It is a story that begins long ago but embraces innovations and makes them its own without ever betraying itself. It is a story of enterprising men, strong women and an open and constantly evolving community. Bolgheri is a dream enclosed between the sea and the soft Tuscan hills. Lying in a sort of natural amphitheatre, the ancient medieval village is a hymn to slow life and to the enjoyment of every moment; a love of nature and history are what make it so special. The traveller who enters it after having walked along the famous Viale dei Cipressi will meet the Castello dei Conti Della Gherardesca, which welcomes everyone (the entrance door is located just below its 16th-century tower). From here, an intricate set of alleyways unfolds where old shops, small cafés and trattorias doze in the sun. It is enough to sit at a bar or on one of the coloured benches that flank the old stone buildings to slow your rhythm of breathing and take in one of the sea breezes which arrive up through the meadows from the Costa degli Etruschi.
The magic of Bolgheri lies precisely in this. Although it is now on the international radar of tourist guides and travel magazines, this little jewel in the hills manages to preserve its profoundly local soul and maintain strong ties with its surrounding land. Walking along its narrow streets, one has the sensation of being the guest of one big family unit. Who knows if Giosué Carducci felt the same while strolling and falling in love with the blonde Maria? If you notice, the squares and streets are mostly named after women: there is no fame in Bolgheri (apart from Carducci), there are no famous people. There are the tables of an osteria where to sit, vases full of flowers, low walls and brick houses with an ancient flavour. The historical characters are called by first name and are ordinary people. There is Teresa for a square, there is Giulia for the main street and Lauretta for her counterpart, and there is also Lucia, Carducci’s grandmother. At the centre of the village – and of its life – is Piazza Alberto. The perfect place to contemplate a day that passes slowly while sipping a glass of wine.
Of course, Bolgheri has become synonymous with wine, perhaps some of the best in the world, but as you explore the village and look out over the hills below, letting your gaze wander almost as far as the coast, you realise that this area does not stop there but can welcome everyone in a warm embrace that tells stories of horses, berries and healing plants. Traditions won’t go away from here, but something else magical happens in Bolgheri: tightly bound in history and typicality, the village and its inhabitants have always been able to throw their hearts over the obstacle and embrace the inevitable and constant evolution of a territory. Without betraying themselves, they nurture and support new experiments in contemporary hospitality that make it even more a timeless place. Just as timeless are the family stories.
A bit of wine’s history…
In the Della Gherardesca family, the care and attention for this privileged territory lit the flame of discovery and enterprise. Bolgheri and its surroundings began a new journey made of intuition and far-sighted attempts. The story of Bolgheri wine started towards the end of the 1600s when the Counts decided to plant the first vineyards in the San Guido and Belvedere areas. Almost another century passed before these attempts would produce more than just a family wine: in fact, with Guidalberto Della Gherardesca (1780-1854), the territorial and oenological turning point occurred. While the Viale dei Cipressi bears his influence, the sensitivity with which he modified the vineyards was decisive and applauded throughout the world. Guidoalberto planted new vines using modern techniques creating what would become the Bolgheri consortium. It is no coincidence that because of his skill he was appointed Court Cellar Master to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II. The Count’s vision survives, and the terroir preserves in its memory the changes he made. Yet still, the credit for Bolgheri’s modern-day fame must go to two young sisters: Countesses Clarice and Charlotte, descendants of Guidalberto and twentieth-century faces of the Della Gherardesca family.
Destiny intervened: one della Gherardesca sister enchanted the Piedmontese Duke Mario Incisa Della Rocchetta while the other a Marchese Antinori family member from the Chianti region, whose move to Bolgheri brought the knowledge of 25 generations of winemakers. This land prized for its coastal climate became the perfect setting for one of the most successful love stories between nature and man. At the end of the Second World War, Marquis Incisa Della Rocchetta decided to create his own wine, totally different from the traditional Tuscan wines. He chose an estate nicknamed Sassicaia because of all the stones that had to be removed to make it cultivable; he imported Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc because the Bolgheri soil, made up of sand, limestone, clay, pebbles and volcanic rock, reminded him of the vineyards of Bordeaux, Graves and Haut-Médoc; he decided that the vineyard should be exposed to the north-east, just like the French vineyards of the Côte d’Or, and imported smaller barrels than the traditional Tuscan ones. The help of Marchese Antinori was decisive: for the first few years the new wine was undrinkable, but with the 1964 harvest the Marchese’s wine began to achieve the success that today seems so well established. This success led to the 1985 Sassicaia, with the label designed by Marchese himself, being celebrated as the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world.
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Castello Castagneto Carducci