For This Tuscan Winemaker, Great Wine Is All About The Land
For a winemaker who works with some of Italy’s most renowned wine estates, Paolo Caciorgna is more approachable and down-to-earth than you’d think. That’s because despite his distinguished clients, which include Altesino in Montalcino, the Bocelli 1831 family estate and Sting and Trudie Styler’s Il Palagio, wine for Mr. Caciorgna is less about the prestige of the label and more about the earth itself. That is: the key to producing excellent wine is first and foremost about respecting the land – and appreciating territorial identity.
“The best way to show gratitude to where you come from is to set roots. And my roots are in the Sangiovese grapes I planted on my family’s farm in Tuscany back in 2004,” he explains.
Mr. Caciorgna was born in the town of Casole d’Elsa to a family of farmers. “That’s why I have a strong connection to this region,” he says. “My family worked the land, so I grew up with a deep appreciation for it. This background has been an important part of my identity; we should never forget where we come from.”
He studied viticulture and enology at the Institute Bettino Ricasoli in Siena and soon thereafter began working in wineries in Florence and around Tuscany. Over nearly three decades, his career has taken him throughout Italy where he consults for 30 wine estates, though he also produces his own wine in Tuscany and recently bought some vineyards in Sicily, too.
“I believe you learn your work by doing, not just studying, and I’ve been lucky to be mentored by some of the most trusted names in winemaking in Italy. Giampiero Cereda, for instance, taught me about vinification, Enrico Teruzzi helped me become more organized and strategic, and Giulio Gambelli developed my tasting skills. It’s thanks to them that I’ve been able to develop my skills and learn new ways of interpreting wine.”
At the Tenute Pietro Caciorgna estate in Tuscany, Mr. Caciorgna produces three labels from Sangiovese vines, while on Mount Etna, he produces wines made from the Nerello Mascalese grape. Both productions are small but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. “Making good wine doesn’t require major interventions, it’s just the combination of many little steps taken all together. What’s important is letting the identity of the grapes shine through.”
His personal style is influenced by French winemaking, though he rigorously works with Italian estates. “The French have been very successful at creating harmony in a wine by pulling out flavors, resulting in a nuanced and elegant product. These are important elements for Italian wine, too, but we need to respect our own vines, traditions and territories,” he explains. “In my work I try to honor the local tradition while producing wines that are contemporary and reflect the spirit of the times.”
Terroir is a fundamental aspect of winemaking and in Italy it has reached its apex thanks to the biodiversity present in the country. Italy is famously home to over 1,000 indigenous grapes and winemaking is closely linked to each territory. Through his work as a wine consultant, he helps coax dozens of individual grape varietals to “express their true potential”, as he calls it, together with partners Nicola Berti, Mirko Nicolai and Emilia Tartaglione.
From Soave in Veneto and Montepulciano in Abruzzo to Greco di Tufo in Campania, Mr. Caciorgna works across territories and styles, helping estates bottle their wines for the first time and following their growth over time.
“I’ve been especially grateful to work with the Vignaioli del Morellino di Scansano winery in Maremma because I’ve seen a positive evolution over the decades. The cooperative is made up of 140 producers and when I arrived in 1997, all the farmers where retirees. Today they’re all young people. There’s been an incredible generational change which shows that things are progressing well,” he says.
For his work with Sting and Trudie Styler at Tenuta Il Palagio near Florence, he produces a number of labels named after the singer’s songs. “A wine is like a song – it has to tell a story. This is why I named my wines after my biggest hits”, says Sting. Sister Moon was the first bottle, made with a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and other labels include Message in a Bottle, Roxane and When We Dance.
On Andrea Bocelli’s estate Bocelli 1831 in Lajatico, the labels take on a different meaning. “When Maestro Bocelli’s father passed in 2000, the singer promised he would raise the profile of the winery and produce better wine than his father did,” he says. The Terre di Sandro vintage, made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, was dedicated to him.
But regardless of whether he’s working on famed estates or in his own family vineyards, Mr. Caciorgna is always focused on the land. “We need to be considerate of our environment and respect the earth, the soil and our grapes. It is our duty to pass on our traditions and safeguard our land for the next generation,” he says.