It is the difficult nature of this terroir which has taught us how to make wine...
This is how a frugal terroir makes fine wine.
Of course I had understood this concept of “modest yield but high-quality” when wine was still only a pleasure at the table, but I didn’t understand why such a hard and little or unfertile land could yield such fine wines: now I know.
First of all, what does this French term that is so fashionable mean, terroir? The varied descriptions of the terroir indicate “the sum of geological, topological, climatic, microclimatic and microbiological characteristics of a well determined piece of land” which influence the organoleptic result of a crop. In the case of the vine, the terroir is particularly influential as it is extremely sensitive to the diversities of the terroir in all of its variables: so let’s try to describe our terroir. Innanzitutto, che cosa significa questo termine francese che va tanto di moda, terroir?
First of all we find ourselves on hilly terrain that is particularly steep: to give you an idea, tractor work can often be terrifying due to the risk of overturning. And such a steep terroir is often subject to strong leaching: when the rain hits strongly as it does during a summer storm and enormous quantities of water pour onto the terrain within a very short period of time and tend to “make streams” which carry away enormous quantities of surface land to the bottom of the hillside, where it is then lost. If we think that nature on average produces a millimetre of humus (new earth) each year, in a terroir like ours, the new earth remains for a very short time. Obviously this phenomenon does not occur in the flat lands, and for this reason there is generally more fertile land there.
The different geological layers are almost always crossed over by “lenses” of clay, at different depths. These lenses form slippery layers which often cause deep or less deep landslides. Over the millenniums,these landslides have determined areas of “landslide heads” in which the various geological layers have
become mixed up, thus increasing the chemical complexity of the terrain thanks to these mix-ups. And when a vineyard slides, which happens from time to time, then there really are problems.
The geological composition of the Mastrojanni terroir incorporates clay, which is often full of sodium, in other words full of mineral salt from ancient seas which have now dried up, tuff, limey river pebbles, silica sand, often very ancient sandstone which is usually beige in colour and rarely ashen. Therefore a geological composition – and for that reason chemical – that is extremely complex and variegated which, depending on the geological layer, brings different chemical compounds to the vine’s roots that are the origin of this chemical complexity, and in the end organoleptic quality of the grapes themselves. But the terroir is also made up of nutritional elements and it is obvious that a terrain mainly composed of humus or of fertile land carried by the overflow of rivers (the famous overflows of the Nile) will have a very high fertility, whilst a terroir like the one just described, which actually loses part of its “plant” layer every year because of the rains, will be almost unfertile. Or perhaps it would be better to say, the vine will find little nutriment in the higher geological layers. In fact, it tends to look for nutrients in the area of land known as the plant layer, an area of around 20-30 cm where bacteria live thanks to the presence of oxygen and in which the chemical work of the bacteria produces large quantities of those chemical elements necessary for the vine’s nutrition. However, this area in our vineyards is very slight and in any case always very recent, caused by erosion due to the continuous leaching, in other words there is not enough nutrition in this plant layer.
Climate, and particularly the microclimate, play a fundamental role. Here in central Italy, in any case it rains very little during the summer months. This climatic factor forces the vines to go to the depths in order to find water reserves formed during the winter months. And they have to move quickly as if they don’t they risk becoming dehydrated: could this be the reason that less years are needed here that by our colleagues in Burgundy to create a quality wine, where it rains
a lot? Maybe. In the summer time we can have two consecutive months without any rain at all and with temperatures of between 33°C and 40°C during the day. If we add to this the continuous sea breezes, the Maestrale and the Libeccio, we can imagine just how much water the plant has to carry to its leaves in order to keep them “alive and kicking”! Water from the depths. And the wind, which on the one hand has a drying effect, on the other keep the insects and all plant diseases
under control which tend to stagnate in the hot and humid air, such as powdery mildew, downy mildew and a variety of other moulds. And this wind that is almost continuous, is another essential ingredient in the quality of our terroir: a wind that at night brings the thermometer down to 17-21°C thus reaching an almost constant night/day temperature range of about 15°C, which is decisively higher than the average in this country and in the majority of vineyard areas.
Everyone knows that a day/night temperature difference is pivotal for the formation of primary aromas in the grapes, but how does this phenomenon work? At night, when temperatures drop to below 20°C the grapeskins store many more antioxidants, such as anthocyans (which are alsoresponsible for the colour of the wine), resveratrol (famous for the “French paradox”) and tannins.
These antioxidants are not only good for health, but they are also good for the wine as they protect it from oxidisation enabling longer periods of bottle-ageing. Imagine a wine that ages too quickly, you wouldn’t even be able to enjoy the tertiary phase of its aromas, that is often the most interesting phase, and which is not really perceptible before 8-10 years of ageing. However, these low temperatures also help the flavour precursors to develop, so that the wines from grapes that have grown in cool nights and warm days as a rule tend to be much more aromatic and complex. So we can add the pleasure of a highly aromatic wine to the positive effects it has on our health.
Mount Amiata protects us.
The Mastrojanni estate is very close to an imposing mountain: Mount Amiata, a volcano which became extinct 700,000 years ago and which is 1,738 metres high. This mountain determines the Mastrojanni microclimate because, if at night the winds come down from the mountain tops to refresh the vines, when a storm is close by, curiously, this mountain very often tends to divert them thanks to its rising currents which are due to the energy the sun creates along its slopes. We are therefore better protected from hailstorms, for example than other areas in the Municipality of Montanino.
So the characteristics of this terroir, which are decisively out of the ordinary, influence the scarcity of the yield from our vineyards in a determining way. In fact, it is easy to understand how a plant that dedicates all of its energy and the nutrients it finds in the ground to just a few grape clusters, will produce grapes with a rather greater concentration of chemical substances with respect to vines that produce a lot of grape clusters which can only have high concentrations of water.
But if we add the day/night temperature range effect on the antioxidants to this phenomenon, it becomes clear why from one side these wines are so very good and from the other why they are so characteristic and recognisable from vintage to vintage. This is how a great terroir, despite its “sparseness” rewards us with such fine wines.
Our philosophy? To respect this terroir, and that is enough.