Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Afternoon with Il Marchese at Tenuta San Leonardo

When I describe the Italians, one word always comes to mind:  Passion, or as they say, passione.
This is never more evident to me than when meeting wine makers, or food producers, each is so passionate about what they do, it's hard not to be caught up in the joy and intensity of their labors.   No matter if they are descended from royalty, or farming the land, their passion, excitement and love for their labor is contagious.  This was certainly true as we drove out to Tenuta San Leonardo, to take a tour and do some wine tasting.  Our family had arranged the visit, so we started up the Alfa and headed to the valley between the Adige river and Mount Lessini.
We were greeted by Valentina and Il Marchese Carlo, and were advised to park the Alfa under the grape arbors.
The Alfa garners a lot of love and attention

Il Marchese offered to take us for a tour of the vineyards, and so we took off in his 4-wheel drive with his dog, a Jack Russel named Barrique. So named because of his size.
This little guy became my buddy on the tour
Driving under this canopy of trees, we were taken up the hill to see the vines, and the Villa Gresti. Some of the wines are planted in the pergola style, which shades the grapes, but the down side is they must be handpicked.  The grapes grown here are Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, and Merlot. In higher elevations in another valley, white grapes are grown for Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.


Dr. C. and Il Marchese

Taking a sample

The Villa Gresti was built in the late 1800's, the grounds, and the surrounding vineyards are spectacular.

We drove through the vineyards, and then back to the production facilities.  All the while marveling at the beauty in this place.  As we drove along, Il Marchese told us that we were on one of the ancient Roman roads that went from Rome to Munich.  Now gravel and hidden away it was incredible to think that we were driving over paths the ancients walked on.
During World War I, the Austrians surrendered here, which marked the prelude to the ending of World War I.  During World War II, the Wehrmacht established a headquarters here, and eventually surrendered to the allies on the property.  According to Il Marchese, theWehrmacht had set up the HQ as their own POW camp, anticipating the allies advance, and surrendered with everything in place.  The family hid their wine from the Germans' bricking it over, but keeping several casks in front of the wall, for the Germans to enjoy. This kind of story is told many times in Italy, their wine was such a precious commodity, and they needed to preserve it.
The history of San Leonardo is almost as interesting as the wines that are produced here.  Over 1,000 years ago, monks lived on the land, producing grapes and wine establishing a hospital.  The church of San Leonardo was built and several years ago a discovery was made of frescos that they feel date to the 1200's.

Once back at the production facilities, we toured the ancient garden, which had been decimated by several recent hail storms, but was still gorgeous.  All the while Barrique was our companion.
Favorite car of all time!





We toured the cellars, and in keeping with the sacred theme of wine, monks and history, the cellars have chanting piped in to keep the wine happy.

Each varietal is pressed according to the vineyard that produced it, which type of grape, then fermented, then blended, keeping everything separated until the final blending process.  The wines have received many awards including the 'Oscar' for Italian wines.  Their most coveted is the San Leonardo.

The farm has a museum of farm machinery as well as a few leftover items from the War.  Of course for a guy like Dr. C. you are playing his song!  The USAF motorcycle was parachuted from planes into Italy.  Marchese Carlo's brother rode the cycle from Rome to San Leonardo---I can't even imagine.  Upstairs, is a beautiful museum of old farm implements and history of the estate.
Antique farm tools

Butter molds

Wine Press
Sewing Machine
As we walked out from the museum the mechanical grape picker was coming in to be cleaned for the day.  What a gorgeous piece of equipment, I'm sure it's the envy of every wine maker in the valley.
And now, it was time for the wine tasting.  Valentina led us in the tasting, but Il Marchese popped in to help out as well.  We were joined by 5 men from South Africa who were also there for a tour and wine tasting.

Remains of the day
A few other interesting facts about the winery.  Many of the workers are the fourth generation of families who have worked this land.  Proud of their heritage and that of the wines and products they produce, it is another reason that passion really does describe their work and their lives.  In 2015 the estate became biological, a huge investment for the estate, but one that will pay off in great vintages and recognition by the international community.
This is a family affair with sons and daughters helping to continue the success of the estate.  The San Leonardo is made in the Bordeaux style, and is often called the Sassicaia of the North.
When I speak with successful owners, like Il Marchese, they often tell me that they don't release a vintage if they feel it isn't up to their standards.  Wine making requires a huge investment of time, money and resources, and to take an economic hit if the vintage doesn't measure up is staggering, but necessary to maintain standards. Clearly, these wine makers only want to produce wine that is worthy of their name, and their reputation.
San Leonardo is in good hands, with Il Marchese and his family tending to the land and the vineyards ensuring its legacy in the Valley.  We were so honored to have spent this afternoon in the company of such a passionate wine maker.  Grazie Mille Tenuta San Leonardo.

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