Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Taste of Tuscany in Capezanna, Carmignano (Wine + Olive Oil)

I've had the good fortune of visiting many wineries in my lifetime, but none so far this special.  For one, this was in Tuscany.

Tuscany is synonymous with wine, primarily Chianti and perhaps Montepulciano.  I had imagined Tuscany to be confined to a small area, much like Napa or Sonoma.  Having driven through certain parts of the Tuscan countryside, I was surprised to learn that the Tuscany region is a vast area, encompassing not only valleys, but mountains and coastline as well.  Tuscany is actually a region, much like the state of California.  It's pieced out into many townships and Chianti and Montepulciano would be examples.
Capezzana in Carmignano is a Tuscan villa that sits on top of a hill overlooking vineyards and olive groves.  It is supposedly established by the Medici family and to this day is still occupied by Italian nobility.  The estate today has about 100 hectares of vineyards and 100 hectares of olive groves.
Oddly enough, I learned about Capezzana in Park City, Utah when I was there with friends for Sundance Film Festival in January. We had a bottle of their Villa Capezzana for dinner and I fell in love with the wine!  A friend of mine took a picture of the label then and when I learned that I was going to Tuscany four months later, I retrieved the name of the winery and added a visit to their winery on my itinerary.

I loved our experience at Capezzana not only because of the amazing wine and the warm welcome.  It was also an entry into a culture so ancient, fascinating and intriguing.  I am a sucker for stories and I'm glad that we were able to get a private tour of this lovely place.

Capezzana wine is excellent because they have a passion for it.  All grapes are hand-picked and laid by hand on racks in a special room to dry.  The cellars do not have artificial aeration or humidification.  They rely on natural air circulating through windows and doors.
During the second world war, Germans seized the estate.  Count Alessandro Bonacossi was the owner then of Capezzana and was a well-known collector of fine art.  The moment he learned that the Germans were coming, he hid his most precious art and wine in one of these cellars and covered up the entrance.  This particular cellar was not in the architectural plans, so all that precious commodity was safe from being sequestered.
We did not realize that Capezzana also produced olive oil.  Olives were not in season yet when we arrived in May, but we were able to see the area where the olives were pitted and pressed.  The olives are grown by farmers on land owned by the Bonacossis.  In my understanding, the farmers don't pay for the land.  In return, they cultivate these olives and hand-pick them when they are ready, then bring them to Capezzana to be pressed.  The first press of these olives is what becomes extra virgin oil.  Capezzana only keeps and bottles the first press and the rest of the presses belong to the farmers who grew the olives to do with it what they want.

Italian farmers in this area are possessive about their olive oil. They only want the oil from the olives they grew.  We were told that they watch their own olives being pressed in fear that their neighbor's olives would contaminate theirs. That would be unacceptable.  They would gather outside, in a stand-off almost, each boasting that theirs is the best olive oil.  Oh, how I would have loved to witness that!
We tasted their olive oil at lunch and ended up taking home a big bottle.  I can see why anyone would get into a dispute over it.  Their oil is dense, almost syrupy, and saturated with the vigor and intensity of that first press.  It is just a marvelous taste sensation.
After the tour, we had tasting at Capezzana's enoteca called "La Vinsantaia" where we also stayed for lunch.  The wines were excellent, but the food was, too!

We sat at the terrace, gazing at the surrounding hills, listening to the birds chirp, the cypresses in the distance just like Van Gogh would paint them.  Italy is an extraordinary place.  Their reverence for nature's seasons, for making amazing things with what grows locally is truly a source a resonance for me.  This is the last we'd see of the Tuscan countryside on this road trip, but who's to say this is the last I'd see of Tuscany in my lifetime?

Capezzana is located in Carmignano in Tuscany, northwest of Florence.  You could find their website here. Cellar and tasting tours are available by appointment only.  They also have a small bed and breakfast if you would like to spend a couple days here.  And if cooking vacations are your thing, you can come here to be schooled by a legit Italian chef.  One-day and five-day courses available.  

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