Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino

Italy, Brunello di Montalcino

 Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino

Even though a lot of very serious work is being done, a visit to Salicutti with Sabine Eichbauer and her two beautiful white Pastore Maremma dogs, Luna and Alba, has an almost party-like feel, such is Sabine’s generous spirit and vivacious nature.

Intensive Gardening

Even though a lot of very serious work is being done, a visit to Salicutti with Sabine Eichbauer and her two beautiful white Pastore Maremma dogs, Luna and Alba (Moon and Dawn, who, despite their size, are still only puppies!), has an almost party-like feel, such is Sabine’s generous spirit and vivacious nature. 

Salicutti has had, for a long time, a great reputation. It was owned for 30 years by the incredibly fastidious and attentive Francesco Leanza who made beautifully elegant, seamless wines. Francesco was a little bit of a recluse who generally disliked journalists and had a reputation of being quite difficult to interview, although I personally liked him a lot. I found meeting him just before he retired a very moving experience. Afterward, he wrote me the most wonderful letter and of course, I loved the wines. 

Sabine and her husband Felix own a well-known Michelin-starred restaurant in Munich called Tantris. Sabine was first “smitten” by tasting a Salicutti wine at Vinitaly in 2010. It was the Salicutti Rosso di Montalcino 2008 vintage that they tasted and fell in love with, particularly for its drinkability and its accessible style, and it was in sourcing wines from Salicutti for the restaurant that they became customers and then friends with Francesco. 

Some years later, they learned from their friend Jan Erbach, part-owner and winemaker at nearby winery Pian Dell’ Orino, that Francesco wanted to retire and sell up. They drew up a contract that was agreed in principle with Francesco on December 23rd, 2015, and signed it in March 2016. Francesco remained as a general manager for a three-year period to help ease the couple into their new roles. He left them about five days before harvest in 2018. The purchase had also been prompted by some life-changing events. Sabine’s husband Felix had a heart attack at the age of only 42, and this made them rethink their lives and focus on doing more of the things they really loved and wanted to do. Sabine points out that the label she has designed, based on the Salicutti property, is heart-shaped—a good omen, one hopes.

Under their ownership and with some extra investment, the wines seem to be going on to be even more precise and transparent. Francesco was one of the very first Brunello di Montalcino producers whose wines were certified as organic. Since Sabine and Felix have taken over, they have gone one step further, and wines from the 2022 release will be certified as biodynamic.

Salicutti is the name of the stream that marks the estate’s southern boundary. The estate consists of a beautiful house and a winery surrounded by 11 hectares of vines, olive trees, and forest in the southeast area of Montalcino. Sabine and Felix have completely refurbished the house with some beautiful hand-crafted, artisanal furniture. Sabine is an architect by trade with a great flair for design, and she has also created two beautiful ensuite rooms as a little agritourism for people to stay.

Their next-door neighbors are Gianni Brunelli on one side, and a little further down the road on the other side is San Polino. The 11 hectares consist of only 4.5 hectares of vines, with olive trees and forest. They produce a Rosso di Montalcino, three different Brunello Cru, and Brunello Riserva in the best vintages. These three small Brunello crus are named after and each produced from three separate vineyard sites. As Sabine says: “The beautiful thing is that the vineyards are around the house. It is really important that you live with your grapes. It is not only important in harvest that we are two minutes from vine to tank, but when you wake up in the morning, you know what the microclimate is. You do not have to get in your car or tractor and drive 15 minutes to know what the microclimate is like. You live with your grapes in the microclimate. It is intense gardening—that is what it is.” She continues:

"Wine is made in the first nine months of the year, not afterward in the cellar."

The largest vineyard, the 1.5-hectare Sorgente, has an underground natural source of water, hence the name (spring). Sorgente sits at 450 meters above sea level and has a heavy, clayey-sandy soil, which delays ripening a little. This is viewed as a very positive thing, with recent vintages being affected by climate change. The Sorgente vineyard is often used to make Salicutti’s Rosso di Montalcino as well as a Brunello cru; the galestro soil and the delayed ripening have resulted in wines with lower alcohol.   

The Piaggione cru is steeply sloped (the name means ‘slope’) and sits at 420-450 meters. It faces east by southeast with a fossil-rich limestone soil. This vineyard is divided by a terrace into two different parcels, one of which was planted in 1994 and the other in 2007. Sabine likens the Piaggione wines to “sportscars, muscular yet restrained in their red fruit, floral notes and fine tannins.” 

Their smallest vineyard is the 0.7 ha “Teatro” cru. The name means “theatre” because the vineyard is shaped like an ancient amphitheatre. It opens to the south. It was planted in 1994 and is at 500 meters. It tends to get regular breezes which creates a little cooler microclimate. Recently they have increased the canopy height in this vineyard to try to tweak a better balance between leaf surface area and fruit. As the smallest of the three Brunello cru, it produces only 2,500 bottles of wine and Sabine describes the wines from Teatro as more ethereal, intensive, and complex.

The way they like to work is different from the approach of many other producers.

One of the first things Sabine and Felix did was to spend a lot of time building a team, creating a feeling of being part of the family amongst the people who work for them. During harvest they all eat together and have an end-of-harvest party, taking time to relax together after work. 

At vintage time “We cannot hire a team (of pickers) from Senegal,” explains Sabine. “We need people who know us and know the property and know the wines and how we work. We have certain rows or certain parcels for the cru and others for the ‘village’ wines that are picked at the same time so the team needs to really know what they are doing. We have a cold storage truck; we harvest everything at one go, but if we need to we can store it in the cold storage truck until it goes to the sorting table”.

In 2016 they had nine people to help with the vintage, and now they have 24. It costs a lot more money, of course, but they feel it has an important impact on quality. They switched to single berry selection, and they have a very gentle de-stemming machine, but for the sorting table, they need ten people. “We need six people at the table, but after two hours, we have to rotate them, as they are going ‘cuckoo’ with dancing grapes. We do that so the fermentation starts in the grape and not ‘in the soup’ as the Italians say. This leaves us the freedom not to add any sulfur during harvest. We also have more people just in case the weather changes.” 

“We also believe that the energy you create with the people and the team around harvest is very important. Everyone eats together; we have breakfast, lunch, and supper together. I fly in a chef to cook for us. We have a little wine such as a Riesling for lunch, nothing too serious but just a little wine for lunch. It just creates a different atmosphere. I am very popular,” laughs Sabine.

Article & Reviews by Susan Hulme MW
Photos by Svante Örnberg

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