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Visiting a Family-Run Winery in Chianti, Italy


In the rustic Italian region of Chianti, we tour two very different wineries to learn about their wine-making process. One winery is large, corporate, and high-tech; the other is small, family-run, and lower-tech. We savor a delightful, homemade lunch with the family.

Complete Video Script

Chianti, with its rugged hills and farmland, charms visitors with a slower, more rustic lifestyle. This farmer prunes his olive trees, employing a lifetime of experience to maximize the fall harvest. In his vineyard, as they do each spring, tender shoots are bursting out of their gnarly vines filled with promise.

South of Chianti is a region called the Crete, where the hills are more gentle. This quintessential Tuscan landscape features clay hills — the topsoil washed away by ages of rain and wind — and iconic lanes of cypress trees, planted to slow that erosion. The dramatic beauty of the countryside changes with the season, and with the time of day. In the springtime the rolling fields are splashed with colorful flowers.

This is wine country, home of the famous and much-loved Brunello di Montalcino. And vineyards welcome guests who call ahead. We’ve got appointments with two wineries — a large corporate winery first, and then a smaller family-run farm.

The Altesino winery is elegant and stately. It looks out over an expanse of vineyards with the hilltown of Montalcino on the horizon.

Guides take visitors on an informative stroll through the entire wine-making process.

Rick: So how old to the vines get?
Guide: Think a sangiovese vine naturally arrives at 50, 60 years old. But there are wineries that still have the vine from a century ago.

Here it’s clear modern technology complements tradition, and after centuries of trial and error, wines are better today than ever before. Each year 70,000 bottles of this producer’s prized Brunello work their way through this exacting process. It’s a labor-intensive industry…but right now the grapes are doing all the work as they age in their oak casks.

And each tour ends up in the tasting room, to help visitors appreciate why Brunello is so highly regarded.

Nearby, the much smaller winery of Santa Giulia offers a more intimate visit. Taking visitors into his vineyard, Gianluca enjoys sharing the fine points of producing his Brunello wine.

Gianluca: The grape that is used for Brunello is called sangiovese. Sangiovese grosso. By law, by the DOCG, Brunello di “Montalcino” must be 100 percent sangiovese. This is the most important difference between Brunello and other imported red wine from Tuscany. This soil is a mix of clay and sand. The characteristic of the clay is that it keeps the water, the humidity, underground. If you give water, you stimulate the root to grow up to find the water. If you don’t give water, you stimulate the root to go down, to go deep, to find the water. And they find minerals, too, underground. So the taste of the grapes, and then taste of the wine, then, is different.

Producing such a fine wine requires a huge investment and lots of expertise. Surrounded by stainless steel vats that produce 10,000 bottles a year, father and son monitor the process, carefully tasting and discussing the potential of this year’s vintage.

The aging process carries on in oak barrels. There’s more tasting as the wine continues its long journey to the bottle. Seeing father, son, and grandson together amid these towering casks is a reminder that this is a rural art form passed from generation to generation.

To cap our visit, Gianluca’s mother is orchestrating the final touches of a delightful lunch — which of course includes homemade pasta. It’s a local feast with everything farm made here in Tuscany. The enticing array of pecorino cheeses, prosciutto, and salami are all an ideal complement to what this family believes is the best wine in Italy.

As they share their Brunello, it’s clear the family appreciates the happiness their work brings to wine lovers not only here but all over the world. If anything characterizes the Tuscan lifestyle, it’s a knack for taking time to savor simple quality…

Rick: Here’s to good wine, and good family.

…whether it’s wine, food, art, or friendships.