“It must be nice telling fairytales,” a winemaker told me while I was in Tuscany earlier this month when I tried to explain that you can farm vines and grow grapes successfully without using manure to feed the soil. I was on a business trip for Vegan Wines and as part of our search for new wines for our customers, we asked detailed questions about farming practices, particularly as it pertains to the use of any animal by-products. While we found a large number of wineries leave the wines un-fined, or at the very least do not use animal by-products during this process of the winemaking, the very same number got testy when we started talking about soil treatment. Insisting that they ‘had‘ to add either chemicals or manure or adhere to what seemed rather undesirable practices, it seemed this had more to do with blindly adhering to tradition, rather than a willingness to explore, research and look into more natural, kinder ways to farm.
Enter Querciabella, the leading winery in Tuscany (and the world), when it comes to organic, biodynamic and vegan winemaking.
Owned and led by Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, a passionate vegan and successful business man, Querciabella certainly seems to have turned this ‘fairy tale’ into reality. Having practiced chemical free viticulture ever since their conversion to organic winemaking in 1988, they believe a balanced ecosystem is one that produces the healthiest soil, and in turn, grapes. Contrary to many biodynamic growers, they bar any animal products from the first step of growing grapes to the winemaking itself, employing what they call ‘cruelty-free biodynamics’. This complete vegan approach is one in which they feel produces the highest quality wines, exhibiting true terroir and unique character.
I personally tasted through a variety of their wines while in Greve, Chianti last week and witnessed that Querciabella’s philosophy not only sounds wonderful in theory, but is actually practiced and translated into exquisite real life products (sorry, wine producer who shall remain unnamed). Their wines are beautifully defined, and Tuscan in every sense of the word. Tasting these wines admittedly ruined it for many following winery visits, but one sacrifice I was happy to experience nonetheless.
I was especially intrigued by their white wine, Batàr, a fun reference to Bâtard-Montrachet. Sebastiano is a big fan of French wines, as was his late father Giuseppe Castiglioni, and this influence shows in the wine, but without sacrificing authenticity and respect for the wine’s origin. Being a French wine enthusiast myself, had I tasted this one blind, my mind would have immediately gone to Burgundy. A 50/50 blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay and aged in 100% French barriques, it expresses a superb use of the oak that supports the fruit elegantly. It does not overpower the fruit but is rather an equal and important partner, producing a texture and flavor profile that makes you want to drink this wine with just about any food. Sebastiano, having visited Burgundy with his father, discovered Pinot Blanc was grown on the vineyards of Burgundy and felt that it created a wonderful minerality to the wines. The grape thrives on the Querciabella estate, against all odds, but I do believe that is also because of the love and care they show for their land, living beings, and surroundings.
Camartina, another favorite of mine, is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. A somewhat risky blend in many ways, because when indigenous grapes are blended with international varieties, they often produce more of a non-distinct style with a universal flavor profile, rather than have the ability to show true expression of place. Not so in this instance; the incredible winemaking skills and obvious love they show for their land and grapes, leads to an exceptional authentic and impressive experience. It is clear that the winemaker here lets the magic happen as much as possible on its own, without too much manmade intervention. This takes restraint and a belief in their philosophy and process; something they are clearly rewarded with in the result.
I think one of the reason why I’m so enamored with Querciabella is that they are committed to challenging the industry and going against the grain. There is nothing that enrages and irritates me more when people just shrug their shoulders, saying things are hard or not possible, showing no desire to change the status quo. Giving into average, not believing they are capable of bigger and better.
Accepting something just because “it has been done for centuries” is ludicrous. People are supposed to evolve, become more enlightened and conscious, to be constantly curious and want to improve. In today’s world, this means going back to basics. Less is more. This requires enormous skill and confidence in what is. The way we are producing food and products for consumption and use today, is simply not sustainable. Whether you are vegan or not, the proof is in the pudding. Regularly occurring natural disasters, species going extinct and world hunger are signs that something is off kilter and terribly out of balance.
The planet is much smarter and does not need humans to figure out a ‘new’ way when it has been working on its own perfectly for much longer than we have existed and are able to document. Instead of having a know-it-all attitude, we can learn so much from nature if we just stop, listen and observe. I detected no superior attitude at Querciabella, only love, curiosity and awe for their land. Yet their wines can most definitely compete with the best in the world, and one could say they would be in their right to be snobbish. Not so. This is what I find so incredibly rare in today’s world, and why I will hold on to my fairy tale, knowing someone has actually realized their dreams. Thank you, Querciabella, for giving me hope, inspiration and a renewed faith in people and the industry.
For more on Querciabella, check out my video filmed from the vineyard here. A selection of Querciabella wines will soon be available for club members through Vegan Wines.