The ancient wine cellars of Tuscany – Part I

If I say “Tuscany”, the first thing that comes to mind will be probably the image of a lonely covey of cypresses in a land of wavy hills, or the image of a farmhouse on a hilltop, in a bright and misty morning. Well, in this article (as in the next one) I’ll not show you the same old postcards of Tuscany, but I’m going to bring you inside the most “sacred” places of the millennial italian art of winemaking: the ancient wine cellars.

During my travel through the wonderful Tuscany, I’ve focused my attention (and my camera too) on the region of Val d’Orcia which, in my opinion, is far more amazing than the popular Chianti, both by the landscaping point of view and because it has some unique places that are particularly fascinating, by a winemaking standpoint. The entire area in the nearby of the ancient town of Montalcino is a concentrate of history and traditions. There I’ve found an example of a young winemaking company that have embraced the ancient tradition: Solaria farm.
The Solaria farm is located in the south-eastern side of the Montalcino hill and its vineyards and olive tree groves extend for about 120 acres on a sunny plain, in an ideal climate for the Sangiovese and Cabernet grapes to grow luxuriant and strong. The plantation itself is rather young, (it was born in 1989) but its farming method takes advantage of all the classic know-how; it’s almost a form of art and there are so many methods and secrets involved in every step of the process that you would be surely fascinated.

For example, do you know why a small shrub of roses is cultivated at the beginning of a row of grapes? Well, the reason is that the roses are slightly weaker than grapes so, in the unlucky chance of an illness or adverse conditions, they will visibly suffer a bit earlier than the grapes. In this way the farmers will notice this “alarm” and will save the vineyard in advance, before it’s too late. This stratagem is quite similar to the one of the canary in the mine, whose death was an alarm signal of poisonous emissions: so the miners had the time to escape from the tunnels before they were poisoned.
Another reason, the winemakers say, is that the roses will perfume the grapes with their fragrance and, as a result, the grapes will be happier and their wine will be more delicious.



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What, at first glance, might seem a row of shimmering vines, in reality is an effect created by the actual color of the leaves.



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A rose in the vineyard has more purposes besides the aesthetical one: it’s an “alarm” that signals if the vines risk a sickness.



An important stage of vinification is the fermentation of the grapes inside giant tanks made of stainless steel: here the grapes, after being destemmed and gently crushed, begin their alcoholic fermentation, thanks to the sugars and to a precisely controlled temperature. The entire surface of the tank warms up homogeneously the inner must and keeps it stable until the end of the process.


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The fermentation cellar of Solaria’s farmstead. In these giant silos made of stainless steel starts the first part of wine-making.



After the stabilization, the secondary fermentation and aging process take place inside the classic wooden casks; the fragrance of the wood employed to build the casks will determine a note of scent in the wine. To obtain a perfetcly balanced wine, Solaria’s winemakers use oak casks: for example, the “Rosso di Montalcino” which is a new wine, needs just 8 months of refinement in new casks before being bottled, while the “Brunello di Montalcino” rests for 24 months inside aged casks of Slavonia Oak.
Do you remember that I said that Solaria has embraced the traditions of winemaking? Well, this applies specifically to their cellars: the farm houses two amazing treasures, that are a Renaissance wine cellar and an ancient cistern.



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This cellar dates back to the Renaissance. The beautiful rib vaults and the many rows of casks create a unique atmosphere.



The beautiful Renaissance wine cellar has the aspect of a vast hall, characterized by many rib vaults which give to the space a fascinating curvy geometry. Many oak casks are precisely aligned in rows, organized by type and year of the wine, and they emphasize the long perspective.
A special feature of this cellar is that, instead of a common roof, it has a garden on top of it: the thick layer of soil and grass guarantees that the space below can keep a constant temperature and grade of humidity, that’s a great thing for the optimal aging process of the wine. A “side effect” of this clever implementation is the acoustic insulation; once closed the big wooden portal, the hall falls in an absolute silence, which creates an almost surreal atmosphere. You could nearly hear the wine sleeping inside the casks…



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A row of casks in Solaria’s cellar. The wine that’s aging inside these casks will become a delicious Brunello di Montalcino.



Leaving the wine cellar, I’m invited to see the second special place of Solaria’s farm: an ancient buried cistern with the shape of an ampoule (think of a light bulb with the thread facing upward). It was used as a water reservoir and in fact, in the center of the dome, there’s a short well with the bucket and the pulley, covered by another tiny dome made of bricks.
This cistern has been discovered by chance during renovation works and it became a distinctive element of the farm; to make it accessible it’s been provided with a floor made of wrought-iron decorated with taste and now it represents a “sacred” place, in which is kept one of the Solaria’s former bottles of wine, great idea!
The unique shape of the cistern generates an unbelievable echo that is reflected multiple times on the spherical surface and has a crazy-short delay: the result is that your voice turns into a disorienting alien sound, cool.



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This is the ancient ampoule-shaped water cistern of the Solaria’s farmstead, a rare thing nowadays because very few still survive almost intact.



The first part of “The ancient wine cellars of Tuscany” has ended and I wish to thank the Cencioni family for their hospitality (Sara and I have also experienced a great vertical tasting) and for accompanying us in their amazing farm and plantation.
In the next article I’ll show you two more fascinating ancient wine cellars, stay tuned!

About Claudio Beffa

I'm an Italian photographer and designer with a great passion for the discovery of amazing places and their history and soul. With, I'll tell you every step of my journey and I'll show you my best travel & landscape shots.

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