23 May “Gianfranco Soldera a soloist in Montalcino”
Bar Business, Italy, March 2009 by F. Graziani and M. Pozzali
He is “one of the most important and perceptive wine men our country can boast. His Brunello is a model of perfection and uniqueness, shaped by the strength, warmth and expressiveness of his grapes and the delicacy, care and attention of a great craftsman.”
Playing in an orchestra, where a slight flaw is can be masked by the good performance of the other instruments, is very different from a solo performance, where one person puts himself on the line, all alone with his own virtues and limits, and whose every tiny mistake (just like every clean sound and merit) is amplified by the unforgiving and inflexible silence. It is precisely from this silence that we finally heard a voice stand out from the crowd. A loud and clear sound that doesn’t want to be confused with the Tuscan orchestra.
Gianfranco Soldera is no ordinary man. His ideas on how a great wine is created are different, clear and inexorable: “comparison is fundamental for growth and for years now I have only been drinking great wines. To be able to compare them you have to drink them and know their every little detail, in every vintage. Walking through the vineyards, in the chosen land, allows me to produce a great wine today. But it is not enough for me: you need your nose and experience is no use in this sense.
It is essential to have a sensitive nose to be able to recognise a fault, a sensation and a nuance.”
The results of what we are talking about today started a long way off from here. In Milan, to start off with, where Gianfranco spent the first decades of his life and where it was clear from his trips to Piedmont that he intended to move to the country.
In the heart of Montalcino
The search for the right place went on for three years and we can only imagine how much land went underfoot during this stage of land study.
Then, almost by fate, we come to within a stone’s throw from La Pieve, Montalcino, in the province of Siena. A stretch of abandoned fields without a single vine, and yet this was the land.
Case Basse came into being from a single matrix and a few broken down houses, the vineyards took shape, the cosmos was recreated and the landscape came to life again. We have spoken about land, experience and nose; but it needs much more to make a great wine.
It is necessary to observe nature, as man has done for hundreds and thousands of years; a factor that excludes most producers today.
Then there is the intelligence to understand physical and biological mechanisms and apply them in order to recreate these conditions in our habitat so as to meet our needs.
At this point, the combination of observation and intelligence becomes study, comparison and experimentation.
Universities from all over Italy are made to feel at home in Case Basse; Professor Attilio Scienza, viticulture lecturer at Milan University, developed one of his first zonings here.
One professor of viticulture, microbiology or landscaping follows another in wanting to take part and understand.
What is the secret of the above? Undoubtedly Graziella’s garden; Gianfranco’s wife, Graziella, has contributed enormously to the shaping of this garden, with the continuous enrichment of one of the most incredible and complete private botanical gardens.
Water, minerals, light and energy: life begins with this combination of elements, which is to be found right in the middle of the two hectares of land that have been set aside to safeguard the microconditions that determine the land in its entirety. Enthusiasts risk losing themselves in such completeness, we can only remain enraptured by a real world we believed to be lost.
An large part of the garden is reserved for white flowers. “What would I do if I didn’t have the total efficiency of the nocturnal pollinators?” wonders Soldera. Dozens of varieties of apples, both flowering and fruit-producing, lavender, roses, roses, roses and water lilies…. We could go on forever. He continues: “There are also seven hectares of woods around the vineyards, they too are essential to harmony, but fortunately they were already here beforehand, we have done nothing more than preserve and maintain them as they are.”
The deepness of thought of the Soldera family opens up a whole new world to us and uncovers a truth that we are already aware of, except that it has only found such care, practicality and passion here. And to think that such a model, even if it wasn’t exactly the same and maybe a bit copied, would give unhoped-for results on a national level. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen and producers are satisfied with just following the same trail of the market that a few people like Gianfranco have built upon a solid basis through the years and decades. His perseverance and constancy fascinate us, his rigour both scares and attracts us, his way of thinking bewitches and inspires us. Gianfranco is a difficult person, it’s true, but if we had more men like him, Italy would certainly be a more liveable, beautiful, valued and esteemed place. All over the world.
Talking of Brunello di Montalcino today is complicated, there are many different shapes and sizes, as well as uncertainties. Great and small events alternately create image and confusion. If there is any certainty at all, it is Case Basse. Gianfranco Soldera’s Brunello has a connotation of stability; extreme in quality and in the harshness of his opinions. For once the wine detaches itself from the man who made it and becomes something exciting, this is why it stays outside aseptic perfection and the severity that created it. We wonder if this might not be the biggest result of all, in other words finding character and passion in a system that revolves around completely harmonised workings. The truth is that behind the work, study and steadfastness of everyday operations there is the more authentic and personal expression at the same time: the greatness of nature. The calm colours, the warm, soft and compound hues are the demonstration of this. Its transparency enthrals you, its nuances win you over. The aromas give off composite and complex sensations, where the abundant small fruit goes hand in hand with the evolution to more mature perceptions of jam. The land emerges, its odour is trapped in the bunches, the must and the glass. Dried flowers caress the aroma of tea and dissolve in ether. We notice it on the nose, but also on the palate, where the Sangiovese finally finds a safe home and its true identity. The finish is as astonishing as the length of the aftertaste.
We recommend it with lamb aromatised with coffee and celeriac purée, or with Cinta Senese pork chops with mustard seeds.