Buried underground and nearly invisible to the eye, the Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Cellar just north of Florence is introducing a new wave of architecture by using a design that merges delicately with nature. Every act in the building process of this state-of-the-art winery has considered the surrounding natural environment as a sacred responsibility to nurture and embrace. The results, the accomplishment of an eight year long project, is dynamic. This Hobbit-style complex embraces sustainability and green thinking on a grand scale, making it very unique in a world of mindless progress. Read more
The early Fall morning in Chianti is crisp and quiet. My first night at the Castello Verrazzano (yes, the bridge in New York is named after Captain Verrazzano) in Greve leaves me refreshed and eager to explore the new surroundings. I hike up the half mile to the castle from my farmhouse lodgings and eat an early breakfast of artisan cheese and rustic bread washed down with a rich brew of fresh coffee. My fellow lodgers and I share our plans for the day, from winery tours to B&B shopping. Gazing off the deck high above the valley, rows of vineyards swell gently over the landscape. Every row is straight and precise. Another castle sits like a crown jewel on the next tall hill a short distance away.
Back at my car, I head south through Greve on Via Chiantigana. This route cuts through the middle of the famously picturesque Chianti Classico wine zone. With no itinerary, I lean back and absorb the fresh green ambience. No radio, just me and Chianti. Only 20 minutes down the winding road I come upon the town of Panzano. The brickwork framed with bright flowers and towering church on the main square entice me to stop and take a look around. Following are some of the highlights of my village stroll.
Someone with an obviously incredible green thumb lives here. The clay pots on the steps and across the wall sprout colorful flowers which add a rich texture to a stately entryway. If only I could make my doorway at home look like this.
Door Panels on the church built in 1964 depict scenes from church history. At the top is Pope John XXIII.
The village streets bring out the shopper in me. To the right are rows of shirts with a cartoon wild boar on the front. Of course, I have to buy one. Chianti has its share of wild boar, called cinghiale, and they are hunted for their tasty meat that often accompanies a pasta sauce or hearty stew.
Intrigued by a green door outside an old medieval aristocratic residence, I enter into this wine cellar run by three entrepreneurs. Although I did not eat here, the food is traditional Tuscan with a modern twist. I was taken by the rustic atmosphere with a stone terrace that offers both indoor and outdoor dining.
I stop here for a cappuccino at II Vinaio, an enoteca and bar. Covered completely overhead with a thick green canopy of leaves, the lively chatter of people below entice me to linger. Afterwards, I find some stairs straight ahead that lead down to the lower part of town.
Most of the doorways are clean and tidy with lots of greenery. Today the village is very quiet except for some tourists roaming the streets.
Poor old Mr. Boar has been reduced to only a head. Yet he symbolizes an important landmark for tourists. Inside, the famously winsome owner Stefano will let you try some of Chianti’s most remarkable wines. He also offers samples of local honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Shallow doorways in rustic brickwork are around almost every corner. Small and pristine, village life in Chianti is the perfect week away for anyone seeking impeccable streets, medieval ambience, tasty authentic Tuscan cuisine and panoramic vistas.
Marchesi Antinori has put his foot down at last. No more reckless development of his beloved Italy. Instead, he is fanning a new wave of sustainability and preservation, one that is in perfect harmony with nature. His new Antinori Cantina, located in the heart of Chianti Classico near Florence, is solid proof of his commitment to the development of superior wine planted and nurtured in organically enriched soil and processed in a facility built entirely using sustainable methods.
“Invisibility” was the goal from the planning stages, made possible largely by the innovative work of Archea Associati architectural studio, engineered by Hydea. It took seven years of work. Today, the Cantina sits in complete harmony with its surroundings, covered entirely with vineyards.
As I drove by on the freeway which runs in front of it, I almost missed it. What I saw appeared to be two long horizontal incisions in a hillside with vines growing up and over it. The cantina is literally dug into the hillside. Whatever was removed to build the cantina was put back into place afterwards. To make it even harder to see, the construction of terracotta, wood, corten steel, and glass created a reddish-brown color matching that of the earth. It reminded me of a huge Hobbit house. The cellars were designed to impact the environment minimally while attaining a significant savings in energy.
The new vines that have been planted on the roof of the Cantina are in fairly shallow dirt, so it is experimental at this point. Grape roots can grow very deep into the soil, but they may not need it to produce a crop of great wine. Only time will tell.
Grape varieties planted around the Cantina are Sangiovese (the predominate grape in Chianti Classico wine), Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Mammolo, and a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
State-of-the-art architecture greatly impressed me. Everywhere I looked I saw a clean streamlined earthiness. No frill, fluff or fancy, yet beautifully laid out.
After driving up a long winding driveway to the guard station, I was instructed to park inside the underground garage. Taking an elevator upward, I stepped off onto the reception floor. Outside huge glass doors is a large patio with a corkscrew stairway leading up to the roof. From there you can walk over green lawn and see the young vineyards planted all around. Simply unbelievable. I had never seen anything like it.
There is no need for mechanical pumping to move the grapes and must through fermentation. The building was designed to allow them to be moved by gravity flow. As a result of this naturally delicate process, the wine tastes much more balanced and elegant.
Antinori has achieved the ability to maintain ideal temperatures for aging the wine in barrels by means of completely natural processes, like using local terracotta to enclose the cellars. No refrigeration plants here.
Vinsanto, a wine that the Antinoris have always produced, is a very old wine that has held a highly prestigious position since the Middle Ages. Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia del Chianti bunches are picked and laid out on reed mats to slowly dry. During this time, the grapes dehydrate (like raisins). This creates a higher sugar content resulting in a sweeter wine. It takes three kilograms of grapes to obtain one kilogram of dried grapes. They are then pressed into must and put into small oak barrels to ferment slowly. To achieve the best flavor and fragrance, the Vinsanto ages for at least three years.
Olive oil is another product that is made here at the Cantina. This area where olive oil is produced is called the orciaia. Traditionally, terracotta is used to store olive oil. If you look behind the pots, you can see stainless steel containers which today is preferred over the terracotta. Both are still used. The Antinori’s Peppoli Estate, from which three different olive varieties are harvested, provide the olives for some of the stored olive oil here.
At the end of the tour we were all taken into the tasting room to experience some Antinori wines. The taste and quality were all there. Delicacy, superb care and crispness is what I recall. We were quietly absorbed as we first sniffed, than tasted our wine.
The restaurant, named after the founder of the 26 generation dynasty, Rinuccio degli Antinori, is on the rooftop of the cellars. Glass panels run along the entire length of it, giving an astounding panoramic view of the Chianti countryside.
The Antinori Cantina also includes a museum, showcasing the 26 generations of family history which began in 1385 Florence, as well as an auditorium and shop.
Twenty-six generations of wine production has created an outstanding family of vintners. But, I discovered that the Antinori estates are more than that. They have created an idea, a goal to give back to the environment as well as bring people together to savor the earths bounty of wine responsibly and lovingly produced. It is an act of goodwill through an innovative process that challenges others to be better stewards of the land.