Food & Drinks

The Visionary For Brunello’s Top ‘Grand Cru’ Wine In Tuscany

During the 1950s, a young man was faced with the choice of leaving his desolate town of Montalcino to follow his brothers and sisters to the big lights of the Italian cities that were booming with jobs created by new industries or to follow his passion to try to make some of the best wines in the world from his hometown. This young man could not allow his dream to die and with it the town that he loved and so he took all the money he saved and bought a vineyard. But it would not be just any vineyard, it was a plot in the northern section of Montalcino on a hill called Montosoli. This young man knew this vineyard in Montosoli would be some of the most grueling land to farm as each year big rocks, which would roll down from the top, would have to be moved every single year by hand.

It seemed like an act of madness to take on such a plot of land using all his money which was far from a great fortune but it was everything that this young man had and failing could mean complete ruin. It was a gamble on a great wine that hadn’t been made or that didn’t even have an existing demand. But through time this hill in the North of Montalcino would become known as the ‘Grand cru’ of Brunello di Montalcino and this young man would make a name for himself among the local winemakers as a mentor and visionary but his importance would not become known on a widespread, global scale.

When it comes to the great figures of the Brunello wines of Montalcino, there are a couple of names that are credited for such a remarkable feat of taking one of the poorest areas of Tuscany, Italy, and making it one of the most successful due to the high quality wines of Brunello di Montalcino. A couple of those top names are Tancredi and Franco Biondi Santi that were family owners of the Biondi-Santi vineyards and cellar as well as Giovanni Colombini who was the family owner of Fattoria dei Barbi. All three men helped to shape and promote the wines of Brunello di Montalcino and their wineries are still vital to keeping a high bar for Brunello wines as well as promoting and sustaining their reputation around the world. But there are some names that are not as celebrated internationally as Stefano Cinelli Colombini, grandson of Giovanni Colombini and owner of Fattoria dei Barbi, points out. When it comes to the main players Stefano stated, “Many are well known, others are not, but that does not mean they are any less important.”

Nello Baricci 

One of those main players was Nello Baricci who came from several generations of sharecroppers (farmers who give part of their crop to the landowner as rent) in Montalcino, Tuscany, but he was the first of his family to actually break away from making table wine for the land owners and to make his own high quality wine that would be appreciated by many others outside of his town. Nello would be the first and only to solely invest, never buying one vine outside of this ‘Grand cru’, in the vineyards in Montosoli as his grandson, Francesco Buffi, remembers that his grandfather always told him that the Montosoli hill was legendary for great wines in ancient times for a distinctive sense of place; today many speak of Montosoli having a strong minerality, saltiness and overall finesse. Also, Nello told his grandson that if “the great Franco Biondi Santi” decided to use their Le Chiuse vineyard for their top Brunello Riserva, which was right in front of the Montosoli hill, then it had to be a great terroir.

Despite Franco and Nello having different situations, Franco having more resources to build a bigger winery that would gain recognition around the world, these men had a mutual respect and a very deep connection. Francesco Buffi discussed how his grandfather, Nello Baricci, would tell the story of how he was born in a farmhouse near the Biondi Santi ‘Il Greppo’ Estate just a few months before Franco Biondi Santi’s birth. Franco’s mother was not able to produce milk and so Nello’s mother produced enough milk for the both of them; they were milk brothers and they would both become important leaders that would carve out a path for other Brunello producers… yet one would become world famous and the other would happily live his life in anonymity.

In the 1960s, a major landowner of Montalcino came to Nello to speak about the wine growers and winemakers forming an association as the landowner was afraid that most of the farmers would leave it if they didn’t have a group to promote their wines outside of their rural town, hence the idea for the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino was born. Nello not only became the first person to sign the document forming the association but he also went out and convinced other grape growers to sign it as 20 were required to make the association official, ending up finally with 25 people signing the original document of a coalition to protect and promote the wines of Brunello di Montalcino by this newly formed consorzio in 1967. Francesco also proudly pointed out that his grandfather registered the first Brunello di Montalcino vineyard in the Chamber of Commerce in Siena but since he was a quiet humble man, he declined becoming the first president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino when it was offered to him.

Baricci Winery

Nello Baricci founded the Baricci (Colombaio di Montosoli) winery that is made up of 12 acres of vineyards that are contiguous plots on the East and South East section of the Montosoli hill; Colombaio di Montosoli is a reference to the ancient name of the specific plot that Nello bought on Montosoli that was called the Colombaio farm when it was used to make the legendary, ancient wines that Nello would speak of. The soil of the Baricci family’s plot has the famous Tuscan galestro mix in the soil (quartz, schist, sand and stone) that is shared by top sites but with a significant amount of bluish-grey clay and sits at an attitude of 920 to 985 feet above sea level; factors that give a strong sense of minerality and finesse. The northern area of Montalcino is much cooler than the southern area of vineyards and hence the Montosoli vineyards are harvested around 15 days later than the rest of Montalcino allowing for a longer growing season and giving more complex aromatics according to Francesco. Also, the roots of their vines reach below the soil around ten to 16 feet and some of the older vines reach beyond 16 feet with the vine age ranging from 25 to 50 years old and so they never have issues with lack of water.

Francesco spoke about the vineyards in the southern section of Montalcino making a successful splash early on in the 60s and 70s as their big, bold richness was very appealing when the overall climate was cooler but with climate change and average temperatures rising the northern area, especially the hill of Montosoli, is gaining more favorability with temperatures rising and everyone wants to become part of this ‘Grand cru’ known for the elegant, fresh wines it produces.

Although Altesino is credited with having the first Brunello di Montalcino that was a single vineyard bottling of their Montosoli site in 1978 – as it was used in their Riserva since 1975- Nello Baricci officially made his first Brunello di Montalcino in 1971 which was made from his vineyard in Montosoli but was not advertised to be a single vineyard as it was the only vineyard he owned. Francesco respects Altesino’s place when it comes to helping to invest and promote the Montosoli cru, and he is grateful for their contributions to this ‘Grand cru’ as well as other prominent producers’ investments in Montosoli through the years, but he points out that his grandfather’s importance is sometimes overshadowed; “Baricci couldn’t exist without Montosoli and Montosoli couldn’t exist without Baricci,” Francesco passionately exclaimed.

Francesco’s grandfather Nello introduced temperature-controlled stainless steel fermenting vats in Montalcino and he aged the wine in large, seasoned Slavonian oak barrels that are not used to impart any flavor but just allow the wine to evolve as Nello was about displaying the pure expression of Sangiovese from the Montosoli hill. Today, his grandsons, Francesco and Federico Buffi continue that tradition. Federico is technically the winemaker but Francesco said that when it is a tiny family business (only producing 2,500 cases total) everyone has to help out with everything. Their mother Graziella Baricci, Nello’s daughter, has always worked at the winery and she is considered today the “supervisor” and their father, Pietro Buffi, takes care of handling all the administrative work for the winery and Federico has two kids that they hope will become the fourth generation of Baricci one day.

But all of them help out in the winery, vineyards for hand harvesting and other back breaking work that must be done, but within this moment Francesco finds himself stuck in New York City as he is working with Baricci’s importer VIAS to help establish their wines in the U.S. market. If he leaves, he will not be able to come back until the pandemic is under control. He desperately misses the vineyards and his family but he knows that in these unstable times if he doesn’t stay in New York City to protect their wine placements in retail stores and in restaurants that are slowly reopening again, then the loss would be devastating to their family business.

Sometimes “doing everything” in a family business means that one has to be away from those they love the most and the place that brings them the most joy.

Few Words Yet Lots of Meaning

Francesco proudly shared that although his grandfather Nello was a small personality who never wanted to make grand speeches, he always made himself available to give advice to any of the Brunello producers seeking it. Nello Baricci was not only a visionary because he was the first to sign the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino into existence, or his foresight into the Montosoli hill, but his humble personality that was focused on lifting the image of Montalcino as a whole made him a great man that realized very early on that Brunello was more important that just one producer’s wines. In 2017, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino planned a big celebration for their 50th Anniversary with a couple of original members still living, Nello being one of them. But unfortunately a week before, Nello became ill and as the celebration approached Francesco said that he knew his grandfather’s passing was imminent and so he asked his grandfather while he sat there by his bedside what he would like him to tell the consorzio if he is not able to make it.

“Thank you everyone,” Nello quietly muttered to his grandson. Francesco said that his grandfather was a man of few words but his words were always “full with meaning”. He knew his grandfather still saw himself as a poor, humble sharecropper who was given the opportunity to make some of the world’s greatest wines, and although it did not make him wealthy, far from it, it gave him a strong sense of purpose and feeling of accomplishment in his life and that was everything to him. The next day Francesco’s grandfather died and so Nello never spoke at the anniversary and it brought a heavy heart to the celebration as Nello Baricci was respected by all. “It seems like it was yesterday”, Francesco expressed with broken words and eyes that filled with tears. In that moment it became apparent how much Francesco really missed not being able to even visit home for such a long stretch of time especially when reliving such a painful memory as Nello was not only his grandfather but his mentor, his hero, the reason why he loves the Montosoli hill so much and why he fights even under unimaginable circumstances to keep his family winery going. But as he said, “Talking about him keeps him alive in my heart and soul” and as long as his grandfather is still with him, Francesco knows he will be able to persevere. 

A reminder that Baricci only uses their estate fruit that 100% comes from their vineyard on the Montosoli hill. Francesco said that they were only able to bring into the U.S. 400 cases of their Rosso di Montalcino and 400 cases of their Brunello di Montalcino.

2018 Baricci, Rosso di Montalcino: 100% Sangiovese from their single vineyard on the Montosoli hill; a really stunning nose with lots of floral and mineral notes and right off the bat extremely impressive as a Rosso di Montalcino. Francesco feels this is one of the best Rosso wines they have produced. On the palate it was juicy with lots of red cherry fruit and floral notes such as violets and rose water with bright acidity combined with fine, round tannins on the finish.

2015 Baricci, Brunello di Montalcino: 100% Sangiovese from their single vineyard on the Montosoli hill; a stronger stony minerality on the nose with lit incense and pristine black and red fruit that had notes of pressed rose bud and a faint hint of spice in the background. Fleshy fruit on the body with finely etched tannins gave a focused shape to the wine that was enhanced by a good amount of fruit that had a long, expressive finish.

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