How Organic Winemakers Are Turning Chianti’s Red Rooster Green

Food & Drink

In the cellars of Il Palagio di Panzano wine estate, 20 miles south of Florence, Monia Piccini is clambering energetically up ladders and on top of the wine tanks, swishing and swilling the vino with verve. Mother, winemaker, tour guide and agriturismo operator—she has been busy for the past few years along with husband Franco, helping turn Panzano in Chianti into a little powerhouse of organic production at the heart of Chianti countryside. 

Chianti’s Organic Wine Trailblazers

It was the village vintner’s union Monia says that got the ball rolling. “Panzano in Chianti Winemakers Association has been the pioneer and many others have decided to follow our example. Of 19 winemakers in the local group about 80% of us are organic … Now this project is going to extend to the entire Chianti region.” 

A veritable pocket of organic wine—vino biologico—and olive oil producers exist around the tiny community. You will find them scattered amid the patchwork of crops along the Strada del Vino e dell’Olio Chianti Classico. The drop here is far from the industrial Raffia bottle plonk of the 1970s, whose bottles many of us used as wax-dripped candle holders. “Even your typical Chianti Classico of today compared to 40 years ago is very different, when it was just a basic vino da tavola,” Monia says.

Ironically Monia’s dad was more into mass production, whereas she is devoted to the green ways of her grandfather. “Of course my nonno was organic because that’s the only way they knew then … when you use chemicals you destroy the soil and the ecosystem. Me and Franco both believe very strongly in the future of this region through a return to the roots, to a simplicity of flavours and life.”

The Gallo Nero Goes Green

In her tours as cooking classes, it’s all about promoting organic local produce—wines, cheese, olive oil, even organic cosmetics. Monia has also been busy championing the biodiversity of her region on Europe-wide delegations, to ensure that the Black Rooster—the  iconic gallo nero symbol of D.O.C.G Chianti Classico—is increasingly a green one. 

Their efforts have apparently paid off. In August, California’s Wine Industry Advisor declared the wines of Chianti Classico “are more sustainable and environmentally-conscious than ever.” 40% of the area’s vineyards are now certified organic, thanks to “meaningful investments in innovative environmental practices.”

Over A Third Of Chianti Winemakers Adopt Eco-Friendly Ways

The story referred to a recent study by the Consorzio di Vino, which represents all the Chianti denomination’s winemakers. It showed 30% of all estates are making outlays on forest management, 41% on soil management, 27% on water management, 35% on recycling, 24% on sustainable energy use, and 21% on compost production.

Along the road from Il Palagio di Panzano is another organic winery and agriturismo, Renzo Marinai, founded by a pioneer of organic wines. “We also plant ancient noble wheat varieties between the vines and olives,” Dutch manager, ‘Jan’ (Janmario Hero Reina) tells me. So the azienda produces organic pasta as well as vino and olio, on a small property of just 12 hectares (30 acres).

“A place where wine listens to music,” announces a sign over the cellar door. Down in the basement, the biodynamic wines sitting in their oak barrels are wired to Mozart—and apparently loving it—going by the taste of the bold, ruby red wine I take away with me.

Clean Green And Ruby Red Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is known to range from medium to full-bodied in style, and is usually made entirely from Sangiovese grapes. Il Palagio describes its drop as such: “The colour is ruby lightly red, the perfume is persistent and harmonious, enriched by elegant notes of oak and red fruits. The structure is medium, with a balanced acidity and hints well polished tannins, savoury and durable at the end.”

Both these vineyards are located up in the micro-climatic heights of Panzano from where the best wines tend to come. As an article in Forbes reported in 2014: “Chianti Classico has improved out of all recognition over the last couple of decades, but its standout virtue is as vivacious, every-day wines”. On top of that, some exceptional more complex wines are increasingly taking centre stage it noted. Il Palagio does both. From its basic Chianti Classico quaffing drop (priced at around $13 a bottle), to Il Palagio Reserva, ($27), and the top shelf La Bambola Gran Selezione ($49).

Vineyards of Tomorrow: Organic Rising Stars

Monia claims the estate is still relatively unknown. With climate realities as they are, its notoriety is sure to mushroom. Given the fallout of climate change on terroir is of increasing concern, the future should be bright for such small family owned vineyards, with a deeply personal touch and commitment to sustainable ways.

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