Luigi and Antonella Villa are restaurateurs turned winemakers in the heartland of northern Italy who have found their desire to seek out the best quality ingredients for the food they make is closely aligned to the skill you need to be an honest winemaker, committed to making wines that are true to the soils, the land and the place they come from. They are looking forward to showing their wines in the UK for the first time as part of the inaugural Sangiovese RESET tasting being held on March 3 in London.
Sangiovese RESET would not be a success without the passion and excitement of the producers from across Italy who want to take part. Here’s Luigi Villa’s story on how Sangiovese is such an important part of the wines he makes with his wife, Antonella, at Le Verzure just outside Montalcino. Sangiovese RESET takes place at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London on March 3
Tell us about your winery and the background to the business?
Le Verzure is an extraordinary place. Nestled amongst dense forest in one of the most unpolluted positions imaginable, close to the Ombrone River and bordering the Brunello di Montalcino appellation to the North. Here you are surrounded by wilderness in the best possible sense.
We acquired the land in 2003 and have taken great care to bring it to life. We have worked tirelessly enlisting friends and family to establish 5.5ha of beautiful vineyards, four of which are planted to Sangiovese and 1.5 to the indigenous white varieties Trebbiano and Malvasia.
As we have been restaurateurs for decades (from further north in Italy) we are used to constantly seeking out ingredients and learning what our customers want to drink, and after 20 years of searching, we finally found this perfect location.
My father was a farmer born in the early 1900s in the era of Steiner and taught me to track the seasons whilst I worked in his shadow. I have always felt a strong pull to return to the land and carry on these familiar traditions with my wife, Antonella. It is really important to us to farm as naturally as possible, creating organic and biodynamic wines, that show their full respect to the land. You could call it natural winemaking. Our philosophy is to take incredible care of their grapes, put them in the cellar carefully and then let the wine make itself.
Our petite cellar has a range of vinification and maturation vessels ranging from large botti to amphorae. What you get is wines that are pure and invigorating, with a true sense of place, varietal and vintage, made with real passion in what we do.
One of your main focus is Sangiovese. Can you explain the style of Sangiovese you make and what is your approach to making it?
The Sangiovese that I produce is the expression of the territory in which I live. All of the focus goes in the vineyard with little work in the cellar. All that attention then leads to healthy grapes that do not need winemaking techniques in the cellar. Grapes = wine.
Wine is the expression of the territory, of the climate of that year, of my work, it will never be the same every year, it will always be a product that lives and expresses itself.
What changes have you made to your viticulture of Sangiovese in recent years?
In these years I have not made changes in my way of cultivating or making wine, I am constantly trying to expand my technical knowledge to improve my approach to the land every day. I live in a place far from contamination and I adopt a strict philosophy of respect for the environment, the maintenance of the land from the first green shoots and giving the very greatest care to each vine is repaid in healthy and high quality grapes.
The support of an agronomist like Adriano Zago is very important, he supports our work, supports the relationship between the land and wine and gives advice on various techniques as well as teaching us that we must be highly attentive, even if we make natural wine.
How much of your wine do you export and what are your main overseas markets?
We are still at the beginning of the journey. The first commercial release was the 2013 vintage and we are very happy to be starting now in the US and Canadian markets as well as in Switzerland. We export 70% of our total production.
What do you see as your target markets in the future and why?
The UK is an important next step for us. In a market where you have so much choice, we appreciate how hard it is to enter, but we’ve seen how well our wines are received by the UK palate and feel as if there’s a real interest in wines made with low intervention from indigenous varieties, farmed biodynamically, that speak of their origin.
Do you find certain export markets prefer certain styles of Sangiovese? If so what are the differences?
There is still a place for different styles of Sangiovese in most global markets. The only thing we feel strongly about is making our own expression of Sangiovese, that immediately speaks of Le Verzure, our location and our philosophy. We are seeing increasing interest in Sileo, our Sangiovese made in amphora, it’s still tiny volumes, but we’re very happy that it is well received.
Why are you coming to Sangiovese Reset event in London?
Can you give some reasons to UK buyers why they should taste your wines?
We are located on the borders of the Brunello appellation, if you think you know Brunello, then we would suggest tasting our wines because they offer something different, but you can still very much tell where they are from.
Which channels of the UK market do you think your wines are best suited for?
We recognise that our wines have more success where they are hand sold. So restaurants and specialised wine shops are the best fit.
What price points do you sell at?
We have four wines, two of which are 100% Sangiovese aged in large botti and two of which (Sileo – 100% Sangiovese and BiancoAugusto – 70% Trebbiano and 30% Malvasia) are made in amphora. They would translate to RSPs of between £20-45 pounds.
Do you have a distributor in the UK?
We are looking for one.
What do you think of the UK wine market and how important is it to you?
We think it’s very important and we look forward to getting to know our customers and supporting their sales.
Anything you are looking to do whilst you are in London?
We can’t wait to get to London, to find out what people want to taste, understand what they think about our wines. I have a growing list of restaurants and wine bars I would like to visit ranging from Noble Rot to Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. I also hope to explore further east, including Sager + Wilde and The Laughing Heart… let’s hope there will be time to fit all of this in!
- The Sangiovese RESET takes place on March 3 at London’s Royal Horticultural Halls. You can find out more and register here.
- Jane Hunt, a Master of Wine with over 20 years of experience in organising large scale trade tastings and seminars with an almost exclusive focus on Italy, and Walter Speller, Italian correspondent of www.JancisRobinson.com have come up with the Sangiovese RESET concept.
- This new initiative follows two very successful editions of ‘Nebbiolo Day’.
- Participation at Sangiovese RESET will be by invitation to a select group of up to 90 of the best Sangiovese producers from central Italy. Seminars led by experts on the country and the grape variety, its past as well as its future, will deliver additional in- depth information, education and lively debates.
- Sangiovese RESET is a full day’s immersion in Italy’s Prima Donna grape number one: Sangiovese. A first for this variety, Sangiovese RESET brings together producers from a wide number of contrasting regions of Italy where Sangiovese is grown and will illustrate how this widely planted grape performs in different climates and soil types with varying viticultural management systems.