“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
Podere Marcampo, Volterra, Tuscany
Six years ago two things happened to change my life. First of all I fell in love with Tuscany and then I became a sommelier. These were the starting points allowing me to discover the hidden delights of the Pisa wine country, a charming sun kissed land, stretching from the hills to the sea, blessed by God, as beautiful as unexpected!
Wine runs deep in the veins of Tuscany, being woven into the cultural identity of this central Italian paradise. Pisa wines are synonymous with excellence thanks to the efforts of many skilled professionals.‘Podere Marcampo’ is one of the most important wineries in the area being representative of Pisa and its province. ‘Pisa Hills is not only a ‘DOC label’ but also a ‘wine road’ playing an increasingly important role in wine production in Tuscany and it is a wine area that is on the rise only recently starting to get the recognition that is deserves. ‘Pisa Hills meanders through the hills of the valley of the Era River and the lower part of the Arno Valley crossing a territory with traditions dating back to the time of the Etruscans. If you head towards this entrancing place you will be greeted by an environment almost untouched by modernity ranging from picturesque scenery of mesmerising color set amongst the trees to places where wine and oil are still cultivated and produced in the traditional way. ‘Podere Marcampo’ is an organic biodynamic wine estate which reflects all the beauty and wine production potential of the ‘Pisa Hills’ area.
I sipped the elegant ‘Podere Marcampo’ wines for the first time at ‘Terre di Toscana’, a wine exhibition which took place at the ‘Luna Hotel’ in Viarreggio. I really liked these wines and Claudia Del Duca, the owner of ‘Podere Marcampo’, described them with reverence.
Claudia was very friendly, professional and kind, though what impressed me the most about her was her dedication to her work and her love for wine which was shared with her parents Genuino and Ivana. I promised myself to return again to her winery for another memorable experience! I arrived at ‘Podere Marcampo’ on a rainy day in late November in Volterra. ‘Podere Marcampo’ is a family farm business which produces both excellent and also rare red and white wines, extra virgin olive oil and grappa. At the front of her estate surrounded by lush and verdant countryside, Claudia welcomed me with a big smile. Looking at this scene where sky and sea converge at the Tuscan horizon in an endless embrace I felt overcome with emotion as we sat down in a small patio near the front of her private residence, where we talked about the history of her family .
Claudia explained that ‘Podere Marcampo’ was born in 1971 when her father Genuino , having been promoted at work as a policeman, had moved from Abruzzo to Volterra and came up with the idea of transforming his passion for food and wine into a full time job. He wanted to create a new career in food and wine, so that he could resign from his day to day work as a policeman, and worked hard to make this dream come true! In the beginning it was not easy, though having climbed through the ranks at work in 2001 he was able to open a small inn in Saline, a small town near Volterra. By 2003 he had earned enough money to be able to open an exclusive restaurant in the center of Volterra, ‘Enoteca del Duca’ which is still running today! In 2005 he managed to buy ‘Marcampo’ a historic homestead, which had been abandoned though captured his heart as well as sparking his imagination. Genuino restored ‘Marcampo’ shortly afterwards transforming it into what ‘Podere Marcampo’ is today, an extraordinary holiday home as well as a farm and winery surrounded by four hectares of countryside, where to produce his wine he takes care of the best local grapes (Vermentino, Merlot, Sangiovese, Pugnitello and Ciliegiolo). Genuino had to work hard to make his land suitable for wine growing because of the original salt and clay content of the soil. He had to plant the best rootstocks with roots to a maximum depth of 1 meter and having made sure that his preparation has been the best winemaking is now not so much of a challenge as more of an opportunity. Today, ‘Podere Marcampo’ is a real gem situated within the National Park known as ‘Le Balze’, a magical place where visitors can slow down and unwind. There is an outdoor swimming pool, a sunlit terrace, vineyards, gardens and imposing vistas of the Tuscan countryside encouraging guests to explore this modern wine country retreat, a corner of the world created for relaxation of body and soul with manicured cypress trees, sunflowers, olive groves and vineyards.
Podere Marcampo Tour
After a short walk through the vineyards Claudia explained the winemaking process starting with the working of the land to the bottling in the wine cellar and this for me was the best part of the tour.
In the tasting room I sampled high quality wines paired with homemade cured meats and local cheeses. ‘Podere Marcampo’ is completely handworked by Genuino and Claudia and is organic, completely free of any pesticides. A couple of million years ago this area lay at the bottom of the sea so the soil is rich in fossil shells and is characterised by a particular geology of sand, silt, clay and limestone which has been stable for centuries giving a complexity, structure and minerality to these well balanced wines. These are the best award winning labels I tasted:
• ‘Terrablu’: made from Vermentino and Malvasia the grapes are first processed by the modern technique of maceration in order to preserve all the aromas of the variety followed by four months of fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. On the palate there are notes of lime, almond, green apple and white florals with a unique sense of refreshing acidity, its charm being in its delicate, briny nose and long, fresh palate;
• ‘Giusto alle Balze’: made from a careful and limited selection of 100% Merlot, vinified in stainless steel vats, then aged in oak barrels for 12 months the wine is then left to settle for another 6 months before bottling. It is my favourite wine because of its soft and sensual texture and approachable style being a velvety red wine that pairs well with the best Tuscan foods. This wine has won the Silver Medal at ‘Mondial du Merlot’ in Lugano and the ‘Concours Mondial Merlot’ in Brussels;
• ‘Severus’: made from a selection of 100% Sangiovese, vinified in stainless steel vats then aged in oak barrels for 12 months, this wine is then left to settle for another 12 months before bottling. Tasting of clove spice and cherries this wine is like drinking Christmas. It is also savoury providing a wide range of tastes from the very earthy and rustic to the rounded and red fruit;
• ‘Marcampo’: made from 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot, these two varieties are vinified separately in stainless steel vats and blended after 12 months in oak barrels. The wine is left to settle for another 6 months before being bottled. It is a powerful combination of the sweet, juicy, fruit flavors of Merlot and the rustic, sour-cherry tang of Sangiovese. It reminds me of a duet between a soprano and a bass as you can hear each one distinctly since they sing at different frequencies and the feeling is one of absolute pleasure;
• ‘Genuino’: made from 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot, these two varieties are vinified separately in stainless steel vats and then blended and bottled after 10 months. ‘Genuino’ is a medium bodied moderately tannic wine with a lovely cherry flavor which impresses with its ruby red, vinous though also fruity and floral, dry and firm taste.
From the start Genuino and Claudia make wines just as they envisage them. Their winemaking takes its course, the grapes being gently guided through a gentle process until they arrive at carefully selected barrels for resting, maturing and evolving. The more I meet the winemakers of Italy, the more I gain an appreciation for what is in my glass. Years of hard work, research and experimentation have gone into tending the vines to create a product that brings so much pleasure and joy to the palate.
L’Enoteca del Duca. Volterra
After our fantastic wine tasting, Genuino , Claudia and myself made our way down to ‘Enoteca del Duca’ their restaurant in the centre of Volterra. Genuino’s wife, Ivana runs this fine and intimate restaurant which is equipped with a terrific outdoor garden and excellent wine cellar housed in a historic building situated between the ‘acropolis’ and ‘Priori Square’
L ‘Enoteca del Duca’ offers gourmet cuisine and the menu changes according to the season and the availability of ingredients. My lunch there was really wonderful and the service impeccable. I tried their best wines along with the ‘burrata’ and vegetable soufflé as well as their home-made pasta in beef broth and their boar stew. The quality of food was outstanding, the ambience wonderfully inviting and the exquisite wine list to die for. When you go, ask to see their beautiful wine cellar which is packed with many unknown treasures! Genuino’s family form a perfect team when it comes to satisfying food and wine lovers. Claudia also organizes cooking classes at their farm demonstrating how to make fresh pasta or ‘focaccia’ whilst also allowing you to discover the secrets of homemade cake making all under the guidance of a professional Italian chef.
It was time to go and I thanked Genuino and Claudia warmly for the wonderful memories they had provided me. They had made me feel at home and now I have yet another good reason to return to Volterra to be able to admire its considerable treasures.
Actually I am familiar with Volterra as three years ago I started working there as an English teacher. At the time it was really challenging having to go to Volterra every day from Pisa, considering that I was also attending a sommelier course in Lucca at the time though everything worked out well in the end and now I am really happy.I had enough time during this period to explore Volterra, a delightful, old hamlet full of history dating back to before 7BC with Etruscan, Roman and Medieval art and culture. The narrow streets are full of old are full of old churches, palaces, secret chapels, intimate restaurants and alabaster shops where you can watch artisans at work. Alabaster has long been a big industry in Volterra. Softer and easier to work than marble, this translucent material was traditionally thinly sliced to provide windows for Italy’s medieval churches. The best way to appreciate Volterra is to walk through its cobbled lanes, enjoying the beautiful ‘Palazzo dei Priori’, the Cathedral, the evocative ruins of the ‘Roman Amphitheater’ and the beautiful park dominated by the ‘Medicean Fortress’ with its ‘Rocca del Mastio’.
Other things to see in Volterra include:
• ‘The Etruscan Museum’: The museum is full of rare artefacts from centuries before Christ. There are decorated pot handles and crafted jewellery, the museum’s extensive collection of urns being a reminder that the Etruscans believed that the afterlife could be fun;
In recent years Volterra has attracted international recognition for its connection with the ‘Twilight’ series of books and movies, part of the second movie ‘New Moon’ being set in Volterra though most of the movie was actually filmed in another Tuscan town. More than 2000 years ago Volterra was a key trading center and one of the most important Etruscan cities and was protected by a wall four miles long, twice the length of the wall that encircles Volterra today. You can still see the mighty Etruscan gate, built from volcanic stone.
Tuscany is a pretty large region, and all of it is stunning. There is so much to see and do that I can’t suggest any particula good guide or website! But even in the short time I spent here, there’s so much to recommend to you I don’t even know where to start! It would be a good idea to enjoy any good wines here, not just to drink them, but to experience the people, places, and cultures . Even Bacchus, the god of wine, would envy a road trip through Tuscany’s wine heartlands, marveling at the most spectacular scenery on earth. To taste, drink and dine exceedingly well, this magical land has no peers. For who could resist the sumptuous, extravagantly green, the undulating farm fields that look like a painting, the twisty rural roads, the dreamy sunsets, and the circles of trees perched just so in resplendent tableaus? But it’s not just the culture, the art, the food, the wine, and the landscape. Beauty is in the DNA of Tuscans. The Tuscans consider themselves the inheritors and stewards of a centuries-long legacy of beauty. Every tree that’s planted, every farmhouse that’s restored, every road that’s re-routed — it’s all carefully considered not only on practical or economic merits, but also on aesthetics. Get lost among this huge amount of artistic wonders!