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Bolgheri History (part 3)

Recent History

In 1983, a first set of production regulations was adopted to protect wine made in Bolgheri. At the public hearing, despite some doubts and disputes, the general assembly approved production rules that were rather traditional in nature. Unfortunately, 1983 was also the year Marchese Mario passed away leaving to his son Nicolò, and many other producers who were inspired by him, the framework to continue to build Bolgheri’s future.

His legacy goes beyond just viticulture and winemaking as he embraced a modern and harmonious vision of man and the environment. Mario Incisa della Rocchetta was the first president of WWF Italy and established the Wildlife Sanctuary “Padule di Bolgheri” in 1959. The appearance of Vini da Tavola (table wines) whose quality levels often exceeded those of the famous appellations was disconcerting in the international market, especially with Anglo Saxon reporters.

For their highly pragmatic mentality, it was inconceivable that the finest quality wines didn’t belong to, or were protected by, an important appellation; it was considered a terrible Italian mix up and the term Super Tuscan was coined. Super Tuscan describes superior quality red wines from Tuscany that often include non-indigenous grape varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot and that are not protected by an appellation.

After enologist Giacomo Tachis’ experience with Marchese Mario, he used his expertise to develop acclaimed wines also in other areas, but most notably he created two iconic Tuscan reds; Tignanello and Solaia made in Chianti Classico. When Bolgheri’s original DOC was established, two different wine making trends took shape: white and rosé wines that were protected by the appellation; and Vini da Tavola (table wines) that were referred to as Super Tuscans. Consequently, Bolgheri didn’t get the recognition it deserved because the area’s most highly acclaimed red wines did not have Bolgheri written on the label, while the whites and rosés protected by the designation of origin weren’t yet unique enough to put Bolgheri on the map as a famous and prominent territory.

The history of Bolgheri style red wine production was associated exclusively with Sassicaia up until the 1970’s. Other producers began to follow in the footsteps of Marchese Mario from 1978 on. It is surprising to notice that producers who were first inspired by Sassicaia were not from the area (even Marchese Mario wasn’t originally from the area). One such producer is Piermario Meletti Cavallari who moved to Castagneto from Bergamo in 1977 and founded Podere Grattamacco in the area called Grattamacco. Shortly after that, Michele Satta came to Bolgheri from Varese and established his own winery after having farmed the land extensively.

The Belvedere property was developed into two distinct estates; Marchese Lodovico Antinori founded Ornellaia while his older brother Piero founded Guado al Tasso. The only producer who is a native of Bolgheri is Eugenio Campolmi who established Le Macchiole. These are not the only wineries that existed at the time; however, they were the first to have personally adopted Bolgheri’s new winemaking approach laying down the foundation for an entire movement that was no longer about just one wine but embraced the whole territory.

The increased number of outstanding wines being produced, combined with the complete lack of protection further stigmatized the shortcomings of the 1983 production regulations.

Producers had to wait until 1994 for the long-awaited modified production rules that established provisions and protection for red wines made from blends with other grape varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot. At the same time, a new subzone, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, was granted. The denomination defines the territorial boundaries where this wine can be produced which is exclusively on the San Guido estate. Shortly thereafter in January 1995, the consortium, “Consorzio per la Tutela dei vini DOC Bolgheri” was founded and Marchese Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta became the organization’s first president. Under these new rules, a large part of production in the area fell under the protection of the DOC appellation. The only wines excluded were those made with a single grape variety, which at the time were not yet very well-known; two Merlots, Masseto from Ornellaia and Messorio from Le Macchiole.

Cultivated vineyards in Bolgheri, which had stabilized at about 190 hectares, began to experience rapid expansion and in less than 10 years, total vineyard extension reached 1,000 hectares.

This increase is due to two parallel situations: first, important entrepreneurs had a growing interest in investing in the area as they believed in the potential of Bolgheri; secondly, farmers in Bolgheri became more knowledgeable and progressively began cultivating grape vines, often sacrificing traditional farming of fruit and vegetables that the area was well-known for, or they opted for alternative approaches to viticulture that broke with earlier methods. In 2011, in order to keep the escalating success of the area under control, the DOC production quotas were frozen and production regulations were updated to include wines produced with the three main grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which could also be used to produce monovarietal wines.

In 2013, after 18 years at the helm of the Consortium, Marchese Nicolò Incisa decided to step down from the position. The role of president was accepted by Federico Zileri Dal Verme who, like the Marchese, was a descendent of the Della Gherardesca family on his mother’s side, a continuation of the family’s tradition of guiding and protecting the territory. The end of this year brought the most recent change to production regulations in which the subzone Bolgheri Sassicaia was separated from the broader Bolgheri DOC and awarded its own independent appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, protected by the consortium. In October 2019, Albiera Antinori was elected as the third president of the consortium.

Over the years, membership has grown from the original 7 to 60 members and vineyard extension has expanded from 190 hectares to about 1,110 ha with DOC status, while the number of wines produced and awards received has increased at the same pace. Bolgheri’s challenge for the future is to preserve and safeguard the extraordinary efforts and results that producers have achieved while keeping alive the spirit of unity, cooperation, love and respect for the territory that has inspired and encouraged them from the very beginning.


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