Journalist and Vice President of the Italian editorial group Class Editori, Paolo Panerai has been a wine maker since the end of the 70s. Today, he oversees 4 wineries: 2 in Tuscany and 2 in Sicily. Among them, estate-of-the-art Rocca di Frassinello in the Tuscan Maremma.
Rocca di Frassinello is born as an Italian- French joint venture that brings together the experience of Castellare di Castellina in the cultivation and vinification of Tuscany’s famous Sangioveto, and Lafite’s know-how of classical French vines. Can you tell us how this project came to be and how it has blossomed into the fantastic Tuscan experience you offer visitors today?
P.P.: It was during a lunch in Maremma with Baron Eric de Rothschild that the idea of the Italian-French joint venture was born. I was talking with Eric about the fact that in the Chianti Classico area, where my first winery Castellare di Castellina was established in 1979, there weren’t any terrains suitable for viticulture left. That’s why I had bought some hectares in Gavorrano, in the heart of Tuscan Maremma. “Let’s go and see them”, replied Eric. Once we were there, appreciating the position and the terrains, he told me: “If you manage to buy the various estates of the valley, then let’s do a joint venture because, Paulò, le vin est un affair fonciér pour nostres nephews”, in a spontaneous mix of French and English. That’s how, in June 2007, the Rocca di Frassinello winery was born in joint venture with Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite. It took two years to unite the five plots that make up the estate’s 500 hectares, of which 83 are planted to vine. Today, vineyards of Sangioveto (a specific Sangiovese clone selected at Castellare di Castellina), Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Vermentino give birth to wines that combine the best of Italy and France, all of which are well appreciated internationally.
When wine lovers visit Rocca di Frassinello, they already know they will taste fantastic wines surrounded by breathtaking views. Aside from the superb wines and stunning scenery, the winery is an art lover’s paradise: it was designed by one of the most prestigious names in the world of architecture, Renzo Piano, and it features the “Rapture of the Grape” work of art by David LaChapelle, the American artist, pupil of Andy Warhol. Can you tell us a bit more about “Art & Wine” at Rocca di Frassinello?
P.P.: I asked to my close friend Renzo Piano to design the cellar with the idea of creating an elegant but also highly functional building. A timeless structure that is a hymn to lightness; not the classic cellar that – according to Piano – ends up being a “monument to itself or a monument to the wine”. Rather, its discreet and poetic presence finds its greatest symbolism in the red tower that captures the light of the sun and – using a system of mirrors – illuminates the impressive barrel room, excavated into the rocky terrain, where about 2,000 barrels rest in gentle darkness and, like watchful eyes, seem to observe the cellar’s visitors. Climbing the stairs outside, one faces the project’s other spirit: a modern pavillon in glass and a huge terrace in terracotta – called “the churchyard” by the architect – that extends towards a seemingly endless horizon of the Maremma’s rolling hills.
Rocca di Frassinello's barrel room
At Rocca di Frassinello guests are treated to a fascinating journey through time that starts from the tour of the modern cellar, to continue with a visit to the extraordinary exhibition by Italo Rota “The Etruscans and Wine at Rocca di Frassinello” whose ancient finds come from the Etruscan Necropolis of San Germano discovered within the property. From the eight tombs recovered until now, we have dug up intriguing objects like finely painted ceramic vases (Etruscan-Corinthian), goblets and glasses for wine consumption, all of which is on display in the interactive exhibit beside the barrel room proving that the viticulture on this site dates back to almost three millennia ago.
The Etruscan exhibition at Rocca di Frassinello
The journey ends in the pavillon where the work of art “Rapture of the Grape” by David LaChapelle, is displayed. After walking through the vineyards, the American artist fell in love with the estate and the inspiration was immediate. Permanently exhibited at Rocca di Frassinello, Rapture of the Grape has been reproduced on the labels of a limited edition of Rocca di Frassinello wine, to celebrate the first 10 vintages.
“Rapture of the Grape” by David LaChapelle
This is a question for the Wine Paths’ travelers looking for inspiration. Can you share with us your best memories of wine & travel?
P.P.: There is a journey that I will never forget because it led me to take some important decisions in the way of making wine. Many years ago, Edmond de Rothschild, my partner in Compagnie Vinicole Conseil, invited us to Château Clarke, his wine property in Bordeaux, to spend a weekend with Emile Peynaud, the greatest oenologist in France. In that occasion he gave me and my friend Luigi Veronelli, who has been the most important wine philosopher-writer in Italy, the answer to a crucial question: why do people become so gripped by the passion to make wine? Wine becomes a passion, according to Edmond (and I agree), because it is a permanent challenge, almost like being the official challenger for the America’s Cup every year. Because making wine forces you to search for the best solutions when you come up against the vagaries of the weather and, even if the crew on-board or in the winery are perfect, there is always the unexpected: the changing wind, the soil, which can give different results from one year to the next. Because the vineyard lives and often reacts like a person, so you should treat it as the one you love most on earth.
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