Carmignano Riserva ’16 by Piaggia: here is how the best red wine of Italy is born. Interview with Silvia Vannucci

Carmignano is one of the most historic Italian denominations, and also among the smallest. A beautiful hilly landscape, near Prato, where the Grand Dukes of Tuscany went hunting and spent the summer months. Here, alongside Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are ancient presences, and are now part of the tradition. In recent years, with great regularity, the Piaggia winery of the Vannucci family has established itself as a reference of the denomination.

Carmignano Riserva ’16 is our Red Wine of the year. At the helm is Mauro Vannucci, who created the company in the Nineties, now joined by his daughter Silvia. With the new rows from the current 20 the vineyard will cover approximately 25 hectares, producing a little more than 100,000 bottles.

Is it easy to make wine in Carmignano?

It’s never easy if you want to make great wine. We are in a large area, a hidden treasure of the highest level: a medium-textured, clayey soil, with marl, rich in skeleton. There is good exposure, and a great wine can be made here. We have three great varieties: sangiovese, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, which can give great results.

What does it take to make a great red wine?

My father claims that the secret is the maturation of the grapes. You have to harvest perfectly ripe grapes, and to do that you have to thin out the rows, you have to take risks, don’t be tempted by a few extra kilos, you have to be ready to lose something. But this applies only if you have the right terroir. My father is a man of instinct, he makes his decisions from the belly, he is not a programmer… He has incredible intuition and courage. He listens to everyone, question yourself and always tries to improve. He has a sense of self-criticism. And investing in Carmignano, an unknown denomination, is equals great courage and self-confidence…

does the market understand this?

We started with two and a half hectares, years ago, but we are constantly growing… It was taking a bet. The market has grown over the years, especially in the beginning it was not easy. Today it’s different, there is never enough wine to please our customers. We have grown, but the territory has also grown. Carmignano is a wine that meets modern tastes, it tastes of Tuscany but has a cosmopolitan palate. It fascinates Italians but it’s very popular around the world, from Northern Europe to the United States and Canada. Asia is also growing, Japan in particular…

Italy or abroad, therefore?

We are better known abroad than in Italy. In Italy there is no awareness. We are crushed by the great denominations, but on the whole the territory is growing, even if with different styles and settings. A very inspiring scene. And for us at Piaggia, export is a fundamental market.

The name is large, the winery not so much. How do you manage to distribute your wine?

It’s a big problem. Piaggia Reserve is rolled out in 30,000 bottles, but we could sell twice as many. In April the wine is already finished and we cannot sell the new vintage before September 29th. It’s difficult to manage 5 or 6 months without wine. Now customers know this, but it’s not easy. The biggest problem is the assignments. And we don’t want to raise prices, which would be the easiest solution. I would just like to continue to open up new markets, but to do this we need numbers that we often don’t have. Making allocations, managing reservations is difficult, but on the other hand we can choose the best customers, the most prestigious and reliable ones that way.

Can Piaggia still grow?

Now we are planting, we have found new vines and will gradually grow to about 25 hectares. You have to buy in the right places, you can’t plant anywhere. My father is extremely demanding, from poles to rootstocks to the choice of clones, he is really scrupulous. But in the meantime the cellar has also become too small, we need to expand it to maintain the standards and improve. The land is the first thing, but it is not the only element. I believe that with growth we will take care of the Italian market a little more. But it’s always a question of numbers… the old story of pulling the blanket…

Is Piaggia the success of a great team?

Alberto Antonini is the consultant, Emiliano Falsini is the winemaker, Federico Curtaz the agronomist, we started with them and we are very happy. My uncle Paolo is always in the cellar… It was a great exchange of experiences, we owe a lot to all of them. But making wine requires the producer’s line, an idea of wine. And we have ours. We travel, we taste, we constantly confront each other. Here is perhaps the main thing: having an idea of the wine you want to make.

by Marco Sabellico