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Il Drago e le 8 colombe

Today is the beginning of the Chinese New Year and this is the year of the dragon. A magic year for this wine which changes completely.

New vintage, new blend of grapes, new name and new packaging for the Drago wine by Donatella Cinelli Colombini.

“Il Drago e le 8 colombe” in the flesh

“Il Drago e le 8 colombe” in the flesh

The doves represent the women and consequently refer to the female cellar staff, a revolutionary work situation for Italy. With the arrival of the female consultant wine maker Valérie Lavigne the doves increase in number and the name of the wine changes: it used to be called “Il Drago e le Sette Colombe” and has become “Il Drago e le 8 Colombe”

Quite on the contrary the Drago emphasizes a male presence – nobody here wants to be discriminating – in the person of Carlo Gardini, Donatella’s husband who is a great wine lover
The arrival of Valérie Lavigne, sets of a serious thought about Italian grape varieties and the possibility of blending them to make high quality wines that are able to sell on foreign markets.
From here the desire to emphasize the Sagrantino grape, a variety greatly used in Umbria, which is just 20km away from Fattoria del Colle and belongs to the same geographical area. For the moment we are cultivating Sagrantino grapes in just a few rows, but soon it will be possible to harvest a whole new Vineyard. Read more…

The grape harvest at Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino

Sangiovese – Brunello 2011? At Casato Prime Donne <<the grapes are better than last year>> says Valérie Lavigne the wine maker

Donatella Violante Valerie Barbara

Donatella, Violante, Valerie, Barbara

The forecast for our 2011 harvest are very good. The cellar master Barbara Magnani and the agronomist Folco Bencini are optimistic most of all about the resistance of the Sangiovese vineyards at Casato Prime Donne regardless of the great African heat at the end of the summer.
Valérie Lavigne’s opinion is even more positive << our Brunello grapes have really surprised me, they are even better than last year because the ripening has been more   homogeneous>>.
First day of harvest at Casato Prime Donne was September 15th, 10 days sooner than the traditional Brunello calendar.
At Fattoria del Colle Merlot, Foglia Tonda (which has demonstrated that it greatly suffers from droughts) and some of the Sangiovese for Chianti and Doc Orcia wines have already been picked. Apparently the Fattoria del Colle vines have suffered the heat and lack of rainfalls more than those at Casato Prime Donne. In fact the lager quantity of clay in the soil in Montalcino has been a decidedly favourable element this year.
The grape harvest is quicker because of the lower quantities of grapes. About 30% less than last year.

The grape harvest

The grape harvest

The Consorzio del Brunello had diminished the production per hectare to 6 tonnes of grapes and probably the lower amount of clusters is also because of the pruning done at the beginning of July. The “green harvest” diminishing of the clusters has helped the vines a great deal to be able to withstand the great heat from the second half of August and September as did the difference in temperatures between night and day.
The lower yield also depends on the size of clusters which are smaller than usual, and the size of the single grapes is also smaller. However the clusters are beautiful, open and loose.
The most positive element is that the grapes are perfectly ripe; there is not one cluster anywhere with some mould.
the quality that will result depends a lot on the choice of the clusters. The clusters and parts of clusters that have dried grapes must be eliminated. Allowing them to go into the vats would mean that the sugar content of the must would go up and the wines produced would be too alcoholic. The removing of dried grapes takes automatically along a selection table that has a vibrating mechanism for this reason. The rest is removed manually by the two people constantly present at the table.
At this moment the analysis of our Sangiovese-Brunello show a potential alcohol of more than 13° vol, acidity around  7,30, an abundance in phenolic richness, which however will only partially be extractable. The grape seed are lignified, that means that they will not release green tannins.

So, to conclude we are expecting a good harvest, especially in Montalcino and in the older vineyards.
The 2011 vintage will probably have “Mediterranean” characteristic, so it will be very pleasant and round in the mouth and on the nose it twill be characterized by nuances of ripe fruit

We have started the 2011 grape harvest at Fattorie di Donatella Cinelli Colombini !

Cross your fingers and do a rain dance! The coming weeks are crucial for the quality of the 2011 vintage. Our Brunello, Chianti and Doc Orcia vineyards have bravely endured the strong sun in the second half of August but now are desperate for a good drink of water

Our winemaker Valerie Lavigne has followed the progress of the harvest via the internet and today will be joining

Valerie Lavigne wine maker

Valerie Lavigne wine maker

 us to personally oversee the harvesting of the Brunello grapes. At present our most important grapes have potentially a high alcohol content, with very high acidity and only a few extractable polyphenols. We await further developments in the coming days.  At the moment the fruit bears some resemblance to the legendary 1997 vintage.
The harvesting started last Monday at the Fattoria del Colle with some of the Traminer grapes which when they resemble raisins will be used to produce the passito. This wine has a sweet, soothing aroma and tastes of honey, it is my husband Carlo passion and also that of the wine producer Barbara Magnani. At the moment we are bottling the 300 precious bottles of our Pink and Gold label passito from our 2010 harvest, which we are sure will give us a delicious sweet tasting wine.

Vendemmia 2011 Merlot (2)

Merlot grape harvest at Fattoria del Colle

The harvest then continued with the Traminer grapes which will  be used to produce our white wine ‘Sanchimento’  IGT Toscana. Only 40 quintali of grapes were collected which will be used to create wine for the enjoyment of future visitors to  the Fattoria del Colle. 30th  August was the first day of the harvest of the Merlot grapes for the Doc Orcia’ Leone Rosso’ wine. As always the Merlot  grapes have suffered the effects of the sun much more than the Sangiovese grapes and therefore it was necessary to harvest them at least 15 days ahead of our normal scheduled harvesting date. Barbara is getting used to addressing this problem as it is happening more and more often.
For us the most important grapes are the Sangiovese and, fortunately, the extensive thinning out of the fruit which we undertook in the first half of August has helped them to withstand the stress of the lack of water which was triggered by the strong sun which we have experienced in the last month.
It is most likely that the best grapes of the next harvest will grow on the established older vines and not from my wonderful new vineyards which are only 10 years old, although these have a very good position on the hillsides they are very exposed to the sun and have suffered more from the heat this year than the other more established vineyards. That’s the nice thing about having vineyards in lots of different positions with varying amounts of sunshine and in lots of different types of soil!  Every year the weather benefits specific positions of vineyards and soil types and therefore guarantees a good harvest from a good portion of the vineyards.
Our team of harvesters this year is made up of 18 people, 2 of which are driving the tractors and 16 are harvesting by hand. Many of our team are young people, some are still students and some have recently graduated. Almost all are from our local area. When we start the harvest of the Sangiovese grapes we will increase the size of the group by another 7 harvesters.

Vendemmia 2011 Merlot

20 kilos boxes for the grape harvest

The grapes are collected in 20 kg boxes, these are stacked on the trailers of tractors, and then they are transported to the wine cellar where they are passed through the crusher and de-steming  machines and then they are fed into the fermentation vat where they will stay for about 15 days.

Waiting for the grape harvest at Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s wineries

We are very optimistic about the wine harvest. The clusters of grapes tend to be sparse with berries growing on small stalks. We feel confident to predict that we will be ahead of our timetabled harvest by almost 10 days


Green harvest of Foglia tonda vines

Green harvest of Foglia tonda vines

The rains in the second half of July have reduced the water stress that the vines were experiencing thus lengthening the time for the maturing of the fruit. The colour change of the grapes is even better than we anticipated and is more like the colours we would expect in vines which are planted in lower fields.
The grapes were definitely less abundant last year and we considered that to be quite a sparse crop. This year we have been able to remove any excess clusters, especially in vineyards where some of the new vines were too laden with grapes, they would have producted much more than the optimal production of 1.200 kg from every 4 bunches. This ‘green harvest’ was carried out at the Casato Prime Donne di Montalcino on the Sangiovese grapes which are intended for the Brunello and the Rosso di Montalcino and  at Fattoria del  Colle nel Sud del Chianti , in the vineyards of the Doc Orcia Cenerentola and the Leone Rosso.

We are very excited about the quality of these grapes and anticipate a 5 star harvest.
In Montalcino thinning the grapes allows us to control production to around 60 quintals of grapes per acre, which is a crop production which is determined by the official assembly of wine producers. This level of production relies entirely on the quality of the grapes which are being grown. We hope that the sun will shine the appropriate amount and help us to achieve our anticipated 5 star harvest.

Casato Prime Donne - green harvest

Casato Prime Donne - green harvest

The next job for those of us who tenderly look after the grapes will be the cutting back of the leaves which can only  be performed when the sun is weaker and in the vineyards

Bonella showing us Sangiovese

Bonella showing us Sangiovese

which we pick last. This operation allows the grapes to dry quickly, in case of rain, and avoids them being attacked by mould. This is therefore a natural way to try and avoid any mould problems. We only ever use anti-mould products in the event of very severe weather conditions.
The harvest will begin with the Traminer grapes at the end of August,  in early September we plan to start on the Merlot and between 10th and 15th the Sangiovese will probably be ready for picking.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini

The Master OIV and the California vineyards


Chronicles of Violante Gardini (Cinelli Colombini Jr) – our introduction into the world of wine

Mondavi Winery

Mondavi Winery

A week of visits to the wineries of Sonoma and Napa valley for the students of the Master OIV – the International Organisation for Vineyards and Wine.

We visited various wineries which were situated in the areas of Lodi, Sonoma and Napa, interestingly all of them differed from each other quite considerably. Some of the wineries had huge vats, one of which had a filter which was as big as our entire wine cellar. Interestingly the wine which they produced, in my opinion, was not very good. Other wineries were much smaller, and of these, in my opinion, the most interesting and distinctive ones were those created by Robert Mondavi.   He is one of the most successful Californian wine producers in the world. It is a pity that in the end, after having financed the creation of the Department of wine in Davis University, and after having built impressive cellars such as Opus One, Mondavi has had to sell everything to one of the large multinational wine companies,  Constellation.
In a visit to the Opus One we were accompanied by experienced winemaker Michael Silacci, an individual  who has worked in this wine cellar for more than10 years. He is a person who has a great passion for his wine which he enthusiastically shared with all of his audience. He told us how the concept of this project came about and explained the collaboration between Robert Mondavi and Philippe de Rothschild who wanted to create something unique together, almost like the composers of old must have felt about composing the ‘First Opera’. They considered everything, the architecture, the vineyards, the technology – I was also very impressed by the fact that Mr.Silacci is very careful to listen to the advice and tips given to him by his workers and assistants, a very surprising and pleasing method of management practise to find, especially in a cellar as well known as Opus One.

Violante in Opus One vineyards

Violante in Opus One vineyards

Harvesting by night. In this part of America it is really cold at night, it is only after 11am in the morning that the sun rises sufficiently to let the heat from the sun to begin to warm us all.

Silacci told us  that during one of the first years that he worked in this area he decided to implement one of the ideas which had come to him during a particularly restless and sleepless night . A few days before the beginning of the harvest he gathered together all of his pickers and gave them the following instructions “I’ll see you tomorrow at 2” , everyone thought at first that he was referring to 2 pm in the afternoon so then had to explain that instead of 2 o’clock in the afternoon he meant 2am in the middle of the night. In the first few hours of the harvest he went to check that the pickers were all ok but he felt so cold that he decided they must all feel the same as him, half frozen to death. So he ran to get them all some coffee and  warm croissants and distributed them all amongst his workers, it was only after he had given out all the warming food and drinks that he realized that pickers hadn’t been cold at all because they were not standing still like him, but by working hard picking the grapes they were kept nice and warm!!! However a precedent had been set and from that day on the harvesting for the Opus One winery continues to take place at night and always, at the end of the first day of harvesting, they continue the tradition of drinking hot coffee and eating warm  croissants in the vineyards in the middle of the night!
Opus One 2005, is definitely my absolute favourite amongst all Californian wines which I have tasted during my time in this area (88% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc 3%, 5% Merlot, Malbec 1% and 3% Petit Verdot). Not only is it delicious, but for me, it symbolises courage, geniality, good business sense and a desire to win. The entire production has only one label and all the bottles are sold at extremely high prices even in the cellar itself.
The Mondavi Winery’s wines have not left me speechless with their quality and taste, but they will always continue to be one of the most famous cellars in the world…
In the Sonoma Valley, my favourite wine was “Tribute” 2007 which is almost entirely biodynamic (organic crops) and which is produced by a  winery called the “Benziger Family Winery“.
We visited the vineyards on an electric train, but what initially we assumed would be a very ‘touristy visit’ then proved to be a wonderful experience, thanks to the lady who accompanied us. Joe Benziger put so much passion into what she said that we all too became enthusiastic through her energetic delivery. According to her, the energy comes from the Sonoma land, which was originally volcanic, an area which has been famous for its wine for a considerable time. In any case, for whatever the reason, the final result was that we were left with a very strong positive impression, definitely we could feel the metaphoric heat from that extinct volcano!!!

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