Fontodi, continuous evolution
Although I have been friends with Giovanni and Letizia Manetti for many years, it had been too long a time since I last visited Fontodi. I used to go there all the time, convinced as I was and remain that the estate deserves more recognition for the novelties it has introduced over the years. Giovanni Manetti is vice president of the Consorzio del Chianti Classico producers’ association and one of the true gentlemen of Italian wine. He began running his family’s estate when he was very young, in the early 1980s, and embraced his task with passion and skill, always with an eye on researching and defining the area his estate is situated in. It is in Panzano in Chianti, the so-called Conca d’Oro (Golden Shell), a land that has always made the difference thanks to the abundant sunshine, the slow and constant ripening of its grapes, their nice acidity and the mar soil. In other words, a classic cru as the French would say.
The estate became immediately famous thanks to one of Italy’s great wines: Flaccianello delle Pieve, the brainchild of Giovanni Manetti and Franco Bernabei, who has always been the estate’s winemaking consultant. The wine is a pure Sangiovese varietal, from the vineyard the wine is named after, which is fermented in stainless steel and aged in barriques. It was an incredibly innovative wine for its time, when it was not allowed to produce Chianti Classico using only Sangiovese. Flaccianello thus became one of the first ‘Super Tuscan’ wines. Another winning move by the estate was to make a Chianti Classico from a single vineyard, the cru Vigna del Sorbo, which became a worldwide success for the estate and a Chianti Classico point of reference.
The estate has expanded significantly over the years and now has some 80 hectares of vineyards while their two leading wines have undergone some modifications. Flaccianello has become a blend of the estate’s best grapes, while Vigna del Sorbo has been classified as a Grand Selezione and made without any Cabernet Sauvignon, only Sangiovese. Fontodi is a certified organic estate, as is the whole district of Panzano, a project Giovanni worked years on and completed with great satisfaction. The latest novelties have centered on returning the estate to an ancient Tuscan dimension with attention focused on bio-sustainability. This has involved building a barn for 20 Chianine cows that produce a significant amount of the estate’s fertilizer needs. In regard to winemaking, they have acquired land outside the area, in Lamole, to explore the potential of this other historic zone. Research in the winery has led to the use of amphorae to produce Chianti Classico. They are made with the clay from the Manetti family’s best quarries and according to precise specifications in regard to the presence of heavy metals, given the presence of aluminum in the silicate. Aside from that they continue to use barriques, some big barrels and fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats under controlled temperatures. As always, everything is done according to a strong scientific foundation with the utmost respect for the environment.
We spent a full, intense day with Giovanni and to condense it into such limited space was not easy. When it came to selecting the wines for tasting we had the wonderful surprise of sampling some emblematic vintages of the estate’s important wines. This provided us with an overview of the key elements in a lifetime’s work. We would like to thank Giovanni from the heart for his generosity and patience in answering our countless questions.