The Cesani farm produces and exports the first white wine to obtain DOC designation in Italy.
The place is called Pancole, and it is certainly one of the most alluring places in all of Valdelsa because of the sights and the air, and the history conveyed in the very name, which crops up all over Tuscany, if it is true – according to Repetti, hardly the last on the scene – that there are another six of them in the provinces of Siena, Grosseto, Arezzo, Florence and Pistoia.
Via Francigena passes through Pancole, and this street dating back to the Medieval era brushes past San Gimignano (the Manhattan of the thirteen-hundreds) and Certaldo in its long journey through northern Europe to Rome, the capital of Christianity.
A splendid Vernaccia wine has its origins here. Grapes, both white and red, are transformed into delicious nectars. Mostly white, but some red, too. Right here, in the heart of this San Gimignano landscape, is where the Cesani story begins.
The war had recently ended, with all its devastation, and a new chapter of history was beginning. Someone with the right instinct, the right intuition, could build a new life here, make a resurgence. And Guido and Annunziata Cesani, a couple of sharecroppers from the Marches, were eager to free themselves from the yoke of tenant farming and work the land independently, standing on their own. The countryside was sparsely populated, land could be had for not much money and people could be self-sufficient by growing olives and cultivating the arable soil, tending the forest and raising classic farm animals.
Cut to the next generation. The time was right when DOC came to San Gimignano, for the first time in Italy, and it was for Vernaccia. Vincenzo, son of Guido and Annunziata and a graduate of the Istituto Tecnico Agrario “Ricasoli” school in Siena, thought it was time to specialize, and starting in 1970 the business took on its current form: vineyards and olive trees. Today, of 30 hectares of property, 25 are in vineyards with grapevines having an average age of about thirty years (the last replanting was three decades ago, in fact), and the rest was in olive trees, but there is also the forest, which yields excellent wood, and there is a place to grow saffron, as, without this valuable spice, an ancient symbol of wealth, having a farm of quality in San Gimignano would be unthinkable. And the Vincenzo Cesani Farm, which has had a quality certification since 2009 (strictly adhered to, as one can easily tell from tasting its products), has been producing 100,000-120,000 bottles of wine and 40 quintals of oil each year, and more besides: vin santo (holy wine), two grappas, saffron, and about ten cosmetic products.
Cesani certainly runs on female energy. Above all, it is a family business. Vincenzo is still at the helm of the farming part of things, arm in arm with Fernando, who is the vineyard man, but the two daughters join them in handling a lot of the activities: Letizia, who is in charge of the cellar – working closely with oenology consultant Paolo Caciorgna, another native son of this area – also handles the marketing and business side of things; Maria Luisa sees to the hospitality and agritourism – three houses that sleep a total of 26, bed and breakfast style, without restoration, “our work is making wine; we leave the other stuff to the professionals” – and she leads wine tours in the grape-growing areas of Tuscany.
Letizia, among other things, is president of the San Gimignano Denomination Consortium, a job that she does so well that her associates wouldn’t dream of running against her.
A close-knit team, experienced and competent, for producing the classic white wine of the area, Vernaccia, but also some interesting red wines, almost all based on Sangiovese, another principal variety in these hills. There are seven labels: Vernaccia, a vintage wine, and the Sanice reserve, which together total 45% of their entire production. Then there is SeraRosa, 6,000 bottles, and Sangiovese 100% rosé, made through maceration, “no crushing”, Letizia remarks.
Then there are the reds: Chianti Colli Senesi, another almost mandatory variety for wine producers in the San Gimignano area, with 30,000-35,000 bottles; the 6,000 bottles of Cèllori, which combines 80% Sangiovese with 20% Merlot grapes; and Luenzo, Sangiovese and Colorino (another excellent Chianti specialty), with 10,000 bottles; Serisè, an intriguing venture made exclusively with Ciliegiolo grapes (the eternal Tuscan soul…) with about 4,000-5,000 bottles; then the IGT red Rebus, made only with Merlot grapes, but very hard to come by, seeing that not much more than a hundred bottles are produced.
“All harvest choices, all vineyard crus”, notes Letizia as she opens the Schatzkammer, the “vault of treasures” where the valuable assets of the business are kept, protected by a nice exposed railing in the gracious tasting and reception hall.
Again, it is Letizia who explains the family’s special passion for Vernaccia. “This mid-to-late grape”, she says, “with a delicate skin that requires special care during pruning and defoliating, makes it essential to have an accurate weather forecast”. A special wine made from a grape that is “strange, certainly. We harvest it in the second half of September, and it has a medium-low acidity. It is only harvested in this area” where ten million years ago it was a sea. The soil consists of Pliocene sands, tuff, blue clay, carbonates and limestone: the ideal habitat for white grapes.
This is a wonderful Vernaccia, of which about 52% of production is destined to travel the world, mostly to the United States, then to Germany and Scandinavia, especially Denmark and Sweden; but requests also come in from emerging countries like Brazil, Mexico, China—even Australia, a country generally so proud of its own products as to bear a resemblance to the chauvinism of the French. The other 48% goes to the Italian market, mainly Tuscany, with emphasis on the HoReCa channels rather than large-scale distribution; most of the rest goes to Lombardy and Lazio.
And thus it was the point of sale in Pancole, the warm and welcoming room rich in details of a family with a passion for wine, where we met Letizia and sampled two authentic rarities, the Sanice 2012 reserve, and even the 2008, a white wine that, more than seven years after harvest, can still be appreciated for its authenticity and character, as it reveals intriguing nuances of hazelnut and almond. An austere, powerful, long-living Vernaccia: a power that arises from the local climate, one of the driest in San Gimignano. The result is low acidity but marvellous structure. Technique does the rest, all according to tradition, from manual harvesting to classic white winemaking, with pressing in pneumatic presses, then stainless steel tanks. Wood storage is for the red, barriques in French durmast, new for the Luenzo and the Serisé, older ones for the Chianti. “The fundamental ingredient, however,” Letizia explains, “is flexibility. And time, which is also essential for whites.”
The Cesani wanted to keep their point of sale in Pancole: to resist the temptations of a downtown shop where the wine would be treated in the same way as a handbag in faux leather or a wooden Pinocchio, articles that one sees in the store windows. “In Pancole,” Letizia continues, “we maintain an immediate, direct relationship with our guests, and hold tastings and educational activities.” Furthermore, in Pancole, the prices are definitely reasonable: the vintage Vernaccia (now selling the 2014 year) goes for €7 a bottle; the Sanice reserve (now selling 2012, a complex and special year) for €12; the Vinsanto Oro d’Oro goes for €15. As for the reds, a bottle of Chianti will cost you €7; it is €8 per bottle for the SeraRosa, €10 for a Serisè, then a jump to €16 for the Cèllori, and finally €20 for the Luenzo. Oh, right: the Rebus? Sixty Euros…if you can find it.