To figure out where to stop, we started with the bottles, the wines that we found most exciting, along with the advice of Marino Colleoni and many others who have the same type of visceral relationship with the land as he does. Following this trail, we ended up on Mount Amiata, a 1750 metre volcano dating back to the Pleistocene era which has been dormant for 180,000 years, where there are very few vineyards. It wasn’t easy: we were looking for cold weather, snow and temperature excursions; we needed altitude, but this alone was not enough to produce wines of great personality and texture. And so we went in search of a matrix of calcareous rock with fractured geological stratification, with which the vine of Dionysius could blend organically and inorganically.
600 metres above sea level on the mountain’s western flank, we set up our base in a small village called Poggioferro, planting 3.6 hectares of Sangiovese and 0.9 hectares of Cabernet, divided into 5 lots on the basis of soil geology. We clearly remember the first words we exchanged the day we came across this vineyard: “Unbelievable! It’s like being in the Clos de Bèze”. Before us was a carpet of carbonate rock and limestone, resting on a coffee-coloured marl that could just be glimpsed through the skeletal soil of the surface. We had no doubts about it: if we ever decided to make a red wine, this would be the place.
But we couldn’t stop here, because our instinct told us to try a white wine too, of the kind we like. We headed toward the peak of Monte Amiata, on the edges of the beech forest at an altitude of 800 metres, where the last seed crops had been abandoned decades ago and we could see that the marks made by the volcano were even more evident. This was a huge leap in geological eras, with a rare well-ventilated and gently sloping plateau marking the boundary between farms that had been abandoned for years and the mountain forests that still cover the peak. Loose, well-drained soil, in grey, black and blue, abounding in sand and volcanic silicates mixed with tischio, a scale like a little fragment of marl, typical of the area. Virgin land with a content of organic matter that was unimaginable lower down in the hills, a pH that has been neutralised over the millennia, and carbonates giving way to a great wealth of minerals, ranging from calcium to magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc and more. This is where we decided to plant our vineyards and make the white wine of our dreams.
soil and geology
of Mount Amiata
Mount Amiata emerged partly due to the collision of the Apenninic plates and partly as a result of the sea retreating from these areas. Over millions of years, the combination of these two phenomena led to its orogenesis, as was the case of the Alps and the Apennines, as the waters were slowly pushed westward by the mountains.
While these slow phenomena were under way, completely different types of soil were generated due to the different conditions of pedogenesis in effect at different times, with a fairly uniform tendency toward a significant presence of skeletal soil and ancient limestone rising up the mountain ridge, to higher levels where the beech groves of the Amiata grow in volcanic soil; heading down to lower altitudes toward Grosseto on the coast, the soils are dominated by the marine clays of the Pliocene.
Mount Amiata had emerged completely by 6 or 7 million years ago, and the geological formations take the name of the Santa Fiora or Silliano formation (abbreviated SIL, from the Upper Cretaceous – Paleocene era), of the Flysch family (particularly ancient formations, about 65 million years old, characterised by greyish brown argillite and calcilutites).
The geology of this unique mountain standing alone in the heart of the Tuscan countryside is characterised by volcanic activity that is difficult to date, but most likely took place over 4 million years ago. It occurred very slowly, with production of solid-semisolid eruptive material that primarily poured along the flank of the mountain in the form of lava flows, though there may also have been violent episodes also involving the mountain’s other slopes.
The slowness of this volcanic activity would seem to have resulted in major accumulation of heavy, dense material, generating eruptions which may sometimes have been destructive and explosive in nature; in the beech groves near the mountain peak, huge boulders up to 4 or 5 metres in diameter may be found, which were expelled and slid in all directions.
When all the seismic and volcanic activity that led to the emergence of Mount Amiata and the expulsion of volcanic material was taking place, the area was already rich in Flysch (sedimentary marine deposits, primarily calcareous and limey-clayey in nature), which was powerfully deformed when the mountain rose higher, pushed by plates in the earth’s crust, creating a variety of fracture lines, some of which were later covered with lava.
800 metres Pescina
The oldest soils we have available for our vineyards are located here, where the flaky sedimentary rock locally known as tischio, containing a high concentration of silt, combines calcareous rocks (calcilutites or fine-grained limestone) with fractions of clay and silt deposited on an ancient sea bed. Soil analysis revealing a high content of iron and manganese suggests that it may have been subject to interference with volcanic material; while the low carbonate content found on the fine earth, primarily in the form of active limestone, and its almost neutral pH suggest that these very ancient soils (65 million years old) may have suffered gradual leaching. At the same time, high calcium content and a wealth of calcareous sediments remind us that this was once the bottom of the sea. The limestone in these soils is in fact not found in the fine earth fraction, but in sediments which can simply be hewn and pulverised to observe a basic acidic reaction when treated with acid, due to the carbonates trapped in these rocks. The type of marine sedimentation may vary greatly depending on the type of sea, depth, temperature, currents, the relief of the sea bed, affluents, and so on, giving rise to compressed materials which are more or less dense and compact. The Flysch in the Pescina area was most likely generated as a result of rapid sedimentation, during which various deposits accumulated one upon another without densifying too much, hypothetically due to marine currents; the silica and carbonates which cement the sediments work differently depending on the physical conditions of the sea bed. The physical condition of the rocks in this place is reminiscent of marl, that is, flaky rock, but should not be confused with schists, which, while physically similar, are metamorphic, not sedimentary rocks, generated by material under high temperatures.
600 metres poggioferro
In the hamlet of Poggioferro, at an elevation of 600 metres, we decided to grow primarily red grapes, making the most of a completely different terroir which has had a slower, more recent genesis, with only minor volcanic interference.
Here too, calcareous rock forms a part of the geological Flysch formations, but it is very different from the sediments of the vineyards higher up; emersion at this elevation took place more recently, under different physical conditions producing a completely different result.
The soil at Poggioferro is a darker coffee-colour due to the greater content of brown clays and iron carbonates, referred to as greyish-brown argillite, which may in certain microzones give rise to very deep soils as a result of colluvial phenomena. This is still very different from the clays of the Pliocene, and the carbonates are still large and dense, ranging from greyish blue palombino limestone to more or less pure calcite crystals, which should not be confused with quartzites, in which the principal mineral is silica.
In the Poggioferro area, the soil has a sub-alkaline pH and consists of 8 to 15 % active limestone, continuing to drain well despite the more evident clayey fraction which, however, consists of well-structured high-CSC clays, which give our Sangiovese wines their touch of iron.