On the shores of lake Castelgandolfo, a story of passion and despair
On the outskirt of Rome, a few steps from Via Appia Antica (a military road built in the 4th century BC and connecting Rome to the southern city of Brindisi) we visit a farm which left a mark in the history of Italian wine. In a natural oasis close to the shores of lake Castelgandolfo we find the old estate Tenuta di Fiorano.
Until a few decades ago the estate used to cover a very large area: hundreds of hectares of farming land, vineyards, olive groves and quarries. Then the estate was split among different owners, including the Boncompagni Ludovisis and the Antinoris, rival lineages of the same family.The first ones kept the original name, Tenuta di Fiorano, while the latters changed the name into Fattoria di Fiorano.
The prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, a very attentive, scrupulous and discreet man was the key character behind the prestigious estate. The vineyard was the core of his existence, a well preserved treasure he took care of for his entire life, with the only help of a few trusted persons. His concern for privacy had cast a shade of mystery over the estate. His daughter later married a member of the Antinori family, an event which raised his worries about preserving the authenticity of the vineyard. The new family lineage didn’t seem to share his philosophy of life and wine production. For decades the prince had been avoiding any use of chemical fertilisers, he had been planting according to the lunar phases and the wines were unfiltered and aged inside old 1000 litres barrels. Quality over quantity was always his priority.
In 1997 the prince took an unexpected and radical choice. Tired, sick and without hope, he decided to eradicate all his grapevines and sell out most of the bottles in the estate’s wine cellar.
Prince Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi and the renaissance of Tenuta di Fiorano
That mysterious man we know so little about saw a spark of hope in his youngest cousin, prince Alesandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi. In Alberico’s eyes he was the only one who could continue his legacy, therefore he left the estate to his cousin and unveiled to him all the secrets of the vineyard, including the details about the delicious grape he had eradicated. He showed Alessandrojacopo the best growing spots and suggested the grapevines with the best potential to become great wines, in particular the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot, two black grapes that were already part of the original vineyard, and the Grechetto and the Viogner for the whites.
And so did Alessandro, in 1999. With great care he planted back the grapevines and looked after the vineyard, and today, with the help of his wife Maria Carolina, he still follows the anti-commercial philosophy so dear to his cousin Alberico.
The prince Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi is the kind of man who welcomes you in a very polite and well-mannered way, we had the honour of his presence to lead us through a tour of the estate.
The wine processing follows certified organic standards, grapevines rows are more spacious than usual and the wires of the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon are higher than the standard. Even rooted vines have more space between one another.
Our visit to the vineyard
We arrive at the Cantina Storica and the Amministrazione, the Old Cellar and the old management building. Here are kept the historical archives, the labelling chamber, where even today the precious wine labels are hand written, and the famous room in which buyers used to get locked into while the wines were picked from the cellar and labelled.
The more we see of the estate the more we understand why Alberico had complete faith in his cousin. Alessandro respects the old strict traditions of the vineyard and the will of his cousin: visitors today are still not allowed in the tuff galleries where the wine is kept to rest. He is the only and unique person who has access the historical archive, where all that secret knowledge has been kept for so many years.
In the ancient stable, facing a three hectares fruit garden and a selection of rare plants Alessandro brought back from his trips around the world, we have the pleasure to taste the delicious wines from the estate: The Fiorano and the Fioranello, both red and white.
When the prince decides to open a 1986 Fiorano red we’re all excited. For Alessandro, this bottle reminds him of the years with Alberico, the beginning of his adventure. The color shows shades of orange and lively notes spread in the air: nut, rhubarb, lavender, sandalwood, a smokey scent from a fireplace, a mix of enchanting feelings, a dive in the past.
The respect for authentic traditions, the commitment to keep the estate a family run business and the strong will to preserve a genuine wine philosophy far from the nowadays mainstream mass production, make the Tenuta Fiorano estate a true gem in the landscape of Italian wine making.