A 600-year-old winemaker’s baby in a young area of Tuscany
The Maremma area is less well known than neighbouring Chianti for its wines, but actually produces a Maremma Toscana Doc and a Montecucco Sangiovese Docg. Recently, significantly-known winemakers like Zonin and Antonori have invested in large properties in the area, convinced that the newly emerging wine producing area could yield excellent quality. A visit to Le Mortelle, Antonori’s new acquisition near the beach town of Castiglione della Pescaia, confirms this.
A sustainable winery
If you drive along the coastal road from Grosseto to Castiglione della Pescaia, you might see signs for Le Mortelle, but the building and its property remain firmly out of sight. I’ve been frequenting this area for a few years, but never ventured off the road to find it – it took a recommendation from Argentario Golf Resort, where I was staying, to finally make my way over there. The property sits behind that of L’Andana, a prestigious 5-star spa and resort whose maritime pine-lined driveway in the midst of sunflower fields may just be one of the most photographed landscapes of the whole of Maremma. Le Mortelle is reached by a side road, and it’s not at all hard to find as long as you don’t follow a navigator using google maps (it sent us on picturesque back roads that have left a permanent layer of dust on the car). Consider us plebes to have chosen this dusty form of transport – while visiting the winery, we heard a helicopter overhead, and staff looked up anxiously, explaining that often the Marchese Antinori himself would fly in. This time we were not honoured with his presence, but you might be luckier.
As you wind your way up onto the property (by car), you have a fantastic view of the Tyrrhenian sea, and right in front is a natural reserve, the Diaccia Botrona. These wetlands are a haven for birds of all kinds, so you may see flocks of herons, seagulls, and more unusual migrating birds fly by. (In the summer, regular boat tours are given of the surprisingly mosquito-free wetlands, worth a visit.) Given the delicate environment here, when the Antinori family bought the property in 1999, it was particularly important to develop it sustainably, and this meant first diminishing the visual impact of a large canteen, as well as building one with attention to the correct recycling of water and gasses. The hill we just drove up, it turns out, houses a discreet underground cellar that can only be seen from the property’s vineyards in the back.
Before 1999, this 260 hectare property was planted with mostly fruit trees, and there were a few industrial buildings that were promptly knocked down by the new owner. The hillside into which the cellar was built had been partially flattened and was reconstructed as well as dug down into, creating a unique vertical development that goes downwards from the entrance. The fruit made way for vines, planted between 1999 and 2001: the 160 hectares of vineyards are planted primarily with cabernet sauvignon and Sangiovese, along with more recent cultivations of white varietals such as Vermentino, Ansonica, and Viognier. The fruit remains in 15 hectares of orchards with peaches, plums, apricots, pears, and blueberries, which can be purchased from the on-location store during the summer months. Of course, there are also a few hectares of olive groves that produce a tangy oil.
Once you get inside, it’s quite a feast for the eyes. The cylindrical canteen designed on three levels contains every phase of wine creation, from receiving the grapes to vinification; to storage and ageing of the wines in oak barriques in the basement level. A helical staircase gracefully unites the space with warm laminated wood combined with cold steel. Lots of natural light flows in from the skylight at the top centre and a large window on the back. Having visited a lot of wineries in Tuscany, I can safely say that this is the most welcoming design I have seen: it successfully combines technology and tradition in a way that seems entirely natural.
But it’s not just pretty – the vertical structure contains some special elements that were developed and patented by Antinori just for Le Mortelle. The conically shaped suspended vats are accessed through holes in the floor of the ground level and receive the hand-picked grapes that go into the brand’s top label, Poggio alle Nane. These are aerated using an unusual and particularly delicate machine. The resulting blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is a complicated and highly structured wine, best tasted with meats.
The traditionally shaped containers that line the rest of the second level of the canteen are where two other labels are made. Botrosecco is a cabernet sauvignon and a small amount of cabernet franc, well-balanced and intriguing, and rather down to earth like the people of Maremma. Vivia, a fruity white, has intense aromas which bring to mind mature peaches, citron peel, and candied fruit. Its combination of Vermentino, Viognier, and ansonica are the result of years of patient experimentation. The canteen also produces three simple wines (red, white and rosé) that are available only at their outlet, while the three others are distributed in Europe by Antinori.
Open to the public
The beautiful location is open to the public year-round, with regular hours, which is unusual in an area that sees its tourism concentrated in the summer months. Tastings and cellar tours are available by appointment and range from 15-35 euros per person depending on the length of the visit, the number of wines tasted and the selection of cold cuts, cheeses, and local products that one prefers. We sampled three reds and a white, and liked the moderately priced Botrosecco the best, while the Poggio alle Nane probably needed to be accompanied by a more elaborate dinner, and age another few years. This was served with an assortment of crostini and bruschette, oven-baked peppers, a bit of quiche, a pecorino cheese sampler, some cold cuts and a variety of bread.
If the weather is good, Le Mortelle has a lovely outdoor space, charmingly decorated with iron chairs and tables, and with a fabulous view of the sea. If it gets a little chilly, there’s an attractive indoor space that combines a bit of a modern touch with some traditional Tuscan décor features. Dinner is also available for groups of 2-8 people in the exclusive dining room at the lower level of the cellars (I was assured that the space is heated and isolated from the cellar’s chilly, alcoholic air!). Decorated for the occasion with flowers and candles, the private room is mostly used by couples celebrating anniversaries, but I think this space would make a great location for a wedding proposal. The cost for a couple is 150 euros per person excluding wine.
Le Mortelle still has a long way to grow. The canteen can handle production of 2 million bottles, while so far they are only producing 100,000 bottles per year. But this is in part due to the maturity of the Antonori family as producers. They’ve been doing this for 600 years, so have the patience as well as the money to wait a good ten years before issuing a bottle from a new vineyard (most people wait only three). The winery is undoubtedly worth a visit, and can even be appreciated by non-drinkers due to the attractive architecture, good olive oil and delicious summer fruit.
Farm products sale room: open winter 10 am to 1 pm, summer 10 am to 8 pm.
Aperitif Friday, Saturday and Sundays in the summer from 6-9pm
Winery tours upon reservation at (+39) 0564 944003
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Argentario Resort Golf & Spa, Maremma