In any boutique wine shop, including the Formaggio Wine Corner, our shop-within-a-shop, you will frequently hear the sales staff speak of “family-owned” vineyards. While this term serves most obviously as a counterpoint to “corporate” viticulture and industrial-scale wine making, the implication is also one of tradition, continuity, and the repeated transmission of know-how from one generation to the next. That’s not always the case, though, nor should it be. As important as tradition is to wine culture as a whole, the introduction of new blood and new energy is equally critical. This, too, can take the form of family.
Gabriele Buondonno and Valeria Sodano (above) were city dwellers. They grew up in the gritty metropolis of Naples, and neither of their families owned any land, vineyards or otherwise. Both nursed pastoral dreams, though: they met and fell in love while in agronomy school. In 1988, the couple found the ideal farm — a wooded 20 hectare hilltop plot in the heart of Chianti, called “Casavecchia alla Piazza,” that had once belonged to Lionardo Buonarotti, nephew of the famed artist Michelangelo. By this time, Gabriele and Valeria were married with three young children, and they were living a comfortable city life. Nevertheless, the pull of the country was irresistible; they packed up their kids and belongings, abandoned Naples for Tuscany, and have been there ever since.
Casavecchia alla Piazza is a family farm in both senses. It is a farm, with olive groves and pasture covering 12 of the 20 hectares. It is also very much a family operation. If you visited the farm early on, you would have encountered a basketball hoop next to the winery, and you might have tripped over skateboards and bikes on your way to the front door. Gabriele leads the charge in the fields and the winery, but everyone lends a hand, and the couple’s eldest daughter has recently begun working in an official capacity.
The family may not have a historical connection to this land, but their respect for the soil and the area’s traditions are strong. They have farmed organically from the start, and their wines adhere stylistically to the traditional Chianti template. This may be family farming at its newest, but it’s also family farming at its best.
2014 Rosso Toscana IGT – Made from the family’s youngest Sangiovese vines, this Rosso sees a brief maceration and a scant 6 months’ aging in older oak barrels to preserve its bouncy fruit flavors. Fresh and floral, with soft, barely noticeable tannins. We like it with pizza, lasagna, or mid-week leftovers.
Mike Healan is a wine buyer and cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.