- Cortona, Tuscany, Italy
There is exceptional Syrah being made today in southeastern Tuscany in the appellation of Cortona, specifically from the hands of Stefano Amerighi, the young and dynamic owner of the eponymous estate. Stefano, who comes from a farming family, was born and bred in this area. He's Tuscan, through and through--actually, he'll tell you, he's so original that he's Etruscan!
Cortona is one of only a few places in Italy that could consider Syrah both indigenous and a focus. Why Syrah? After the fall of the Medici, Tuscany passed to the Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty and shortly thereafter to Napoleonic occupation. These political shifts brought major changes to many aspects of daily life, including within agriculture, where new ways of worklng the land were established and new cultivars were introduced. Syrah has a presence in Cortona dating back to the late 1700s. The noted ampelographer Attilio Scienza began a nearly 30-year study of the Cortona zone starting in the late 1970s. He found the terroir remarkably similar to the Rhone Valley, both in terms of climate and geology. Syrah was already here; it made sense that it would be the benchmark for any forthcoming wine appellation. Using Professor Scienza's findings, Cortona was granted DOC status in 1999.
After an in-depth geological investigation beginning in 2001, Stefano identified eight hectares of land well-suited to his project: southeast exposure, a mix of silty clay sedimentary soil, and a base of thriving microorganisms. Stefano's cru is in Poggiobello di Farneta, in the Chiuso di Cortona, the last hills descending down from the town. This is an area that was not a seabed during the Pliocene, unlike much of its surroundings. Interestingly, it's a goldmine not just for winemakers but also for paleontologists, as dinosaur fossils abound on this little "island."
Next came the sourcing of the materia prima: his selections of Syrah came from some famous estates of the southern and northern Rhone, as well as some Italian Syrah clones. Since the beginning, Stefano has adhered to the principles espoused by Rudolf Steiner and Masanobu Fukuoka. He views the farm as a complex holistic system. As such he employees six people year-round to follow the cycles of nature. He has fruit trees (200 different heirloom varieties), various grains, olives, Chianina cattle, pigs, geese, and hens. He is maniacal about low-impact farming. Stefano says, "if it’s wet we don’t use the tractor, but rather a backpack pump sprayer—two or three treatments a year are done completely manually like this, like one hundred years ago. Usually, we work the rows in an alternating fashion—one ‘on’ and one ‘off.’ In the ‘off ’ rows, we don’t work them or even step on them for a year, not even for treatments. When I started this project in 2001, a few people considered me a visionary, but most thought of me as a bischero." (KR: Tuscan dialect. Literally 'tuning fork,' but colloquially 'a fool'). Things change. Today, Stefano is the president of the consorzio of Cortona.
Starting in 2013, Stefano began his Pecorino project, Noe', retracing the grape to its genetic origins in the Monti Sibillini of Le Marche, at 900-1000m above sea level, working with 100+-yr-old ungrafted vines. More recently Stefano bought some land in San Pietro a Dame in the area known as the Monti di Cortona. He planted Syrah there on terraces above 700m. Those vineyards saw their first harvest in 2021 and we'll see a young-vine, fresh Syrah emerge at some point in 2022. He's also one of six winemakers collaborating at Halara' in Marsala, a one hectare vineyard planted to Parpato and Catarratto. He's quite linked to some of the famous names of the Northern Rhone and he's currently writing a monograph on Cornas. Stefano is an ever-searching vignaiolo. There will also be more to learn and more to say about what he's up to.
Amerighi is a Demeter-certified biodynamic winery.