Castellani: blending old & new

Piergiorgio Castellani is the fourth generation of the Castellani family to run the estates. Castellani have six properties, five in Chianti (in Colline Pisane) and one in Chianti Classico.
It’s a sizeable portfolio for a family-owned winery:
• 300ha vineyards. Sourcing from growers in a further 1,000ha.
• 90 employees
• 26 million bottles per annum
• Exports to 45 countries

When Piergiorgio returned to take on the family business as a young man, he realised that his family’s future lay in investing in the land. He sees himself as the link between the generation after World War II, and the new generation.

He took us on a walkabout tour of his Poggione al Casone estate, where he lives. His passion is evident as he takes the time to explain. Healthy soil, flora and wildlife create healthy vines, which produce healthy grapes, giving the best potential to make good wine.
Tuscan soil is calcareous and limestone (the latter particularly in Chianti Classico). Calcareous soil allows the oxygen to penetrate, so the roots go deeper. Calcareous soil also holds water, so irrigation isn’t required. Castellani brought in a Chilean soil expert, Pedro Parra, to analyse soils on the Castellani estates, and found 72 soil types, leading them to re-focus on four special plots within the estate.

This estate is encompassed by forest, including fragrant acacias and oaks. They have planted hundreds of types of roses, and wild flowers flourish. Piergiorgio believes that the flavours of these plants transfer to the grapes, and that these flavours hold even through fermentation process. They manage a natural small pond between the rolling hills, where ducks and other wildlife chirp and quack along quite happily.
Poggio al Casone estate is certified organic, but as Castellani explains, most of Tuscany is naturally organic. What’s even more important to him is cultivating vineyard biodiversity, so that minimal artificial intervention (ie. spraying) is required. A symbiotic harmony between plants, wildlife and soil is the goal. Every other row is sown in early spring with barley and purple vetch, legumes which attract nitrogen from the air into the roots and soil. Once it grows to 1.5m, it’s cut back. Summer re-growth is short, so it provides ground cover which suppresses weeds and retains moisture.

Piergiorgio explained that the health of the insect population in a vineyard may be measured by the ladybird population, since ladybirds are at the upper end of the insect hierarchy. The cellar here has a display of over a dozen types of ladybird, found on the estate.
There is only one insect which has an adverse effect. In this case, they use pheromone traps, which releases hormones to confuse the would-be mating male insect. Net result: no eggs are laid, and organic equilibrium is maintained.

Yet with all his fascination and belief in nature and biodiversity, he is a strong champion for modern technology.

His current pet project is a ‘Little Lamb’ robot which is being developed to do repetitive work in the vineyard. It could also be developed to detect early onset of disease. He becomes animated when talking about spectrophotometric machine-harvesting, where a machine using NIR (near infra-red) technology assesses grape maturity (sugars and acidity) while machine-picking. He believes that as technology improves, machine-picking will be superior to hand-picking. It’s particularly important for Sangiovese, he says, as the clusters are close-knit.

The soil analysis undertaken can be employed when it comes to machine-harvesting by GPS (their vineyards are picked by both machine and hand).
On this estate, he is switching to the “French system” of Double Guyot training, on an experimental basis, as he suspects this gives a better balance to his Sangiovese. It’s a slow process, but Castellani is not in a rush.

On the Burchino estate nearby, he showed us the cellar, which has large Slavonian oak (500l and 250l), as well as some French barriques and concrete tanks. He likened stainless steel ageing to a ‘magnetic cage’ which makes a prisoner of the wine.
“Ageing should be traditional, but bottling has to be modern” he says. With this in mind, he has a new machine which measures exactly how much oxygen enters at the point of bottling. He also uses a Helix closure for some wines destined for short-term ageing, which he prefers to screwcap.

Poggio al Casone Estate is all certified organic.
I’ve been a fan of Poggio Al Casone Chianti Riserva for a few years now. The 2015 (a good vintage) is particularly good – earthy, wild mushroom, forest floor, with a savoury herbal lingering finish. Their Poggio Al Casone Chianti Superiore is very good too – a bit more crowd-appeal, being riper and finishing quite smooth. A little more expensive is the Poggio al Casone ‘La Cattura’ Toscano 2016 is named after the hares, which are bred on the estate. If you like a little more richness, this red combines blackberry, black plum, hints of violets, with a smooth, savoury roast coffee finish.
Poggio al Casone Grand Noir Toscano IGT 2017 is 100% Grand Noir, which is a crossing of Petit Bouschet and Aramon, developed in the Languedoc. It’s very deep coloured (it’s a teinturier grape), with flavours of black cherry, ripe black plum, with a savoury bitter note of espresso and light spice rounding out the sweetness. Definitely worth looking for.

Tenuta di Ceppaiano nearby, is where the family have created artists’ residency, to nurture modern art, another great passion of Piergiorgio. Ceppaiano Toscano Rosato 2018, made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Syrah is lovely. It strikes a perfect balance in terms of sweetness, being 4-5g/l, with ripe watermelon and cherry flavours. Ceppaiano Chianti 2017 packs a lot of character into a humbly-priced wine. Expect lots of woody herbal notes, with smoke, campfire and plenty of very ripe fruit, tangy cherry and a touch of sweet spice. Ceppaiano Alle Viole Toscano IGT 2014 is a Sangiovese blend, created in an off-dry, highly appealing commercial style, with ample red cherry and light vegetal notes.

Burchino Estate in Terrecciola is one of the best zones within the Colline Pisane. The estate has ‘always been’ in the family. I was thrilled to taste a 2010 and 1983 Genius Loci Sangiovese Toscana IGT, which Piergiorgio shared from his 2,500 year old cellar. Castellani explained that at 8-10 years, this wine develops a wonderful balance of forest floor, mushroom and dried herbs, straddling a balsamic core. The good news is that Genius Loci drinks well when young. The 2015 has a great concentration of flavours (blueberry, balsamic, black cherry, hints of graphite, bitter black chocolate), with a long firm finish.

Castellani wines are available exclusively through Londis, Spar, Eurospar and Mace, with more extensive listings in the larger stores.

Thanks to the team at BWG and Castellani, for sharing their hospitality and knowledge on this visit.