Before our colleague (now former colleague) Dan Towler joined us, he did a harvest in Tuscany, at Capezzana in Carmignano to be precise. In the evenings, after gruelling days of picking, there were several bottles circulating the dining tables. The one that haunted him was a Carmignano from Terre a Mano, a small estate up in the hills, in the village of Bacchereto.
Dan was keen for us to taste the wine and, if possible, bring some in. Even with our Sicilian colleague Giorgio working the phone and email, it was initially hard to make contact but, after a few years, we broke through and we have been ordering ever since.
Our visit in March 2016 was one of the highpoints of our Tuscan trip.
Rossella Bencini Tesi inherited the beautiful estate high up in the hills and woods above Prato and Carmignano from her grandfather. Her grandfather had been a lawyer in the mediaeval city of Pistoia in the valley below and bought the estate in the 1920s. It was run as a self-sufficient smallholding. The estate previously formed part of a much larger estate belonging to the Medici family and was used for hunting parties. Today Rossella has 8 hectares of land of which 4 are covered with vines. She also has olive trees and rents out some of the buildings on the property as holiday homes.
Carmignano was given the DOC status in 1975 and was the first Tuscan DOC to allow Cabernet Sauvignon in its blend. This may appear to be the beginnings of what became the “Super Tuscan” trend of the 1980s/90s but Rossella was keen to point out that Cabernet Sauvignon had been long established in the zone. The Medicis were bankers (they bankrolled Christopher Columbus) and had wide influence. Catherine de Medici even married into French royalty. It is thought that through this connection Cabernet found its way to Carmignano and became known locally as Uva Francesca. It was by no means a one-way trade – Bechamel sauce, according to the Florentines (but much disputed since), was brought to France from Tuscany (where it was known as Glue Sauce).
Why is it that Carmignano got the DOC in 1975 but the locals are celebrating its 300th Anniversary?
In 1716, The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici wrote a Bando (Ban, or Proclamation) proclaiming that Carmignano, Chianti, Pomino and Valdarno were superior quality and granting them legal protections. The locals therefore argue that their DOC dates back 300 years.
Carmignano can trace its winemaking roots further back. Wine vessels have been discovered in Etruscan sites at Monte Albano and in Roman times, Julius Caesar rewarded his high-ranking veterans with land in the area to make wine.