Caiarossa, the Luxury of Nature
The colors of this land are green and yellow, coupled with a cobalt blue sky and sporadically exposed white surfaces of the eroded hills. In contrast, the vibrant red winery Caiarossa stands like a modern sculpture and appears as an obvious link between the property’s name and the color of the builiding. “This is not quite so,” says Dominique Genot, winemaker and estate manager, “the name Caiarossa in fact refers to the local earth, the ‘red gravel’, the red ferrous stones and pebbles on this hillside.” The Head of Dionysus, the symbol of Caiarossa, is profoundly linked to this land and its clay, a treasure for more than wine alone. The Etruscan head depicted on the label, owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma, dates to the 4th Century BC and was discovered near Volterra. It is a face of magnetic beauty and the face of a God who, from the very depths of antiquity, looks towards the future and our present with all the profundity of both emotions and values that will never age. Eric Albada Jelgersma chose this archaeological piece to represent the emblematic synthesis of his Tuscan wines and their style.
Wines of Caiarossa, and the estate itself, are, as the general manager Alexander Van Beek explains, not only aimed at lovers of wine, but also to those who are passionate about life and beauty! Men and women who enjoy time at their leisure and who are fascinated by what is unique, whether it is the contents of a glass, an object of art or a pristine mountain peak.
What Eric Albada Jelgersma wants to offer in the glass, is the luxury of Mother Nature, which man has helped to produce. He believes that whoever stops and thinks about wine and where it comes from will start to appreciate the extraordinary beauty of a great wine.
Immersed in nature and its silence, Caiarossa, situated in the heart of the Val di Cecina, on the Tuscan coast, exists within its own area of unspoiled beauty. A winding country road keeps the estate hidden until the final curve when the winery unexpectedly reveals itself, perched on the side of the hill, surrounded by its fourteen hectares of vineyards.
The location of this estate is part of its attraction, giving the sensation that one is the first to discover the property. Yet Caiarossa, with its sensations of subtle luxuriousness, has existed since 1998. Prior to this, there was just the old manor house and the red, gravelly soil after which the estate has been named. What exists today has been created from the land, from nature, from the region’s history and the adoption of a philosophy that harmoniously combines the forces of earth, grape and man.
The fruits of this labour are four wines: two red cuvées, Caiarossa and Pergolaia; an IGT Toscana, Caiarossa Bianco; and a sweet wine, Oro di Caiarossa. Both reds are unconventional blends in which, despite local tradition, Sangiovese does not play the only leading role. Eleven different grape varieties make up this vineyard, each one planted on an appropriate soil highlighting the complexity of the land.
For the rest, what shaped Caiarossa was not everyday logic but vision: the desire to create a true oasis in which to live and make wine, the Tuscan dream linking not only beauty and simplicity but also simplicity and value. In 2004 Caiarossa was acquired by Eric Albada Jelgersma, a Dutch entrepreneur with a great passion for wine and also the owner of Château Giscours and Château du Tertre, two Grands Crus classés in Margaux, Bordeaux.
An Oasis in Tuscany
Caiarossa is surrounded by stunning nature, a value in its own right.
Approaching the estate from Livorno, one enters the Val di Cecina, a picturesque region of 900 km2, named after the river which runs through it, the Cecina, now not much more than a stream. A rather irregularly shaped landscape moves inland east-west from the Tyrrhenian coast for roughly 50 km, and is characterised by rolling hills covered by oaks and trees that provide cork. The altitude reaches 300 meters above sea level. Scattered amid the scenery are old settlements, hilltop fortifications, hamlets, rural churches and farm houses.
The river and the close proximity to the sea give the area a very special microclimate. The wind blows from the west, particularly in the afternoon and the temperature drops dramatically during the night. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with more rainfall during winter and spring. The summer and early autumn are generally hot and dry. The average annual temperature is 15OC, with January the coldest and August the hottest months. Mean average temperatures range between 7° and 24°C. Average yearly rainfall in the region is around 800 mm.
In the 1970s, the river and its basin (nearly 600 hectares, ranging in altitude from 20 to 190 meters above sea level), have been declared a protected state-owned wildlife complex known as “Il Giardino” (The Garden) with large and small owls, roe and fallow deer, porcupines and fox. Rocky outcrops, woodlands and a limited number of human settlements and farms have left the ecosystem of this great valley practically intact.
Despite the fact that this area has been inhabited for thousands of years, evidenced by the ancient Etruscan city of Volterra, today Val di Cecina is practically a virgin territory still waiting to be discovered.
A Word or Two About Riparbella…
The principal municipalities of Val di Cecina are Montescudaio, Casale Marittimo, Guardistallo, Montecatini Val di Cecina, Santa Luce and Riparbella to which Caiarossa belongs.
Its name is probably derived from Ripa Albella (Ripa Bianca or White Ridge), referring to the light colored tufa and sand lands on which it originally rose. Riparbella lies along a tufa crest, on the southern slopes of Poggio di Nocola (595 m).
The historical center, peaceful and with an other worldly atmosphere, developed around an old medieval castle, a holding of the della Gherardesca Counts, dating more or less to the year 1000. There is a feeling of the natural rhythm of time, a sense that it is man who sets the pace of life.
A Mosaic of Vineyards
What is now called Caiarossa was once a farm known as Podere Serra all’Olio, just a small part of the vast property holdings of the noble degli Albizi family. Olives, cereals and grapes were grown, while the woods were ideal hunting grounds.
Today, Caiarossa extends over 70 hectares at an altitude of 150 to 330 meters above sea level. Sixteen hectares have been planted to vineyard and, along a steep north facing slope, there are 100 century old olive trees (of the Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo varieties) from which a small quantity of fragrant extra-virgin olive oil is produced each year. The rest of the property is virgin woodland.
The vineyards are set closely around the winery and move gently towards the sea. Most are south-west facing toward the Tyrrhenian Sea with the silhouettes of the islands of Elba and Capraia on the horizon. When the wind blows in the right direction, it brings in the perfume of the sea.
From the beginning of 1998, an effort was made to discover the potential of this terrain through careful geological analysis. The results revealed an extremely varied soil with a prevalence of calcareous clay in the lower areas (between 150 to 200 meters above sea level) but also with vast areas of ferrous sand mixed with stones, in mainly the higher vineyards. This diversity led to the definition of 12 lots, depending on soil type, which were then planted with the most suitable grape varieties.
There are currently 11 grape varieties planted on the estate: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre for the reds; Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng for the whites.
Sangiovese, following its natural inclinations, took the stonier terrains; Merlot the lot with the highest percentage of clay; the Cabernets were assigned to the highest areas, and so on in a pattern that made the most of both the complex soils and the desire to plant a wide range of grape varieties.
The prevalence is for indigenous vines – indigenous for Tuscany, but definitely not with regard to Eric Albada Jelgersma’s past experiences in France. Though Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah have been grown in this area for several decades, Caiarossa wanted to break with tradition and thus introduced a few new varieties to the region.
Mourvèrdre was originally grown in the south of France and the southern Rhône Valley; Viogner is typical of Condrieu, in the north of the Rhône Valley; and Petit Manseng is a white variety from the Jurançon region in the southwest of France.
This heterogeneity, or wealth of diversity in the words of Alexander Van Beek, is countered by a total homogeneity of methods and facilities. The vineyards are planted at high density (9,050 vines per hectare), cordon trained and spur pruned. Trials are also being done using the Guyot system for both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The underlying philosophy, continues Van Beek, is obviously inspired by maximum quality but also by the uniqueness of every bottle which we like to think of not as a product but as an experience.
Biodynamics, Only Agriculture?
The decision to embrace the principles of biodynamic farming and the concept behind Caiarossa are one and the same: an approach to wine that corresponds to a holistic vision of life and an agricultural estate, conceived in relation to the environment, the vineyard, the earth, and the cosmos.
This global vision allows biodynamic agriculture to work with the mineral, vegetable and animal elements of the planet, to create a harmonious and living natural environment. One of the basic principles is that what lives, needs what is alive! Biodynamic agriculture is, in fact, simply an attempt to govern nature using traditional methods that derive from the processes of nature herself.
At Caiarossa, natural composts are used in place of synthetic fertilizers (preparations 500 and 501), produced in France by Terres en Devenir, leader in this field. Agricultural activities follow the lunar and planetary calendar, and while the soil is worked intensively, tractors are small and ultra-light. Pesticide treatments are limited to the application of low dosages of copper (25% of the bio/CE authorized dose) and sulphur, with infusions of nettle, willow, chamomile and horsetail.
This natural and balanced ecosystem is perfect for the vine, resulting in extraordinary grapes – and wines.
A Winery Where Nature and Man are the Synthesis of All Things
Biodynamics reign in the vineyard and the inspiration for the winery comes from geo-biological architecture and the Oriental Feng Shui discipline, as used here by the architect Michael Bolle.
The natural slope of the terrain has been exploited to have the grapes, and the resultant wine, moved by gravity as much as possible inside the cellar. The grapes arrive on the top level (facing towards the rising sun) and the vinification process proceeds on the level below. After the primary fermentation is completed, the wines are then moved by gravity to the barrel room, which lies partially underground two floors below.
The materials in the cellar with which the wine comes into contact have been carefully chosen: wood and cement, both natural products. The colors of the winery, red outside and intense yellow inside, are also significant and represent wine, soil, and sun. These elements create an atmosphere of serenity and warmth which envelops visitors as they cross the threshold of this great atrium.
Light, in line with the concepts of Feng Shui, compensates the negative elements in enclosed spaces. Thus, at Caiarossa, the windows have been designed to let light filter in from dawn to the last rays of the setting sun.
Color, on the other hand, is what provides a structure with equilibrium and positive energy, be it a house or winery. They counterbalance the materials or act individually. Red in particular – in Caiarossa also the colour of the estate’s main product – is an auspicious color, a symbol of force, success and fire. Like the sun that rises in the east, it is a symbol of the source of energy that permeates the universe. The colour red also stimulates the good and casts out the negative energy in a room. The inner spaces, however, are yellow, the color of the earth and of gold… and a Feng Shui architect at work must wear yellow!!
From the Earth to the Pleasures of the Palate
There are currently four Caiarossa wines, all IGT Tuscan wines.
The top wine is Caiarossa, a cuvée of the best grapes of the year; the second wine is Pergolaia, predominantely Sangiovese in keeping with the region’s winemaking tradition. They are followed by Caiarossa Bianco, first produced in the 2005 vintage, and a sweet wine of Petit Manseng, Oro di Caiarossa.
However, more than just poetry and nature go into the making of these wines. Throughout the year, the grapes are cultivated by the Caiarossa technical team under the surveillance of Andrea Paoletti. The daily operations are carried out with a passionate rigor, and include pruning, bud and shoot selection, green harvest and leaf removal.
Grapes are picked between September and October, always by hand and in several stages, respecting the full maturation of every single lot and grape variety. Ripeness is measured by specific analyses but the final decisions are made by tasting the grapes and the visual assessment of each bunch.
Selection starts in the vineyard, after which the healthy bunches of ripe grapes are transported to the winery in ventilated 15 kg boxes. The second selection takes place on the five metre long sorting table; after that, the grapes are destemmed and put directly into small oak fermentation vessels without pumping. Each grape variety is harvested and vinified separately. Fermentation takes place naturally using only indigenous yeasts. During the first 10-12 days of fermentation several remontages or pumpovers are carried out manually to extract color and noble tannins from the grape skins.
After the primary fermentation, the new wine remains in contact with the skins for up to three weeks. The wine is then drained by gravity to the barrel room two levels below. For the red wines malolactic fermentation occurs in oak, and then the wines are allowed to age in a selection of barriques, tonneaux and large oak casks (15 hl and 20 hl) for the desired period of time. Only a small percentage (25%) of new oak is used for Caiarossa, whereas Pergolaia ages in barriques of two years’ use.
With the white wines selection also begins in the vineyards. The bunches, which are harvested whole, undergo a long pressing of up to 8 hours that is carried out quite delicately to avoid extracting vegetal aromas. The grape must thus obtained is transferred to barriques and tonneaux, where the primary fermentation takes place (as sometimes does the malolactic fermentation), using only the yeasts naturally present in the must, and with regular bâtonnages.
The idea is not to hide the personality of the wine behind wood, but rather, to let it express its natural characteristics and flavors.
Visit www.caiarossa.com for more information about Caiarossa.