Getting Close to the Soil: Cecilia Leoneschi of Castiglion del Bosco
Growing up with a winemaker for a father, Cecilia Leoneschi, 44, started her journey early. “My father gave me the passion for wine,” says the enologist of Castiglion del Bosco in Tuscany. The 800-year-old estate is known for their sangiovese, with notes of red blossoms, plums, and spices. A chance conversation with owner Massimo Ferragamo gave rise to a limited edition collection, known as Zodiac Dog. “We are surrounded by the forest in the vineyard,” explains Leoneschi. “During the night, you can see the stars clearly.” Gazing at the stars one night, Ferragamo said to her, “We should transfer the night skies into our wines. Maybe you can create a wine with the constellations.” With the Chinese calendar, it’d be possible to do a different label each year. The production is small, with only 488 bottles available in magnum format, offering notes such as violet, lilac, geranium, thyme, laurel, and mint. “Right now, there are some notes of green herbs, and that’s because the wine is still young,” explains Leoneschi. “It would be perfect in five years’ time, because it will keep evolving in the bottle.” Dishes with red meat, aged cheeses, or rich sauces would work well with the wine, since it has good acidity and tannins. Unlike the wines of the previous generations, which may have been aged in small casks, hence overshadowed by the flavour of the oak, today, the trend is to allow the essence of the wine to be brought to the fore. Aside from using larger casks, Leoneschi pays great attention to the vines in the vineyard. “When you have slopes, like our vineyards, you have to work a particular way, very close to the vines, to reduce the soil erosion when it is rainy,” says Leoneschi.
“I have learned to use the right instrument to work the soil, and to use cover crops.” Grains such as oats form a root system that reduces soil erosion. Legumes such as peas help to replenish the nitrogen in the soil. Plants that flower attract insects which fight against bad fungus in the vineyard. Aside from the study of agriculture, organic viticulture, such as not using pesticide or insecticide, is also something that Leoneschi looks into. “But I want to say that what we do is something different,” says Leoneschi. While she uses compost, and does work in the vineyard by hand, she is not keen on a viticulture that tells her what she cannot do. “Organic is an instrument, it is important but it is not the only one.” In the wine circle, there had previously been some concern about organic wines becoming oxidised more easily. “No, the problem with organic is, the cost is a bit more, because a lot of the work is done by hand,” says Leoneschi. “But, you see, when you have a balanced wine, the wine does not need a lot of sulphites, and it is not easily oxidised.” When the acidity is low, for example, it might be easy to become oxidised. “What we do to preserve the wine can be helped by natural means. If you do nothing in the vineyard, you will need to add preservatives.” As her wines have a good amount of tannin and acidity, with alcohol which is a natural antioxidant, there is balance, and therefore, a good wine. “When you have a respect for the soil, and environment, you can produce a wine that is more tied to the terrior – it becomes a wine that you can recognise.”
Adapted from Jan Feb 18 issue of Cuisine & Wine Asia.