The hyper-territorial wines of Fabio Tassi

Getting to know Fabio Tassi means first of all meeting a man deeply in love with Montalcino and his family. A sentiment that inspires each of his activities – both the accommodation and the winery – and that shows how it is possible to find a perfect balance between respect for the past and tradition and a solidly contemporary entrepreneurial spirit.

You are a very active entrepreneur in Montalcino for several years, almost a sort of ambassador by now of the enormous beauty of these places. Can you tell us your path?

I start from my maternal grandfather story, because it all started thanks to his enterprising character. He was born and raised in Greppo – his parents were sharecroppers there – but as soon as he could, he went in search of his own path. When he discovered beekeeping he felt in love with it, learning the trade completely as a self-taught person and bringing the practice to Montalcino, which over time has become one of the reference places in Italy for the honey production. He then passed on this passion to the rest of the family: to my mom, my uncle and later also to my father. Beekeeping and honey have been their main activity for many years, even if then there were other collateral activities related to the area. I come from this story: as a boy I enrolled in Law but in practice I didn’t even start the course because I already knew I wanted to work in the company.

And then the Drogheria Franci arrived.

Exact. Towards the end of the eighties there was a boom in wine tourism, I was young, I wanted to do business and I started selling wine, honey of course and local excellence. We opened the Drogheria in 1993, giving it the name of my mother’s family. At first it was just my grandmother and I in a fairly small space on the ground floor of our house. Then, over the years, the grocery store grew, eventually becoming a restaurant and guest-house. Today there are three beautiful rooms, furnished with great care. It is a transformation that I am very happy with because I find it a great way to keep the memory of the grandparents alive.

In 2001, the management of the Enoteca della Fortezza was added to this activity. There is not even need to tell the beauty of this place, for me it was and is a great joy to work there.

How far has the production of wine arrived? Was it a goal you had always had in mind?

It was more of a natural evolution, when in 2000 we had the opportunity to have, as growers and beekeepers, one hectare of Brunello and a half of Rosso. At that point, since our other lands had exposures very north and very high, we started looking for something else more suitable for Brunello. And with the help of my great friend Beppe Bianchini from Ciacci Piccolomini, we identified three beautiful hectares under the Castello della Velona and so we started. 2004 was the year of the first harvest. In this vineyard – which I would define as “modern”, with new generation clones and very dense – we now produce the cru Giuseppe Tassi (a tribute to my father) and our base Brunello.

Also in 2004 we began to bottle wine from my grandfather’s old vineyard, Vigna Franci.

You are young enough as a cellar, therefore, but we can attempt a balance of these twenty years. How did you grow up?

Certainly I first changed a lot, because I have more experience – when I started I was an enthusiast and a connoisseur but I didn’t have enough competence to take care of the production, so the winemaker had much more space – and also because over time they have changed tastes and ideas. It is natural that this is the case.

The very important history of Brunello must be safeguarded, also through compliance with the disciplinary, but it is evident that times have changed: if twenty years ago we were looking for very powerful wines, very structured, very concentrated, now we are looking for more elegance and the finesse. Gradually my head has also shifted in this direction: the more time passes the more I look for wines that are “natural”, with very few transformations, where the hand of man feels as little as possible and what emerges is the vineyard, the vintage and its trend. Today, to have wines like this – more and more of the territory – I am willing to take more risks than in the past.

If these wines tell the territory story, what is the common language they speak?

In fact, I always try to differentiate the wines a lot, just to bring out the character of the place. We are there but we must not be intrusive, we must accompany the wine. It is precisely to make the most of the individual vineyards that our Brunello are four and are processed separately until bottling. And in perspective, I would like to highlight these differences even more. Ironically, the common trait of my four Brunello is that they are all different from each other and always a little bit from themselves, because their final character depends a lot on the performance of the vintage.

I would also like to apply this idea to Rosso di Montalcino: I’m thinking to make at least two and not just one anymore. I believe that it is also important to enhance the identity of the territory of a wine like Rosso, more fragrant, with a more present fruit and which, for this reason, intercepts a different audience than Brunello. I would like the Rosso di Montalcino to be considered not a second wine but the other side of Sangiovese di Montalcino.

As for the Brunello, the latest addition is the Colombaio, right?

Yes, we acquired the vineyard in 2016. Vigna Colombaio is located very close to the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, in the middle of the woods, it is a place of extraordinary beauty; I would like who drink this Brunello come and visit it at least once because it is truly an experience that allows you to enter the wine in depth. It is a place that never ceases to amaze me, but I must say that it is impossible to get used to the beauty of Montalcino, from every corner. I myself, who have always lived here, continue to amaze me every day.

Any adjective, in fact, is taken for granted when it comes to your territory. The thing that always strikes me is the light, which is always beautiful in all seasons, at all hours.

It is one of the special features of the place, I think it is one of the things that makes the difference here, precisely in terms of quality for the wine, as well as the constant presence of the wind, which helps to greatly reduce the treatments because it hinders humidity. This is an extraordinarily suitable territory, it has always been, and history also tells us so. We just have to be good at supporting it and honest in protecting it.

We have a moral obligation to safeguard what previous generations have left us so whole and intact. It is everyone’s heritage that we must take care of.

The organic choice seems to me inevitable in this vision.

Infact. We have always been organic, because in the vineyard we have always used only sulfur and copper. When I started, there were few of us working organic, but it felt like the most natural choice I could make, so I never even felt the need to take sides. Then in 2013 we made the decision to formalize, but in practice nothing has changed.

I believe that not embracing organic farming in Montalcino is a contradiction, like taking medicines, despite being healthy.

A curiosity given that we are talking about organic and territory: do you continue to work with bees today?

Yes, but I have reduced exponentially, before the company was quite large, we had many bees and practiced nomadism. Now we keep them only where the vineyards are and we have a small production of wildflower honey. I want to carry it forward even if on a smaller scale, on the one hand for a question of habitat balance, and on the other for an emotional question: my grandfather’s love for bees was enormous and truly contagious.

You are curious by vocation, do you intend to experiment, coming out of the essential combination of Brunello – Rosso di Montalcino?

In fact, I am already doing it, in 2018, after a trip to Burgundy, I decided to experiment with the amphora. I started with an 800-liter bottle, using the same Sangiovese from the Giuseppe Tassi cru, with 15% of whole bunches and very long maceration. After three months we drained it and put it back in amphora until September 2019. It was marketed in January 2020 under the name of Brunò: a Brunello no, in short.

At first, many here made fun of me but once they tasted they changed their minds. I am very happy because they liked it a lot and because for me it was a very interesting experiment. And in the end, I decided to take two more amphorae to continue.

Then I have many other ideas in mind: I planted a sapling vineyard near home, on land purchased four years ago, and here we will see what will happen. Then there is a land above which I am very fond of because it was one of my grandfather’s favorite places and I am thinking of planting a Trebbiano there, because in the future I would like to try my hand at a white.

The memory of your grandparents returned many times during this talk.

I am very closed to my family. The more the years pass, the more I understand the importance of what my grandparents did, it is their work that has given me the opportunity to be here now.

The world goes on and changes and that’s right and I always like to wade forward but I also like to keep a strong connection with our history and I’m very happy that my daughters, even if they live in Milan, are linked to Montalcino. They are also joining the family business and I couldn’t wish for anything better.

This close relationship with the family and with the roots seems to me an important part of his commitment to the territory.

Yes, I think so. I believe it is important to support the business but without upsetting what is there. In our work we must proceed very slowly and have patience, following what is coming; for example, this year there was a severe frost and I suffered a lot of damage, but we must accept it and look further, without giving in to easy solutions. Giulio Gambelli often repeated that if one year has gone bad, it will simply mean that the next one will go better. There isn’t much to add. I already feel lucky to live here, I don’t want to look for shortcuts and I want to work transparently. We are all credible only if we have the intellectual honesty to produce a clean, well-made and local wine.

The Brunello Riserva Franci 2015 obtained the 100 points from James Suckling. What impact had this recognition on the perception of your company?

First, we are very proud, because Suckling is a great expert on Montalcino wines and has done a lot for this area. And after all he received honorary citizenship not by chance!

It was very important for us because the 100 points at the Riserva supported a year that, taken as a whole, received very good scores from all the critics. It was a sort of crowning of the quality of our work in all its forms. In the external perception it has certainly had a positive impact because it has increased our credibility: ours is a fairly young reality, receiving such prestigious awards means that we are young but solid and we are doing a serious job.

Redazione 18.05.2021

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