : Exploring the Cellar of Vintage Selvapiana with Federico

Dining Al Fresco in Rufina

At 300m of elevation and surrounded by woods, the Rufina region was always known as the hunting grounds for the nobility of Florence.  To this day there exist many game reserves in the area for hunting pheasants, deer, rabbits, and of course, wild boar.

The morning I left the Estate, one of Selvapiana’s staff had shot a cinghiale that was terrorising the property.  It will be frozen and divided among the employees to eat – nothing is wasted.  The  abundance of these large, fertile pigs/pests have truly become a vineyard problem – which has also brought other hunters to the area, in the form of wolves.  

Thanks to the high-elevation plots of Chianti Rufina, the wines of Selvapiana retain a freshness and elegance that pair easily with many dishes.  On this visit, we dined at Ristorante Artemide, high in the Tuscan hills encircled by forest, vines, and hay fields.  

What grows together, goes together!  On the local menu: Wild boar ragù with potato tortelli, rabbit tagliatelle, buffalo mozzarella with capers, prosciutto and melon, and of course seasonal tomato soup.  These dishes accompanied by slightly chilled Selvapiana wines easily demonstrate their versatility to pair with a variety of meat dishes, even on the terrace in the middle of a Tuscan summer!

A Carnivore’s paradise: Despite 30°C outside, dining al fresco with meat is normal in Rufina.  
Photo 1-4 : Carne Salata (steak tartare), Rabbit Tagliatelle, Foie with candied orange & Pomodoro, Parmigiano & Salumi platter

Available Wines : Selvapiana

Chianti Rufina 2017
For what Federico deems as a difficult vintage, this 2017 Rufina is showing incredibly well.   Due to drought, the vintage lost 25% of its expected production.

Tasting: Norma for a hot vintage, this 95% Sangiovese wine is more concentrated than the usual Chianti Rufina.  The warmth of the vintage gave it muscle!  The nose is full of ripe black plums, tobacco leaf, and black raspberry.  The palate has serious tannin structure, and a juicy mouth-filling acidity.

Fornace 2015
Translated from the Italian word for “Furnace”, this plot is where the old brick-making furnace was located.  Made of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc, the grapes are hand-harvested and ferment with native yeast, then aged in French-oak barriques.

The wine is savoury on both the nose and palate; tobacco leaf, cigar, tanned leather, and prunes. 

Bucerchiale 2015
The flagship wine from the Bucerchiale parcel, this wine has been made from the same plot since 1979.  The last plot to be hand-harvested, the 100% Sangiovese wine is fermented with native yeasts, then aged in French oak barriques.  

Tasting: In the glass, the wine is already showing evolution with a brick red rim.  Fresh cherry tomato and tart red-plum skin are developing on the nose, similarly followed in the mouth with dusty cigar tannins.

Awards – Bucerchiale 2015
Wine Advocate Robert Parker 93 pts, Wine Enthusiast 96 pts,
Wine & Spirits Magazine 92 pts, Antonio Galloni 91+ pts

Villa Petrognano Pomino 2015
One of the historical wine areas of Tuscany, Pomino was one of the appellations included in Cosimo de’Medici’s Bando of 1716.  
A base of Sangiovese 60%, 20% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tasting – Pomino 2015
The wine has a very fine perfume with roses and rhubarb, very floral with a whiff of sweet tobacco.  On the palate, it is silky and elegant tannins with a long mouth and zesty acid.

A Story of Chianti Rufina’s Top Tier Classification
For Federico’s final act as president of the Chianti Rufina Consorzio, he created the project of a new wine classification, inspired by the Gran Selezione of Chianti Classico.  It is a wine classified higher than Chianti Rufina, and Chianti Rufina Riserva, and will have a name exclusive to Rufina.  The conditions are to have the fruit exclusively from Rufina, 100% Sangiovese, and single Vineyard – all producers in the Rufina Consorzio agreed to this project.
Strength in Numbers
With 18/20 producers ready with Vintage 2017 and 2018, some wines have already been released by producers in the Rufina Consorzio – including Selvapiana’s launch of Erchi 2016.  In September the Rufina Consorzio will meet to find a new name that will be different from Gran Selezione and will be unique to Rufina.

Erchi 2016
Released in Spring 2019, this wine has impressed the critics already!  Coming from a single-vineyard – Erchi – of Sangiovese planted in 1999, the iron-red soil has calcaire throughout.  The plot is located on the southern edge of the Rufina appellation, thus more sun exposure.  

Tasting: This wine has a great intensity on the nose. The palate presents a great power balanced by finesse. It has aromas of crushed cherry, raspberry compote, mint and star anise, some notes of blood and iron.  The wine is silky in texture, but is savoury, bloody, and rich in iron minerality.

AwardsErchi 2016
Robert Parker Wine Advocate 91 pts
Wine Enthusiast Magazine 95 pts

Foosball table in the Tasting Room – When in Italy! 

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