The history of Il Greppo, the 25 hectare vineyard in the heart of Montalcino, dates back to the 18th Century when Clemente Santi started to make wines with 100% Sangiovese. The guardian of this long tradition is now Jacopo Biondi Santi, the sixth generation of the family at the Estate, together with his son and the seventh generation, Tancredi.
In the early 1990’s, Jacopo bought the Castle of Montepo’ in Scansano and, following a comprehensive review of the estate, planted 50 hectares of vineyard, much with their own BBS11 clone of Sangiovese. Harnessing the expertise honed at Il Greppo, Jacopo has established an estate in Maremma worthy of the Biondi-Santi name, producing wines of optimal softness with bold fruit flavours, contrasting beautifully to the intense richness of the Montalcino fine wines.
Visiting Il Greppo assaults the senses. Visually it is breath-taking; rolling hills, crystalline blue skies, puffs of lazy cloud and ancient stone buildings punctuated with stately Cyprus trees. Driving around Montalcino it is plain to see what makes this area special; aspect, gentle breeze and sunshine all help to ensure that everything moves just that little bit slower, allowing time to appreciate life.
Slavonian oak barrels line the cellars, an asset that is somewhat unique to the house. Ancient presses illustrate the great history of the estate, coupled with state-of-the-art bladder presses which help to gently tease the very finest juice out of each grape, a nod to the advance of technology. At every turn it is abundantly clear that Il Greppo is defined by an adherence to its rich history and a fastidious attention to detail. The weight of such heritage can lie uneasily on some, but our host Jacopo, and his son Tancredi, bear it with grace and respect. It is with pride that the father and son explain the way that each wine must adhere to strict convention and how, for example, each oak barrel is checked, devotedly, to ensure levels remain consistent.
The significant cost of the very best cork to seal each bottle is acknowledged but it is paid without reservation. This is complemented by sealing each bottle (on top of the cork) with beeswax with a couple of punctuation holes to allow the wine breathe naturally. The Biondi Santi philosophy is to nurture the wine as a living entity; it must be treated with great respect in order to allow each nuance of character to shine through on the palate. Even decanting is frowned upon, “let the wine breathe naturally in the bottle” we are told, for up to 5hrs before drinking.
The centuries of learning at Il Greppo have allowed the family to recognise how each vineyard needs a certain type of vine/rootstock and each rootstock (grafted to a selected clone – BBS11 of Sangiovese) is selected for its specific adaptability to a particular area of hillside. Sunlight hours are monitored and vigour watched; centuries of experience ensure that the Biondi Santi’s know the specificities of each vineyard and the potential outcomes of any climatic change. Vineyard management is dictated by an intrinsic understanding of their estate, part of the Biondi-Santi DNA, that has been passed down through 7 generations of the family.
May brings with it the ‘telling-month’, the first time a prediction can be made on how the vintage will perform (2016 is looking a little ‘advanced’ with the mild spring – but the family are ever watchful for late frosts, and therefore reserve judgement just yet). It is not unusual for there to be prolonged rain or cooler, windier days, which can affect the ripening, and May is the month when heat should be graduating not searing. 1985 saw some very late frosts in April, which were extremely detrimental to the overall harvest, but this is, thankfully, most unusual.
A move away from the strictly traditional saw Jacopo Biondi Santi buy ‘Castello di Montepo’ (in 1996) in the area of Maremma. Jacopo, aware that no great wines were ever produced in ignorance, immediately set about a detailed study into the soil profile of the estate. The last 300yrs at Il Greppo had taught Jacopo that knowledge of your land ultimately yields success and, in light of this, he commissioned studies into each plot’s subsoil, probing to a depth of 2 metres in many sections. He used the outcome of this study to cultivate 52 ha’s of the estate (total size of c.500 ha’s) and manage the right clone/rootstock combination to succeed.
The agronomy charts are visually arresting, with each vineyard area codified by bright colours relating to a corresponding key. This penetrating, and ongoing study determined that 2000-2500hrs of sun and 5-10% incline were the optimal conditions, and new vineyard plots were selected accordingly. Each ‘micro-zone’ is carefully watched and continually analysed to see if anything should be modified in order to make incremental improvements. This application of scientific principals sees a modern style of wine being cultivated; Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is being grown alongside the famous BBS11 clone of Sangiovese, named and cultivated by the Biondi Santi family (the first clone to be named after a family estate in Italy).
The Castello di Montepo wines are vibrant and bursting with primary fruit, testament to 20 years of exhaustive investigation and Jacopo’s faithful adherence to his upbringing and fascination with the ‘cru concept’. The Biondi Santi family have upheld, over 7 generations, a tradition of producing wines which have been nurtured from soil to shelf.