Winery: Podere Le Ripi

The Story:

What do you do if you're the heir to an Italian coffee dynasty, but you love nature and wine? Well if you're Francesco Illy, you buy property south-east of Montalcino in Castelnuovo dell'Abbate, with excellent clay and sandstone soil, and start building a winery from the ground up.

The cellar took seven years to design using the spatial dimensions of the "Golden Ratio." This architecture style seems apropos since during the Renaissance Italian scholars promoted the use, and the inner dome echoes that of the Pantheon. It took another four years using only ancient construction techniques; brick and mortar to manually lay the 750,000 plus bricks that were used to construct it. No iron scaffolds were used to avoid the creation of magnetic fields, and you won't find any metal in the cellar. The building is created as a spiral, descending along a continual slope to allow the wine to flow between stages by gravity. Today a spiral speaker system fills the dome with music played to the wine that rests there. I’ve never seen anything quite like this cellar.

You then hire young-gun Sebastian Nasello as your winemaker and set out converting the land to bio-dynamic practices. Your first purchase is two pigs which are aptly named, Francesco and Sebastian. Along with the pigs, you'll find cows and sheep wandering about the estate. You can also take a cooking class utilizing what you can forage from the garden, and then feast on your well-earned results accompanied by their wines.

What happens when you don't have centuries of wine production to shape your practices; you plant the densest vineyards in the world. This experimental vineyard, named Bonsai, is planted with 62,500 vines per hectare, where typical vineyards are around 5,000 vines. 'This keeps yields per vine low and encourages deeper rooting,' Francesco has stated. The vines are so close together you can barely walk between them. 'It's madness,' Illy admits, 'but it prevents vine stressing in hot weather.' Since the first vintage in 2007, the wine is now the priciest Rosso di Montalcino on the market; I'm not sure you can still call it an experiment.

The vibe these two have created is youthful exuberance, something not to miss when visiting Brunello di Montalcino. We found this small but passionate team pouring their hearts into everything they do. There exists a connection to nature and a willingness to experiment. As we walked the vineyards and explored the cellar everyone we met had a smile and expressed the joy they had for working there. The result is wonderfully alluring and delicious wines.

The Wines:

Each of the different wine types has its own vineyard, exhibiting different flavors, and the processing style is selected to bring forth the best expression of the terroir.

2015 "Amore e Folia" Toscana IGT - mostly Syrah (90%), blended with Sangiovese (5%), and Merlot (5%). The name, Love and Madness, is for Francesco's love for Syrah but he's been called crazy to grow it here. Black cherry, dark fruits, and spice. Distinctive tannins, minerality, and a slight bitterness on the finish. Needs some time to open up to its full glory.

2014 "Cielo d'Ullisse" Rosso DOC - even though aged as a Brunello, they classified as a Rosso due to the challenging vintage. This wine is a light to medium-bodied; enjoyable, an easy to drink now Sangiovese.

2014 "Lupi e Sirene" (Wolves & Mermaids) Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - more complex, lots of dark berry fruit, fine tannins with the vintage making it drinkable young. A beautiful wine to buy now and drink!

2013 "Cielo d'Ullisse" Brunello Reserve DOCG - on the nose mineral with hints of balsamic, spicy and herbal to taste. This wine has many years of aging ahead.

2012 Cielo d'Ullisse" Brunello DOCG - delightful aromas of cherry, strawberry, and sweet tobacco. A fresh wine with the cherry and strawberries flowing into the glass. Smooth tannins but well structured. A pleasurable wine that will undoubtedly benefit from age.

2016 Bonsai - the nose was green vegetation and oak leaves. Little fruit was being expressed, but still very young, it will be interesting to see the evolution.

2005 "Lupi e Sirene" Brunello di Montalcino DOCG - the nose was prune, raisins, and hints of coffee. A powerful, well-structured wine and a perfect accompaniment with our lasagne.