Vignano is a biodynamic vineyard in Tuscany, Italy, run by the Fanucci family. Locavore caught up with Kate Fanucci, who told us about their wine, bees, and olives, and how they strive to be caretakers of the land for future generations.
Can you give us some background, both to the vineyard and to the family?
With an Italian ancestry, the Fanucci brothers returned to Tuscany and bought a vineyard some years ago. Certified as organic in 1999, Vignano comprises 28 hectares of land, with 12 hectares of planted biodynamic vineyard. The farm enjoys far reaching views of the Tuscan countryside, with the towers of San Gimignano visible on a clear day.
We are a DOCG certified vineyard, which borders the Chianti Colli Fiorentini and Chianti Classico regions. All of our vineyard slopes are south-west facing, at an average height of 220 metres above sea level, and run down into the Vignano valley.
We have the production capability for approximately 80,000 bottles – excluding droughts and frost.
You are a biodynamic vineyard. What does this entail? And how does it differ to ‘standard’ production and growing methods?
We are seeing unprecedented growth in the ‘organic’ world and people are generally becoming more concerned about what they are consuming. The recent reactions to Monsanto prove that people are genuinely anxious about the levels of pesticides and contaminations within our food chain. We believe that bio wines are the future, and it is the one segment of the wine industry that’s growing.
For us, being biodynamic means there is no use of chemicals in any area of the vinification process, and our wine-making cycle remains completely natural, both on the land and in the cellar. We employ an agronomist to ensure that we have a scientific understanding of the vines and are able to carefully analyse the vines, and we endeavour to meet their needs within their place on the land.
Our understanding of the standard procedures, more generally employed within the industry, is of carefully manicured vineyards offering little in the way of biodiversity, and with the addition of plenty of chemicals and processing in the vinification cycle.
Have you always been biodynamic? And what influenced you to go this route?
Vignano has been certified organic since 1999. Our belief remains that being organic is being true to the vine, conscious of the needs of our customers, with a healthy respect for the environment and sustainability of the surrounding area.
How do you think these biodynamic growing methods affect the finished wines?
We believe that the biodiversity found on Vignano and the way in which we plant and follow the vinification process is what makes our wines very special.
For some years now wine making has followed a more typical agricultural process and there has been an over-reliance on pesticides and chemicals. We feel that the true nature of the grape has been dumbed down and hidden. Our belief is that when you taste a wine you should taste many different elements including the terroir, the grape, the true natural phenols, and not the process.
What is the attitude towards biodynamic in the region, and Italy as a whole?
People are starting to wake up to bio wines. They are increasingly becoming more concerned with what they consume, and the consumption of bio wines is an extension of a greater understanding and knowledge coupled with a commitment to change. Historically, bio wines were often astringent, thin, and tannic, which compromised taste. But this is changing now as we all become more knowledgeable and insightful about what works for the land.
On the whole our clients are very supportive. We are offering wines that taste good, look good, and are good for the environment. As mentioned before, people are becoming more environmentally aware, and bio wines have a place at the table now, are perceived as less niche.
Italy has a history of respecting the land – we are, after all, just caretakers, and sustainability is key to protecting the land for future generations. We’re sad to hear that there has been a decline in bio farms in France.
With regards to governments – we think they could be doing more, of course! We are farmers! There is the issue of Big Agriculture, which needs to be addressed, and the current labelling classifications could also do with a sharpening up, as they remain very confusing for consumers.
You’re situated at the foot of the Apennines. How does the climate and this terroir influence the wines? And does it influence the ways you work?
Our climate and position work very well for Vignano. Being in the foothills of the Apennines means we have cool winters and warm summers. Our microclimate allows us to appreciate a world without major pest problems (at least the flying kind), and our valley location and biodiverse approach to planting acts as a haven for bees.
However, 2017 hasn’t been the greatest of years for the vineyard as, like many across Europe, we’ve had to deal with two major climatic events. The first of these was the late April frost, which attacked our budding vines on the lower fields – this decimated our potential harvest by 30% and we shudder to think what might have been the situation without lighting fires in the vines to keep them warm. Secondly, the summer drought – the worst seen on record for 60 years in Italy – affected our more elevated fields. It was truly depressing to see the grapes turn to raisins as the days progressed. In all, harvest was down some 70% on our top fields.
The weather is definitely behaving oddly – frost in April was a total shock, and of course harvest is definitely getting earlier and earlier.
You also grow olives, and produce honey from your own bees – can you tell us a bit more? Are these also biodynamic?
Our whole vineyard is biodynamic, and we operate a rigorously biodiverse and sustainable approach.
We have some 500 olive trees with the typical varietals of the area, including Frantoio, Moraiolo, and Leccino. Our olives are harvested by hand the moment they have reached their peak degree of ripeness, and are pressed the same day.
We have 48 beehives positioned around Vignano, located in ideal spots between the vines and the forest. Dried bamboo stacks are positioned within the vines to create desirable locations for new bee colonies; these are then moved into existing hive boxes. We produce two honeys – an acacia and a millefiori.
You say you are dedicated to deploying changes in eco-awareness, and technology. What do you mean by this?
Sustainability is everything to Vignano. This is a family enterprise and we have the next generation nipping at our heels. We are only caretakers of the land, and it’s our job to nourish and protect that land for generations of Fanuccis to come.
Our vines are organic, which we believe provides for happier vines and the surrounding environment. Our understanding is that the more common planting method, of rows upon rows of the same grape, creates an unnatural environment for the vines, and the juice needs to be worked hard in the cellar to “make” taste.
We believe in creating biodiversity in the fields. We mix our grapes up, and plant beans and grasses between the vines to make the vines compete for water, push deeper into the soil to reach the wonderful minerals, and grow in a symbiotic relationship with the environment around them.
With regards to our energy and water consumption, we use solar panels for our electricity, and have our own chemical-free water borehole. Our forest and subsequent replanting programme provides us with a renewable and sustainable energy source for heating, but as there is a general movement away from wood-burning stoves we will need to have a very long think about this going forwards. We understand that wood-burning stoves may be banned in the UK; such a move would be very difficult for Tuscany as nearly every home is heated by wood.
Of the wines you produce, do you have a favourite?
No favourites for us – they are all individual in taste and all have their place in the sunshine.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
We love wine, we love family, and we love the land.
For Vignano’s website, click here.