Italy is home to a plethora of risk-embracing winegrowers, but Tuscany is far from the first region that comes to mind when discussing such matters. Much like in Bordeaux, a deep thread of conservatism permeates Tuscan wine culture, and its best-known zones encompass many sizable estates whose output is geared toward satisfying market expectations. It is unfortunate in a sense, as Sangiovese is capable of a uniquely frank and earthy beauty when not tethered to such rigid formalism. But, just as in Bordeaux, those growers who do push boundaries and eschew the safe, market-dictated path stand out all the more strongly by contrast, and their efforts are all the more resonant for their relative rarity.
Enter Maria Sole Giannelli: a young grower with an undeniable spark. Maria Sole is at the very beginning of a project with immense potential. Maria Sole’s farm is called Ficomontanino (roughly, "Little Fig Mountain"). It is a property her grandfather acquired in the 1960s as a place to produce olive oil and breed horses. Situated in the far southeast of Tuscany near the town of Chiusi, Ficomontanino is administratively part of the region, but geographically and spiritually it speaks to both Umbria and Lazio whose borders are mere kilometers away. From her 12 hectares of vines, planted at around 350 meters altitude on the south-facing slopes of her family’s property, one can see Lake Trasimeno in Umbria to the east, the mountains of northern Lazio to the south, and the rolling hills of Siena to the northwest.
Maria Sole’s grandfather planted the first vines on the property almost 40 years ago, making wine as a hobby. Maria Sole’s father ramped up production; his approach was more conventional. It was an approach informed by then-current trends toward power and color. Having studied at Slow Food’s University of Culinary Arts at Pollenzo, Maria Sole was inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Masanobu Fukuoka and sought to re-imagine her family’s vineyards as part of a larger ecosystem. When she gained responsibility for them in 2014, she set about establishing a natural equilibrium on the property, incorporating biodynamic preparations, allowing vegetation to grow freely, and relying on only bare traces of copper-sulfate to treat her vineyards.
She has gradually been refining her approach in the cellar as well, working toward ever more expressiveness via ever fewer interventions. Maria Sole’s mother is from Sardinia, and she was inspired to drastically alter her approach to temperature control, sulfur, and other such safeguards by the bold, proudly natural wines of Tenute Dettori (located near to her mother’s birth home), as well as by numerous examples from Piedmont, where she worked after school for a number of years. Her cellar sidekick Fabio, originally from the Valtellina, worked at the legendary Ar.Pe.Pe estate. Both he and Maria Sole bring a certain restrained, precise wildness to the overarching aesthetic of Ficomontanino’s wines.
In addition to her deeply personal versions of Sangiovese, Maria Sole has recently planted Ciliegiolo, Verdello, Gamay, and Rebo (an indigenous Trentino variety). She produces a breathtaking Mondeuse, of all things—from vines her grandfather planted—which we will see in due time as well.