The oenologist of the Maremma estate Le Mortelle, property of Marchesi Antinori, takes us to the discovery of this splendid winery by talking about identity, terroir, architecture and sustainability, all perfectly integrated themes within one of the most important Italian wine families.
First of all, tell us a bit about ourselves, how you approached the world of wine and your indeed fascinating career path?
As fascinating as my path may seem today, I confess my approach to wine was almost accidental. I was studying agronomy in Athens, the city I come from, when I was struck by the magic of viticulture, as I call it: I was amazed by the fact that such a result could come out of a simple raw material such as grapes, complex and elegant as wine can be. The role of man in the center of this transformation intrigued me so much that I decided I wanted to absolutely do this job. So I left Greece to pursue this passion around the world. After my Masters in France I have worked in various wine regions such as Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Yarra Valley and Malborough before arriving in Tuscany exactly seven years ago.
Le Mortelle, like the other beautiful estates of Marchesi Antinori, presents an unique environmental context that, in addition to being of a special beauty, is also extremely peculiar with respect to the soil composition and exposure of the vineyards. Can describe it and explain to us the personality conferred to the wines of the estate?
The estate, surrounded by small hills that create a sort of amphitheater, is located in southern Tuscany, in Maremma, at a distance of about 7 km from the sea. It is precisely this proximity to the sea, together with the pedological characteristics, that makes Le Mortelle a unique place. Our soil, with an alluvial / marine origin, is rich in skeleton with high percentages of sand and some clay. The richness of skeleton on the surface tends to maintain heat and, together with the sand, allows for good drainage, limiting any water stress in summer. At the same time, the vines have an East-West exposure so to take the best out of the afternoon Mistral that helps mitigating the temperatures. These conditions favor a slow and optimal ripening especially for our late varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère, giving life to wines of great aromatic elegance and tannic finesse.
As Winefully we know Le Mortelle through the Poggio alle Nane and Ampio, two complex and structured reds that are ambassadors of the Estate: how can you describe them and what similarities (and differences) do we find in the two?
To these two wines we dedicate the best plots of the estate and the greatest care during all stages of their production, starting with the operations in the vineyard.Poggio alle Nane is a wine conceived on a very elegant expression of Cabernet Franc: the aromatic complexity obtained from our best grapes of this variety, with notes of white pepper, blueberry and mint, combined with the dense tannic texture conferred by the Cabernet Sauvignon and the spicy and velvety character of Carménère, create a complex wine with a great aging potential. A wine that can offer immediate satisfaction but which reveals its character even more to those who have the patience to wait for some time. On the other hand, Ampio is a fully particular expression of Carménère. A variety of the same family as the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with which it shares many similarities, especially at the aromatic level, with shades of black currant and liquorice, often predominant. The Carménère, a grape of Bordeaux origin and now reference for Chilean wines, it is often considered a less elegant variety which, however, as I like to say, found its grace in our territory. The blend of Ampio, result of a deep knowledge of our vineyards, it has an identity more pronounced and strongly characterized by the variety. With a long agingin 100% new French oak, it presents a complex bouquet of great finesse, silky tannins and an extraordinary tasting persistence.
Marchesi Antinori has accustomed us to challenge with extraordinary wines that represent today’s Italian oenology in the world and that have often gone very far beyond the local denominations: this is the case of Poggio alle Nane and Ampio delle Mortelle. As a winemaker, what’s your call on present disciplinaries?
Historically in Italy, as well as in other traditional wine countries, the disciplinaries have often contributed to the notoriety of the wines in the world and to the improvement of quality within wine-growing regions. Today, however, the strong competition from New World wines pushes even more to overcome the oenological frontiers and the case of the Supertuscans is more than ever current. In addition, Le Mortelle is part of a very young and at the same time very heterogeneous wine area made of 8,700 hectares of vineyards. The Maremma region presents undoubtedly a great enological potential but has yet to craft its identity. We as a winery do respect our territory by creating representative and identitarian wines of the highest level. This is our contribution to that goal. Having the flexibility to do this is just as important.
Le Mortelle, as well as being one of the most beautiful Italian estates from an aesthetic and architectural point of view, it is also at the forefront of cellar practices: underground structure, production process by gravity, maximum exploitation of environmental conditions are just some of the most interesting aspects. How is this complexity reflected in the wines of the estate?
The care of the grapes and the quality of each grape is a fundamental value for the production of wines such as Poggio alle Nane and Ampio. At the same time we are lucky for being in a wine growing area where the grapes ripen to a level as to make wines extremely delicate. Therefore, all operations in the winery have the objective of optimizing the precision and minimize the stress conditions for the raw material. There vinification by gravity, the use of truncated cone tanks, extractions through pneumatic pressing, a deep underground barrel cellar are just some of the tools that guarantee a less traumatic processing of the grapes, preserving the varietal aromas and facilitating the extraction of silky tannins. This is the only way we can express the character of our territory best.
Today people talk about sustainability in the supply chain of wine and we know that this philosophy is a pillar of Marchesi Antinori’s business model: how is the sustainability matter managed in Le Mortelle and what is the winery giving back to the surrounding environment?
The construction project of the Le Mortelle winery was conceived since the beginning as an eco-sustainable project with innovative systems like that the phytodepuration of waste water, but also with simple mechanisms that they exploit gravity, natural light and the thermoregulation of the rock. Thus Le Mortelle places respect for the environment and places energy saving at the center of its attention. The principle of sustainability is therefore reflected in every step, starting from the vineyard and at all stages of production. For example, in the past 10 years we have invested in integrated protection against insects, with the use of pheromones and the introduction of predatory insects, in such a way as to lead to the abandonment of insecticides without compromising the quality of our wines. Sustainability is a healthy and environmentally friendly approach for Le Mortelle, in the best agricultural tradition, combined with research and technology.
Marchesi Antinori is one of the main wine realities for the Italian wine, both for the long history it has and for the enological heritage represented by its estates. What does it mean to be part of a company where there is a strong and consistent entrepreneurial vision as a whole but at the same time each estate has a clear and indisputable identity? How do you conjugate the singularity of a project with the overall vision?
I imagine it is possible because the goal is common and at the center of the corporate model: to produce quality wine. As trivial as it may seem, it is a goal that it is sometimes overlooked by companies. Wine cannot be seen like any other food product: is comes from agriculture, dependent on nature and hardly influenced by her. Precisely for this reason quality wine cannot be standardized and man becomes the key factor. The Antinori family and our CEO and Chief Oenologist Renzo Cotarella were born in wine and know this principle very well. For this reason they considered essential for each estate to have its own identity and autonomy, each with its own team.
Getting closer to the end of this fantastic chat we would like to pay a look to the future: Georgia what to expect (or hope to wait) next from Le Mortelle?
I think the near future of Le Mortelle will be even greener. The Antinori family has always been convinced that respect for the environment must call for maximum attention and effort. For Le Mortelle the challenge is even more important because we are in an area of great natural beauty, where much of the Coastal Maremma is bordered as a Natural Reserve. Therefore, in the next few years we would like to further decrease our consumption of energy thus increasing the use of renewable energy. We would like to raise the awareness of all our employees in this direction, because only by changing our mindset we can really make things better. There’s one thing I am sure about, that the respect for the environment and its biodiversity is important for both ethical and technical reasons: the more we work in harmony with our territory, the more we will be able to produce wines of great expression.
Georgia Dimitriou, the host of Le Mortelle estate