Some months ago my daughters convinced me that we should be staying in AirBnBs during our travels. So we booked a few for the Italian, British and Greek Island legs of our trip. Our apartment here in Florence is the first AirBnB place we’ve ever stayed in and we love it. When I booked to stay in this apartment managed by Francesca, I noticed that she and her husband Daniele also offered an organic winery visit experience on AirBnB, so I booked that too. This morning we caught the train from Florence SMN railway station to Montelupo, about twenty minutes away, and were met by Daniele in the station car park.
Daniele drove us for about five minutes to his family winery, the Fattoria di Sammontana estate. It’s in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The property once belonged to the powerful Medici family, rulers of Renaissance Florence. Then it became a monastery. About 300 years ago the monks planted vines, built an underground wine cellar, and established a winemaking industry here. During the 1800s, Daniele’s Polish grandfather arrived in the region and married an Italian girl. He purchased the land, and it has been in Daniele’s family ever since. Daniele’s grandfather was the one who revived the vine growing and wine making on the estate. He also planted olive groves. A former terracotta brick factory on one part of the property, which used to produce vessels used in wine production, now hosts wedding receptions and other special occasions. A church, which has a bell tower still standing after 900 years, is on the property. At 11am, Sunday mass was held and locals from the village arrived for the service.
Today Daniele manages the property. He is responsible for the care and cultivation of the vines, managing the harvest and ensuring the quality of the wine. He has a very small permanent staff team and hires grape pickers and a wine maker at appropriate times of the year. This is an organic winery, so Daniele and his team carefully tend the vines to ensure insect pests are kept at bay and climate variations are managed without the use of chemicals. About 60% of the vines here are sangiovese and 40% are trebiano. There are also small pockets of syrah, sauvignon blanc and another variety growing on parts of the estate. Fattoria di Sammontana produces five types of red wine, two types of white wine, a red/white blend, and extra virgin olive oil. Some of the wine is sold in an exclusive number of Florentine restaurants and the rest is exported to places like England, Canada and the United States. The vines are harvested by hand, and much of the wine production is labour intensive, made by hand with loving care by Daniele and his small team.
Daniele walked us through an olive grove to one of his vineyards. He stopped to point out features of the olive trees and grape vines and explained how the fruit is grown, how the plants are tended and pruned to produce the desired results, and how the fruits are harvested. We asked him lots of questions and he was happy to answer all of them. He explained how vine growing and wine making was done traditionally, and how some things have changed while others stayed the same over the passage of time.
One former vineyard was now growing wheat. Daniele spoke about the life span of grape vines. When they reach their ‘use-by’ dates, often about fifty years, the vines and their roots are removed, the soil is turned over, and a different crop, such as wheat or corn, is planted to give the soil a chance to replenish its goodness. After a period of time has elapsed, new vines are planted.
Daniele invited us to join him in a large shed where the winemaking operations took place. He showed us how the wine was bottled, corked and labelled. We sampled both white and red selections from the large wine vats. Neither was yet ready for bottling, though the white was not far away. We entered the cellar, built by the monks. It was roomy and well ventilated. Large wooden barrels held different vintages of the wine. Daniele explained which ones would soon be ready for bottling. We entered another room, where the olive oil was produced. Here we saw some of the traditional instruments used to crush the olives and extract the oil. As much as we were interested in the wine and the oil from a food and drink perspective, the history lessons were also absolutely fascinating.
Our half day tour finished in a large kitchen where the grape pickers once came for their daily meals. Adorning the walls were some of the tools they had traditionally used in the vineyards. On display were the Sammontana wine varieties, all with labels beautifully designed by Daniele’s graphic designer brother. Daniele and Francesca had prepared a delicious lunch consisting of local Tuscan delicacies using fresh produce from the region. Daniele drizzled some of the estate’s extra virgin olive oil over crusty bread, and poured us each a glass of Sammontana estate Chianti red wine. We finished our meal by dipping almond biscuits into Daniele’s vin santo dessert wine. During the meal, Daniele’s father joined us. He was a lovely man, 80 years old with a wonderful sense of humour and a very good grasp of the English language. We really enjoyed our conversation with him.
Daniele drove us back to the railway station and we caught the train back to Florence. It was raining now, and we walked back from the station through the Italian leather goods stalls at the local Sunday markets. On the way we spotted a couple of examples of why sometimes it’s useful to be small in stature in a city like Florence (see pics below).